Posts Tagged ‘autism’
Proust says, “The real voyage of discovery is not in seeing new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.”
Can I love Aaron and hate autism?
If I say, “I love my child, but hate cancer or heart disease…” many people would say that is okay.
If I say, “I love my son, Aaron. I hate autism.” some people say that is NOT okay.
So, call me a villain, ignorant, hypocrite, politically incorrect, or whatever–but I refuse to celebrate autism–I refuse to give autism that power.
I gladly celebrate the diversity of individuals. This diversity makes our world stronger and a more interesting place to live.
I love individuals who have autism, just the way they are.
But–I will not celebrate autism like it is a good thing.
World Autism Awareness Day April 2
The United Nations designated April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. April 2nd next year is already designated too.
Are you going to wear blue? Will blue lights in the Empire State Building, or on the Jesus statue in Rio, or the top of a pyramid in Egypt really mean anything?
Is this like a birthday party? Something we celebrate every year? Send up the blue balloons? Paint your face blue?
I found some of the World Awareness Day press curious: “In fact a world without Autism would be a lesser world.” New Zealand: United Nations declare day to celebrate autism
I think wearing black would send a better message. Autism Awareness should send a plea for action NOW. We need help and resources NOW.
So, the United Nations has established April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. Great! Let’s talk about autism.
What causes Autism?
Well, no one knows for sure. The “experts” have narrowed the cause down to: environmental, biological, sensory, abuse and neglect, genetic, chemical, neurological, food…and the ever popular–it’s the parent’s fault.
So the short answer is, who knows?
Yesterday someone told me our children have autism because they don’t get enough eggs. Just add that to the list. They might be right.
I recently read a study (2013) that blames the grandparents. They conceived the parents late in life.
Don’t you love scientists–probably funded with the autism awareness fundraising, eh?
Dr. Anne Donnellan spent her career working with families and people with autism. She often says, “The more theories, the more proof that we don’t know.” She also gives her version of circular logic in Disability World.
Parent: My child keeps flapping their hands.
Doctor: Ah, that is because your child has autism.
Parent: How do you know?
Doctor: Because your child flaps their hands.
Is Autism the Greatest Gift?
Some advocates want you to think autism is the greatest thing ever. They talk about the special abilities of people on the autism spectrum and say it is only because of autism they have these talents.
Hummmm. Is that so?
Sure Temple Grandin, with a glance, can tell how many nails are needed to build a livestock yard–but is that only possible because of her autism?
Rainman could count the number of toothpicks on the floor. Is it possible there is someone else in the history of the world that could also do that?
Are we again caught in circular logic?
Parent: My child can count the number of nails or toothpicks.
Doctor: Ah, that is because your child has autism.
Parent: How do you know?
Doctor: Because your child can count the number of nails or toothpicks.
There are some people with the label of autism who can tell you the day of the week for every calendar year in recorded time.
I can’t. Probably you can’t. But, is it possible there is at least one other human being without the label of autism who can?
The Guiness Record books are full of typical folks who can do all sorts of incredible tasks.
Hurry, quick. Do we now need to give those persons the label of autism?
There are some who are going back to past genius’ and claiming they must have been autistic…Mozart must have had autism. Disney perserverated on those mouse pictures–he must have had autism….
Couldn’t Temple Grandin and Donna Williams just talented people? Isn’t it demeaning to say, “No, the individual Temple Grandin has nothing to do with it, it is only because she has autism.”
Is it possible the statistical increases in the number of people with autism is partly due to our current scientific paradigm of labeling and sorting people? And some people promoting “autistic envy”? The new figures are 1-50. One child in every fifty–and all we are doing is having Autism Awareness Day at the Philadelphia Zoo?
What is normal?
Well, turns out we don’t really know that either. Plus, we could say “normal” changes every year in every culture.
Sure we have tests, but anyone who studies IQ or other quantitative or quantitative measures will point out the flaws.
Multiple Intelligences| Howard Gardner
Howard Gardner, studied people with autism who were labeled as autistic savants (actually “idiot savants” was the term used at the time). He was able to identify at least eight different kinds of “gifts or intelligences.” Now, in every school in the world (that uses best practice) his theory of multiple intelligences helps all children learn. Gardner says each of us has all these eight intelligences, some are just more developed than others.
