Have You Ever Heard of Adult Autism? Me Neither, Until…

When I was a high school computer lab technician and Business teacher, my lab was situated directly across from the Special Education classrooms. These classes were reserved for those students who could not be successfully integrated into the regular classroom. There was one particular student I distinctly remember, although I got to know quite a few of them. I will use the alias of Brent, to protect the child and the family.

Brent was a healthy-sized twenty-one year old student, who was at the age where he had to be transitioned into society, and taught the necessary skills he needed to survive on his own. But Brent was not functionally able to be transitioned. You see he lives on one end of ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder – which means he is not able to integrate into society on his own. Brent had no language skills, and he spent most of his time in the hall outside of my classroom.

That was because he was sensitive to sound. He couldn’t stand being in the classroom because the noise was too much for him and it would cause him to become agitated, which resulted in repetitive behaviors, like rocking by himself in a corner. He had no means of communication. I’m not even sure he was cognitively aware of what communication is and what purpose it serves, socially.

In a prior position, at another high school, I was introduced to Aspergers Syndrome, which was once considered a diagnosis separate from Autism. But due to changes in how Autism was diagnosed in 1996, Aspergers was moved under ASD. Autism is a disorder of the brain’s neural system. The medical community believes this can be caused environmentally or genetically. So someone with ASD is considered to be neuro atypical. Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein are said to have had Aspergers Syndrome, a form of ASD.

I began to wonder what characteristics someone with Aspergers has, so I did some research and this is what I found. It  considered a high-functioning form of ASD. And because ASD is a spectrum disorder, there is no specific pattern of behavior that defines whether any particular individual has ASD. There is a US Senator, who proudly tells his constituents that he has ASD, without reservation. He says that’s because if he didn’t have the “disorder”, he wouldn’t be the man he is today.

Some of the characteristics associated with ASD include an inability to read nonverbal cues, such as the wincing of the eyes in disapproval, or folding of the arms to signify resistance. An inability to maintain eye contact, stoicism, and the incapacity to understand why others feel the way they do, which often causes misdiagnosis of the disorder.

But because not everyone exhibits these traits, there are others that can be considered. Like,  possessing a rich vocabulary at a young age, then losing it later.  The ability to pay close attention to detail, and spatial challenges that cause clumsiness. And, as I mentioned with Brent, a sensitivity to sound. You can almost pick that person out in a crowd because they are usually isolate, and appear socially awkward. At the dinner table, they are the last ones to get the joke.

Suddenly, this sounded familiar. I always knew my brain worked differently than others. So I found a test online, one that is used to medically diagnose the disorder, and took it. Out of 50 points, I scored 43, meaning I have a high probability of having ASD.

Suddenly everything in my life made sense. At the age of six, I was the smartest student in my first grade class, but it took me longer than the rest to learn the difference between left and right. To this day I struggle when people give me directions using points on the directional compass, like north and south. Like others who have abilities and lose them, I once had a photographic memory that went away around the age of twelve. And as my brain wave patterns change with age, I am acquiring new numeric abilities I never experienced before. Another characteristic of the disorder.

I have no desire, at this time, to get a medical diagnosis because I have lived this long with ASD, if that is indeed what I have. Just like others I have met, who were not diagnosed until adulthood, over time I have learned to adapt to my challenges, never knowing they were challenges. There is a new form of therapy, stem cell therapy, that some say has proven successful in treating the disorder, but that is something I would never consider. I’m happy with who I am, and I don’t want to risk changing those positive traits that make me me.

 

Featured post

How the Digital Divide Impacts the Global Economy

For those unfamiliar with the Digital Divide, it is a term used to express the differences in access to technology based on socioeconomic variables. In other words, it’s traditionally defined as the difference in Internet access between the haves versus the have nots. The term has evolved to include the variance in the use of technology by those between 65 and 80, and those over 80. According to Pew Research, those younger than 80 are more likely to embrace technology than those who are over 80. Hence, the definition has expanded to include those who choose not to engage in today’s digital technology.

