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Autism Tattoos – Part 3

13 Apr

In January 2014 I posted my first “Autism Tattoos” blog to celebrate the artwork people had added to their bodies in support of autism awareness and acceptance. I was originally inspired to share autism themed tattoos because my sister got one for our little brother, Dylan. Later I did a follow up post and got even more submissions of people wanting to share their tattoos and what each meant to them.

It has been over a year since then so I decided it was time for the third installment of this Autism Tattoos series. The response was overwhelming- literally! I almost couldn’t keep up with the number of e-mails and comments I received from people wanting to share their tattoos and their stories. I loved reading through each description and seeing the creativity people had when designing their emblems. This time around the “different, not less” theme seemed to be a popular choice. Whatever the design, one thing is clear… people are passionate about showing their love, acceptance, and hope through their autism tattoos.

(Click to enlarge)

Tat1

Tat2

Tat3

Tat4

Tat5

Tat6

Tat7

Tat8

 

Tat9

 

 

Tat10 Tat11
Tat12 Tat13 Tat14

Tat15 Tat16
Tat17
Tat18 Tat19

Creating versus complaining…

24 Mar

A month or so ago I attended a behavior analysis conference for work. It was a 2 day event with presentations from various researchers, students, professors, scientists, and ABA providers. But my favorite presentation of the whole conference was one by Jodi and Jonathan Murphy of Geek Club Books. Jonathan is an adult with Aspergers who has a successful voice-over career and his mother, Jodi, created Geek Club Books as a way for Jonathan to share his stories. Their presentation focused on employment opportunities for adults with special needs.

What stood out to me about their presentation was their willingness to share their struggles without blaming their hardship on the rest of the world. There is a huge need for more employers to embrace special needs adults and provide well-paying opportunities to them. However, Jodi and Jonathan didn’t focus on the victimization of special needs adults. Rather, they focused on what to do about it. Jodi recognized a talent and a passion her son had and found a way to help make it a career for him.

So many people live with bitterness and resentment towards the world, claiming we “neuro-typicals” need to stop trying to help special needs people fit our mold and instead change our mold to fit them. While the ideals of accommodation and acceptance are perfectly reasonable and fair, I don’t find it realistic or appropriate to suggest a complete adaptation with blind tolerance. There are certain things that will never be acceptable, special needs or not. Aggression, indecent exposure, extremely disruptive or dangerous behavior…. just to name a few.

 

Instead of fighting so hard against “neuro-typicals” to demand complete and utter acceptance, without the intent to “change” people, why not collaborate on ways to make life easier and more pleasurable for those with special needs? The fact of the matter remains, to secure and maintain a job in this culture a person must have certain skills and must be able to refrain from certain behaviors. So I just can’t understand how someone helping a person gain those skills and reduce those behaviors (to help them get a job someday where they can earn a fair living and contribute their gifts to the world) is a bad thing.

And that’s what I loved about Jodi and Jonathan’s presentation. There was a clear recognition that although opportunities are limited, it is not beneficial to point the finger in anger, but rather to examine what can be done about it. Let’s focus on how we can strengthen skills, cultivate passions, and create opportunities, instead of just marinating on an “us” versus “them” mentality.

Uncle Dylan…

9 Jan

This Christmas I announced to my family that I’m pregnant. One of the people I was most excited to tell was my brother, Dylan. I never know what to expect from him, but I love watching his reactions and seeing how he processes things. Watching him understand something new is one of the coolest things.

 

He saw the family shedding tears of joy and pointed to each of us commanding, “Happy! Happy!” We told him we were happy, but the combination of crying and feeling happy doesn’t quite equate in his mind yet.  After the initial shock wore off, my mom yelled to Dylan from across the room “Dylan! There’s a peanut in her tummy! You’re going to be Uncle Dylan!!”

Dylan2

He raised his eyebrows in excitement and gave a sweet smile. I couldn’t help but grab his little face and smile. Then he clapped his hands and muttered something under his breath. Later I told him, “Dylan, there’s a baby in my tummy.” He proceeded to poke my belly and told me, “It’s a peanut.” I laughed and told him it looks like a peanut but it’s actually a baby, and that he was going to be Uncle Dylan. For whatever reason he then protested, “No Uncle Dylan”. I really have no idea why… but that’s just Dyl. I think he’ll warm up to the idea 😉

 

I can’t wait to see how he reacts to my growing baby-bump. And, ultimately, I can’t wait to see how he reacts to my baby. I am so excited for him to be Uncle Dylan.

