It’s an achievement and honor for any student to speak at their school graduation. But for Dillan Barmache, 14, it was an opportunity to let people to know he has a voice.
Dillan has autism, and is non-verbal. He used an iPad and a letter-board to address the graduating class of Hale Charter Academy in Woodland Hills, California, rapidly choosing letters to form sentences. He got a standing ovation from classmates, parents and teachers—along with a social media one from special needs parents like me. This gives me so much hope for my son, Max, who has cerebral palsy and who uses the Proloquo2Go speech app as his main form of communication. Next year Dillan starts high school; he’ll take general education classes, and might study psychology, per KABC news.
I love not just that Dillan did this, but that the school welcomed it. My dream is for more schools, programs, workplaces and the world in general to have this open-mindedness toward people with special needs. As Dillan’s mom, Tami, said, “We all want to share who we are, we all want to share our thoughts and ideas and questions and worries, and I think every individual has that right.”
“When I examine each day, it’s just incredible how a student, an autistic one, could ever feel a part of a class of future academics. Education is a better institution when all students have opportunity, plus a chance to take an idea and see the lessons within. With your mind, no one can place limits on where an idea can take you. Living without a voice creates almost no way to be heard, but there are people who refuse to think in a box. Open your mind in high school. You will learn to think about different ideas, and examine new findings. Always look inside other peoples experience in order to gain another perspective outside of books. Only then are we able to start opening our eyes to the amazing things around us. I so believe that there is so much more each one of us can do for other people, causes, and fields of study. I know too that the thought of high school is daunting, and also exciting. We will be challenged to think for ourselves as we live each day out. Part of education is showing what we have learned, so then tests measure our ability to learn, and are necessary. However, another measure of learning often seems based on insight and guidance. Insight is a guide that separates our knowledge into what we are taught and what we are capable of doing. Take a chance to experience your education in a meaningful way, and think outside the box, into yourselves. Insight always leads to truths that an individual either chooses to accept or not. Always consider looking to your own insight and seeking another viewpoint. We are the reality of our thinking life and are capable of so much if we just open our minds.”
This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at Atypical Familia.
When Norrin was first diagnosed with autism, my husband, Joseph, had a difficult time. Like many fathers of sons, Joseph imagined little league, football games or teaching him how to drive. Neither of us imagined, therapists, disability or special education. Those first few weeks/months/years we wondered if Norrin would ever speak or grow up to be independent. And I know Joseph worried about what kind of relationship they would have. If they would ever have that father-son bond.
Norrin started baseball again this year. This time, he’s on a team and is required to play each week. Last week was Norrin’s second game and Joseph was Norrin’s “buddy.” Norrin hit his first single! Seeing the look of pride on Joseph’s face, reminded me of how their relationship has evolved over the years and how Joseph has learned to bond with Norrin.
4 Ways My Husband Bonds With Our Autistic Son
Comic Books & Cartoons. Joseph is a major comic book fan. So much so that we named Norrin after a comic book character! While I spend my bedtimes reading Norrin my childhood favorites, Joseph reads books featuring his favorite comic book heroes. Joseph gets into character by changing his voice and Norrin loves listening! They also spend time watching cartoons like Super Hero Squad and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Norrin doesn’t quite understand the complex story lines but he likes the action and he now recognizes all the major characters.
Music. When Norrin was a baby, Joseph would rock Norrin to sleep listening to calming music like James Taylor and Bob Denver. Joseph is always introducing new music to Norrin. Some music Norrin likes – for the longest time, Norrin would only listen to “Get off of my cloud” by The Rolling Stones. And some he doesn’t – when he doesn’t, Norrin sticks his fingers in his ears and says, “Too loud, Dad. Lower the volume.” Like everything else, finding the right music is about trial and error.
Video Games. Joseph’s like a big kid when it comes to playing video games. And his love of video games was something Joseph wanted to enjoy with Norrin. Video games have helped Norrin in so many ways but mostly it’s been a critical piece of their bonding time.
Sports. There was a time when Norrin didn’t have the strength to throw or catch a ball. It took years of occupational therapy for him to learn. Norrin still struggles with his movements for many things, and he gets easily frustrated. But Joseph gets him to keep trying.
At first Norrin wasn’t interested in playing baseball. But Joseph broke the basics of baseball down. He began teaching Norrin how to catch the ball in his glove. Then how to throw the ball. Norrin loves playing catch and often asks to go outside and play. No matter how tired Joseph is, when Norrin asks – they’ll go outside and throw the ball around.
When I see Joseph and Norrin together I feel really lucky. Bonding with Norrin hasn’t always come easily but Joseph works really hard at finding ways to connect with Norrin. And seeing them interact together, watching their bond grow is a beautiful thing.
This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at Atypical Familia.
The other day my friend was over when my 8-year-old son Norrin walked in and asked to use the iPad. I knew he had a mess in his room. I had spent the last hour asking him to clean up. There were sheets of paper and crayons all on the floor. I told him that if he wanted the iPad, he needed to clean his room. And that’s when he started to cry.
“I’ll help you Norrin,” my friend offered, starting to get up from the sofa.
“No. He needs to do it himself. He knows how.” I said.
