3/12/2015

On Revisiting Past Interactions and the Unfairness Factor: Newsweek's Autism Article

In December I was contacted by a reporter from Newsweek asking to interview me for an article about Jonathan Mitchell. I politely declined, as I haven't had any interaction with him since I apologized in 2011 for allowing him to be bullied in the comments on several of my blog posts. I sent the reporter the link to the article and my addendum with the apology.

Since I declined, I was more than a bit surprised to find out that my words to Jonathan about autism not being his biggest problem, along with my take on my three children with autism, essentially close the article.



 Initially, after reading the piece online, I decided against commenting on it. The title for the article online wasn't really that reflective of the article, as the article was more about Mitchell and his life and how he was a loner even in the autism community. My 13-year-old read the article, and she came away from the piece feeling bad for Mitchell, wanting him to like himself. She felt his situation was unfair and he should like who he was, commenting on all the things he can do and how brave he was to sing in public.

I've had mixed feelings about the article, whether it was aimed at being sympathetic toward Mitchell and his point of view or if its point was far different. Online with the title "The Debate Over and Autism Cure Turns Hostile," it is innocuous enough, but it is very dated. My interactions with Mitchell were from 2009 to 2011. In the online world, that's ancient history. It didn't just turn hostile. It's been hostile from the get-go, long before I arrived on the scene.


The picture opening the article shows Mitchell as he would seem to see himself, alone and lonely, fading into the background.

The actual print magazine, although the article is word for word, changed the intent by changing the title:

 
 The full first two pages shows Mitchell at his desk, a picture that appears in the online article.

02_20_JonathanMitchell_01 

It doesn't appear with that title, though, and I think the bait and switch of the initial online title and the title in the contents, "Hope Kills," is unfair.

Sure, several individuals I know online appear in the article, quoted from present time, stating that Mitchell hates himself.

Is this how we want to treat people? Mitchell, in the article, admits to being rude, and the article author notes that he gives as good as he gets, but again, what does it serve to cut a man down?

By reducing Mitchell to a trope to either sympathize with (feel sorry for) or to dismiss as a self-hater trying to make other people hate themselves, the article does Mitchell a disservice. It doesn't see him as a whole person with feelings. It doesn't consider how this bait and switch headline will affect him or other autistic individuals who are similar to Mitchell in that they are ostracized, alone, and lonely, because of difficult behaviors or behaviors just off enough to make people veer around them.

Mitchell himself might be fine with the portrayal, seeing any acceptance of autism (autistic individuals) as the same as accepting a potentially (and perhaps often) crippling disability as the norm, in need of no mediation.

I think Mitchell and all the individuals like him deserve better. I'm not sure he was heard in this article, that the reality he was trying to convey was really understood. That sometimes a "cure" would be a blessing for those who are severely disabled by autism.

When I started blogging six years ago, I ran across Mitchell through the Age of Autism blog, which featured him as an adult autistic wanting a cure. We had several acrimonious interactions, and rather than considering the individual on the other side, I focused on the words. I ignored the communication disorder that is part and parcel of autism. At the time, my oldest was 19, and I did not see my son in Jonathan. I saw a middle aged man who was bitter. I didn't go deeper.

Six years later, it's becoming easier to see my son thirty years into the future, with his difficulty in regulating tone, reading facial expressions, and understanding receptive language. I hope and pray that people who cross his path will look past the issues and see him empathetically and give him the benefit of the doubt, that they will be kind and patient and accepting. 

I hope that there won't be pictures portraying my son as alone or lonely or as a self-hater. I hope he won't feel that way. And I hope Jonathan Mitchell will not always feel that way, either. As my 13-year-old says, "Everyone deserves a friend and to be happy."


2/24/2015

Reinforcements




Some things you see coming. You know it's ahead and you make preparations. You fortify yourself and get ready.

But what do you do when you go from having the best time of your working life, in the middle of things, working hard, putting in more hours than ever to literally fall flat on your face? And not just once, from one fall, but from multiple falls? What do you do when your words fail you and the most interesting and incorrect words come out in place of what you meant to say? What happens when even in your head you fight aphasia? And when those words stick for the item? When it becomes a permanent replacement? What happens when you don't even notice you are screwing up your words?

 Doctor's appointments. MRIs. Blood tests. Nerve conduction studies. Specialists. No answers, some answers, recommendations to keep going to bigger specialists hours away. No thanks. I'll learn to cope since there's no fix.

Diabetic neuropathy to add to 27 years of fibromyalgia along with the other issues that make life interesting and challenging. Learning to accept that those burning patches are there to stay, and figuring out how to manage them by acknowledging them and then boxing them up in my mind, a container for each toe, each finger, each foot, each leg. Going through this routine until the pain is boxed up or I've fallen asleep.

And a walker. And a cane for when the walker won't work for the situation. And frustration at having to concede that driving is risky given the dizziness and brain fog, so that freedom is taken away 99% of the time. Learning to lean on my family and friends and admit weakness. And live with it. Own it. Get around it. Give it the finger when I've got bigger plans. Learning to plan around what I want to do so that I can do it. And accepting the price of that.

 

And since my fingertips are numb, and my wrists hurt, someone else gets my meds for me or she's picking up the whole bottle's worth that I've dropped. 

Learning to work from home, to teach online, to figure out how to get back into the classroom in the fall. Living with being home 24/7 and days that take on a regularity of being awake for awhile, asleep for awhile, and in pain all the time because the meds that work on the fibro and neuropathy also make me an even greater fall risk and give me a foggier brain. 
 