This is one of the side benefits of autism. Without the diagnosis of autism, the scientific community might have had a harder time making this discovery. Science needs large groups.
Could it be we all have gifts and traits of genius, gifts and traits that could be labeled as autistic? Are we all a little autistic? Are none of us “autistic” in the pure definition of wanting to be apart.
So, what’s the deal about autism? Can’t we just celebrate individual diversity?
If we really believe autism is a tremendous gift, then it would be logical for each parent to wish their child would have autism. Right?
I once went to a conference for people with Down syndrome. Everyone kept talking about how people with Down syndrome were the happiest people in the world–how glad they were to have their child in their family. They used examples like, “They will always believe in Santa.” “They are pleased when I fix them chocolate milk.”…
Using circular logic:
Parent: I want my child to be happy.
Doctor: Children with Down syndrome are happy.
Parent: Then I want my child to have Down syndrome.
So, if we want our children to be happy maybe we should try to figure out how to add an extra chromosome to every baby’s DNA.
If autism makes us gifted, maybe we should be researching how to make 100% of the population have autism–add autism magic to our babies’ lives.
This kind of thinking is just nuts, yet it is common in each area of disability. Stick around Disability World and you will hear people yearn to have the courage of people with cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy, be sexy like people with cerebral palsy….
Okay, I understand some advocates are probably hyperventilating at this point. How dare I talk this way about people with autism and Down syndrome?
The person who gets joy in Santa, or in having chocolate milk is an individual. Each individual person–even if they have a label– is different.
We can love the individual–not the disability.
As family members, friends and as self-advocates, we can value the individual person’s talents, gifts, joys and sorrows. We can see them in the context of their environments–but, we don’t have to give all the power and credit to the label of disability. The individual should get the power and credit. They are the ones who are who they are.
I can love my Aaron–I don’t have to love autism.
I can see Aaron’s gifts and talents–I don’t have to think they are only because he has the label of autism.
Aaron is a loving person who makes kissing noises as I turn out the light. He smiles when I pull on the toes of his socks. He gives me hugs when I walk past him. He is patient as I try to figure out what he wants. He concentrates on his books and loves pictures. He gets excited when I come in a room. I love when he relaxes in his bath. I love when he initiates a song or going to the bathroom. I love when he figures out how to eat the cheese off my sandwich….
Aaron is unique. He adds his own version of diversity to the human family. He is a great son, brother, uncle, friend… just the way he is.
Autism sucks. Aaron doesn’t.
Autism affects each person differently.
In Aaron’s case, Autism means he can’t talk with words. It means he is 38 years old and can’t always tell when he needs to go to the bathroom. It means he has trouble making friends. It means he yells in public restaurants. It means he chews on his clothes and books and the car seats. It means he has motor difficulties and has trouble walking–crossing from the rug to a tile floor. It means he is always afraid of falling and losing his balance. It means he bites his hand to calm himself. It means it takes him a long time to learn things. It means he will forget them if he doesn’t practice them every day. It means he likes music, but not loud noises. It means he likes to be moving (in cars, buses, boats, planes…) It means he likes to swim, but not bend over. It means he can’t tie his shoes or dress himself independently…it means he cannot be left unsupervised even for a minute.
That all sucks.
I wish it was easier for him. I wish it were easier for me to help him.
But all those difficulties don’t mean I don’t love Aaron with every fiber of my being.
Each day for the last 38 years, I work to get Aaron the support he needs to live, work and recreate in his community. To allow him to be the best person he can be–For him to be able to make choices and have opportunities he wants.
There is a difference.
Dream Plans for Aaron Ulrich
I am adding our dream plan for Aaron. You can click on each of them and see I am NOT trying to cure Aaron. I am NOT trying to make him a different person. I love and respect him as the person he is.
I am NOT trying to make him the person I want him to be.
Every day Aaron teaches me about courage, love, and tolerance. But he knows he can count on me, my husband, and his brother. He knows Annie, his caregiver will do her best to look out for him. He wants a new housemate, like his former housemate Jack who will be there for him. He knows his grandma and extended family including Ana and his niece love him just the way he is.
