Sunday, September 30, 2007

Music to My Ears

I don't often listen to music because, although I really like music, I can't do anything else very well when it is on in the background. So, for me, listening to music is only possible when I am relaxed enough to sit around doing nothing but listening. After my last meeting with MK's teacher, I suddenly find myself very relaxed. So I set up an iTunes account and started downloading. I got a lot of stuff by David Byrne. He's pretty well my all time favorite musician. (I once saw him perform with just an acoustic guitar in a small church in Brooklyn -- major high point in my life.)

Anyway, listening to his stuff this time, I remembered that I had heard about him being on the spectrum. So I Googled that and I came up with this video by Christschool. You've got to watch the interview at the end. The cadence and logical/narrative structure is soooooo familiar to me. It is any surprise that I like this man's art?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

More Good News

In October we are going to Japan (that's good news, but it's not the good news I'm talking about). The thing about that is that it comes right when fall IEPs are usually scheduled. So I went into the school today to ask various people whether they wanted to schedule the IEP before or after our trip. The VP and the Resource Coordinator felt that things were going really well, so there was no rush and we might as well have it afterwards.

I was OK with that, but I had one reservation. Last year, MK's teachers had refused to give him letter grades in anything but math, and I do not intend to allow that to continue. I particularly did not want to let the IEP meeting slide and find out at the meeting that this year's teacher also wanted to withhold letter grades. I have lined up a legal challenge to use if the school tries that again, but these things take time to implement, so if I was going to be getting a lawyer, I wanted lead time.

So I went to the teacher and asked what he thought about the timing, saying that, if he didn't think MK was keeping up academically then we should have the IEP meeting earlier rather than later, but if he thought MK was more or less keeping up (which, by definition means eligible for letter grades) we could schedule the IEP later.

Imagine my surprise to hear the teacher say that he wanted the IEP meeting sooner, rather than later, not because MK wasn't keeping up, but because he was completely up to speed in all areas, his behavior was really good, he is happy and engaged in class, and last year's IEP doesn't cut it anymore because he's doing so much better than that. (To quote Sweet M, who was herself quoting Austin Powers) Oh yeah, baby, that's what I'm talking about!

As I have blogged, MK has made great progress recently and is doing better in general, but he's still a particularly unique young man with a number of challenges. The big difference is that this year he has got a teacher who doesn't mind the "inappropriate" questions, or the unusual postures, gestures and facial expressions that his teachers complained about so much last year. He's eager to look at what MK can do, instead of obsessing on what he can't do, or what he does differently. And that's all it takes. It's just takes an open mind (... that and the one-to-one aide that MK has this year, but let's not start talking about details that might detract from an otherwise highly poetic argument).

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sixteen Bits

Kristina, over at Autism Vox, once asked how are you and your autie alike. I had a bunch of things to say about that. But there is one way in which we are different.

MK is required to eat two or three mouthfuls of vegetables at each meal. On days other than the days on which carrots are served, these naturally fall into the category of foods that MK really hates. There used not to be any hope of getting him to eat from a plate that had been contaminated by non-approved foodstuff, but MK is growing up and will now try just about anything on request (he doesn't always succeed in swallowing, but he does try). MK always leaves these veggies until last. Not me. I leave the yummiest morsel to the end. I always want the meal to end on a high note. And I am no different when in comes to reading.

Every day, I read the blogs on Autism Hub and everyday I leave Whitterer on Autism to the end. I know I'll be left with the fine aftertaste of particularly good writing and a positive attitude. So, when Mcewen herself tagged me for the Eight Random Things meme this week, the last thing I wanted to do was to risk looking unappreciative by replying with the cold and boring truth that I did, in fact, already post one such octet back in July. Having reviewed the rules, I see there is nothing against repeat performances. Nonetheless, knowing that --lacking star power-- my own re-tagging of previously tagged people is unlikely to be met with much indulgence, I have decided to forgo that part of the meme. So, without further ado, here are eight more things:

1. I don't own a car. I usually rent one on the weekends, but during the week I am a cyclist.
2. I am a political junkie. For example, I had downloaded the Supreme Court Ruling on Bush v. Gore within ten minutes of it being published and sat in bed guzzling it down the way other people might read the last pages of a mystery novel.
3. I don't like team sports, either as a spectator or a participant. (Mostly because I am really bad at them.)
4. The country that I would most like to visit for a holiday is Cambodia.
5. I am exceptionally good at peeling potatoes. When I peel potatoes in public, people gather around to watch. I'm not kidding.
6. More than once, people have turned off sound systems when I have tried singing karaoke.
7. My father taught me how to plow with a horse, fell trees, take care of honey bees, build fires, navigate at sea with a sextant, make candles, catch fish with my hands and all sorts of other things that I never actually need to do -- but I feel confident of my chances of survival if modern civilization were to come to an abrupt end for some reason.
8. My desk is a terrible mess and I loose my reading glasses several times a day.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Compassion: your mileage may vary

