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We are looking at colleges for Ethan this summer.

For many of us ASD parents, our child around age 2-4 years old is not hitting developmental milestones and we begin to get inkling that he or she is on the spectrum. We take our child for all sorts of evaluations and after some time and patience, we are told our child has autism. (see our Timeline of a Diagnosis if curious). We are often given lots of recommendations for immediate action: behavioral therapy, speech therapy, play groups, IEP info, etc., all the makings of early intervention. What we are not given is any type of prognosis or long term plan. We live day to day, month to month, and as time goes on, maybe year to year, but nothing beyond.

When Ethan was two, he was non-verbal (both expressive and receptive), very socially disinterested, had self-stimulatory behaviors, and that general 'spaced-out-ness' of an autistic child. He did show some cognitive ability (puzzles, shape sorting, organizing), which was a good sign. In our preliminary school district meeting/evaluation, Ethan played off in a corner full of toys. Ignored the 6 adults (including us) having a meeting and basically and ignored the adults who, one at a time tried to engage him for evaluation, but as we were leaving the teacher suggested we go straight to the door to leave to see what Ethan would do. He caught us out of the corner of his eye and of his own accord came to us as we open the door to leave. We were told that was a very good sign.

But did all these signs mean? He did very well in behavioral therapy and progressed through new therapy topics quickly, he sight read at 3 years old, he read phonetically by four and a half, he was fully mainstreamed with an 1:1 aide in kindergarten, he became aide independent in middle school, he did well academically, but what did it all mean? He still (at 17) exhibits all of the criteria for a DSM diagnosis of autism. Where is his long term trajectory? That is the thing no one, and I mean no one talks about.

As the autism rates have skyrocketed for this generation (1 in 5000 in 1975 vs 1 in 250 when Ethan was born in 2001 vs. 1 in 68 today). Yes, some is due to increased diagnosis, but not all. So now, this huge increased population of Ethan's gen is now graduating a fair amount of high functioning individuals, what now? How are we to help them succeed?

The number of college programs to help matriculate students with autism is not proportional to the number of ASD students attending and will attend two and four year colleges. The vast majority of colleges simply refer you to their office of disabilities. Unfortunately, the people there have no experience or training for autism. They were set up to assist students with physical disabilities and learning disabilities (like dyslexia or ADHD). The office will help address educational needs and accommodations but have no support for social deficits.

There are a number of colleges that saw this black hole and began to create specialized programs. Here are a bunch of useful links to find schools with special programs:

Friendship Circle: 10 Colleges with Programs for ASD Students
The 20 Best Value Autism College Support Programs
Programs for Students with Asperger Syndrome

and here's a really good resource for your child to read themselves. It was written by autistic adults for the autistic student (in college or college bound).
Navigating College by ASAN (Autism Self Advocacy Network)

So this past year, I've done a bit of research and the bummer is that most of the really impressive programs are in the North East or South. After long talks with Ethan about college, he's very open and undecided about most things, but knows he wants to remain in northern/central California - driving distance from home. After numerous calls to the universities that we are interested in, we found that we will pretty much have to create our own support system for Ethan. This will involve the office of disability, but we will need to recruit and contract some sort of social mentoring for him as well as help to matriculate to the dorms and college life. More than anything we want to give Ethan every opportunity to be successful. Students with ASD have a much higher drop out rate than typical students. We're going to need to find resources for Ethan and enable his self advocacy.

We plan to visit a number of schools this summer and try to piece together ways in which we could get Ethan the support he'll need. We are looking for any and all suggestions and leads. Even if it's that someone knows a professor there or some really nice students who are attending there (both older and incoming freshman). At one university, I spoke with someone in a department that has courses on working with young children with autism. They have been proposing a program for the ASD students already at their college. Unfortunately, their funding was denied. The professor seemed as frustrated as me that the university isn't moving towards supporting ASD students. The good news is this one particular professor is sort of ad hoc helping out the ASD students who have sought her out (as well as continuing to propose formal support programs). I'm hoping to find more professors like her at other universities. An ally to help create a support and mentoring program.