Not a surprise considering it was the people between the ages of 65 to 80 who created the Internet, and began an age of information technology that was unprecedented, until the desktop computer became a household item. Those over 80 have little concept of how the technology evolved after that. A pen and paper still serve their purpose. That is something they feel more comfortable using and, as technology evolved, their comfort level did not evolve with it.

brendan-church-180943But does the same resistance to engage in technology also hold true for countries? According to the State of the Internet Report produced by Akamai, it does. But for different reasons. For instance, in Columbia, affordability is extremely high, but usage does not compare to that of other countries, like the US, where affordability is less high, but usage is much higher than in Columbia.

If countries, such as Columbia, have the same experience with technology as I see in the schools in Detroit versus the schools in Colorado’s suburbs, access to high speed internet is limited by undercapacity of fiber optic networks, or budgetary constraints. To complicate matters, the equipment and software used can be so outdated, it serves no purpose if the processor in a computer cannot match the speed the Internet delivers. I worked in one school today that had some of those old boxy monitors in the computer lab, and one of the computers is still running Microsoft Vista, which is no longer supported by Microsoft.

Which reminds me of the time I was sitting in the beauty shop and one of the clients was complaining, as she sat in the chair across from me, because her daughter was sent home with an iPad over the summer for reading assignments. The Detroit schools can only dream of iPads for every student.

In both situations, the ability to compete in school, or the global job markets, is severely affected by financial constraints, or institutions being forced to use technology that is too slow for comfort. In the end, those who seek to better themselves have been placed at a severe disadvantage over those who take technology use and it’s access for granted.

pj-accetturo-172484In many countries, like Haiti, the World Wide Web is accessed, most often, through cell phones that don’t provide the same functionality as a laptop or desktop computer. For instance, it is more difficult to apply for a job on a cell phone than on a computer. On the other hand, cell phones and tablets are the reason why good old fashioned books still thrive in a retail market that has suffered because of advances in technology. Sure, we can read a book on our phones, eReaders, or tablets, but there is something less complicated and more comforting about being able to get lost in the proverbial page-turner.

Advertisements

When Did Our Kids Start Liking Summer School?

My experience in teaching is not an extensive one, having been in education for only nine years now. My prior occupations included accounting, project and operations management, and technical consulting. But, perhaps, that gives me a different perspective on the public versus charter school debate. Is Betsy Devos right for supporting more neighborhood and charter schools? Or will other school districts succumb to the same tribulations, because of her agenda, as Detroit has?

There is no better city to find evidence to support or refute the benefits of one over the other than in the Detroit Public School – DPS – system, where charter schools outnumber the public schools, and the trend will continue. There are schools, both public and charter, on every other block in some neighborhoods. But the questions still linger. Will academic performance improve? And relative to what, considering that DPS is one of the worst, if not the worst performing school district in the country?

Because I am observing as a contracted substitute teacher, I have no political alliances to any particular school administration to influence my observations. I have yet to form a solid opinion on public versus charter because I have seen the benefits of both over the years. My mindset is one that students should not only be taught academics, but they should learn those soft and hard skills needed to become successful adults, and highly productive taxpayers as well. Did I mention my bachelors degree is in Economics?

After a year as a substitute teacher in the Detroit charter schools, the jury is still out. The dramatic bailout of Michigan’s underperforming schools in June of 2016 has not kept schools from closing. Some of those that are closing are charter schools.

The problem with all the schools I have been in is the high rate of teacher turnover. Last week I substituted for an elementary class that had seen three teachers resign just that year. And, the administration was put in a position, so late in the year, where placing a substitute over a permanent teacher made more sense financially.

The reason for the turnover? The rate of pay for teachers in Michigan has dropped consistently over the last five years. Teachers no longer need to be certified to teach, lowering the standards for what counts as a “highly qualified” teacher. And, some will get angry when I say this, many new teachers come from privileged suburban backgrounds, so they have a difficult time adjusting to the Title 1 educational demands, not to mention the culture of poverty.

Colored PencilsBased on my obsevations at the end of the school year, I’m surprised to hear the kids happily sharing the receipt of their notifications that they have to attend summer school. I overheard one student say, “Summer school is fun!” So what if they spend some of their time swimming, boating, in a computer lab learning coding, in a science lab learning robotics, or even camping?

In the world of Instructional Technology, in which I received my Masters in K-12 Education with Licensure, we consider that exploratory and apprenticeship learning. For most teachers, such opportunities become prime “teaching moments”. For the student, learning becomes less abstract and more relevant. Maybe summer school curriculum should become a required part of the standard curriculum, no matter whether it’s in a public or charter school!

