Monday, December 31, 2012

Farewell to 2012

As we bid farewell to 2012 and indeed, to the final year in which Asperger's Syndrome has any official status in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), I thought I might take a moment to recap some major Aspergers and Autism moments this year.

Please note, that these are my own observations and as such they're subject to interpretation. Hopefully I won't offend anyone here by naming or using logos.

This year, as usual, I reviewed several books on Autism. It's hard to pick a favourite but I'd guess that it would probably be; Loving Someone with Asperger's Syndrome by Cindy N Ariel. For me, that one hit pretty close to home. I also really enjoyed "A Lifetime of Laughing and Loving with Autism" Compiled by R. Wayne Gilpin because it was full of positive real-life stories.

In fact, I read so many great books on autism this year that I decided to start a Pinterest Board. Check it out here.

Another great compilation, called We've Been Here All Along: Autistics over 35 Speak Out in Poetry and Prose was released later in the year. I'm probably biased because I have a chapter in it but personally, I think this was the most influential book of the year. It said so much and it arrived precisely at a time when the autism community needed it the most.

The "beautiful moment in Autism" of the year belongs firmly to Jo Ashline who in February wrote a post telling Autism to "Suck it". It was immediately replied to with a small voice which said, "did you just say that Autistic people suck?" and the whole thing just snowballed from there.  The beautiful moment came a few days later when Jo realised that there was a whole community out there who weren't there to fight with her, they were there to fight for her son. The autism community will never stop advocating for their own.

In May, one of my favourite advocates, Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg created a new site called Disability and Representation. Here, she not only provided some great and insightful articles but mostly single-handedly launched successful campaigns against several high profile people who dared to overstep the mark.  It's perhaps a tad aggressive for my rather meek attitude but someone has to do it and clearly Rachel is the person for the job.  Well done Rachel!  Your actions certainly hit the mark in the real world this year.

The Autism and Scouting group had a great year too with perhaps the highlight being a boy with Autism receiving the BSA heroism award for being one of the two key people involved in saving a boy's life.  A boy had become buried alive under 2.5 ft of sand and our hero with autism was able to locate the boys head by calculating the position.  Well done!  Also in the Autism and Scouting Group, there were lots of scouts with autism who received other awards.  It's so inspiring.

Moving on from Autism and Scouting, the founders of that site, the awesome John and Karen Krejcha founded a new initiative; Autism Empowerment this year. They've been doing a lot of work, have taken Autism to the airwaves and they also have some pretty impressive presentations online.

Then there's Special-ism, an awesome site which was put together by Danette Schott and Tiffani Lawton. They seem to have succeeded in uniting a group of special needs writers in a way which results in some fantastic articles. There were so many great stories on the site that I really don't think I could pick out any one as being my favourite.

Finally, the year ended on a very sad note with the suggestion that the Sandy Hook murders were due to Autism.  Fortunately, the community was on top of these remarks and various retractions were made and many broadcasters and newspapers made it very clear that there was no link between autism and homicide. It was also great to see Autism Speaks joining with Autism Advocates in what seemed to be the first time they agreed on something. I'm seeing this as a sign of hope and change.

All in all, it's been a very impressive and eventful year for the autism community and I look forward to seeing what 2013 will bring.

I'll be starting the new year off with an initiative aimed at putting the spot light back on the positives of autism and I hope that others will join me.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Article: Managing Expectations and Reactions During Visits and Gift Exchange

My Latest Post on Special-ism, Managing Expectations and Reactions During Visits and Gift Exchange is now available and while it's mostly about Christmas, it's also about every celebration and family gathering.

Have  read of it here.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Talking about Sandy Hook

I'm finally ready to talk about the Sandy Hook thing but it's not really a thing I'd normally discuss on this blog. You see, I like to stay on topic and keep all of my posts about Autism and Asperger's Syndrome - and Sandy Hook is about neither. Still, I guess there are some things which need to be said.

In case you don't know, Sandy Hook is the latest in a number of school shootings in the US. In many ways, it's being considered the "worst" because of the number of victims involved and their young ages.  In truth, whichever shooting affects your own family is always the "worst". There no ranking. All of these "crazy gunmen" incidents are bad.

Over here in Australia, where among other things, we have some of the most restrictive gun laws in the world, we're constantly shaking our heads at our US cousins who are ruled by powerful gun lobbies under a constitution which was written more or less to close to a period of war. Getting rid of the guns won't solve the problem. We still have gun violence but it's much reduced. Of course, since all of our borders are ocean, it's also much easier to patrol Australia.

