Archive for March, 2013

Cheeseburger By Renee Comet (photographer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cheeseburger By Renee Comet (photographer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I admit, I get outraged easily.  It doesn’t take much to get me all riled up.  So it’s no surprise that I’m all up in arms again, but this time it’s about something both important and timely.

A picture is flooding the web.  A little Autistic girl with her Chili’s cheeseburger.  And everyone thinks it’s “cute.”

No.  No, it’s not!

But let me explain.

First, I don’t mean the kid isn’t cute.  She is.  Total cutey-pie.

Second, I don’t mean to say anything bad about Chili’s or how they handled the situation.  We’ve had plenty of our own experiences, like having to order non-grilled grilled cheese sandwiches for years because Simon would only eat plain cheese sandwiches (literally two slices of bread with some cheese in between them…and then he’d take that apart to eat the bread and cheese separately).  But I digress.  Chili’s handled the situation wonderfully, and the wait staff deserves serious kudos.

So why do I have a problem with it then?

Because while everyone seems to be looking at the picture and saying it’s cute, it’s not.  It is an example of a child who was suffering and had difficulty expressing herself due to a disability.  Disabilities aren’t “cute.”  Being unable to tell someone you’re not happy or hurt or in pain – not cute.  Her need to have the burger whole and “unbroken” wasn’t just a kid wanting crusts cut off because she didn’t like them.  It’s a part of the rigidness and enforced “sameness” that goes along with Autism.

I blame it all on “Rain Man” (the movie).  The movie portrays a quirky but intelligent character.  One who may need help but is overall satisfied with his life in an institution (which is wonderfully unrealistic as I look back upon it now, FYI).

Then we get to see all the “wonders” of people with Autism.  People who go up in a helicopter and then can draw New York.  There are stories about brilliant people who were probably on the spectrum

And all those things are great.  Maybe.

But that’s not the life of your average Autistic child. 

They may lash out because they aren’t able to communicate.

They may throw tantrums or have meltdowns because things don’t follow expected patterns that they have become accustomed to, so they become overstimulated.

They may suffer from other issues and related disabilities and may have no way to communicate those issues or disabilities.

So while everyone is busy focusing on the cute girl with the broken hamburger, think about how you’d react to a 30 or 40 years old woman who did the same thing.  Or a ten year old boy who stims and flaps his hands and arms and keeps loudly repeating Blue’s Clues when you take him to a restaurant.  Will you still think it’s cute and want to help? 

Time to make the donuts...I mean, change my socks!

Time to make the donuts…I mean, change my socks!

I’m a University of Phoenix alum (2003, BS in Information Technology), and a few years ago, I briefly taught for Axia College (a subset of U of P). It didn’t work out for me – it wasn’t a good fit – and I took an extended leave of absence from adjuncting for them for reasons I won’t go into in this blog. But the point is, the last time I taught a class for them was in 2011.

So you can understand my shock and surprise when I not only received one of the “Faculty Matters” magazines, but also a pair of socks. Yes, socks.

Socks!

Socks!

And not just any socks. According to the back of the magazine, they’re part of the “lucky socks” TV ad.

But wait – there’s more!

The envelope they came in says, “A new year, a new pair of socks.” Which worries me for a reasons. First, does that imply that they believe their faculty members only change their socks once a year? Second, it’s the middle of March! The new year started over 60 days ago. If I’d really been waiting on these socks as part of the new year, my feet would either be really dirty, really cold, or both.

And just to finish this on a high note, my husband, who also has been and currently is teaching there and is also currently enrolled there as a student, did *not* receive either the magazine or the socks.

Perhaps this is a bribe to get me to come back? Or perhaps it’s like when, after laying me off, another university sent me a mug full of chocolates and a “thank you for all you do.” (And those chocolates went straight into the trash…I didn’t fancy finding out if they were part of my “severance package” in a bad way.)

Now that's a big pill to swallow! (But thanks for being one of the sponsors, Walgreens!  You can't be held responsible for idiots who present!)

Now that’s a big pill to swallow! (But thanks for being one of the sponsors, Walgreens! You can’t be held responsible for idiots who present!)

Okay, so maybe not *everything*….and I don’t want it to sound like all the presenters there were horrible, but when I spend more time taking notes about the presenter than I do listening to the advice being given or taking notes on things being said, then I know that there is a problem.

 The session I went to that was so bad was the second one of the day.  If I hadn’t been looking forward to the afternoon, I may have just taken a long lunch break and gone home.  But it had been a long drive, and I was hopeful I’d learn some things that could help.  (Admittedly, much of what I learned was really geared to kids more functional than my son, but I’m still considering adaptations, and it’s always worth it to find people to talk to…)

But back to the fun session.

First, I hate to denigrate someone based on their appearance.  We can’t help what we look like.  But it wasn’t this woman’s appearance that got me as much as her attitude.  And then her appearance became part of the joke.  So many, many years ago, MTV had an excellent cartoon called “Daria.”  (You can still watch all the episodes on Amazon Prime for free!)  Anyway, this woman was Brittany.  I was waiting for her to look in a mirror and say, “Perky…but not too perky!”  (Points to anyone who knows that episode!)  I’m good with people who are happy and, ahem, perky, so I wouldn’t hold that against her.  Except for everything that went with it.