This will be a summer of reconnaissance. We're also hoping that as Ethan visits campuses, he'll begin to form some sort of opinion on where he'd like to go. Personally, I'm leaning toward a school with an enclosed campus. I'm also thinking the smaller the better, however, that's tricky in California. Still 15-20K students with an encapsulated campus area could work.

It's going to be an interesting summer.

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To Med or Not to Med Revisited - Anxiety

Medication and your children: It's a complex topic. It's this huge juggling game of evaluating risk and benefit, your child's age and needs, reading medical papers, talking with doctors, and taking into account personal experience. It's a lot!

What I'm sharing is simply personal experience and does not constitute a medical advice. Still, I'm hoping it's good for thought for others facing similar questions on dealing with children (on or not on the spectrum) and anxiety.

I know many people will say that boys and girls have increased anxiety around puberty and that it's a phase and they all make it through. Yes, for most, that is the case. Whenever friends or family would deliver that sage advice to me, I'd describe my children's' anxiety attacks. They maxed out around 3-5 times a week of uncontrollable crying (anywhere from 30 min to 3 hours), running out of class, hiding under beds or in closets, being completely non functional (almost catatonic) for many hours (2-6 hrs) after the attack, etc. My friends would then say, "Oh, that's not normal." Correct, hit the nail on the head. Anxiety that requires clinical intervention looks notably different from kids who are moody, cry occasionally, seem anxious about friends or school. Clinical anxiety disorder is debilitating and interferes with your ability to function in life.

A summary of previous posts of Ethan's experience: When Ethan was around 10 years old we began to see an increase in his emotional outbursts and generally having difficulties dealing with simple problems or unexpected things. We deemed it 'lack of emotional regulation' but it was at its heart off the scale anxiety. Ethan continued to have quite a bit of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to try and deal with it, but as he aged, his anxiety seemed to worsen. We tried Celexa (Citalopram). Trying an SSRI on an autistic 11 year old requires very low dosage start and slow ramp up (and subsequent ramp down and off). It took about 4 months to realize it wasn't benefitting him, and another 6 weeks to come down and off. A doctor (an autism expert that Ethan had seen during medical clinical trials) encouraged us not to give up on SSRIs for everyone has different biochemistry and it can take a few tries to find a match. So we tried Prozac and pretty quickly saw it as a game changer for Ethan. It allowed him to function at school and the classroom, at home, and out in the world. It's not a miracle pill that suddenly vanishes all anxiety, it reduces it to a manageable level. It allowed for Ethan to employ all the calming and CBT techniques he'd learned over the past years because he was no longer in an unreachable anxiety attack at the slightest thing. He's been on Prozac (fluoxetine) for 6 years now, with no side effects and no need to increase his dosage from where he originally settled in.

Fast forward a few years and our neurotypical son has been suffering from crippling anxiety. It was affecting him at school and at home. We started him on Talk Therapy and CBT. It was useful for him, but his attacks were becoming more frequent and more debilitating after 6 months of therapy. So we considered evaluating SSRI's. We picked Prozac to start since it had been successful for his brother. He ramped up on it over several months. We saw no change, so he ramped down. Our psychiatrist then suggested to try Lexapro (Escitalopram). He ramped up on it over several months. We saw no change, so he ramped down. Trying those two SSRIs took up his entire 8th grade school year. That summer we kept him off any new meds. He was miserable. No school work, just fun summer camp, and he was still plagued by anxiety attacks. I was beginning to despair.

Then just before he started high school he switched to a new psychologist (talk therapy) that he really liked as well as started to take Zoloft (sertraline). After just a second ramp up on dosage, we began to see change. The next step up in dosage, we saw the elimination of the full blown anxiety attacks. Again, I'll reiterate, it's not that all anxiety is eliminated, it's reduced to a manageable level. He was able to employ all of the CBT techniques for dealing with his anxiety now that the attacks weren't so powerful and debilitating. Therapy and medication work hand in hand for maximum efficacy. Study that sort of proves the obvious here---> https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2702984/

So for our youngest child, it took trying 3 different SSRIs to find a match. He's been on it for 8 months now and doing well at functioning with his anxiety.