When incidents like this occur, all eyes turn towards the perpetrators rather than to the victims. We spend time scratching our heads and trying to "profile" the killer as if this is just another episode of CSI. We look for patterns even when there are none and we try to pin these tragedies on minority groups because then we can say, "that person wasn't normal". We can convince ourselves that we're not all cold blooded killers waiting to snap.

I'm here to tell you that there will always be people like this in the world and that they won't necessarily fit a given profile. Even worse, although sometimes it's an illness, the truth is that we as a society are often responsible for them snapping.  Merciless bullying can often cause people to snap as can media exposure which makes these killer famous.  History has shown that there are plenty of killers and regardless of the availability of weaponry or the manner in which society locks up those deemed to be mad, the killers will often remain undetected and will strike when the time suits them.

There is no profile. These killers are normal people in abnormal situations.

This brings me to the reason I've posted this here. A number of people have seized upon the idea that the gunman had Asperger's syndrome. They've suggested that several other gunmen may also have had it.  They've decided that this is a common thread even though it's simply not true. Many of the other shooters and possibly this one do not have Asperger's syndrome. From here, it's a small step from panicking parents who ruin their children's lives with fear to calls for genocide. I've seen posts on Facebook recently suggesting that people with autism should be locked up or even randomly set on fire.

It underscores my point nicely. We're all killers. There is no profile and as evidenced many times in our history, the human race as a whole is always only one small step away from madness.

It's time for us to stop profiling and to stop looking for minority groups to pin the blame on. It's time to tell the media to stop contributing to the problem by sensationalizing the news and by publicly profiling killers. It's time for better gun laws, better services and better support for people who may be depressed or otherwise excluded from society. There is no one solution to the problem but many small steps which will help us make the journey.

In the meantime, we need to remember that tragedies are about victims, not perpetrators - and there are many victims. The victims of this latest madness are the students and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. They are the families and friends of these people. They are the children who are unfairly labelled as a result of mad profiling and they are the communities which are ostracized because we want to pin the blame on a minority.

Let us not make any more victims. Let's remember the victims we already have and then pick up our lives and move on from this tragedy. Let's show some human spirit and do the best we can to reduce he likelihood of further incidents while ensuring that we don't infringe upon each other's freedoms.

Together we can make a difference.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Book Review: Sensory Parenting: The Elementary Years by Britt Collins MS, OTR and Jackie Linder Olson.

Sensory Parenting: The Elementary Years 
School Years Are Easier when Your Child's Senses Are Happy!
by Britt Collins MS, OTR and Jackie Linder Olson.

Sensory Parenting: The Elementary Years is a sequel of sorts to Sensory Parenting: Newborns to Toddlers. To me it feels like a much more accomplished book - perhaps though, it's simply the fact that this one is far more relevant to my current situation.

Like its predecessor, the book focuses on finding ways around your child's sensitivities and it's designed for parents of children with a range of complications, including but not limited to, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), the Autism spectrum in general and Attention-Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).

Like the first book, this is a collaboration between a mother (Jackie) and a paediatric occupational therapist (Britt). Somehow, this time around, their voices are far more harmonious and the switching between Britt and Jackie's point of view is far less jarring. Both authors have a lot of good material and the book is a breeze to read.

The introductory chapters cover the senses, going well beyond the five established ones; sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing to include vestibular (balance), proprioception (body awareness) and interoception (internals).  The book also lists developmental milestones and discusses ways that you can extend your child's social repertoire.

The book also includes insightful and relevant paragraphs from other experts in the field including interviews with various specialist OTs to discuss the range and use of their therapies.  There are also "OT tips" and "mom tips" scattered throughout the book.

The middle section of the book delves into specific sensory situations at home, at school, on holidays and in the world at large, with a chapter on each major area. Everything is very well labelled and helpful headers simply leap out at you.

The last few chapters cover sensory games, activities and therapies that you can use to desensitize and habituate your child. The book closes with useful appendices which contain relevant material from the first book on the use of pets as support animals and on dealing with food sensitivity in your child.

All in all this is an excellent book which I'd recommend to anyone with sensory children in elementary school (primary school here in Australia).  Of course, if you're an OT, then a copy is pretty much mandatory reading.

Sensory Parenting: The Elementary Years is available from; Amazon, where it's available as a paperback or a Kindle book, Goodreads and Future Horizons.

Honesty disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes.