Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Review: No More Victims: Protecting those with Autism from Cyber Bullying, Internet Predators and Scams by Dr Jed Baker

No More Victims
Protecting those with Autism from Cyber Bullying, Internet Predators and Scams 
by Dr Jed Baker

Coming less than a week after a terribly mishandled bullying case which destroyed my five year career in scouting, I guess I had unrealistically high expectations for this book. While it didn't measure up to my expectations, it was nevertheless a useful and practical booklet covering the subject of Internet predators and scams.  There's a mention of autism but really, it's something that can be summed up in one or two sentences.

People with autism spend a lot of time online, they are naive and are easily baited.

I really wasn't happy with the bullying section of this book. The section didn't start with a definition of bullying but described cyber-bullying thus; "Cyber Bullying is a term typically used to describe emotional victimisation and abuse among school and college aged individuals".  This is a terrible description which makes it seem that cyber-bullying stops when people leave college.  The remainder of the chapter assumes that the bully is a school student and that the school is supportive of the victim".

I can tell you from recent experience that in real life, this is certainly not the case.

The second section covers online predators and this was much better. Strangely enough, there were three pages which were copied pretty much verbatim from the previous section. They fitted into the subject material but in a book of under 100 pages, this just felt a little wasteful.

Once the book reaches the scams though, it picks up considerably and gives a great deal of good practical advice while covering the major types of scam. This section is the real gold and it stops concentrating on kids and recognises that adults with money are generally the main target of scams.  There's also a chapter by Jennifer McIlwee Myers called "an insider's view".  I was expecting this to be about Asperger's syndrome but instead it's about sites which help you to identify scams.  It's still a great chapter, it's just not about Autism - except perhaps for one or two lines.

No More Victims is a great book if you need to know about scams and predators but not so useful for bullying. Despite its title, it doesn't bring anything about Autism to the table but it is nevertheless a useful book for adults on the spectrum who are clearly more at risk due to their naivety and the number of hours they spend on the Internet.  I'm not sure that including autism on the cover is doing the book any favours though and it's equally useful to all adults who "compute" regularly.

At under 100 pages, this book is a breeze to read and it's very well laid out with clear headings, points and pictures. The appendix contains two sample "contract forms" that parents can use with their kids covering bullying and the use of phone and Internet.

If you've ever unknowingly believed and forwarded a fake message on Facebook, then this book is for you.

No More Victims: Protecting those with Autism from Cyber Bullying, Internet Predators and Scams by Dr Jed Baker is available from Future Horizons Inc. and Amazon.

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

Friday, October 11, 2013

Should your child on the Autism Spectrum attend IEP Meetings?

I was reading an article about a boy with autism who was silenced at a school board meeting because the subject was approaching dangerous legal ground.  Big thanks to Caitlin for pointing this one out.  I don't have any problems with the silencing because I fully understand the reasons and I don't think it was discriminatory.

What got my attention though was the boy's response to being silenced;

Christian concluded his talk by telling the audience that his self-advocacy work had taught him, "Nothing for me, without me," and left the microphone.

That's something for his parents to be really proud of.

I started thinking about this in more detail, thinking about how my wife and I have been going to IEP meetings without our sons and how the things we've been doing for them have been "without them".  I think there's a big flaw in our plans.

The Initial IEP Meetings
There's no doubt that the initial IEP meetings need to be conducted without the child being present simply because they're a time of deep emotional stress for the parents and teachers.  In those early days, one of the parents is often in grief and the other is most probably in denial. The teachers are guarded because they don't know how the parents are going to react and whether or not they're going to sue them or try to force a different curriculum or unrealistic expectations upon them.

Those early IEP days were a time of struggle when parents and teachers alike went through whole boxes of tissues and where voices were raised and threats were made.  It's not an environment I'd want my children exposed to.

Thankfully after the first couple of years, things settled down for us and we all realised that while we were coming from different directions with different budgets and expectations, we were actually working towards the same long term goals. Our IEP meetings today a breezy, chatting and fairly productive.

Getting the Child Involved
This brings us back to the line; "Nothing for me, without me".  It's a common cry within the autistic community. For example, there was a big outcry directed at "Autism Speaks" because they did not have a single autistic member on their board. I'm not sure if that's changed now but I have checked on the web and if they've rectified the problem, they're not being very vocal about it.

I started to think about the whole IEP process.  It's aimed at understanding where our child is struggling and finding things that will help him to achieve his educational goals. Who better than our son, to tell us what he finds challenging and what will and won't help?  Why are we ignoring him in the IEP process?

I think that perhaps, given that my eldest is thirteen, I need to sit down and discuss the situation with him. If he wants to be involved, then I think we need to make it clear to the school.  It might be time to start including him on his own advocacy.

After all, it's something that he'll be doing for the rest of his life.  He might as well learn it now.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Airline Travel and Kids with Special Needs

I've travelled a bit with my kids recently and each time it seems to be the same things which create the biggest problems. The flight itself is usually quite good, especially nowadays as there are so many electronic distractions. My kids took their iPads with them last time and they kept busy for the entire 10 hour flight.