It's easy to dismiss anxiety in adolescents, but if you can help them at a young age, it can only benefit them as adults. There are also a lot of wannabe clinicians out there who read a few headlines and say there are no medications for autism. To that I wish to educate you and say, there are many other disorders that are very prevalent as concomitant diagnosis with autism (seizures, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, etc.). There are many medical treatments for these and while there may or may not be improvement in other autism symptoms when treating, the improvement in the targeted area (in our case 'anxiety') leads to improved life functionality.

Preparing for the future

When Ethan started high school, we were thinking about college, but it was more in the back of our minds. He had a few years to go before we had to investigate in earnest. Well, he's halfway through his junior year and earnest has arrived.

We got him and SAT tutor, because Ethan's really going to need to rock his SATs to make things like interview and extracurricular moot. We've been trying to stir his interest in different majors like computer science, software engineering, and other engineering. These fields are some of the few that have a few companies that will actively seek out people on the spectrum because of their special skills (attention to detail, memory, visual abilities,etc). We've been asking him lots of questions about the type of school he has interest in.

The difficult truth is that Ethan doesn't have a clue what he wants. Now I know a lot of high schoolers don't know. But my husband and I were the other kind of kids. By Junior year, we knew what major we were interested in and had a short list of schools that we knew we'd apply to. It's hard to relate, and Ethan needs guidance, so it's a balancing act of trying to steer him to explore and consider, without 'telling him' what to do.

There are a number of Universities that have established 'autism' programs to help students matriculate, support them both with academic and social advise, etc. Unfortunately, most of them are on the East coast or southern. The one thing when we talked to Ethan about college that he seemed he had and opinion was that he thought he'd like to stay in California/west coast. There are a few programs in California, and I've investigated a little bit. None seem like an ideal match.

So that leaves investigating with departments of students with disabilities. Most are more experienced with ADHD/LDs but are open to working with students on the spectrum. There is support to be had, but a lot less structured. We could also investigate privately finding a mentor for him, if we had connections through other families we knew with students going there.

More than anything, I think Ethan needs to live in a dorm and campus environment. It will help him become more independent and grow. He'll need some transition help up front, but after a short time, I think he'd get the hang of things. He's very adaptable and did well at overnight camp, although that had lots of support from counselors and was very structured.

So here we are... going to visit schools this spring and summer. Going to evaluate college majors and think about admission requirements. I'm leaning towards Ethan being up front about being on the spectrum, even write essays on the subject. I think it will help his admission for them understand how much he is capable of despite his disability. I'm also hoping that the increase of entertainment and news of people with ASD opens the eyes of admissions counselors to the benefit of admitting these students.

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In his own words

I was discussing with someone my thoughts on 'Atypical' and they brought up their preference to read/watch people with autism telling their own stories. It got me to thinking about an essay that Ethan wrote for English class at the end of last semester. They had been reading The Diary of Anne Frank and he had been tasked to write a non-fiction narrative. It was a very difficult assignment for Ethan and in the end he decided to write about his difficulties. I thought folks might like to read it, so I asked Ethan if I could post it and he said yes.

So here he is, in his own words:

1 May 2017
Non-Fiction Narrative

Hi, my name is Ethan Anav. I am sixteen years old and I go to Piedmont Hills High School. All my life, I’ve found it difficult to communicate with people. At this age-- when pimples are on your face and you have hair on places other than your head, if you know what I mean-- I have a tendency to want to distance myself from others. Well, that’s what people tell me, but on this multi-colored campus within the big, multi-colored city of San Jose, I don’t really notice that I’m distancing myself.