Surveying the living room from my recliner and watching the cats rub all over the walker, the dogs play under it, the kids occasionally sit in it. Accepting that it has become a part of the background in the three months it's been here. The cats even take turns being wheeled into the bedroom when I go that way for a nap. The dogs run ahead--they know when nap time is. I've gotten used to it, to what it is, what the cane is, what the permanent disability placard is: reinforcements.

With my walker, I can zoom. And I do. Sometimes, it feels close to flying, and there is joy in the zoom. With my cane, I feel older, more fragile. I trust the walker. I do not trust the cane. I certainly do not trust me. My balance is awful and I fall a lot. Into walls, bookcases, cabinets. Onto the ground. So, walker it is. Shiny and red and loved by cats who get rides and take naps on it.



Plus, I can match my outfits to it. As long as I don't start thinking I need a walker in every color. You know?


2/20/2015

Dawn Marcotte: Resources to Help Autistic Students Choose the Right College

Finding the right college is key to successfully graduating and lists like the Top 10 Colleges for Autistic Students can only go so far. 
Here are a few other resources to check before making any decisions.
ASAN's Navigating College Handbook
The Navigating College Handbook was published in 2011. This book was written by autistic students, for autistic students and its point of view is unique. The book is available for free at their website, Navigating College http://navigatingcollege.org/download.php). The ebook contains information on getting academic accommodations, housing tips, health and safety, advocacy and social life. 
Online Websites
Searching for college is a big business online. There are many websites with information about colleges across the country. Unfortunately few of them include any information on the support services for autistic students. 
ThinkCollege.net is a web site that specifically targets autistic students. The site has a listing of colleges, universities and post-secondary programs designed for autistic students. However the programs they list are submitted to them for inclusion on the list and the list is far from complete. If students have a specific school in mind, checking this site to see what programs are available is a good first step. However if the school is not listed here, it doesn't mean they don't have support programs available. 
Another website to check is SpectrumU (https://spectrumu.wordpress.com/) This site lists many colleges in alphabetical order or by type of university. However this is in a list format, not a searchable database. The site does have some excellent information on searching for colleges with appropriate services.
Print Resources
Consumer Reports has done a review of online and print resources for college guides and comparisons. While none of the online resources they recommend address services for autistic students several of the print books do.
The College Handbook by the College Board, Guide to Colleges by Fiske and Profiles of American colleges by Barron's are all top resources and all include information on special services. College Handbook is actually the number one recommended book resource as it includes information on costs, educational quality, environment and has the largest number of schools included in the guide at 3,800. This may be a good first look to understand what is available and learn the vocabulary that goes with a school search.
Online Forums
There are also several forums where students and parents can go to learn more about college and post-secondary life from people who are living it. 
·         Aspie Central (https://www.aspiescentral.com/forums/education-and-employment.24/)
·         Wrong Planet (www.wrongplanet.net)
·         College Confidential (http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/college-search-selection/1741671-finding-a-college-for-autistic-students.html?new=1)
These forums are all active and provide valuable information and discussions on college and other post-secondary options.
Other Options
Not every autistic student is going to attend a college with support services. However there are independent programs who will provide needed support at the college or university of choice. These programs are fee based and vary widely in cost and services. 
Here are a few examples:
·         AHEADD - http://www.aheadd.org/
·         College Internship Program - http://cipworldwide.org/
·         College Living Experience - http://www.experiencecle.com/home.aspx
·         College Steps Program - http://www.collegesteps.org/
·         Student Curriculum on Resilient Education - http://www.scoreforcollege.org/propel
Autistic students can be successful in college and beyond with the right supports in place. 
 Dawn Marcotte is the CEO of WWW.ASD-DR.com, a website designed to help teens and young adults on the spectrum live to their highest potential.

2/04/2015

Alone (mostly) in the dark

He sleeps in the next room, gently snoring, my dog curled next to him, also gently snoring. I sneak away, quietly, grabbing a pillow, my tea, my walker and his dog, establishing myself in my recliner, pillow behind my head, covers grabbed off the couch and his recliner so that I am still covered in a half dozen blankets. His dog vied for control of my lap, briefly, with one of the big ginger cats and lost.

I've lain here in the dark living room where the ginger's purrs drown out the noise from my bedroom, but not the noise coming from the kids' rooms, where delighted girly laughter peals out and I can't for a minute imagine stopping their fun. 

I'm up late, and my body protests the hour but the cat is kneading my belly, determined to shape it it suit his needs or keep me up all night trying. 

He'll leave me little choice but to banish him, and if you have cats you know how useless banishment is. So, I'll give some more time. It's a close to a massage as I'm likely to get, anyway.

1/14/2015

If I Let Myself




If I let it take up normal space, become a natural part of my background, then surely the crushing grief I feel when I allow myself to really look at it and all the things, good (mobility safely) and difficult (disability made visible with all that entails, the losses, the challenges, the inability to hide my challenges) are allowed through my barriers, then surely, acceptance and even appreciation will follow. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow.

It's like Frost's poem about the death of a young boy. We cannot look too long, tarry there. We must keep moving forward. 

So, grief trickles in and ebbs away, never staying long enough for me to rail against the situation. 

Being home with my three children and corralling them in between my naps, watching them grow into caregivers of me and our furry family members with a grace reminiscent of my maternal grandmother: I fully recognize that there are many, many blessings attendant with the hassles, frustrations and disappointments of permanent Disabilty. It is hard to spend any appreciable time lamenting the losses before I am picked up (metaphorically, of course) and deposited into my children's rich, mythical worlds.

I am not full of grace, though, and find that soft serve ice cream cones a few times a week are necessary to put out my dragon's fire. Would that it were whiskey, but I am not foolish enough to go there. That would only fuel the fire.

Ice cream cones are happiness inducers.