Thinking about the autism spectrum — and what you can do — might make you feel more hopeful

Ido in AustismlandThe news can easily make one feel terribly hopeless.  The world is boiling, and we seem to lack direction.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that America has been in the past a very resilient nation; that there’s sometimes a virtue to shaking things up simply because change is inevitable, so let’s get it all over with at once; that people at home and abroad are beginning to appreciate that America was never an Evil Empire, but was always a force for freedom and stability; and that ordinary Americans are seeing what socialist policy — economic, international, and societal — looks like, and they’re not pleased with what they see.

Here’s the other good news:  There is always hope.  Otherwise, why bother?  Without hope, why bother reading the news?  Why bother writing about the things we want to change?  Why bother thinking, voting, talking, working, or even getting up in the morning?  Things can and do change, and we who are hopeful have a responsibility to do whatever we can — to contribute whatever skill we have — to fulfill that hope by changing the political and social dynamic.

Since 2008, hope has been an overused and misused word.  To begin with, it’s not a thing in and of itself.  Only very shallow people believe that you can elect something called “hope.”  Instead, “hope” is a very special human emotion that motivates us to leap over seemingly insurmountable barriers and face off against despair, all the while embracing behaviors that lead to increased individual and national freedom, self-reliance, and prosperity.

And while I’m on the subject of hope — real hope, not the politically-packaged pabulum — I’d like to take a moment to talk about families dealing with relatives who fall within the autism spectrum.  Ido Kedar is one of those people.  I’ve known Ido for a long time, although not as well as I could wish.  Mother Nature gave Ido what appears to be a raw deal:  His autism leaves his maturing brain in a body that responds to his wishes only with the greatest effort.  He’s almost non-verbal, impulse control is an issue, his spatial awareness is limited, and coordination is a problem.  On the plus side, though, he is endowed with a brilliant brain; a strong moral compass; hypersensitive senses, which means that, even though he can be easily overwhelmed, he sees, hears, tastes, smells, and touches a world of beauty denied to the rest of us; and a fierce drive to connect with the world which has enabled him overcome so many of his deficits.

If you read Ido’s autobiography, Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison, you see that he isn’t just the physical embodiment of the abstract word “hope.”  He doesn’t introduce himself to you by saying, “You can call me Hope.”  Ido is, instead, a person whose parents never lost faith in him and a person who always had faith in his own abilities. That faith gave them the emotion that is hope, and that emotion in turn gave them the energy to search, research, act, practice, and excel.

Ido is not unique. There are many other young people (and their families) in the autism spectrum who never give up. They take their belief in future possibilities and turn that into present action. One of the institutions that actively helps them with this (instead of just mouthing “hope”) is the Friendship Circle . . . which is having a fundraiser Bike Raffle. If you know someone with autism, or someone who lives with or cares for an autistic person, and you feel like contributing to the cause, this is certainly a nice way to do it.

For more information, check out Raising Asperger’s Kids.

 

Ido Kedar — author of “Ido in Autismland” — is profiled in the L.A. Times

Ido KedarLast year, I reviewed Ido Kedar’s Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison. It is a very important book, since it turns on its head all of the conventional wisdom about non-verbal autism.  Because of his book, Ido has rightly become a big deal amongst people affected by autism, a group that includes autistic people, their families, and their teachers.

Ido’s increasingly high profile caught the eye of a L.A. Times reporter who spent several months interviewing Ido, his family, and those who have worked with and gotten to know him.  The result is a glowing profile in the L.A. Times which really gives an insight into the overwhelming and often very beautiful world that Ido inhabits:

Autism, Ido says, is like being on LSD, something he learned about in health class, and his experience in the world can be at times terrifying and overwhelming. Sensory minutiae that in other people are filtered and organized, collide indiscriminately in his brain. Feelings of anger, sadness, even silliness can escalate, and he can have difficulty calming down.

The water surges around them. The sound of the waves and sea gulls, the voices and screams of children and families, the surf, rising and falling, its ceaseless crescendo and diminuendo, rushes at Ido as a terrible cacophony like the buzzing of mosquitoes, loud and inescapable.