Recently, Joel, whose blog I read regularly and very much like, wrote a post at NTs Are Weird about what should be required of autism advocates that included the statement, "If I laugh at people who don’t exercise, because they are unathletic, I’m also laughing at people who are unathletic for other reasons..." This is an extreme position. By the same logic, I would not be able laugh at a foolish decision made by George Bush because I would also be laughing at people who make foolish decisions due to an intelectual handicap. Similarly, I couldn't titter at old ladies dressed in clashing colors for fear of offending the color blind, or rib friends who invested in condos in Florida in 2006, out of respect for those with dyscalculia. In fact, taken to its logical conclusion I could not even look down on people who look down on other people, because that would be unfair to psychopaths.

Not that there is anything wrong with that.

There is a lot to be said for seeking to act in a way that causes the least offense and the least suffering in others. That's not generally how I hang (for example, see my other blogs:, and but I have plenty of respect for those have chosen that path. The Dali Lama and Jesus come to mind, but there are plenty of ordinary, run-of-the-mill nice, friendly people who live by the same lights. (For that matter, my son is one of them. If I rail at divers engaged in unsafe and illegal maneuvers in the road ahead, he will chime in with, "It's not their fault. They probably just don't know how to drive very well.") I'll be the first to admit that compassion in word, deed and thought makes the world a more pleasant place and does wonders for the general psychological wellbeing of the compassionate themselves. I just don't see the need to tie it to disability. I think that Joel and some other people in the disability rights movement may be hanging too many coats on one peg.

If you are going to be understanding and accommodating of every difference out there, there is no reason to perceive this solely in the framework of disability rights. You can go ahead and just be a really nice guy in general. By the same token, there is no need to see this sort of generalized compassion as a prerequisite for advocating for specific disability rights. I know a quadriplegic fellow who is a very effective advocate for wheelchair access who disses his opponents by saying things like, "Unlike them, my disability is from the neck down." This is very rude to people who have a genuine intelectual disability, but the person in question still gets ramps built. He's just a jerk. That's all. Just as one can be friendly and autistic, or be physically disabled and be athletic, one can also be a disability advocate and a jerk.

People are complex and imperfect, disability advocates are no different.

Monday, September 17, 2007


No, the title is not indicative of my mood, but rather a polite way of expressing what MK has been saying recently.

As recently as March, MK was very upset by swearing. Hearing people swear, and especially children (even on TV) would bring him to tears. I think it might partially have been a cognitive dissonance thing -- if it's against the rules, then why on earth are they doing it?

At the same time, he was fascinated with it, especially as he was hearing more and more of it in the school yard. I myself don't swear often, but not often is not the same thing as never. And I have always explained that swearing is an easy (or even lazy) way to add impact to language and express familiarity.

In his typical way, MK began experimenting by editing videos. He learned from his YouTube Poop colleagues that much fun can be had by taking a perfectly innocent phrase, such as "That's a nice red dress," and adding censor beeps, so it comes out, "That's a nice *beep* dress." MK produced dozens of such videos. There are grammatical and semantic issues in this editing trick, so sometimes his videos sounded natural and funny, and sometimes they made no sense. I gave him feedback and explained some of the theoretical underpinning of four letter words, and he kept experimenting. Within about three months most of the beeped videos made sense.

As he was doing this, MK also began experimenting with actually saying some of these naughty words. I had given him permission to say them around me, as long as no one else was present to be offended. Having never in his life blurted out so much as a single syllable, there is not much risk of him doing so with off-limits vocabulary. There are few people who spend more time weighing their words than my son.

At first he only said them in the car. We would be talking, he would get half-way through a sentence and then stop and ask me to roll up the windows. After a few furtive glances around to make sure there were no lip-readers in nearby cars (or perhaps perched on rooftops or overpasses with binoculars), he would whisper the expletive, ask me if it was grammatically correct, and then sigh like a golfer who has just completed a difficult putt.