Chicago should look to Mother Africa’s Progress to Help Remedy It’s Own Ills

Just about everyone in the US is aware of and talking about the outbreak of violence in the city of Chicago. A lifelong friend of my grandson recently lost his life to gun violence there. For Chicago, this is not a new phenomenon. In the early 20th century, the city was wrought with crime when it became known for it’s speakeasies during the Prohibition and after. However, unlike the criminal element today that is restricted to certain communities, the criminal element of the early 1900’s impacted everyone, without regard to race, class, religion, or neighborhood. And the violence was eventually squelched after the economy recovered from the Great Depression.

What is happening almost one hundred years later is prevalent in impoverished African, Latino, and Muslim communities across the globe. And controversy abounds as to who or what is responsible for this wave of, not only criminal, but hostile behaviors. Unfortunately, that behavioral trend was cemented in our genome after hundreds of years of surviving threat after threat. Consequently, the attempts to solve the problems have met with negligible results. Could it be that over time the human race has only compounded what was already a volatile social environment?

seth-doyle-78210Scientific studies conducted by Emory University in Atlanta indicate that past memories are encoded in our DNA. So, the source of Chicago’s problem is more than what most would consider to be an irrational response to centuries of oppression and suppression affecting the African and Latino diaspora. Because according to this study, memories are genetically encoded to inform future generations of potential threats to their humanity. They also inform us of ways to counteract those threats.

The behavior of those of African descent across the world has typically been characterized as criminal and violent. But what about a rising  social trend in Africa? One of uplifting, not only one’s own family or community, but the entire continent, through social endeavors that speak to the good of the people and addresses their need to respect the ecosystem, while embracing diverse spiritual views of the world we live in?

jesse-orrico-60373The phenomenon of memories being genetically encoded is not limited to those of African descent. If we have developed a lack of self-esteem and behaviors based on fears of oppression, suppression, and death, then those who are the oppressors have developed behaviors based on their sense of superiority and fear of us. And, if violence, as a reaction to the transference of multigenerational fears, is occurring, then Mother Africa is finding a way to reverse that trend. As this new movement progresses across the globe it can serve as a beacon of light, causing a positive shift in paradigms for humanity as the transference of intergenerational memory continues to occur.

There are so many possibilities to consider as we begin exploring this phenomenon of memory DNA that I can’t address it in one article. So I will apply this theory to other aspects of humanity in subsequent blogs. However, it is comforting to know, as an African-American, that we can join the rest of the African diaspora in creating a change in the human genome. Change that can ensure acceptance of those things that positively impact us, while helping us deal in more productive ways with the intergenerational fears that compel us all to pursue counterproductive behaviors.

 

 

All the Hoopla about Healthcare is Bewildering

I need help understanding why all the hoopla about socialized healthcare? Especially when I consider how much we’re spending on presidential weekends to Mar A Lago, and the cost for protecting the First Lady and her son so they don’t have to move into the White House. How many lives could that money have saved?

Other capitalistic countries like Germany, Great Britain, and Canada have socialized healthcare. Considering that there is no such thing as a pure capitalistism or pure socialism, where does the conundrum come in when Congress debates healthcare?

And why is it that a nation like Cuba, one of our closest neighbors and a developing country, has healthcare better than ours? In fact, Cuba is a model we might want to consider borrowing from because it has about the best health care system in the world. Forget about that fact that we turned our backs on Castro’s Communist regime. Once again, there is no such thing as pure communism, especially now with an open trade agreement between the US and Cuba.

Doesn’t this conjure up high school history lessons on the benefits of being a member of the ruling class, while everyone else struggles with finding solutions for life’s challenges that the proletariat take for granted? Not to mention the fact that the new health care bill that passed the House will eliminate benefits for those who are mentally ill and suffering from addiction, while providing tax credits to insurance companies that are already making huge profits.

And yes, there will be a clause that gaurantees coverage for those with preexisting conditions. But, for those who are terminally ill, or have debilitating illnesses, that will come at an additional cost because the new healthcare plan looks to place them in a high-risk pool. So, even if they can get coverage, most will not be able to afford it.