Speak for yourself…

8 Jun

“Autism isn’t a tragedy, ignorance is.”

“I don’t suffer from autism, I enjoy every moment of it.”

“I don’t suffer from autism… I suffer from ignorant people.”

There are countless websites, online groups, and Facebook pages dedicated to these taglines. These sites, run mainly by people who identify as being on the spectrum (and others run by parent advocates) argue that autism is not bad, sad, or unfortunate. It does not cause people to hurt. Autism is a beautiful diversity and should be celebrated. And those who would say otherwise….They are “hate-mongers”. Wishing your child didn’t have autism, or hoping for a “cure” makes you unloving, and unaccepting, according to these sites.

Here’s the fundamental issue I have with these arguments….

Your experience does not give you the right to deny another person’s experience.

Your experience does not negate the experience of another person. Matter of fact, your experience doesn’t actually have anything to do with another’s.

Your experience does not give you the ability to make blanket statements for all people in similar circumstances.

I just can’t fathom that someone could look at a child with autism screaming, crying, bashing his head into a wall until it bleeds and say “That’s not tragic” or “They’re not suffering because of autism.” I can’t wrap my head around someone seeing the news stories of another dead autistic child because he wandered away from home, and say that child, or their family, didn’t suffer at the hands of autism… Instead they would argue that they suffered at the hands of the “ignorant” public. I can’t comprehend that someone could watch a child with autism be unable to get their needs met because they can’t communicate, and say that his inability to communicate is not the tragedy… those around him not being able to read his mind is the tragedy.

Honestly, I’m of the opinion that (while I know there are many great qualities about it) autism causes an enormous amount of pain, struggle, and difficulty for A LOT of people. Those diagnosed, and their families. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it.

And, with that said, I will also make clear that I know not all people affected by autism are of the same opinion… and that’s okay!

Having an opposing view on the “tragedy” or “suffering” related (or not related) to autism does not threaten me, nor does it even bother me… when you are talking about your own experiences. But representing your opinion as fact on behalf of the entire autism community is wrong, unfair, and offensive.

Just how so many of these same spokespeople say “Autism Speaks doesn’t speak for me”…. You “advocates” don’t speak for ME, my brother, or other people, either. NO ONE speaks on behalf of everybody, and the sooner people recognize that, the sooner we can stop waging wars on who is “right”. You speak about your experiences, I’ll speak about mine. You hold opinions based on your experiences, I’ll hold opinions based on mine. And even when our whole-hearted beliefs don’t align, that’s okay. They don’t need to. Let’s respect that our own life experiences don’t override the experiences of another person.

WAAD

2 Apr
WAAD
As most of my readers know…today is “World Autism Awareness Day”. I didn’t even realize it until yesterday when my sister reminded me. And, while it may seem obvious to write about my brother today, given the topic at hand, I’m actually going to write about some other love bugs that have changed my life.
My love for these 2 kids can’t be described through a blog. But they’ve had a remarkable impact on my life, and my story with them is worthy of being shared. For parents that ever wondered if ABA therapists have favorite clients… they do. And these boys were mine.
I had the pleasure, and honor, of going to school with these 2 kids for many years, in addition to working with them both at home. I worked so many hours with them both that I got to know them pretty intimately, and our bonds were unlike any other I’ve ever had with my clients. They became family to me. We had our own inside jokes. We had our own little habits and routines. We had our own special relationships.
Together these boys and I grew. They grew from cute little kids to handsome big boys. I grew from a shy, somewhat green therapist to a confident, experienced BCBA applicant. They pulled me out of my shell. They stretched me to become better, clinically and personally. They gave me an endless supply of funny stories, priceless moments, and hilarious memories. They knew what I expected from them. They knew how I said things, and even how I wrote. They knew my family. They knew my fears, and what made me happy. They knew me. And I knew them… I knew their favorite everything. I knew their hot buttons, and what made them tick. I knew what excited them. I knew how each of them learned material best. I knew how to modify almost anything to be presented in a way they could understand. I knew how to influence their behavior from across the room, with only a glance. But they knew how to melt my heart with only a smile. My hold over them was nothing compared to their hold over me.
In the process of falling in love with these kids, I also grew to love their family. And because we spent so much time together, their family really got to know and love me, too. I was able to share in the life experieces of this family, and they shared in mine. From engagement, to marriage, graduations, first communions, birthdays, surgery, and even family deaths… We lived a lot of life together. I consider it a unique privilege to have been so included in a family that wasn’t my own.
So… on this autism awareness day, I’m reminded of how deeply I love these 2 angels, and always will. No matter how many years go by, or how many new kids I work with, there will never be a repeat of the relationships I created with them. While forming a bond with any child is special, forming a bond with the population I work with is exponentially more precious. So I am “aware” on this day (and everyday) , that to truly connect with those who have autism… that is a blessing beyond compare. And I am “aware” of just how special these 2 boys are, and how lucky I am to have been part of their lives.