As unsettling and as unpredictable as autism is, it also brings a strange pleasure to Ido’s life. Glints of sunshine, pockets of shade mesmerize him, and objects in motion reveal traces of acceleration, like stop-motion photography.

He grabs a strand of kelp, strips off the leaves and begins whipping it over and over in an S-pattern against the dissolving foam. Waves rise and fall against him, but he stays focused on the movement that he’s created against the water’s surface.

Like many of his repetitive behaviors — arm-flapping, finger-dancing, string-twirling — this gesture, referred to in the autistic community as a “stim” (for self-stimulation), enhances sensations around him and has a narcotic effect.

They take me to a sensory experience that is pretty intoxicating. I don’t get lightheaded, but I can get so absorbed in a stim I sort of vanish from my personhood.

Please read the whole thing.  I think you’ll be amazed.

Everything You Think You Know About Autism Is Wrong

I have a new post up at PJ Lifestyle, and I would like it to get as much readership and distribution as possible, because it’s about a very special young man and a very important topic:

Autism is a painfully mysterious syndrome. We don’t know what causes it, although we do know that about 1 in 88 births will produce an autistic child. We know that it’s the fastest growing developmental disability in America, although we don’t know why. The commonly-used treatments have limited effectiveness, so increasing numbers of adult autism sufferers cannot care for themselves, requiring costly life-long maintenance.

Part of autism’s mystery lies in the nature of the condition itself: in its most severe form, it leaves the autistic person entirely unable to communicate, either verbally or physically. It’s not just that someone with autism cannot speak. As most who have lived with or seen autism know, a child with serious autism seems entirely disconnected. Autistic children do not make eye contact and they don’t play. Instead, they flap their hands, roam around a room’s periphery, engage in endless repetitive activities, and seem locked away in their own world.

Some experts contend (erroneously, as it turns out) that autistic children dislike physical contact, cannot emote, and lack the capacity for loving. This seeming emotional isolation led the misogynistic Bruno Bettelheim to conclude that mothers caused autism when they (allegedly) withheld affection from their child. This wrongheaded theory inspired generations of loving mothers to suffer enormous guilt.

Even though Bettelheim has mercifully fallen by the wayside, non-verbal autism still contains many questions. This mystery is about to undergo a significant challenge, though, due to Ido (pronounced “Ee-doh”) Kedar, a 16-year old young man who has written about his journey from isolation to communication in Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison.

Read the rest here.

The joy of the “disabled” child

Earlier today, I wrote that fearing a bad genetic outcome is the wrong reason not to get pregnant.  Tonight, completely coincidentally, I had the pleasure of attending a talent show in which the performers were all developmentally disabled children.  It was the best show I’ve seen in I don’t know how long.  Despite disabilities ranging from autism, to cerebral palsy, to what was to me undifferentiated mental retardation, each of these performers gave his or her all to the audience.  Surrounded by love and approval, they had no stage fright, no performance anxiety, no artistic neurosis.  They just got out there and sang a song, danced, or played a musical instrument.

It is quite obvious that each of these children is a challenge for his or her parents.  Long after their siblings have grown up enough to give Mom and Dad some free time, these kids need constant supervision.  And when a brother or sister is making his way alone in the world, these children will continue to need full-time care.  I’ve known several parents of handicapped children over the years, and all of the parents were worried about what would happen to their children when the parents’ strength and/or money ran out.

Those worries are real . . . and yet!  Those kids brought so much joy.  With fully-abled children, we take their accomplishments somewhat for granted.  We expect them to read, sing, dance, play music, or whatever else.  When they do well, we applaud them, but we also think, “Of course that’s what they’re going to do.”  With the children tonight, however, everything they did exceeded expectations.  Every note sung or played, every dance step, every happy chortle was special, because these kids are special.

I feel blessed every day that my children were born physically and mentally intact.  I honestly don’t know if I would have the moral courage, not to mention the mental and physical stamina, to raise a handicapped child.  Watching the children tonight, though, I was reminded, as I often am, that disabled children are not only a greater burden, but also a greater gift to their parents than so-called normal children.