Second, I don’t mind denigrating someone because they’re an idiot.  Seriously, when you begin your talk by saying, “I always go to training to try to learn something, and then I find out that they don’t know as much as I know,” then you may be a bit too obnoxious to learn anything.  Especially when you then struggle with trying to explain the breakdown of the item under the umbrella of “stuff” you’re talking about.  (I’m purposely not naming names of anything because I don’t want to identify this woman…)

So it’s not enough for her to brighter than everyone else, because then she had to go and prove she wasn’t.

She tells her audience (all five or six of us) that another woman out there, who didn’t complete her training but that worked with her, is calling herself a behaviorist, and that’s just wrong because it will fool people because they may mistake it as being a BCBA or a BCaBA.  Uh-huh.  Cause we’re all stupid and wouldn’t know to look for and at qualifications.  And, let me tell you, having that certification obviously doesn’t mean much…because then this woman goes on to tell us that she “doesn’t like working with challenging or difficult children.”

Wait, wait, wait, wait…you’re at a conference and resource fair for parents with children who have disabilities, but you don’t like those “difficult” children.  So that would be, ummmm, all the children of the parents who are there?  Because, let’s be honest, if your child is easy to deal with, you’re not really going to spend your entire Saturday trying to learn how to work with and for your child.

Next up: she discusses how, as part of her methodology in helping children learn to talk, she teaches them to play with toys appropriately.  But why do that?  I don’t want to be picky, but I kind of have to be now.  If my son wants to always play with a car the wrong way, you can still teach him how to speak.  You just have to change your approach.  Why spend the extra time teaching him to do it “right”?  Why force them to fit your mold?  No real answer to that one…

But okay, let’s move on.  She then picks apart a study where she says that if a teacher was to offer her class stickers for raising their hands, and then hand-raising didn’t increase the next day, then it proved that stickers weren’t a motivator.  Which is also wrong.  All it proved was that they were not motivating in that case, and perhaps it didn’t prove that.  For example, what if on the first day of the experiment, they were offered for math questions, but the next day, it was during geography, and the students found geography less interesting or more difficult?  Or what if it was at a different time of the day?  Students are notoriously less interested after lunch if they’re gotten sleepy, or perhaps first thing if it’s a Monday morning and they’re tired from the weekend.  And what if…well, you get the idea.  There can be a million other reasons.  Simply saying, “one day didn’t work” is not exactly a large enough sample.

Maybe I’m being too picky.  Until she explains how she does what she does.  And I realize that, perhaps this is, indeed, the perfect job for her.  Because the steps she explains seem to be so simplified and so “this then that” that I begin to wonder if this is the autism treatment equivalent of making sandwiches.  (Anyone else remember the famous line from “Grounded for Life” when Eddie points out that “somebody’s gotta make the sandwiches”?)  I mean, quite seriously, she has it broken down.  You do a, then b, then c, and then d.  And then you have a child who speaks! Ta-da!  All I could think was pick a bread, pick a meat, pick a cheese, put on veggies, and then you have a sandwich!  (Is it any wonder I had Subway for lunch?)

And I won’t go on about the person she had assisting her who was a real-life Hulga – and if you don’t recognize the reference to the short story by Flannery O’Connor, you better get to reading!

Anyway, so I’ve run out of time and space to talk about the good things, but there were enough to balance the bad, so I’ll be back next year.  But I think I’ll avoid this presentation, if she’s “smart” enough to come back…

The first of...April? (Photo by dhester, morgueFile free photos)

The first of…April? (Photo by dhester, morgueFile free photos)

So when I woke up on Friday, I knew it was the 1st.  And, my addled brain told me, it was April 1st.  Somehow my mind had skipped the entire month of March, perhaps because it knew better…

Not too long ago, I began getting really interested in Buddhist teaching and philosophies and the concepts of using mindful thinking and meditation as a way of reducing stress and improving myself, the quality of my life, and the quality of the lives of those around me.  As part of this exploration, I downloaded a few apps on my phone to help me think of things differently and look at things differently.

One is “Be the Change,” which challenges you to do something to change or affect the world every day.

The other is “Transform,” which is a book by Cheri Huber (the full title of the book is “Transform Your Life: A Year of Awareness Practice).

So on March 1st, not April 1st as my brain wanted me to believe, I discovered that they had apparently been monitoring my emails and personal life because they were trying to fool me.

The “Transform” assignment was to “Today, take a look at some of the familiar, comfortable hells that plague you.”

The “Be the Change” assignment was to “Think about a healthy physical or emotional risk you’ve avoided.  If it’s something you really want…go for it.

As anyone who knows me probably already knows, my own familiar, comfortable hell is overwork and overstress.  I write daily to-do lists that something, when I sit down and figure out how long it would take to actually do everything on them, top out at 25 to 30 hours of work per day.  Definitely a hell, right?  And I’ve been doing it for years.  I fall into it so comfortably.

Well, and what have I been avoiding?  Cutting back and doing things that are healthy for me.  I have been reading “The Buddha Walks into a Bar…: A Guide to Life for a New Generation” by Lodro Rinzler, and I really want to follow the four necessities that should be achieved every day: sleeping, eating, meditating, and exercising.

Apparently, the universe has come into alignment for me, though, and even though it’s only March, I need to go for it!  I need to actually get enough sleep at night, I need to eat right, and I need to exercise and meditate every day!

Will it fix my “familiar and comfortable hell”?  I think so…