Saturday, January 19, 2008

Less alarming alarms

I'm the waker-upper in our house. My wife could sleep the clock around so it's up to me to get everyone up. Usually this is not a problem, but I have been known to be a little behind schedule in the wakeup calls, especially if the papers bear particularly engrossing news in the morning and I forget that I have a family to wake. Once, a few weeks back, I even slept in, and MK was late for school as a result.

As a fan of routine, rules and order, MK has voiced his dissatisfaction, at various times about my slipshod performance. But when we have suggested that he get an alarm clock he has always refused and retracted all his complaints. Last week we pushed him on the subject and he let us know that the reason he did not want an alarm clock is that they are -- oh, yeah -- alarming. He has a point. If it's hard to integrate sensory stuff like that when awake, how much more shocking would it be to have a buzzer go off when you are asleep, unsuspecting and unprepared.

With a little hunting we found a technological work around -- an alarm clock that plays sound effects instead of buzzing a buzzer. MK opted for the birdsong sound effect. It was a bit loud in his opinion, so we taped cardboard over the speaker (reminding me of how I would have to dismantle all of this toys when he was a tot, so as to find and snip the speaker wires) and the end result is suitably subtle.

I guess this would count as adaptive technology of the very lowest order but now, at least, MK no longer has to rely on the vagaries of his father's coffee and newspaper routine.

Friday, January 18, 2008

I have to say it

I am pretty sure that many people will not like me for saying it, but I have to say that I am greatly disturbed by the blogosphere's handling of the Katie McCarron tragedy. A woman killed her daughter. Sadly, it happens quiet often. There are several hundred cases of filicide each year in the US. One person killing another is always a miserable business, but in the case of a parent killing a young child, it is particularly horrific and always indicative of deep mental disturbance. I don't mean to say that the legal standard for insanity (which is to say, lack of responsibility) is met, but in almost all cases the perpetrators are mentally ill.

Because, in this particular case, the motivation for the crime was the fact that the victim was autistic, much of the autism community has taken it up a cause célèbre. My perception is that the perpetrator has become a stand-in for all those who see autism as a disease to be eliminated, rather than a grouping of traits to be understood and respected. This is not a legitimate substitution. The level of vilification clouds the issues and makes it harder communicate with the supporters of associations such as Autism Speaks at a time when communication is very important. Further, by treating filicide as an extension of a common (and I believe misguided) approach to raising autistic children, the act is given a perverse legitimacy and brought within the realm of the conceivable. That is not beneficial. It adds to hysterical thinking, which we already have too much of in relation to autism.

To be frank, and more psychological (or, if you prefer, spiritual) than political, I feel that focusing excessively on such unnatural acts is unhealthy for us as individuals and as a community. There can be, for me, no celebration, no satisfaction, and indeed no justice when a child is killed. The situation is beyond repair. There can only be sadness.

I know that my views are not representative of society at large or the autistic community. It is normal that philosophies differ. That said, I encourage my fellow bloggers to move on from this tragedy without unnecessary public lingering. The blogging community is part of an important battle ground for public opinion on autism. This was recently shown by the success in changing the NYU Child Studies advertising campaign. It is ongoing in regard to the Judge Rotenberg School. There is much to talk about, let's get on with it.

Please note that, while I felt that making my opinion known was worth the risk of perhaps loosing the respect of some of my friends, I have no desire to engage in debate nor certainly to start one. I have, therefore, turned off the comments for this post.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Books and Bookish Things

MK is 12, but I still read to him before bed. Actually, it is more accurate to say that I read with him before bed. He likes to keep his eyes on the text and correct me if I misread something, but mostly he likes to comment and discuss. It can often take fifteen minutes to get through one page, as we stop three or four times to discuss motivation, ramifications and a host of tangential facts. It has always been the case that MK is at his most loquacious, and is most interested in, and capable of, narrative, at the very end of the day. For years, 80% of the things he said in a day were said in the 30 minutes before sleep. I have no idea why this is. Nowadays he can wax talkative at all times of the day -- though not reliably -- but the before bed slot is still special.

Recently, MK and I read The Thing About Georgie. It's a pretty good read. One of the things about Georgie is that he is a dwarf -- by which I don't mean that he is a fairly tale creature, but that he is affected by dwarfism. It good story about being in the fourth grade, learning to share affection and making new friends. It's also a story about being a kid with a handicap and how that makes Georgie feel about himself and his place in other people's eyes. There are no saccharine ugly-duckling moments. Georgie just gets on with life, faces the same obstacles as other kids, as well as some unique to dwarfs, and gets over enough of them that everyone is feeling good about life by the end. It's interesting to talk to MK about this different kind of disability. He sure does give good advice when its for someone else.

Now we are on to Elijah Of Buxton, which is actually a bit hard because it is written in dialect, so it's not ideal for folks with language issues, but MK so loved Christopher Paul Curtis' other books, The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 and Bud, Not Buddy, that we are sticking with this one, dialect and all.

We also read a little bit of non-fiction (usually just ten minutes) before bed. We did a kid's atlas a while back, which was good for all kinds of discussion. As an offshoot, MK has now moved on to memorizing what he considers to be the most pertinent facts from the CIA World Factbook. Other than flags, the most pertinent facts are the populations of the countries and languages spoken there. He seems to be very concerned as to whether or not English will turn out to be a good language to have learned. It's an obvious worry that it is only the third most popular language on the planet, and so MK is constantly looking for more information that reassures him that English alone is enough to get by in most places. It's something like how buyer's regret can cause us to spend all kinds of time looking up expensive products we just bought so as to convince ourselves we haven't shelled out for a lemon. He can tell you every place in which English is an official language (there are a lot more than I ever imagined that use it for at least one of their official languages) as well as those places where it is widely spoken. Did you know, folks, that only 89% of the US population actually speaks fluent English. Meanwhile, French, which all good little Canadians are forced to study, is only spoken by 23% of the people. This laughably small percentage has led MK to suggest that, when he grows up, he will work towards having it banned. I think I felt the same way at his age.

Currently our non-fiction book is The Kids Book of World Religions, which is a very good read, even for non-kids.

At the adults-only end of the spectrum, I recently read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which was very good, but I felt that, if you already know about autism, it can be a bit like reading a tourist guide describing the place you grew up in -- nice, but a bit obvious and oversimplified in places. I read his other adult book (A Spot of Bother) first. I think it is much better. I really enjoyed that.

In among all this book reading, I have actually started writing again. At various times in my life I have put my hand to a fair bit of fiction (though I have never tried to get published). I was too distracted to do any for the past few years, but recently, with things on the home front going so smoothly, I find my enthusiasm rekindled. I even joined a writers group here in my new city and went to my first meeting tonight.