Lunch time, a time when the campus is bustling with activity, is a time to hang out with friends. Unfortunately, I don’t really have the guts to start a conversation-- unless I’m told to. I usually just say “Hi” to people and then stay quiet. It’s like I don’t recognize them; that’s a little odd. When I do talk to people, I will ask them if they would like to hang out with me sometime. I will say, “Hey, would you like to come over sometime this weekend?”
A friend of mine, Sean, who’s the same age as me, will say, “Yeah, I would like to.”

Either that or, “Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t think I’ll be able to.”

If there’s no one (that I know of) at the maroon table I sit at in the shade, I start to feel lonely. I eat my crunchy, nutty, fruity peanut butter and jelly sandwich with no one watching me. That’s when I think I’m not going to be around people. And that’s sad. Even though I have many friends and family members. Have I been abandoned? Do my friends not like me any more? No, that’s not true. That’s impossible.

When I’m in class, I will either sit up straight and pay attention to what my teacher is saying or I slant in my chair, bored to death and not doing anything that uses my time wisely. When we participate in group projects, I hope to find a group that best suits my needs. Let’s say in Drama, where the class is intended to decorate the room of G-1 to celebrate theater with posters and props from past Drama Department productions. I try to find a partner, but I can’t. So I raise my hand, and my teacher, Ms. Woods finds a partner for me. She says calmly, “Ethan, why don’t you work with (classmate’s name).”

I would know who this person is, but I’m not sure if he or she is right for me. Then, all of a sudden, I ask myself, “Why am I like this?”

I try to stay calm when things get overwhelming. You see, I’ve been diagnosed with this thing called Autism. I was very little back then; around two, I believe. This disorder… it makes me view the world differently, but not all different. It is why I have difficult times in my life. And typically, it’s not too easy living with Autism.

After school, I’m at home, a calm, tranquil place to live in. I have homework and I’m slightly stressed. It is Spring Break, a time for fun and relaxation. I mean, I’m supposed to do work on vacation. Is that even necessary? Am I supposed to put my priorities for staying up to speed in school BEFORE I take a break and have fun?!

I go to do homework on my smooth, white desk. There is rarely any sound except for my pen or pencil moving along the lined paper that I use. Over time, I manage to finish my Spanish and math, with only my English left to do. For this assignment, my teacher is telling me to write an essay, which I’m okay with but I know it will not be easy. I don’t know what to jot down. My thoughts are scrambled like eggs. I try to think about what I’m supposed to write, but I just can’t. My eyes start to water. Dropping my pen, I rush upstairs to my mom, tell her about my situation, and then cry, “I’m not good at this!”

She puts her hand on my shoulder and says, “Oh, Ethan. You’re good at lots of things. Like math, you’re good at that. You’re also good with building Legos; things with instructions. And you have a good memory. You remind me of things that I forgot to do and remember the dates of when certain movies came out. But the stuff you don’t think you’re good at, you can improve on it. It’s just who you are.”

She’s right. I am good at some things. I calm down, start to smile, and get back to work, with my mom helping me. We come up with ideas for the topic and I go on from there.

In the end, I accept the fact that I’m not better than everyone, but not everyone is better than me. Furthermore, I see myself as other people see me: a young man who has difficulties with life as I know it. This isn’t about how we do on the work we’re assigned, it’s about how we act in life. I am different because we are all different, no matter if we do the same things.

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We finished watching Netflix's Atypical

We finished watching (8 episodes) of Atypical the other night. We watched over the past few weeks as a family. Me, hubby, 16 year old with autism HS junior, and 14 year old neurotypical little bro HS freshman.

So here are my thoughts...

But first a warning. I wouldn't let younger than highschoolers watch this. It's an adult show and not intended for younger viewers. You know your own kids best so use your judgement. Our kids mostly stick to PG-13 but we have watched a couple R films and we let them watch John Oliver which overuse of Fbombs is tempered with some actually interesting information and encourages critical thinking. We gave in a few years ago on Big Bang Theory but had not let them watch younger because of the high amount of sexual content. Our kids are on the 'innocent' side but I'm fine with these adult themes and we can discuss them as a family. So that's our head space.