No, it's the other aspects of flying which present a challenge.

Airports are full of waiting areas. Flights always seem to do the unexpected, like get cancelled or delayed and then the waiting begins. Even before you get to the airport, there's a lot of waiting around in anticipation. It's not something that special needs kids are very good at, especially when their iPads are packed away preserving their batteries for the flight.

In my kids case, waiting means a whole lot of pushing and shoving and fighting. We have to keep them separated with at least one parent sitting in between them. It's especially during waiting in public areas that inappropriate language or gestures make their appearance.  I have a T-shirt which says "who are these kids and why are they calling me dad?" Sometimes, in waiting areas, I wish I was wearing that shirt. If nothing else, one of my regular airport waiting positions is the "facepalm" position with one finger in my good ear.

Ignoring the situation isn't the best response but regardless of how many other delaying tactics you use, eventually, you'll find yourself there too. It's just a matter of time.

Airport Security
If the waiting areas are a place where you just ignore the kids and hope that they don't cause too much mischief, then security areas are exactly the opposite. You need to talk to your kids before you get into these areas and then once you get in, you need to watch your kids like a hawk. In security, little problems can escalate very quickly and you can find yourself in some very difficult situations. Here are some of the issues I've experienced with my kids in security;

On one trip, the kids got to customs and pulled their new digital cameras out of their bags and started photographing everything, totally oblivious to the signs around them expressly forbidding photography. I wasn't aware of what they were doing until they snapped a close shot of the customs official as he was talking to me. He was very unhappy and I had to hand over both the boys cameras to get the photos deleted.

Once, I forgot to warn my youngest that his bear would be a problem. He looks a bit too old for a bear, so security obviously thought nothing of simply snatching it off him.  It was only quick intervention on my part to drag him over to the TV screen so he could watch his bear have an x-ray that prevented a meltdown. 

Just recently, I went through the metal detector without remembering my phone in my pocket. The security guys told everyone to stop but my eldest continued on through oblivious.  I had to grab him and bodily push him back before the airport security team moved in.

Then there's talking. You know how your kids come out with the worst things when you're in the company of other adults. Well, it's the same with airport security. We don't watch a lot of movies about planes at home but when we do, the planes often blow up (Die Hard 2 and other family fun movies). Of course, for a kid with asperger's syndrome, that means that the airport is the ideal place to quote those movies or talk about plot details... or bombs.   Every time my eldest started talking at security, I had to tell him to shut up.  

I probably looked like the worst parent ever but since you never know what is going to come out of his mouth, it's better to be safer than sorry.

Flying Itself
Compared to the airport, flights are easy. There's often a bit of nervousness at take-off though and I'm reminded of those movies where the other passenger skilfully distracts the anxious one during take-off. This is a skill you need to learn. In my kids case, it's probably the only time I've ever shown an interest in mine craft. Those safety videos don't do much to inspire confidence either.

Planes are full of really cool gadgets and it's very difficult to prevent your child from playing with them all during take off. Of course, most of these gadget have to be in a special position during take-off so it's worth reminding the kids before the flight gets under way.  Even then, you'll still have to watch them carefully. Have some chewable sweets available during take off and landing. This helps kids to equalise the pressure in their ears - and takes their mind off what is really going on.

Airline food is fun too. Be prepared to eat the yucky parts of your child's meal in exchange for your roll or dessert. Airline foods are sometimes spicy and nearly always contain a range of textures which seem to be "designed" to make special needs kids feel uncomfortable. You may also need to be on hand to open the foods for your child - or else you and the other passengers may end up wearing it.

Finally, there's the toilet. You'll have to talk to your kids about the toilet before they need to go because otherwise there's a chance that they'll freak out when it flushes. If you have boys, try to encourage them to sit and pee otherwise it will look like a stormtrooper has been in there. (Hint: Remember the stormtroopers in Star Wars who only had to shoot four fugitives in a straight corridor and they still missed every time).

Plane toilets are too small for you to go in to help but try to be next in line to do any cleaning up if necessary and if your child is too scared to flush, tell them that it is ok, provided that you're next in line.

Apart from all of this, flying with special needs kids can be a great experience . The key is simply to anticipate trouble before it happens.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Article: Reducing Computer Overuse Problems in Kids with Special Needs

My latest article on Special-ism is now available; 

It's called Reducing Computer Overuse Problems in Kids with Special Needs and no, it's not all about telling your kids to get off their computers and go outside. In fact, it's about dealing with a problem which isn't going to go away.

If your kids spend a lot of time on computers, phones, iPads, androids or any other type of device requiring a lot of fine motor skill in their hands, then you ought to read this.

After you've read the article, you're going to want to know about exercises that you can do to reduce your issues. Here's some great youtube resources;

Also, if you're interested in Dragon, which is a product I've used successfully for years, here's their site. The dictate edition lets you record into a voice recorder and play it back later for conversion.  It's a good way to write documents while relaxing in a (quiet) park.