A Story of an Elephant with Big Ears… and a Big Heart

Some two and a half years ago, maybe longer, I was listening to Jonathan Schwartz’s radio show on NPR. After playing his customary songs from the American song book, Jonathan gave a rave review of a children’s book he just read. As a love of animals is something we both share, I had to read the book. I am glad I did.

Most of the people with autism and some with Down syndrome, likewise have an affinity to animals… and vice versa. This review is dedicated to them.

 

butterfly_lg“My, what big ears he has!” A little elephant was born in southern Africa. However, not long thereafter, the peace of that happy occasion was shattered by a sudden flash and a bang. Poachers claimed the little elephant’s mother.  A twelve-year-old boy named Thabo watched a rescue helicopter bring in a baby elephant to the wildlife refuge, where he lives. The veterinarian, Bitri, will try his best to save her. Thabo was there to comfort the baby elephant with big, spread-out ears he has decided to call Butterfly.

Four years later and half a world away, Emma was enjoying the splendors of her New York City courtyard garden, when a tall teenage boy approached her. Thabo introduced himself and explained that he was there with his father, who was giving a speech at the United Nations to urge world leaders to help his country’s endangered elephants. Emma was astonished; she didn’t realize that such big, strong animals needed protection. It was then that she learned about poachers killing elephants for their tusks for the illegal ivory trade. She removed the ivory butterfly necklace pendant she received for her 11th birthday. (The coincidences here will have some readers wondering if the ivory from her pendant came from Butterfly’s mother; at the very least, the metaphor is very strong.) She loved the picture of Butterfly Thabo showed her, which she thought of as she returned the pendant to its velvet box and hid it in a dark drawer. That night, Emma dreamed of a parade of animals.

Suddenly, Emma was aroused by a loud trumpeting sound.  Outside her window was Butterfly, looking for Thabo. Hearing the noise, Thabo rushed to her side. Butterfly spoke to both teens of her fear of Africa and was seeking a safe place. But what to do with an elephant in the city? After all, an adult elephant would need some 320 pounds of plant material and 30 gallons of water every day. The seemingly obvious first choice was the circus! All three were excited as they watched the pageantry, especially the regal elephants. After the show, Butterfly met up with the circus elephants. Butterfly and her human companions quickly learned—along with the reader%mdash;that many circus elephants are taken from the wild and poorly treated. Later that night, Emma learned that the keys of her baby grand piano were made from ivory. Emma was left wondering whether the Bach prelude she was playing would be able to “heal the aching heart of a baby elephant.”

Reblogged: What does it mean for me to be truly #autistic? — Aspie Under Your Radar

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how my dreams and ambitions have really suffered and been stunted, because I’ve felt compelled to pursue them along neurotypical lines. I’ve somehow believed that if I followed “the rules” — of engagement, of customary behavior, of social interactions, of the right job or locale — that […]

via What does it mean for me to be truly #autistic? — Aspie Under Your Radar

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

All of us at Advancing Opportunities wish you, our consumers, families, and supporters (including those of you who have generously followed this blog!) peace and happiness for the holidays:

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Merry Christmas

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Happy Chanukkah – Chag Sameach

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The very best for Kwanzaa

 

And just in time for the holidays, here’s a special treat.  Overcoming her autistic social fears, this lovely ten-year-old girl gives a stunning rendition of Hallelujah that would have made Leonard Cohen proud.

 

 

Giving Thanks, DisABLED Style

happy-thanksgiving

Things, er, people to be thankful for.  After all, in the disability community, it is really the people in our lives who make all the difference.

Yes, there are things when we think about assistive technology, for example.  There are custom-designed wheelchairs, handy smartphone apps, braille keyboards, communication devices…. However, it is the people behind these wonderful products who matter most – the people who design and build them, the assistive technology specialists who work with people of all disabilities to find the right device and counsel how to use it.

So, yes, it’s mostly about people.  And, on Thanksgiving, most of us spend time with family.  So, that is where we will start.  In most cases, it is family members who are the primary caregivers.  Caring for a son or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister, or grandparent with a disability is a round-the-clock responsibility family members undertake with the strongest sense of love.  We, at Advancing Opportunities, give thanks to all our wonderful families.

Families, however, occasionally need a well-deserved break.  Many are thankful for family support services personnel – respite workers and the like.  In, addition, the individuals themselves receive the gift of socializing with their peers, often in community settings.

And there are individuals with all disabilities in community residential homes.  The residential support professionals provide care with uncompromising dedication round the clock.  Some are working right now, as you are reading this.

There are so many other people who make life better for individuals with disabilities. Teachers and other educational professionals and assistants, for example.  Many people work behind the scenes, performing managerial and clerical work to make it all happen.  Let us not forget the generosity of the many benefactors, individual and corporate, who make it all happen.