Not to mention those who were depending on expanded Medicaid. Many will now be forced to find healthcare in the private sector. And for those who let their insurance lapse because they can no longer afford it, there will be a 30 percent penalty to pay, if you can find affordable insurance in the private sector. For many Boomers, who are too young to qualify for Medicare but considered too old to work, that could prove devastating. Plus, Health Savings Accounts are useless if you don’t have enough disposable income to take advantage of one.

One estimate for the number of people who will lose health insurance is around 24 million. Another estimates 52 million could lose coverage by 2026, once states are required to assume the majority of the healthcare costs that were once federally funded. Those who will gain the most from the Republican plan will be those in the upper income brackets.

So, what are we to think? Will the Affordable Heath Care Act work as an incentive for insurance companies to open up competition and lower the costs of healthcare? Will opening the market across states offer more affordable options? Or will more people lose their insurance, or opt out as we watch costs rise?

Any thoughts on this? I’m especially anxious to hear from those living in, or from countries with affordable or socialized health care. How does it work for you?

 

 

Is Required Reading in Our Schools Sending the Wrong Message?

What I referred to as “English” class is now called “Literary Arts” in many school districts. No matter the nomenclature, the required reading does not appear to deviate beyond the norm. By the norm, I am referring to mainstream literature that has been labeled as “classic” within the world of publishing. Our students are reading an array of literary works that are not only noteworthy, they give profound insight into the history, and culture of the times in which the novel was written.

I am talking about works by icons in literature like Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespeare, Charles  Dickens, Emily Dickenson, and the Bronte sisters. Few and far between are works by authors of color. And those works generally involve topics surrounding challenges specific to that particular culture.

kelly-sikkema-172068Don’t get me wrong, I read I know Why the Caged Bird Sings,  Native Son, and Coldest Winter Ever multiple times. But I also read the Taming of the Shrew, The Telltale Heart, and the Odyssey more than once, too. Where the difference came in is when the works I read were based on Eurocentric stories offering a broader perspective of the diversity, capabilities, and potentials of the people. Stories where the outcomes were more postive than those represented in the readings that are Afrocentric.

I don’t remember reading anything that was written by an Hispanic or Latino author. I have read Sherman Alexie’s novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian and found it extremely compelling, but at the same time disturbing. Disturbing because, as a teacher, I have seen many Native American students struggle to maintain their identity in schools where they are a distinct minority. Furthermore, even though the outcome for Alexie was fruitful, the same is not true for many of our country’s original settlers.

prasanna-kumar-223903The same issues abound in African American literature. There is usually one book about a person of color represented amongst the others that is required reading. But I have yet to see a novel that does not speak to slavery, the urban struggle, suppression or oppression. I have many students who complain they are tired of reading about the struggle. Or as one black female student commented on Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, “We don’t read what they assign us in class because it’s boring. Who wants to read about some old black lady trying to be young?” Another Hispanic student followed that up by saying, “Yeah, we wanna to read about people who look like us and act like us, and are doing extraordinary things.”

That is the reason I wrote Immersion. I was looking to bridge the gap that is present in the required reading in our schools. Immersion’s theme involves science, diversity in culture, religion and race. It grapples with family issues. The main characters are African American females of Haitian descent who have been exposed to the Vudoun practices of that culture in productive and unusual ways. And using this to their advantage, the two sisters, who have never met, must find a way to come together to maitain the intergallactic balance between order and chaos. As for the baobab tree on the cover; that represents that Tree of Life, where the family’s ancestral spirits reside.

IMG_0003

This is what our youth are looking for. Topics such as these offer opportunities to stretch one’s imagination, and broaden our understanding of the world and galaxy we live in. It looks to the future with hope and optimism, much like Millennials do today; the same Millennials and Net Geners who say they are tired of reading about the urban struggle, slavery, oppression, and victims of failed immigration policies. They want to read about a brighter future where the universe is ours to explore and embrace, with main characters who look and act like them.

Haiti the Beautiful

Whenever someone mentions Haiti I think of abject poverty, and the tumultuous plight of the Western Hemisphere’s first independent black democratic nation. Like the US, Haiti is a country born out of conflict. A country which has ancestral roots that are tied to the African slave trade.