By now he's relaxed a lot. He'll come down and watch Jon Stewart with me, just for the hilarity inherent in potty-mouthed newscasters. He has even developed certain amount of panache in his delivery. Yesterday, he asked me what "contemptible corpuscle" meant. I explained a length, covering etiology and implied meaning. He listened to the whole explanation and then said, "So it's basically a stupid f****er."

I'm always amazed by what I end up considering as progress.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom

Last week MK's teacher announced a class sleepover in the gym for team-building and fun. Not surprisingly, MK did not like the idea. His aide got him out of the classroom before he started crying, so he didn't loose any street cred, but the idea was pretty frightening for him.

Notwithstanding his legitimate objections (playing with those kids will be hard work, he reminded me) we felt it was a good opportunity get familiar with the other kids and get to know his teacher. In fact, I blogged here, last year, to the effect that the school year should start (rather than finish) with informal social events for the kids. We were also pretty sure he could handle it. His anxiety has been exceptionally low and -- get this-- his aide was going to be there. I think that is amazing! How many school-provided aides volunteer for sleepover duty?

We all told him that we thought he would have a good time and that it would be a good idea for him to go, but that the decision would come from him. We discussed it every day for four days, going over worries and objections and offering vague bribes (oops, I mean incentives). On Sunday he decided to cut a deal and offered to participate in exchange for a much-coveted video game. After that, reluctance turned to enthusiasm, and by the time the day rolled round, he was feeling sorry for the few kids who were not allowed to attend for religious reasons.

He did very well indeed and enjoyed the whole thing with no panic and only a few patches of minor worry. He joined in all the activities and games and came out of it feeling happy and confident.

MK has one friend who he has regular play-dates with now (amazing to think that his first one was just two months ago) and, as it happens, this friend had the same teacher last year, but did not benefit from a start-of-year sleepover. So the friend asked MK to come to a sleep over at his house. MK, who would not even discuss one-hour play dates, six moths ago, said, "Sure, I don't have a problem with that."

That is where he is now. In fact, he has been gone since early afternoon and his mum and I took advantage of the occasion to go and see an excellent movie (This Is England), of the short that we would never be able to see with MK. In a few minutes we are going to a restaurant (Tunisian-French) of the sort that MK would hate. Ah, bliss.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Talk Talk

While I'm gushing about MK's new teacher, MK himself is not so impressed. The teacher is passionate about teaching, so he talks, and he talks, and he talks. MK is not impressed by people who engage in too much of his least favorite form of communication. He says that he cannot understand a lot of what he is saying and that he is, "Boring, boring, boring," and makes time go slow. He also tells jokes that MK doesn't get. And there are enough assignments, where the kids get to work. They just have to sit and listen.

We spoke to our SLP today and she suggested that we wait two weeks and see what happens. It could be the novelty that makes the new teacher's voice and speech patterns hard to understand.

I'm pretty sure that MK is going to have a great time with this guy, but I am reminded -- yet again -- that my idea of good and MK's ideas of good aren't always the same. And of course, when it comes to MK's education, what really matters in the end will be MK's ideas, not mine.

We'll see.

I've got to add that this is the first year where we have had this kind of feedback from MK. He has not previously been able to narrate what is going on in class an how he feels about it, so the "Oh dear, he's bored," response is actually outweighed by the "Excellent! He can tell me he's bored," response.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I think I can relax

Yup. For the first time since MK started at his new school, I think that I can actually stretch out on the sofa and say, "Everything's fine." We met the new teacher today. He is a relaxed, innovative guy who doesn't believe in homework and seems much more interested in teaching students how to reach specific educational goals than in having them conform behaviorally. In his comments on MK's first week in class, he had nothing but positive things to say.

MK now has two aides: one for the morning and one for the afternoon. The afternoon aide we already knew was very good. I met the morning aide today, and she seems intelligent, organized and kind.

It's like some fairy has waved a wand and transformed it into a different school, one in which people want MK to succeed, and have the good sense and flexibility to help him do it.

Maybe this a "pink cloud" and we will be pulled up short in a few weeks, but I'm going to enjoy it anyway. The last time that things looked this good at the beginning of the year, the whole year was a roaring success. Who knows, maybe it will happen again.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Looking Good

We have been told many good things about MK's new teacher, but we have never actually met him, so we have our fingers crossed. There was also the possibility that he might have fallen under a bus over the summer holidays, to be replaced by some unthinking, unfeeling schoolmarm. That has not happened. And while MK only met with his teacher briefly today, he is off to a very good start -- he asked MK to help as a math tutor for kids who find math difficult. MK came back bursting with pride, which is an excellent way to start a school year.