Atypical as a show focuses a lot on dating and sexuality, but also family dynamics and yes, the life of and with a young man somewhere on the high functioning side of the autism spectrum.

Overall, I thought the production value (as with most Netflix originals) was pretty decent quality. The acting and direction are good. I like the casting. At first I wasn't sure about Rappaport, but he grew on me. I got a kick out of Jennifer Jason Leigh being the parent of two teenagers exploring sexuality, because I best remember her from my teenage days from that quintessential teenage sexuality movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Which as an aside, I don't think my kids are mature enough to watch yet. LOL, how's that for irony.

All four of us were entertained and drawn into the characters and story line. By the end of episode 2 we were all compelled to watch the remaining 6 episodes in a short time. So just that quick acid test of 'is this an entertaining show?' the answer is 'yes!' It's a family drama/comedy at heart. The family dynamics are the key driving forces behind the plotlines. The main one being that Sam decides he's interested in girls and would like to date. I like the fact that he doesn't come to some great epiphany, it's just that when presented with the idea, it sounds like a logical thing for him to do.

There are your basic character and plot tropes going on but they're done well and have a spark of originality by having a POV character with autism. Leigh's mom character is a bit cliche but very relatable not just as a special needs mom but also a stay at home mom who has been living a bit too much as a part of her children's lives and not enough of her own. Rappaport's Dad is your all around nice simple guy, who feels a little left out. It makes me think of my own kids who relate to me as the 'primary care giver' and my husband gets double checked with me by the kids. As in, he gives permission to Ethan to watch TV, but Ethan will immediately call to me "Mom, dad says I can watch tv, is that ok?"

There's the 16 year old neurotypical sister Casey. She's a track star and a pistol. My youngest son liked and related to her character.

And finally, there's Sam, high functioning and seemingly fully included senior. Ethan liked the character and that he had autism, but I'm not sure he fully related to him, but I'd say he related to him more than Temple Grandin (which we watched this summer). Autism is a spectrum and everyone is different, but there were definitely moments when I saw Ethan in Sam. One such moment was Sam was monologuing in his head at started to laugh out loud at his thoughts in the school hallway. Ethan does that a lot by playing movies/tv shows in his head - it's his self stim behavior. Ethan will just smile our laugh (even in class) at his own little show in his head. Ethan is also very literal and doesn't pick up on social cues - verbal or nonverbal. It was a good opportunity to discuss these with Ethan and get him to think about them. The plotlines are focussed on Sam's dating interest and sexual interest. My husband really wished that as a fall Senior in high school they'd at least mention more about what Sam might be thinking to do after graduation. College applications? Thoughts on if he'd live at home vs go away to school. We're starting to think about that and taking the SATs and it seemed logically like it should fit in somehow and would be a major issue for them. Maybe next season?

There are some really awesome fun moments, that I won't spoil. Just know that the writers did a great job of working in Sam's obsession with Antartica and penguins throughout the season. There's also a scene between Sam and another kid on the spectrum (who's mom is friends with his mom) that feels spot on. Having autism in common doesn't really make for a good relationship, there's double the social and communication issues.

There's a number of solid supporting characters. They provide good contrast and some comic relief. Another aside: Techtropolis is the worst name for a fictional Best Buy ever. (Sam works part time there) It's like it was a place holder in the early scripts and the writers said 'don't worry will come up with something before we shoot' but then they didn't. I cringed every time they said it.

So yes, I'd reccommend this as an entertaining series. Definitely high school age or older. Interesting look at one example of a teen with autism, realize there is no such thing as full representation. It's just a character, and he's a good one. The show is narrowly focussed on family dynamics and sexuality - it's a 1/2 hour comedy (dramedy?) and there isn't much room for much else.


https://www.netflix.com/title/80117540

Increments of change

Autism Awareness Month is coming to a close. I always like to try and post something that folks might find useful. This year I'm going to muse about the increments of change.