Haiti is also a country where people openly express their strong ties to the culture and independence of a nation that other countries view as lost to corruption, violence, social depravity, and religious occultism. But when I communicate with  Facebook followers from Haiti,  I get an entirely different perspective of what is happening in one of the world’s poorest nations, where over 70% of the population is unemployed.

Despite the poverty and turmoil, I sense an undeniable solidarity and even cohesion amongst the citizens of Haiti. Yes, they express concern over differing opinions regarding the spirituality of a people whose culture is based on reverence to their ancestral spirits. The majority of Haitians are Catholics, but evangelical Christians came to Haiti in 2010 with relief for earthquake victims, and have stayed and made it their mission to convert the entire population to Christianity to save them from themselves. It is the belief of many of these evangelicals, and others, that Haiti will continue to suffer until Vudoun practices are no longer a part of their culture.

IMG_0098

Is an altar to the ancestral lwa so diffferent than altars for Catholic Mass, complete with sacrificial offerings?  The only difference I see is that Mass involves the Holy Trinity, while a Vudoun altar is set up to remember and appease the spirits of the Haitian ancestors, elders, and relatives who have crossed over into another existence.

And there appears to be a sense of patriotism in Haiti that is unparalleled. Despite the poverty, social, political,  and geologic instability of the country, there are not mass migrations to the Dominican Reublic, which Haiti shares borders with on the island of Hispaniola. People speak of the poverty and the difficulties of day to day existence, but not with animosity, malice, or hopelessness. For many, they anticipate a day when all Haitians stand together as a united front, so that all of their Human Resources can work together to develop a thriving economy.IMG_0095As for the children of Haiti, the education system seems to be more of a deterrent than an asset. The limited data that is available tells the story of a nation where only 57% of elementary age children are enrolled in school. Out of those, only 30% reach sixth grade. The literacy rate is 52.9%. And the majority of schools are private schools run by missionaries. Teachers are not required to meet strict standards and adhere to successful methodologies, thus ensuring they are qualified to be educators.

But, for those Millennials who have managed to beat the odds, the outlook is one of hope. In their desire to uplift their country, many have graduated high school and have completed college in Haiti, while others have come to the US for college and returned home to help in any way possible. Many of my Facebook followers are Haitian Millennials, so I have learned they use social media to garner as much information from an electronic world as they can.

That is the beauty of the democratic nation of Haiti. It lies in the spirit of it’s people. It’s hope shines brightly through the eyes of it’s youth. Haiti is a people determined to combat the social, political, and economic odds, until the first black democratic nation of the Western Hemisphere stands strong and economically independent for the first time in it’s short life.

But The Sign Says Open House

I remember when, at the age of six, my parents decided it was time to spread our wings and move out of the two-story row house around the corner from the high school my mom taught English in. My great grandparents owned the property, along with multiple others across the city of Denver, Colorado. So up until then, my world was the Five Points community, where the history of blacks in Colorado flourished.

My great grandfather invested in property there, beginning with his first house in 1909. He bought land, buildings, apartments and homes in neighborhoods no one wanted to invest in; like Five Points, Curtis Park, and what was once skid row but is now a thriving retail center called Larimer Square.

I was too young to understand the redlining that was a prevalent practice in my city at the time.  I knew nothing of the neighborhood segregation that began with government support during Roosevelt’s administration. I was raised to believe that as a black person I could come and go where and when I pleased. Until that fateful day when my parents and I looked at a house on Monaco Parkway, in Parkhill. A white middle and upper middle class neighborhood at the time.

I remember being excited about this house because it was larger and better maintained than any of the others we had viewed prior to it. When my dad rang the doorbell, we were greeted by a well-dressed white realtor who politely asked if he could help us. My dad told him we were interested in looking at the house. The realtor’s response was, “I’m sorry, but we’re not showing the house to coloreds.” 

When out of the mouth of babes, I responded with “What do you mean? But the sign says Open House right there!” I wish I could relive that moment now. The realtor looked at my father expecting him to correct me and tell me I needed to learn some respect, but he didn’t. My dad looked off to the side with a smirk on his face and my mom tried to hold back from doing the same. After all, I said what they could not say.

We did find a house, two blocks down the street. One that is still family-owned. And as I grew up, I watched the neighborhood change. There were more For Sale signs up after we moved in. And I remember my parents saying it was because more blacks were moving into the neighborhood, and any time that happens, property values decline. 