Incidentally, while I’m on the subject of children whose disabilities are offset by tremendous gifts, I’d like to recommend a website that an autistic young man writes:  Ido in Autismland.  Ido has confounded autism experts because, contrary to theories about an autistic child’s empty mental and emotional state, Ido is an academically gifted young man who is thoughtful, articulate, and an extremely good writer.  Reading his blog provides a rare opportunity to see behind the often blank face of autism.

Is Leftism a personality disorder?

The following italicized paragraph started out as an observation I made about some ardent liberals of my acquaintance, but I’ve since decided that it applies well to the politics of the Left and the Right or, more accurately, the statist versus the individualist:

Conservatives find people to be a source of pleasure and objects to be a utilitarian resource.  Conversely, Leftists find objects to be a source of pleasure and people to be a utilitarian resource. 

The above started with something I learned long ago about autistic children.  One of the earliest indicators of autism is that autistic children don’t point to things.  Your average pre-verbal or early verbal child will point to a cup with the expectation that you, the parent, will understand that the child wants milk.  An autistic child will not make this “mind-to-mind” connection.  Instead, the child will take the parent’s hand (an object) and guide it to the cup (another object) in an effort to make the two objects work together.  (In autistic children, or at least in some autistic children, this seems to be an inability to understand communication, rather than a failure to recognize shared humanity.  Once the autistic child is given a means to communicate, he or she is fully capable of engaging at an emotional or spiritual level.)

Here’s another something I learned that also gave rise to the same thought about recognizing a shared humanity (or canine-inity) versus a utilitarian view of other life forms:  Dogs are different from monkeys when it comes to interactions with humans.  Although monkeys are genetically much closer to humans, they share no kindred feelings with us.  Dogs, however, do.  It turns out that dogs are born with the knowledge that they can communicate non-verbally with humans.  When they are puppies, they already know how to track a human’s eye movements or pointing hand in order to gather information.  And as all of us who have dogs know, dogs have incredibly high emotional intelligence.  They may be non-verbal, but they read us well, and communicate beautifully using their body language.

Monkeys, however, although they are our genetic cousins, do not see humans in a communicative way, and therefore ignore humans entirely.  If a human stands before two boxes, one of which has a treat, and then points to the box with the treat, the monkey will ignore that gesture entirely, while a dog will soon be munching happily away on the goodie.

(Cats, of course, are God-like creatures.  They can read us just fine, but they think that cat-to-human communication is demeaning, and that human-to-cat communication is unnecessary.)

And then there are people with personality disorders (narcissism, sociopathy, psychopathy, etc.).  Some years ago, I read a wonderful book called Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend, which concerned itself with the nature of personality disorders. One of my takeaways from the book was that people with personality disorders do not recognize other people’s humanity. Instead, for someone suffering from a personality disorder, other people are simply objects to be manipulated, in order to benefit the disordered person.

With all of that in mind, think about the way in which Leftists view people:  people are “interest groups,” “victim classes,” “identity groups,” “racial groups,” etc.  There are no individuals in liberal-land.  There are political classes that can be manipulated to achieve Leftist goals.  Those who refuse to be objectified in this way (usually conservative minorities) are savagely attacked for leaving the object group.  That’s not how conservatives roll.

Likewise, Leftists are convinced that salvation lies in objects:  electric cars, solar panels, smart grids, etc.  Objects become objects of worship, shrines before which we lay our wealth, while de-personalized groups of humans are co-opted to serve these Gods.

Am I nuts or am I on to something?

Autism diagnoses and parenting problems

Back in November 2007, I wrote a long post talking about the fact that I see a lot of children who are labeled as having Asperger’s (a subset of autism) but who seem instead (or also) to be the victims of profoundly bad parenting.  I noted that I have known over the years children who are actually profoundly disabled, and whose disability has been given the Asperger’s/autism label.  These correctly diagnosed children are quite different from the problem kids I identified in my earlier post.  The children I identified in my post, the ones I thought were victims of diagnostic overkill rather than an actual disability, weren’t kids who lack language skills, or control over their bodies, or who have obsessive interests that impair their ability to function, or who fail to recognize ordinary human emotions.  The kids I know who fall into those latter categories of genuine disability are, frankly, doing wonderfully well and working vigorously to maximize all of their strengths.

