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Showing posts from August, 2011

Have You Tried (X, Y, or Z) for Your Autism?

I was asked about my diet again, a question that seems to be asked about a third of the time when I discuss autism with groups. This inevitably leads to parents (and some support providers) starting to argue about the various "treatments" such as the gluten free diets or pressure chambers. Yes, I've been asked if I've tried everything from "detox" procedures to special pads you stand on to "drain heavy metals" from your body. My blunt answer on diets? You do not want to take away my chocolate, processed sugar, and don't even dream of touching my pasta dinners. I'd rather die young than give up my favorite foods. My favorite foods are all "bad" for me, which is why I don't eat pasta or chocolate cake every night. Caffeine makes me sleepy, as does too much sugar, so my wife is more than content to have me drink a mocha before bedtime. Personally, I prefer to stick to herbal teas with honey or Splenda. I do not get caffeine m

Thank You, Readers

A nice note from a reader was helpful tonight. My wife and I have been dealing with a lot this summer. July and August have been too busy and we're both exhausted. I've moved to another state, right after attending a conference for a week in Las Vegas. I had less than a full 24-hours between returning to Minnesota and driving to our new home in Pennsylvania. (And I had endured several minor foot surgeries, right before the Vegas trip and driving. Lots of pain.) Then, after the cats and I arrived, I had to deal with two plumbing emergencies, a home insurance issue, and one of our cats getting ill. For almost two months, life has been tumultuous, at best. When J.C. passed away a few days ago, it was simply too much for me. I spent a lot of time hugging J.C.'s two brothers, hoping nothing else goes wrong. Alex goes to the vet tomorrow (Tuesday) for an exam because he's been losing weight. I never imagined the boys as anything but a trio, from the day of their birth.

J.C. Kitty

These are some rough notes from my wife and me, regarding J.C. Kitty. It was early the morning of May 1, 1995, when Scott heard the cries of kittens from the shrubs under his bedroom window. There was a stray female we called “Momma Kitty” at the apartment complex where we lived; she had given birth during a rainstorm. When Scott checked, there were three tiny kittens. We monitored them for as long as we could, before deciding the bring them inside the apartment to protect them. While we hadn’t planned on adopting them, we ended up keeping them together. In the early years, Scott would take them outside in his lap to see Momma Kitty. We’d like to think that she understood they were safe and loved. J.C. Kitty
 Julius Caesar J.C. was a soft, easy-to-purr, relaxed gentleman. Definitely not the dominating Gaius for whom he was named. His coat was fine and soft, a fluffy and cuddly boy. When we rescued the boys, J.C. was the first to climb into laps and look for people. One r

Dealing with Loss

J.C. Kitty passed away this morning, August 18, 2011. I'll write about him in a day or two. This is a very difficult loss, due to his personality and coming shy of a year after the loss of Jordan. J.C. and Jordan were the two most affectionate and playful cats with whom we've shared our lives. Animals have personalities, and J.C.'s was special. He was 16 years old and will be missed. I miss Jordan almost every day. Our feline kids are family. They have each added to our lives in their own way. Fido, Simba, Jordan, J.C., and many others over the years. Cats and dogs, all of them good friends.

How I Reset from Stress

One of the questions I am asked at conferences and presentations is how I "reset" from stress or a meltdown. Once my senses are overloaded by sounds, sights, smells, or other sensations, how do I regroup to work the next day? This question also applies to emotional overload — and having a pet going though some tough times is stressful lately. Here are my coping strategies, in no particular order: Get away from crowds and people. If I'm in a city, I need to head for a park or out of the city if possible. Cities by their natures have too many inputs. "Normal" people eventually treat the inputs like white noise, but my wife likes to say I have the senses of a hunting dog. I hear and smell everything. In Minneapolis, we'd head for the Landscape Arboretum. It is south of the city about 45 minutes. Sometimes there are a lot of people, but the park is large enough to avoid any crowds. Now that we live in a rural county, I like to sit on our front porch in the

Yes, We Judge Others

One of the simple truths of life: we all judge other people. This is, according to some evolutionary psychologists, a beneficial trait. We judge in an instant in order to preserve ourselves. We see patterns in our experiences and use those to predict new experiences. If I've been attacked by men in blue shirts several times, it makes sense that I might be afraid of men in blue shirts. That's not prejudice — it's caution. When I wrote about The Mediocre, it was a reflection not only of psychology research — and there has been a fair amount of research on unconsciously mean people — it is also a reflection of experiences with unhappy people. Sadly, there are some very unhappy people online. Angry, unhappy, discontented people do make me uneasy. And you can tell that some people are "happiest" being angry. Some, but not all of these people, seek out conflict. They can't simply disagree and keep quiet about it. I had a colleague who liked to visit Christian we

Writing About Autism: Not for the Autistic??