Baseball Season

8 Mar

Dylan started baseball this weekend and had his first game yesterday. He’s playing on a special-needs league and his team is made up of children with various disabilities.

His team doesn’t play against another. Rather, they are divided in half and take turns being at-bat and in the outfield. Each child has a buddy. These buddies are typical children from other teams whose games are immediately following the special-needs game. They also have teenage volunteers and parent volunteers. His team has no practices; only games. There are no strikes, and no outs. Each child gets to bat until they hit the ball, and then they run all the bases.

This weekend Dylan played for the first time ever, and he did amazing. The cheering was so exciting for Dylan, even when the crowd wasn’t cheering for him. He loved dancing around in the outfield, watching his shadow, and pretending to run alongside the other players as they rounded the bases. He imitated a perfect ground-ball stance when it was modeled for him. And he grabbed and threw the ball when prompted.

For his second at-bat (ever, in his whole life), he stepped up to the plate… And whacked the ball. We all screamed! He smiled ear to ear, and in typical Dylan fashion, he let out a high pitch squeal and began running the bases (although never quite touching them).

Watch Dylan’s home-run here.

It was incredible. His first time playing baseball, and he hit the ball! Not from a tee…an actual coach-pitched ball! We were so proud of him. Not only for his incredible hit, or for running the bases. But, for engaging in a new social activity, following directions from strangers, taking turns, and attending to a task that isn’t in his usual repertoire of preferred activties. Playing on this team is good for him in so many ways, and I’m so grateful this league exists.

AngDylBaseball

Proud big sis with her little “Angel”.

BaseballDyl1

IQs and ID

15 Feb

I recently ran into an issue when considering “Intellectual Disability” diagnoses among those with autism. Intellectual Disability (ID) was formerly known as “mental retardation”. Diagnostic criteria looks at adaptive skills in addition to IQ scores. Both adaptive skills and IQ are measured using standardized tests.

And therein lie the problem.

“Standardized” tests, by definition, are given in the exact same way for all it’s test takers. The problem this poses to those with autism is obvious (or at least it is in my mind, anyways). Children with autism are not like every other test taker… they all have unique strengths and challenges.

Many children with autism have attention issues. While they may notice the tiny piece of frayed rug, or the patterns in the painting on the wall, they may not be attending to the instructions given to them. Or, while they may be able to sit for a couple questions at a time, they may get restless or require sensory breaks in order to sit for longer periods of time.

Another aspect of standardized testing is that it relies on a child’s ability to follow directions. Many times children with autism do not comply with instructions, not because they don’t understand them, but because they don’t want to. How is the administrator going to know whether it’s a compliance (behavioral) issue, or an intelligence issue? They’re not… so it will just be marked as an incorrect response.

Let’s also consider the response time aspect of testing. Perhaps a child does know the answer, but takes longer to process the question and produce a response.

Now, I’m not saying that testing considerations are the only problem and otherwise all autistic kids would show high IQs.  What I’m saying is that there is no way to know for sure whether a child doesn’t know the answer or just isn’t providing the answer. And, clearly issues with attention, compliance, and response time make it problematic for people to function in the world we live in. So deficits in those areas should be, and need to be, considered when looking at the overall functioning of the individual. But, what I am suggesting is that these tests do not look at the overall WHOLE person, and they have no way of truly measuring the intelligence of a child with autism. They simply measure an ability to respond to questions. And, responding to questions is not synonymous with “intelligence” in my book.

To me, it would be like giving an english test to a spanish speaking child. They will score pretty low on many of the questions, not necessarily because they don’t know the answers, but because the questions aren’t being asked in a way the child can understand.

Giving a test made for typically developing children to ATYPICAL children does not provide a valid measurement of intelligence. That is my whole-hearted belief. And using the scores of such a test to determine a secondary diagnosis of “Intellectual Disability” is misleading, and an incomplete representation of the child. Einstein said it best….

genius

(PS- why is IQ so important anyways? If the child already has an autism diagnosis, we already know they have deficits in socialization and communication. What value does an IQ score add?)

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