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 […]
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:
Happy Chanukkah – Chag Sameach
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Some very positive news from our own community! And Eric has already earned the admiration of President Obama.
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:
- Daily routine cards to help nonverbal autistic children with their personal care
- An electronic story book, “We’re Amazing 1, 2, 3,” featuring Elmo and Abby and their friend Julia. There’s also “Benny’s Story.”
- Tips for children on being a friend to a peer with autism
- A video, “Being a Supportive Parent.”
- Advice on helping siblings understand a brother of sister with autism
- Assistance for parents prepare for outings
- How parents can explain autism to young children
- Ways in which parents who care for their autistic children can take good care of themselves as well
- Public awareness on what one should say to a parent of an autistic child.
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
Friendly neighbors there
That’s where we meet….
For many people on the autism spectrum, relating to people poses multiple challenges. For animals, however, these same people often have an affinity. What’s more, many of these animals know this intuitively and are very accepting of people on the spectrum. In her groundbreaking book Animals in Translation, Temple Grandin spoke of the close connection between animals and people with autism, like herself. She spoke of the ways in which animals see the world “in pictures,” with much greater attention to detail than neurotypical people, but in ways similar to which she sees the world. She also wrote of the close connections many people with autism have with animals and their abilities to “read one another.”
One UK mother of a young woman with Asperger’s syndrome, wrote of her daughter’s deep fascination and deep, abiding love for all animals. These pets offered great comfort, nonjudgmental companions in whom to confide. She quotes Tony Attwood, in his introduction to one of Liane Holliday Willey’s books: “Another escape is into the exciting world of nature, having an intuitive understanding of animals, not people. Animals become loyal friends, eager to see and be with you, with her feeling safe from being teased or rejected and appreciated by her animal friends.”
Temple Grandin is most well known for her work with cattle. Another person with Asperger’s, Josh Flannagan, found his calling with another large animal, horses. Offered a job at a horse ranch, Josh immediately bonded with the animals. “He changed so much through them,” says his mentor, Pete. “He commutes with the horses better than I do.” By being able to offer the horses comfort, Josh has been able to help himself become less stressed around the client riders. He has earned the title “Horse Whisperer.”
Horses are at the heart of equine therapy, whereby children and adults with physical, cognitive, and emotional disabilities benefit from riding horses. For now, we will consider how a child with autism can benefit from equine therapy. By interacting with the horse and caring for it, the child with autism forms an emotional bridge, which extends to enhanced social and communication skills with humans. Riding the horse gives the autistic child educational experience with learning how to understand and follow directions. The gait of the horse enhances the spatial orientation abilities of the child with autism; the horse becomes a trusted friend and teacher.
Working with animals is an excellent avocation for a child or an adult with autism or Asperger’s syndrome, one in which he or she can excel, to the mutual benefit of both parties.
A Brief Afterword on Service Dogs
Dogs are the most popular and common animal for children with autism. They can be pets of therapy (or service) dogs. A service dog has been professionally trained to help a person with a disability. Guide dogs help the blind and hearing dogs help the deaf or hard of hearing; these animals are beyond the scope of this column and will be covered in a later blog. Service dogs, on the other hand, perform more of a psychological role. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, owners and service dogs cannot be denied access to places of public accommodation. There is a story of boy with autism who fell in love with a German shepherd at a shelter. With most people, the dog’s behavior left much to be desired, but with the boy he was entirely different. The dog received proper professional training to be certified as a service dog. Obtaining a suitable service dog requires diligent research; for one, the trainer should be a member of Assistance Dogs International, which sets high, internationally recognized standards for service dog training. The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners assists people using such dogs, as does 4 Paws for Ability. And worthy of note is one UK group, PAWS, which unites dogs in shelters and children with autism, recognizing the mutually beneficial relationship. They note, however, that these animals are not service dogs, which provide specific therapy and to not enjoy full access to places of public accommodation.