Wednesday, March 27, 2013

YOU Have Autism, Too!

What is autism?
If someone is shy & considered “socially awkward” – does that mean they have autism?
If someone is quiet & doesn’t speak much – do they have autism?
If someone is always tapping their finger or their head – is that a sign of autism?

Well, according to a new study by the CDC, I had autism when I was a kid which I have apparently grown out of. And 1 in 50 kids have it, at least, according Michael Rosanoff of advocacy group “Autism Speaks”. 1 in 50?? Really?? Look, is it possible that of every 50 kids, at least one of them is gonna have autism? Sure, I guess so. Anything’s possible. But how in the world can doing a telephone survey on parents be considered a responsible way of getting information that can dramatically impact families? That’s how this particular study was done. 95,000 parents in 2011 and 2012 were contacted by phone and asked certain questions about their children. According to the study, less than a quarter of the parents contacted were interested in doing the survey which says that parents not affected by autism were likely not the ones answering the survey. But here’s my concern: parents cannot be the only source of information gathering in regards to a child’s health.

Before you lose your mind, let me explain what I mean. I am a fierce advocate for my children’s health. I stay on top of what needs to be done and don’t necessarily agree with the doctor’s advice just because s/he is a doctor. We work as a team to do the best for my kids’ health issues. I do my research and read up on issues related to their medical needs. But I am no doctor. I must take into account what the medical professionals are telling me when making final decisions on how to move forward.  Isn't it possible that some parents who answered this survey have their facts wrong? Couldn't it be true that there are parents who believe their kids “have something”, even though their doctors have disagreed with them, because they like to tap their fingers on the floor while watching Sid the Science Kid or because they ignore their name being called, no matter how much they’re called? Then here comes this phone survey, asking questions about an unsubstantiated fear they have and BOOM! 1 in 50 kids have autism!

Couldn't it also be true that these “symptoms” of mild autism are just harmless habits? Maybe that socially awkward person IS just supremely shy. Maybe that kid with a speech delay prefers to listen rather than speak. We all know that there is no medical test, no genetic screening, which will confirm conclusively that a person has autism. In very severe cases, it’s quite obvious. But are we saying that every little quirk is something? Does everything a person do or think need to be diagnosed as some type of neurological deficiency or disability? I've told you before; I really hated science in middle school and didn't do so well in it. Should I have been diagnosed with a learning disability?

Listen, I’m all for research but in my opinion, all this media coverage on every single iota of autism research has gotten way out of control. I receive several newsletters on disability issues daily and in every piece of mail there are several links to one autism article or another. A new study on rats; a new therapy that may cure it; smelling salts that will change thinking patterns; scientific “breakthroughs” that have no evidence or track record saturating the brains of families who are looking for cures or even just minimal help. 

Don’t you think that all this “information” is actually detrimental, rather than helpful, to families who are really interested in actual help?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Dancing Dreams – Ballet For Girls With Disabilities

I was on the internet one day, just poking around, and I came across this wonderful dance program for children with disabilities. Dancing Dreams was started in 2002 by Joann Ferrara, a pediatric physical therapist with a background in ballet. It has grown from five dancers to over 50 girls, ages 3 to 17. Based in Queens, NY, dancers come from all over NY state and even New Jersey to participate. Each ballerina has a helper – a high school student who is trained to assist a student in class. Every year, the ballerinas put on a performance for their family & friends which is free and open for all to come enjoy!

This lovely program has been featured on the Today Show, CBS Early Show & other news channels. It’s also appeared in The New York Times and other national publications such as People Magazine. “Ballerina Dreams”, a book about the program published in 2007, won accolades in the publishing field.  Principal Dancer of the New York City Ballet, Jenifer Ringer, fell in love with Dancing Dreams & its mission and is now its Artistic Consultant.

Currently, there are three programs Dancing Dreams runs. There is the Adaptive Dance Class, of course. They also do community outreach where they speak at schools, teaching children about awareness. The Teen Leadership program helps volunteers learn valuable leadership skills while turning dreams into reality for the ballerinas.

Dancing Dreams is a nonprofit organization so it relies on charitable contributions for funding. There is also a voluntary contribution for classes to cover the cost but no ballerina has ever been turned away due to an inability to pay. Donators can choose to purchase items for ballerinas, such as ballet slippers ($35) or a leotard and tights ($75). See a full list ofdonation suggestions here.

Check out their website at 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

NYC Schools Including "Other" Kids

In 2010, NYC launched a city-wide effort at 260 schools to integrate more students with special needs in mainstream classrooms (aka: INCLUSION). It has been in effect for about a year now.