There's this obvious phenomenon of how change isn't as apparent when you are living with it every day. It's that way you see your kid every day and don't think to much of their growth, but then someone who hasn't seen them in six months says, "Wow, they've gotten so big." And you measure them and low and behold they're 2 inches taller. You hadn't noticed because you see them everyday and the incremental change isn't apparent. Same thing with social skills and behavior development.

It is so difficult for us to assess how Ethan is growing and changing over time. People who haven't seen him in a while will often comment that he seems to be more at ease with conversation, that he's talking more, that he seems more mature. It's nice to get that perspective since we're living in the incremental day to day and can't see the change, and unlike height or weight, there's no real good measurement that we can do. I suppose someone else's perception is the best indicator.

My take away from all this is that parents of kids with autism should know that their children are growing, maturing, developing, maybe not at the rate of their peers, but they are advancing every day. The increments of change day to day are so small that we can't see it, but when someone outside your little circle comments, take it as an honest observation. They are progressing.
I often kid around that I'm part Vulcan. I tend to put more stock in logic than emotion and often am baffled by the influence that emotions can have on people. In some ways, I see Ethan and his autism as having Vulcan similarities and I see Spock as a bit of role model in some ways. Spock thinks differently. Spock behaves differently and his behavior is more influenced by facts, logic, circumstance, almost anything but emotion. There is a certain parallel with Ethan and how he views the world and the people in it.

Then on Next Generation you've got Data. Again another character, not quite human, learning to deal with the complexities of human behavior and emotion. Fascinating, as Spock might say. I often see Ethan's trying to adapt to human social behavior as much like Data's. Analyzing it and trying to come up with a step by step process or algorithm rather than the way most people do it with intuition and instinct. Like Data, Ethan hasn't been hardwired for human social behavior and interaction.

Voyager also had a great parallel. Seven of Nine, rescued and severed from the Borg collective. She also has no experience with human social interaction and is often blunt to the point of being socially offensive. She doesn't intuitively understand the need to censor her thoughts. She's constantly confused by human social conventions. She goes out of her way to learn and practice them. I see a lot of Ethan there as well.

So no, none of these characters are on the Autism Spectrum, but the struggle with human social conventions, emotions, and behavior does have striking similarites with those on the specturm. Needless to say, I enjoy watching Star Trek (ToS, TNG, and Voy) with Ethan and especially love the episodes the focus on pertinent themes for the characters mentioned above.

It's a 'feature'

Long ago in a galaxy far far away when I worked as biomedical engineer on medical devices, there was a long standing design inside joke about any unintended design attributes were not mistakes but a 'feature.' Sort of wishful thinking that all design flubs a la 3M glue that wasn't very strong turn into post it notes. I often muse that some of Ethan's more interesting autism quirks are actually 'features.'

So some of the features of Ethan's autism:

1. Ethan doesn't lie. It doesn't occur to him to say something that isn't true. This is of course extremely handy in a child and I like that he'll rat out his younger brother. The flip side is that it has been a chore for us to teach him to be polite and not blurt out things that might hurt other's feelings and also keeping a secret or surprise has been challenging. Still, I'm going with this is a feature.

2. Ethan has an incredible memory. Seriously, you don't have to ask Siri or Google who won the superbowl 6 years ago, what's the order of the next 5 Marvel (MCU) movies and release dates, or what day did we go on that trip to Florida 3 years ago... just ask Ethan. He's also handy at the mall - 'where did I park my car?'

3. Ethan puts everything in its proper place. Imagine a teenager who doesn't lose things... pretty nice, eh?

4. Ethan accepts everyone as just matter of fact without judgment. I noticed this first in elementary school that he treated and reacted to special ed kids even with severe disabilities no differently than general ed kids. He's also rather color blind when it comes to race and ethnicity, but a lot of kids are these days. What reminded me of how different he was recently he told me that he was doing a duet scene with a girl in drama his class. He gave me no other info and I asked how it was going with scene and if she was nice and he said 'It was going well and she was nice.' I met her the other night at a school function and she has Cerebral Palsy and is in a wheel chair (she is also indeed very nice). I found it fascinating that he didn't comment or mention even in passing that 'oh by the way she's the girl in a wheel chair." He doesn't think about differences like that as being important to note. Pretty neat feature.