Norrin kept crying and asking for the iPad. I kept saying, “No. Not until you clean your room.”
I could tell my friend was getting upset. She has a soft spot for Norrin. If it were up to her, she would have given him the iPad and picked up every single piece of paper and crayon herself. But I just kept talking, enjoying my visit with her.
I don’t like seeing Norrin cry (I hate every single second of it). And I certainly don’t like being the cause of his tears (makes me feel like the worst mother in the world). But I can’t give in every time he gets upset. He has to understand the meaning of “no.”
I wasn’t asking Norrin to do anything I knew he couldn’t do himself. He knows how to pick up paper and throw them away in the garbage. He knows how to pick up crayons and put them back in the box. Norrin’s tears had nothing to do with autism. It was about him not wanting to clean his room.
So I let him cry. And as upsetting as it was, I knew Norrin wasn’t in any physical pain or in danger of hurting himself. Eventually he cleaned up his room and when he was done, I gave him the iPad.
It’s called tough love for a reason. It’s tough on kids and tougher on parents. But I know that my little moments of tough love special needs parenting will teach Norrin about independence and responsibility.
God gave Toni Braxton’s youngest son autism as punishment for an abortion she had: That’s what she believed, as revealed in her new memoir Unbreak My Heart. I was distracted and dismayed all Memorial Day weekend by the news reports. As Braxton tells it, per eonline, “In my heart, I believed I had taken a life—an action that I thought God might one day punish me for…. My initial rage was quickly followed by another strong emotion: guilt. I knew I’d taken a life…. I believe God’s payback was to give my son autism.” Her son Diezel is 11 years old.
Autism? A payback? In a few sentences that have spread around the world, Braxton is setting back the autism awareness that has been created in the last decade. This from a woman who Redbook magazine dubbed one of 10 Moms Who Are Changing the Face of Autism for the work she’s done through Autism Speaks. Braxton later told US magazine, “When my youngest son was diagnosed with autism I feared I was being punished for my earlier actions. I have since realized that my son is special and learns in a different way.” But the damage has been done. Braxton also mused over a connection between autism and the childhood vaccines her son received. Coincidentally, last week a meta-analysis of major studies came out that found no association between vaccine and autism.
Some bloggers responded to the abortion-autism connection; as Sara McGinnis said on BabyCenter, “I’m pretty sure revenge is not how the whole God thing is supposed to work.” At some Christian websites, they noted that Braxton’s use of Accutane may have been the cause for Diezel’s autism, not God. Other writers applauded her for speaking out on the “highly-debated topics” of autism, religion, and abortion. Yet many had the same reaction as I did: How could you claim autism is a punishment? As one Twitter user said, “What’s the punishment going to be for Toni Braxton’s stupidity?” Another site proclaimed, “Unbreak her brain.”
My son has cerebral palsy but it makes no difference: this kind of thing hurts all our kids. When I scanned the book, I couldn’t see anywhere where she refuted that punishment idea or explained why her son is awesome. So many people already pity my son and others like him with disabilities; Braxton’s words perpetuate the idea that children with special needs are tragedies—or, worse, lesser human beings. Some of us struggled with our children’s diagnoses early on, as I did. Even in my darkest hours, though, I would have never said that the beautiful boy with brain damage lying in my arms was “payback” for anything dubious I had ever done.
As parents of kids with special needs, we know they are anything but tragedies. We admire their successes, we swoon over their cuteness, we respect them, we see their abilities. You know, like any parents of any kids. We also do our best to instill confidence in them, bolstering their spirits to rise above their challenges and the prejudice they may face from others. To be sure, I completely understand what it’s like to want to share your feelings through writing, as I regularly do through blogging and as Braxton did in her book. Still: We owe it to our children, and their future, to help people see past dated, demeaning and hurtful perceptions of kids with special needs.
One of the commentors on Autism Speaks’ Facebook page says it best: “Are people like us (with autism) something to feel sorry about or cry for? Are our parents? Are we that bad, that behavioral or personal disasters? Are we not people? Aren’t we crying when people behave bad against us or the system fails to help us? I have Aspergers, a University education, and a complete life…am I not a human?”
There are many pieces of research contributing to the autism puzzle, with studies implicating everything from older fathers to environmental factors. And now comes the latest piece: Children of fathers who are in non-people-oriented occupations are more likely to have an autism spectrum disorder, per research from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Dads who worked in engineering were two times as likely to have a child with ASD; ones in finance were four times as likely; and those in health care occupations were six times as likely.
Mother’s jobs didn’t have a connection, although if both parents were in non-social fields, their child was at higher risk for having more severe autism. Says researcher Aisha Dickerson, “Parental occupation could be indicative of autistic-like behaviors and preferences and serve as another factor in a clinician’s diagnosis of a child with suspected autism.”
The question you might be wondering: Did we really need this study? Supposedly, some clinicians already ask parents about occupation when they are doing a diagnostic evaluation. In any case, there seems to be too much focus on autism causes, especially with studies like this one where it seems like money would have been better spent on research about therapies. Last month, when I asked parents of kids with autism how they felt about all the emerging studies, the majority said they felt there wasn’t enough being done on treatments. Some noted that the cause studies made them feel guilty. In this case, though, it may very well be fathers who feel that way.