And until our dying breaths, we will do our best to make his life happy.
No, I’m not going to inject Aaron with an extra chromosome to make sure he is happy. No, I’m not going to give this thing we call “autism” supernatural powers to dominate his life.
But I will give him opportunities to make choices about his life as best he can–in spite of “autism.”
Yes, I can Love Aaron and Hate Autism.
Autism Awareness Day Marching On
Celebrate each wonderful individual person you meet in this video.
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward.
All my best,
Are you sitting there thinking, “how can this mother be an advocate for people with autism?” Do these words make you upset? Do you agree? Do you think “Disability World” thinks different than “The World”? Can we separate the individual from the label?
Here is another article about Autism Awareness Day asking people to do more than just wear blue.
Some of the major stores are already advertising their holiday toy sales. This made me think of Barbie and her friends.
Some say the Barbie doll was the most influential icon of late 20th century American culture. In fact, she rated no. 43 on the 101 most influencial people who never lived (Click here).
Some say Barbie had it all: perfect body, perfect boyfriend and perfect everything.
Many little girls still think Barbie is the definition of beauty and a great role model, after all she has been a presidential candidate, an astronaut, in the arm services, in the business and entertainment worlds. Barbie didn’t even need a phone booth like Superman, all she had to do was change her shoes. In 2009, Barbie brought in $1.2 billion in annual revenue for Mattel.
But in my opinion, Mattel missed a powerful opportunity to be a leader for inclusion and community building–a real chance to make a difference in the world.
Mattel captured the feminist and toy market for “perfect” dolls, but it didn’t do as well with the non-white, “non-perfect” market. In the 1980s Barbie went multiracial and Mattel introduced Black Barbie, Hispanic Barbie and other dolls in their International Collection.
But these new “culturally diverse” dolls still had European features, and to me, seemed to be basically the original Barbie in costumes, with darker hair and skin.
Instead of becoming a leader, promoting sensitivity and understanding, Mattel reinforced the dominant cultural stereotype and dismissed the natural beauty of other races and cultures. A lost opportunity for all of us. Certainly a lost chance to teach tolerance and respect for people with disabilities.
In 1997, Mattel ignored even the basic “People First” language (click here) with Wheelchair Becky. When a little girl with cerebral palsy complained, they renamed the doll Share-a-Smile Becky. Most advocates would say, “Becky” would have been enough.
Good intentions aren’t enough.
Like many perfect people, Barbie and Mattel didn’t get past their good intentions. When everyone learned Becky’s long hair got caught in the rungs of her wheelchair, and Barbie’s Dreamhouse and expensive cars were not wheelchair accessible, Mattel folded.
Rather than make Barbie’s perfect world accessible and promote universal design and inclusion, Becky disappeared from Barbie’s neighborhood, er… store shelves.
Who wants to be perfect anyway?
But like many people with disabilities, Wheelchair Becky was resilient and found her own friends and adventures.
Last week someone sent me a web update on what Wheelchair Becky has been doing. Click here to join her for a beer and enjoy her wild ride– with Perfect Barbie nowhere in sight.
(Exaggeration is part of humor and comedy. If the pendulum moves a little too far for your taste, remember this is about making Becky more human. I liked that she is shown as an adult…for good or bad. Attitude and change are not child’s play.)
Seeing her here, there and everywhere, the Wheelchair Becky adventures reminded me of the building community activity I did with several classes around the book, Flat Stanley.
Flat Stanley doing it right
Like Wheelchair Barbie, Stanley had an accident that resulted in some physical challenges. But Flat Stanley was also resilient, clever and he uses his unique physical condition to his advantage. Because he can now fit into an envelope he doesn’t have to worry about crowded flights and paying extra for luggage.
If you go to the Hall of Fame (click here) you will see Stanley has been in space, to the Academy Awards, to the White House and many exciting places.
In the picture we see Flat Stanley with a new friend in Kenya. Wouldn’t it be neat to have a pen pal from the other side of the world? Many teachers and school children think this personal connection is the best way to teach about different life styles and cultures.
The Flat Stanley Project is an international literacy and community building activity for students of all ages, teachers and families.