An interesting, and disheartening, conversation: Writing About Autism: Not for the Autistic?? The thread on represents what many of us know about the autism "community" and its coherence: there is no single community, and there is no coherence of purpose, ideals, or beliefs. Insults and attacks are the norm. Now for the "good" news: this isn't really an "autism" issue at all. If you want proof, read the comments on any political, technical, medical, or even hobbyist website. The vitriol and hatred seems to be universal, not an autism issue. You want anger? Discuss Windows vs. Linux vs. OS X. Mention your great experience with a Chevy truck on a Ford enthusiast forum. I believe that debate has raged since the 1940s. Even "IRL" (in real life) people attack and insult over silly things. I had someone say, out of the blue, "You drive a Jeep? Really? How can you own such a thing?" I can't recall why it was mentioned —

AHEADD, Autism, and Higher Ed Supports

A week ago I travelled into Pittsburgh, PA, to meet with Heather and Paula from AHEADD, an organization that provides additional supports beyond what colleges and universities offer to students with cognitive differences. These were impressive and energetic women dedicated to working with students. Heather earned an MSW from the University of Pittsburgh and Paula has an M.Ed from Ohio University. The sad reality is that many of our colleges and universities do not have such qualified people working with students with ASDs, ADD/ADHD or other neurological challenges. AHEADD was founded because even great universities cannot meet the perceived needs of some students: Carolyn Komich Hare founded AHEADD in 2002, when she piloted the program in response to a parent's inquiry regarding the availability of specialized support for her daughter, a student with Asperger's Syndrome who would be returning to Carnegie Mellon University following a year's leave.  AHEADD Provides: Coa

Settings and Sensory Overload

The last few weeks have been stressful, dealing with moving, a new job, two pet cats with issues, and all the little complications along the way. Yet, with what is probably more actual stress than I was experiencing only a few months ago, I tend to feel much better about where I am and where we are going as a family. Why do I feel better? My simple answer is because I'm not in an urban setting. The most extreme anxiety I've experienced in PA was not when the basement flooded. It was not even waiting to see how JC did during cancer surgery. It was while driving in Pittsburgh. I hated the drive — intensely. I disliked downtown even more than the driving. Don't misunderstand, I was plenty worried about J.C. Kitty during his surgery exactly a week ago. It was a lousy feeling to be wondering if I should be with him at the vet hospital, just in case something happened. But it wasn't the sort of stress that causes me to freeze and hide away. In fact, I wanted to do whate

Moving Stinks, Ask Our Cats

I wouldn't claim that the move to another state has gone smoothly for me or my wife, but it seems to have truly upset the cats more. We worried about that possibility before the move because Pumpkin and Muttley are anxious felines with stressed-out personalities. Pumpkin Kitty (aka PK) is on Prozac and the vet suggested Xanax today. He's not eating well, hiding, and hasn't been in my lap once since the move. Muttley ate tonight, which was nice, but he still wanders about screaming at the top of his little lungs. He used to cry in the old house, too, especially after Momma went to work each morning. He would be anxious around 4 p.m. when she was due home within the hour. Now, he cries and she doesn't arrive. J.C. was diagnosed with cancer the day Momma had to return to her job in another state. He had surgery the next day and seems to be doing well, all things considered. He is eating a little and drinking water. I'm sure his tough time isn't helping PK or Mu

Thoughts on Back to School

When I was young, I disliked summer because it wasn't as routine as the school year. I dislike school much of the time, too, but it was a (somewhat) predictable setting. Best of all, school meant books with facts and more information to learn. Since becoming a more active special education advocate, I've met many children and adults who love memorizing specific facts but don't (or didn't) enjoy their classroom experiences. How can you make back to school less stressful? What are some suggestions to ease the annual ritual? I begin each year with a tour of my campus. In college, I always arrived early and walked around the campus. I did this year after year, because I needed to ease myself into the campus routines. I even did this in high school, walking about the empty campus before it was crowded with unruly students. I've meandered about the campus where I am now a professor and will visit several more times before the first day of classes. It might help othe

Higher Education and Supports for Autistic Students

Based on comments several months ago to this blog, I spent a few "extra" hours this summer contacting college and university offices that serve students with special needs. The names of these offices vary, from Disability Services to Disabled Student Support, but regardless of what an institutions calls "Disability Services" it was easy to locate and contact the directors, managers, or coordinators of these programs. A few heads of DS also carry the title "professor" and teach within academic departments in addition to their other duties. My motivation was personal, since I research students with ASDs and higher education. The more I know about students receiving supports, the better. But, it turns out that as my doctoral study data suggests, not many students with ASDs have sought disability supports. Most of the leaders of these programs have worked in disability services for many years. For example, the director of the Resource Office on Disabilitie