The neighborhood is changing, once again, because of gentrification. My daughter owns the family home now, so that is to her benefit. But, she recently shared an NPR article that reminded me of the changes I have witnessed since my childhood over the past 50 years. And the changes in socio-economic and racial representation have been the determining factor as to whether those with wealth wanted to move to Parkhill.

In the end, my daughter will prosper from gentrification. However, other communities might suffer. Five Points was once a vibrant attraction for jazz lovers. My great grandfather took pictures with some of the icons. Like Count Basie, Sara Vaughn, and Duke Ellington. My cousin owns much of the property now. And she, with the help of other black business owners, would like to revive the Five Points community.

But that is where gentrification might come with a cost. Because there are rumors that the city wants to revitalize Five Points’ image. Gone is the mural of my father on a storefront portraying his gold medal long jump in the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. More investors are pressuring my cousin to sell what is left of the family empire in “The Points”. Instead, rumor has it that the city wants to build a sprawling Jewish Community Center. And as my Jewish friend once told me, “Get used to it.” But that’s hard to do, because our history as a family will be erased from a neighborhood I cherish to this day.

Thomas Malthus in the 21st Century

Thomas Malthus was born into the British aristocracy during the late 18th century, so his political and economic views of the times were influenced by his upbringing, as were his observations and research regarding social evolution. His most acclaimed writing is “An Essay in the Principle of Population”, which espouses the concept that a decrease in the availability of food, brought on by population growth, will cause people to choose to take actions that will reduce the population growth and decrease the consumption of food.

It would be hard to argue that population growth has increased into the 21st century, along with climate change and drought conditions, and that food production has not been able to keep up with that growth. On that point I can concur with Malthus. But Malthus goes on to assert that it is the undisciplined approach to consumption, and lack of the utilization of proper birth control methods by the lower class that causes economic decline.

Many today claim that Malthus’ theory is highly misunderstood because he goes on to state that when such challenging economic conditions occur humans will choose to give birth to children later, use contraceptives, emigrate, or even practice infanticide and genocide to mitigate economic losses. Also, a conclusion I agree with because it is in our genetic disposition to find creative means to overcome adversities, although some of the choices being made by countries like Syria  have become increasingly disturbing today.

Based on this assumption, Malthus goes on to propose that if the continued demand for food outweighs the supply then people must be choosing behaviors that are counterproductive to checking population growth. This may have been true during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, however, I wonder how relevant that postulation is today. Because, today decisions like job cuts are made by entities known as corporations, not by human beings.

According to the latest data, there are a number of our citizens who have made it their lives work to ensure that they did what they could to mitigate any undue stress on their own economic plight, which in turn affects the overall plight of those in this country. I am talking about a population of displaced Baby Boomers who have for various reasons lost their source of income and hope for a carefree retirement. For many, their losses were not a product of making poor choices. Rather, changes in technology, climate, and global markets have resulted in the displacement of many auto workers, coal miners, and even technology workers involved in the production of our countries’ goods and services.

There are many who invested wisely in pension funds, mutual funds, stocks, and commodities. These are entrepreneurs whose businesses were built on an economic model that industries such as coal and auto manufacturing would be a primary source of growth in our Gross Domestic Product in the present and into the future.

But many of our goods and services have been outsourced to other countries that can produce them more cheaply. Robotics has taken over human labor, resulting in cost reductions in production that are passed on to the consumer as lower prices. For the unfortunate, laziness, having too many children, nor making poor spending choices explains the predicament they may now find themselves in; where they have depleted their retirement funds, can no longer afford health care, and have had to choose to rely on other benefactors, such as their own children, to survive.

Malthusian economics supports the mandate in China to limit families to two children in an effort to control population growth and to reduce the overconsumption of food and other natural resources. Mankind has found alternative energy sources to combat climate change, reducing the need for coal. All good things.

But what is not good is the blatant disregard for those struggling to survive in the midst of such changes in technology, and demand for cheaper goods. When I listen to the news  about Trump’s Tax Reform, I hear about corporate tax breaks and protecting the middle class, but what about the struggling class of Boomers and others, who find themselves in a hopeless situation for reasons beyond their control?

 

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