Check out http://FlatStanley.com for student and teacher testimonials, a phone app, templates for Flat Stanley and other characters including Flat Pilgrim, Flat Santa and the newest Flat Mrs. Claus.
For a history of the Flat Stanley project, click here.
My class used Flat Stanley and other Flat characters like Flat Pilgrim, Flat Santa, and the new one, Flat Mrs. Claus to become pen pals to let the children share their cultures with different people as well as practice their literacy skills.
Literacy and Service Learning Project
One group of preservice teachers was tutoring primary students with learning problems. They made the Flat Stanley Project into a literacy experience and a service learning project. We all donated a couple dollars and sent copies of the Flat Stanley books as well as art materials, disposable cameras and mailing supplies so our pen pal classes could exchange letters and pictures. We even found colored markers and pencils which allowed more diversity in colors and shades of skin tones. We included scissors which could be used by students who were left or right handed.
We paired the students in the literacy practicum from our small college town, with a class in an inner city in Charleston, SC and on an Indian Reservation in Montana. The project was a great success.
Dolls, Books, and People teach about diversity.
Inclusion is a way of life. And it includes Wheelchair Becky, Flat Stanley and yes, even Perfect Barbie.
Comments: What are the lessons of Barbie and Friends vs. Flat Stanley? What could have been different? Can we use toys for social change?
Becky looks like she is going to do some social networking on her laptop. What do you think she would write? What about Flat Stanley and Flat Mr. and Mrs. Claus? And what recommendations do you have for Barbie and other toy manufacturers? Are there some lessons for the holidays? Tell us what you are thinking?
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best,
Building Community: One Grocery Trip at a Time
With Aaron, my son with the label of autism, every trip to the grocery is an adventure.
Before we go, I usually do an ecological assessment (click here) and use some of the skills Aaron learned in his functional curriculum when he was in school.
Over the years and with lots of practice, I know what Aaron likes and dislikes. I try to make the shopping trip a good experience for both of us.
We try to go in the morning when the store isn’t crowded. We’ve developed a system where I walk in front of the cart making sure there is no person or display in the way. Aaron then follows pushing the cart with both hands on the handle.
Aaron is really good at following and knows to stop when I stop. He seldom bumps other people or the displays. This is a skill we have worked on for years and practice every week. I am really proud Aaron can do this.
We usually go to the same store.
That way Aaron is familiar with the physical space and layout. He knows the grapes and carrots are on the right front, the bread is in the right back, and after we pick up the milk and yogurt on the far left we will head to the checkout lanes. We usually only buy about ten items so the wait in line is short. We try to build a routine and structure into the experience.
We try to build a relationship with the store personnel.
This store was only a mile from where Aaron went to high school but in the suburbs we rarely see anyone we know. One of the baggers used to be in the special education program. She does a good job and always says hello. Some of the regular shoppers talk to her by name. She is one of our special ed. success stories and has been employed for over 10 years.
But I never know what’s going to happen.
Yesterday we went to the grocery near Tommy’s house because we wanted to let his dog out for him. Even though it was the same chain we always go to, the store was set up differently. STRESS.
I thought noon on a Sunday would be okay, but it was packed and everyone was in a hurry because the football game was due to begin at 1 PM and the only way to survive a Bengal game is with lots of beer and snacks. STRESS. STRESS.
Being ready for surprises
Aaron did pretty well. We got our groceries and went to the car. I was putting the bags in the trunk when Aaron started pounding on the roof of the car next to us. He’s never done that before.
The young man was getting his two young daughters out of the passenger side. He looked up and yelled, “Hey, stop that!”
Quickly I grabbed Aaron and was about to get him into his seat when Aaron pushed me away and again pounded on the top of the car. This time the guy came over to our side of the car.
I started to apologize when the guy said, “Aaron, is that you?”
Aaron gave him a side-ways glance.
I was stunned and didn’t quite know what to say. I looked at the guy and he looked at me, and he repeated, “Is that Aaron?”
There wasn’t much room in the space between the two cars. I took a deep breath and turned Aaron toward the young man. “Aaron do you know him?”
Instead of punching Aaron, the man gave Aaron a high-five.