For all these people – you – we are thankful!

A Conference Explores the Social and Assistive Technology Issues of the Arts

How people with disabilities use the arts to express themselves and find a therapeutic calm and purpose is gaining more and more attention.  In this space, we discussed in an April blog post multiple efforts in Canada and the U.S. to provide public spaces to give access to these important voices to the community at large.

 

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The University of Bergen, Norway, has announced its The Disability, Arts and Health Conference to be held this September.  According to its Web site, the conference “aims to reflect critically on how disability is represented and theorized in contemporary society, both in an academic context and outside the academy, including clinical practitioners, community activists, mainstream media and creative arts practitioners. We welcome abstracts from scholars, artists, community activists and practitioners from a diverse range of disciplines.”

The organizers are seeking papers in the following areas of study (quoting from the Web site):

  • Representations of disability
  • Prosthetics and the prosthetic metaphor
  • Biotechnology and disability
  • Disability in creative arts practice
  • Gender, sexuality and disability
  • Critical disability studies
  • Race and disability
  • Disability and colonial and anti-colonial practices
  • Biotechnological, health and/or disability imaginaries
  • The politics of disability.

The cross-disciplinary intersection of art, social issues, and technology should make for a very thoughtful and interesting intellectual experience.  And on a side note, it is worth revisiting this very interesting and enchanting TED talk by Christine Sun, deaf person uses “the music of sign language” to express how sound is very much a part of her life.

And Now, Some Good News…

A former Rutgers football player, Eric LeGrand, paralyzed in 2010, has embraced life and love.  And, over the course of his recovery among wheelchair races and therapy dogs, he befriended a young woman with cerebral palsy, Gianna Brunini.   The next step was for him to ask Gianna to her high school’s (Hannover Park) senior prom; he did so by giving a motivational speech to all the students, as reported in a recent newspaper article.

LeGrand Prom Date

Some very positive news from our own community!  And Eric has already earned the admiration of President Obama.

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The Sesame Street Neighborhood Welcomes Julia

Julia autistic muppet with autism #SeeAmazing

Meet Julia, the latest Muppet friend. The rest of the Sesame Street gang know that she’s amazing. She even has her own hashtag: #SeeAmazing

Sesame Street, introduced in 1969, is seen in more than 150 countries around the world. Always a champion of inclusion, the highly respected show on October 21, 2015, launched “Sesame Street and Autism.” This initiative has opened to considerable acclaim.

Its anthem,“The Amazing Song,” raises autism awareness and acceptance among its young audience. Christine Ferraro, who wrote the lyrics to the song, explains her connection to autism, in that she has a brother on the spectrum. This led her to feature siblings in the video and other instructional materials, to help these neurotypical children better cope with their situation. In welcoming their new friend, Julia – who happens to be autistic – the Sesame Street Muppets sing in unison, “Every kid is an original; we’re all one of a kind We’re all as different as can be, but in some important ways, we’re all the same – we can all be friends, because there’s so much we can share. We all have feelings We all need a friend who can understand.”

In a video to introduce the show, Julia explains, “lots of kids have autism”  And “that means their brains just work a little differently,” she continues.  She introduces us to her some of her human friends, like Nasaiah. His mom helps him learn how to play with other boys his age. A family helps a younger sister, Yesenia, with everyday self-care activities. Louie’s father talks about how his son made him “so much a better person, a better father.” Says a mom, “I just think he looks at the world in a very different way than we do. I don’t think it’s a bad way…. I think it’s amazing.”  According to Sesame Street executive Sherrie Wilson, “Families with autistic children tend to gravitate toward digital content, which is why we created Julia digitally.”

“Sesame Street and Autism. Family Time with Grover.” The beloved blue Muppet introduces us to Angie, who has a very special way with her two younger brothers. Although they are twins and both have autism, they are very different personalities. This is perhaps the best testament to the old adage, “When you have met one person with autism, you have met an autistic person.”

Frank Campagna, the writer of the respected blog “Autism Daddy”  is one of the video producers at Children’s Television Workshop. In his blog, he discusses how, after the birth of his severely autistic son, he sought ways in which to spread autism awareness through the award-winning children’ show.

ASAN, the Autism Self Advocacy Network, is also a partner. In a public statement, the organization proclaimed, “Sesame Street should be commended for reaching out to and focusing on the many voices of the autistic community… aimed at ending stigma and increasing understanding and inclusion of autistic children.”

“Sesame Street and Autism” offers a variety of resources, including:

Sunny Day
Sweepin’ the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet

Can you tell me how to get,
How to get to Sesame Street

Come and play
Everything’s A-OK
Friendly neighbors there
That’s where we meet….