Instead, in my November post, I was talking about the children who are prone to chronic tantruming and who get slapped with an Aspergers label as a sop to the parents.  Here is how I described these children, all of whom have on their “permanent records” labels that place them within the autism spectrum:

Where I’m about to get controversial is my sense that, in some cases, Aspergers is the diagnosis given to children whose parents are not parenting. I know three — count ‘em, three — children who are nightmarish behavior problems. What characterizes all three of them is the uncontrollable temper tantrums they have. And I’m not talking about 2 or 3 year olds lying on the floor hollering “No!” I’m talking about kids who are 7 or 8 or even 11 or 12 and who regularly engage in scenes that involve uncontrolled screaming, hurling insults and, often, physical violence against other adults or children. Because of the scenes — and only because of these scenes — each set of parents eventually took the child to a psychiatrist. That is, the parents did not take their kids to the psychiatrists because they weren’t socializing well or because they were obsessed with a single subject at school. They took them because of those off-the-charts tantrums. In all three of the cases I know, the psychiatrists diagnosed the kids with Asbergers.

But here’s what I didn’t tell you about those three children: In each of the three cases, the parents (in my humble estimation) earn an “F” for structure and discipline. The common pattern in each of those households is that one or both of the parents feels an almost excessive sympathy for the kid when he (or she) is frustrated or unhappy. What the child wants, the child gets. One of the children I’m thinking of ruled the whole household. She dictated what was eaten, what wasn’t eaten, where people went, what they did, what bed time was, what toys and games were bought and rejected, etc. The parents thought that they were making her happy, but to an objective observer, the child was miserable. It was way too heavy a burden to place on a 10 year old, and she was a frenzied, hysterical tyrant who was unable to cope if anything didn’t go her way.

What also characterizes all of these parents is that, when the child has a tantrum, regardless of how awful it is, and what havoc it creates, the parents respond, not with discipline, but with sympathy: “The poor little thing. He couldn’t control himself. He was so upset I didn’t have the heart to punish him.” And in each case, this sympathetic response to the child’s tantrums worsens after the diagnosis. Now the parent is not only sorry for the child, but he’s convinced that the child is “sick” and must be handled with ever greater care.

Apparently I’m not the only one who has noticed this diagnostic trend — that is, to reach a psychiatric conclusion that all tantruming little children have a disease — although I pointed it out tactfully and to a small audience.  Radio host Michael Savage apparently made the same point, but did so in way that managed to offend everyone:

Radio talk show host Michael Savage, who described 99 percent of children with autism as brats, said Monday he was trying to “boldly awaken” parents to his view that many people are being wrongly diagnosed.

Some parents of autistic children have called for Savage’s firing after he described autism as a racket last week. “In 99 percent of the cases, it’s a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out,” Savage said on his radio program last Wednesday.

Savage offered no apology in a message posted Monday on his Web site. He said greedy doctors and drug companies were creating a “national panic” by overdiagnosing autism, a mental disorder that inhibits a person’s ability to communicate.

On his radio show last week, he said: “What do you mean they scream and they’re silent? They don’t have a father around to tell them, `Don’t act like a moron. You’ll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, you idiot.’”

As I already demonstrated months ago, I think Savage is on to something.  While all of us recognize that there are genuinely disabled kids out there, kids whose behaviors span the spectrum from severe autism to geeky Aspergers, those of us who are honest recognize that there is also a major epidemic of bad, weak, inconsistent parenting out there, and that it is creating thousands of damaged kids who are treated, not with good parenting, but with bad medicine.  I’m only sorry that it was Savage who made this point, because you can count on him being so spectacularly tactless and inflammatory that the message gets lost in the ruckus.