I fumbled out a, “How do you know Aaron?” and the young man said they went to high school together. He said he used to come into Aaron’s class and take him to the gym. He said he and Aaron used to eat lunch together.
He touched Aaron’s arm and guided him over to the other side of his car and introduced Aaron to his two children who were about 5 and 3 years old. He told them Aaron was a friend from school and then had Aaron give them each a high-five.
Aaron was strangely quiet. He patted the younger child on the head and said, “Ahh.”
I thanked the man for saying hello. He said his name was Todd and he asked a couple questions about where Aaron lived.
We both talked about how Aaron must have recognized him and since he didn’t have any words, he used the pounding on the car to get attention. We both thought that was very clever of Aaron.
Finding More than Groceries
When we worked so hard for inclusion for Aaron in the public schools, we dreamed that Aaron would have a community of people who knew and accepted him. People who could see his gifts and strengths.
Every once in a while we have a unique success story that makes all that hard work worth it.
We’ve never expected big monumental experiences. This magic moment where Todd remembers Aaron and thinks enough of him to want to introduce him to his children–that’s big enough.
This is my 50th post. I hope you will check out a couple of the other articles and share your thoughts.
Do you have any experiences to share? Any magic moments?
Do you think the future will be better for adults with disabilities because of inclusion in the schools?
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All the Best,
Tommy is in the second row. Of course, Aaron is the red head in the middle of the picture who refused to look at the camera.
My last post Teachers| Inclusion or Segregation started an interesting discussion. It reminded me of the letter I wrote to the Principal of Hopewell Junior School:
Letter to Principal on Last Day of Jr. High School
June 6, 1990
Principal, Hopewell Junior School
Lakota School District
West Chester, Ohio
Dear Dr. Taylor,
Recently my nephew, Robert, started laughing hysterically when I mentioned his cousin; Aaron was going to be on the school cross-country team. “What’s Aaron going to do? Bite and push all the kids at the starting line so he can win?”
I was deeply hurt but tried to explain it wasn’t all about the winning but the trying that was important. Robert was shocked! “But why would you even try if you knew you couldn’t win?”
Different Kinds of Winners and Losers
I explained there were different kinds of “winning.” Aaron has autism but he also has the need for belonging to a group and regular exercise. Robert stared blank-faced, and after several more minutes I changed the subject. To this gifted 14 year old, who has above-average good looks, athletic ability and intelligence, this made no sense. Sigh.
Robert, Tommy (Aaron’s brother) and their peers are the people on whom Aaron will always be dependent. They are the next generation of parents, professionals, neighbors and…coaches.
The experiences and value systems they are developing in school, in the community, on the cross country teams–right this minute—will directly affecting Aaron’s future.
Robert has never gone to public school, run on an inclusive cross-country team or been friends with people with physical and intellectual challenges. Obviously, even his experiences with his cousin have made little impact. I think that is a deficit in his education. It will impact his future as a member of his family and community. It’s not a visible “D” on his report card, but it is an invisible “deficit” and loss in his life.
Who are the Winners and Losers?
How do you teach that the person who comes in first is not always the biggest winner? Can children learn it takes courage for not just children with challenges, but for all the boys and girls who finish near the end?
WINNERS are sometime those who RISK losing…being laughed at…coming in last.
Learning and Teaching Values
Each nation decides what is normal, average and gifted. They decide who are the winners and the losers.
Recently, we’ve been stunned by news accounts which demonstrate how the values in Iran, China, and Russia are different from our own. We have also witnessed incredible changes in philosophy, public opinion and policy. Values are fluid, changing and dependent on multiple factors.
Shaping those values and rights is something we do every day, consciously, or unconsciously. Sometimes value changes are dramatic like the Berlin Wall coming down–winners. Sometimes value changes are dramatic like Tiananmen Square-winners/losers depending on your point of reference.
The rights of citizens are gifts from a nation to their citizens. These rights and freedoms cannot be taken for granted.
The tragedy of having a child with a disability has nothing to do with the child, a syndrome, disease or label. The tragedy comes from the struggle with people in your family, community, country who decide if they will accept and support your family or rejected and isolate you.
Whether the differences are overlooked or emphasized. Whether the winners are only the ones who come in first.