And it’s looking promising!

According to this article, the Department of Education has shared the following: 

v  Students with special needs in schools that participated in the first phase of the initiative saw their test scores improve more than students with disabilities at similar schools that were not in the program

v  Their attendance rates rose more than the students with disabilities at similar schools

v  Suspension rates fell more than the students with disabilities at similar schools

Corinne Rello-Anselmi, the Department of Education deputy chancellor in charge of special education is quoted as saying that this type of learning requires “a new way of thinking about how to assign students to classroom settings “. No truer words have been spoken.

There is still more to be done and more information is needed to evaluate the endeavor thoroughly but this article was music to my ears!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Reverse Inclusion


I read this story about a special ed teacher (who is qualified by certifications & degrees, no doubt) who put together a club at her school, "Creating Exceptional Character" which is a "local chapter of the Council for Exceptional Children, a national organization devoted to special education. The club brought typical students into classrooms after school to work with students with special needs." You can read about it here.  She then created an elective course offered to the general education juniors & seniors that "would follow a goal related to the club, which is to introduce the history and interaction of individuals with disabilities."

The article called it a "reverse inclusion" class. I have severely mixed feelings about it. In fact, the more I think about it, the more it pisses me off! I would like to start off by saying that I am very, very sure this teacher had good intentions in creating this club & elective course. And maybe I'm being overly sensitive but a couple things really get me going.

First of all, the typical kids who take this elective course are referred to as "positive-peer role models". Excuse me, but why are the kids without disabilities the "positive role models"? Don't you think that those kids stand to learn a lot from the kids with disabilities? Why aren’t the kids in wheelchairs considered role models? I would say that my daughter models ultimate levels of patience, kindness and immeasurable love, for starters.

The teacher stated in the article, “I saw really good students not knowing how to interact with special-needs students, and it gave me an idea to design a course that would educate typical students." That's great. I really like the sound of that. Then she goes on to say, “You can’t imagine what it’s like to watch a football player who’s popular and has a girlfriend, to feed a Thanksgiving dinner to a student in a wheelchair.” WHAT?? So a POPULAR kid with a GIRLFRIEND feeding a kid in a wheelchair at dinner....THAT'S the standard of successful inclusion??? WTF!!!

Why do people automatically assume that people with disabilities should be pitied and have people around them saying things like, "awww...look he's so cuuuute!" when he's trying to tell a joke or flag a taxi or just wanting to know, things that everybody else on the planet does!

We need to look at people with disabilities with the SAME EYES we look at people without disabilities. If you wouldn't say, "awww" to a man in his 30 who is not disabled, why would you do that to someone who is? That's called INFANTILIZATION. Yes, it's actually a real word and a real occurrence. And it's also really annoying.

When I went to the Down Syndrome conference a few weeks ago, one of the self-advocates there was a young man who is 21 years old and he gave a power-point presentation entitled, "Why We Are More Alike Than Different", comparing people with Down Syndrome to those without. I was sitting at a table with a bunch of college girls and all they kept saying, Every. Single. Time. this man said anything was, "awwwww! he's so cuute!!" and they all looked at each other, with their shoulders raised, eyebrows up, corners of their mouths turned know, that dumb "aw shucks" look girls get sometimes. I wanted to slap them every time. But I didn't want to get fired that day so I held off on that. I mean, he was making sense, putting forth a very reasonable and logical argument: he IS more alike than different! But I have this nagging feeling that they didn't hear what he was saying. They were just thinking how "cute this boy is, standing up there, in his cute shirt and tie...oh and look! He managed to tie BOTH his shoes!" AWWWWWW!!!

So back to the “reverse inclusion” idea…I know some of you out there will wonder, “What’s the big deal?” Well, here it is: why is it, that when a program, social activity, fun gathering, whatever, is organized for people with disabilities, it seems like it’s a great big pity party? I mean, doesn’t my daughter DESERVE to have fun stuff to do – not because she’s disabled but because she’s a great kid! Take the Girl Scouts, for example. Is it an organization that gets girls together to “give those poor girls something to do”. No! They teach them things; the girls get to make friends, have fun; they impact others around them because of their different strengths & abilities. There’s a purpose behind it. Something bigger than getting the crippled kids in a big room and getting the cool kids to smile at them and feed them mashed potatoes.
Anyways....this program, the "reverse inclusion" one, at the end of the day, although it started out with a good intent, is a piss-poor example of how inclusion SHOULD be done.

Damn, we got so much work to do!!!