“But Wait until Junior High”
When we went to court in 1979 (Cincinnati Public Schools) to allow Aaron to go to the public school, the doomsayers predicted, “MAYBE it would work in elementary school…But wait until Junior High!”
The teachers care only about academics, the sports are so competitive, the kids are so cruel–during lunch they will put drugs in your child’s milk”
They hatefully wanted to frighten us into accepting the segregated school and a segregated life.
Last Day of Junior School
Today is our last day at Hopewell Junior School and happily those predictions are laughable. Thanks to the vision and caring of the administration, staff, teachers–especially Miss Linda Lee–and the other students in the school Aaron and his classmates have had a great experience.
They are the first class of people with significant disabilities who have been able to attend a regular public school. It has been a new experience for everyone and it has been a success.
Aaron has had many opportunities for learning functional skills which will help him live, work and participate in the community. But more importantly, he has had opportunities to be “included as a regular student.”
There were some who wondered why a kid, who can hardly talk, much less sing, would practice and perform on stage with the school chorus?
Why someone who has severe balance and flexibility problems would try to participate on the cross-county and track team?
They wonder if it be would have been safer if Aaron rode the “handicapped bus” with an extra aide, instead of the regular bus with his brother?
They will never understand why we hate Special Olympics?
These parents, students and community members can’t figure out what could Aaron possibly get out of an assembly, or six minutes in regular homeroom?
The answer to most of these questions then and now is really WE Don’t KNOW!
The schools are changing the future
Aaron has gifts, strengths and talents and when given opportunities for learning–determination and pride. We do have observations.
Each time a schoolmate says, “Hi” and forces Aaron to give eye contact, each time a teammate said, “Go Aaron, you can make it!” or gives him a high 5–it is a victory.
Each time they see Aaron make it over a creek or down a hill we celebrate.
Every time they see him complete his vocational job stacking juice cartons in the lunchroom, sorting the silverware, filling the pop machines–it is a value enhancing experience. Aaron can learn to do jobs, that if he didn’t do them, someone else would.
This year Aaron’s picture is in the yearbook next to his brother’s. He and Tommy’s picture is in also with the athletes for Cross Country and Track. A First!
A general education high school student cared enough to help Aaron participate in a bowling league. And then, he took him to the Eighth Grade Dance whose theme was “That’s What Friends are For.” A First!
Aaron’ name (granted it was a name stamp) was on the class t-shirt. A First!
Aaron got a school letter in cross country and track, including being in the team picture. A First!
Aaron got his first paycheck from his vocational training site, Grote bakery, allowing him to become a taxpayer. A jump-up-and-down first!
A whole lot of Learning
To me, these shifts in school philosophy, values and focus on inclusion are every bit as dramatic as the Berlin wall coming down.
In the current evolution to merge special and general education, to change special separate classes into a system of inclusive classes with support services for ALL children–the new ideas, opportunities, choices, risks and freedoms are truly exciting.
Hopewell Junior School has given Aaron and Tommy the chance to be winners. The chance to show that sometimes the biggest lessons are not just in the classroom.
Their success has been a victory.
Hopefully, in this human race, our world will become a better place because of the mix of people who grow up more fully with the experiences of community inclusion.
Thanks for your continued support. Thanks for making Hopewell—a Well of Hope.
The Ulrich Family
Epilogue: 20 years later
Junior High turned out to be one of the best times in Aaron and Tommy’s lives. They both had caring teachers who looked at each of their individual needs. I wish we could find out what memories the other students had of their time with Aaron and Tommy in cross-county, track, bowling, choir, gym… I bet they would have some funny stories. I wish them all well.
ps. We often think of how the students are going to grow up and be the next voters, taxpayers, citizens… but we often forget the school staff also evolves. Aaron’s teacher, Miss Lee went on to become a district supervisor and Dr. Taylor, the prinicpal, is the current Superintendent of Lakota. I like to think their experiences with Aaron and Tommy influence who they are today.
Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my best,
Were kids with autism and severe disabilities included in your school? Do you have any thoughts to share? What do you think the future looks like?
A related story is What is Inclusion? plus, pictures of Aaron and Tommy at graduation.