5. Ethan sees the world differently. It's very refreshing to pay attention to Ethan's perspective on the world around him: people, school, work, life in general. Certainly, evolving as a human you should want to try and see things from other points of view. Ethan's extreme difference sort of forces you into this.

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Incidental Autism on TV and in the movies

More and more we are seeing what I like to think of as incidental autism on TV and in movies. It surely isn't a surprise consider somewhere around 1% of American millenials are on the spectrum. Autism awareness has beeen a mantra over the last 30 years, but it is no coincidence that the social understanding and education came with an exponential uptick in diagnosis. Autism is now a part of our culture. Most people have a relative or close friend on the spectrum. Kids grow up with autistic children in their classrooms. There are even autistic characters on television (Sesame Street and Parenthood come to mind). But what we also see is this incidental autism. Characters that are not intended to be on the autistic spectrum but have many of those familiar traits that we're used to seeing in our everyday lives.

Of course as a parent of someone on the spectrum, I have autism goggles. As I helped out at my child's school I would often notice other kids that were probably on the spectrum. Heck, in some cases teachers actually asked my opinion. Often I said, that nudging the parents towards getting a professional evaluation outside the school district would be a good idea. But I'm guessing that other folks less familiar can nowadays pick out these traits.

Two characters that are very popular and many bring up the fact they seem autistic are Sheldon on Big Bang Theory and Sherlock Holmes (Cumberbatch version). I'm of the mind that they are not on the spectrum but do display many of the traits associated with it. Interestingly enough, there've been some studies that have shown brain function similarites as well has social/behavioral similarities between geniuses/prodigies and ASD. I'll toss a couple of links at the bottom if you're interested.

Despite not being ASD, Sheldon has been a neat influence for Ethan. He likes the show a lot and is able to laugh at Sheldon's odd social behavior. It's good for him to be able to see it in action and relate to it. Also, Ethan picked up Sheldon's manner of directly asking, "That was sarcasm, right?" It's an area that Ethan has always struggled with, so having a way of comortably asking about it is awesome.

This latest incarnation of Sherlock seems so much more on the spectrum than other versions, because I think it's mirroring what we consider odd social function in today's society, and much of what we see is autism. But again, I think we're seeing that overlap of genius and autism.

The other day we saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Eddie Remayne's protrayal of New Scamander is probably the closest portrayal of someone on the spectrum that I've seen that didn't come right out and say this person has autism. Obviously, it's 1920's magical society, so yeah, not gonna say that he is, but my husband and I left the theatre thinking Newt was on the spectrum. He had the lack of eye contact, the social awkwardness, and single minded obsession with his creatures. More incidental autism influenced by our society today. And in this case I wouldn't put him in the genius category. We also loved how the movie allowed him to stay true to character and not have some schmaltzy romantic goodbye kiss. Newt's departure was wonderfully socially awkward and you could see his inner struggle with the emotional moment.

I'm sure there are lots more of shows/movies that I haven't seen. Purposeful or incidental, I think it's good for Ethan to see these portrayals. Perhaps he can see himself in some of these characters.

Extra links:
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/252637.php
http://healthland.time.com/2012/07/10/what-child-prodigies-and-autistic-people-have-in-common/
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/genius-autism-share-genetic-link-study-finds/

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Why can't we stop being so judgmental?

Judgmental. It's a word that often conjures up negative connotations, but the fact is that in its pure definition (of or concerning the use of judgment) it is our way of life. Our human brain is hardwired to constantly make judgments. It is our executive function that is always 'on'. We constantly process sensory input and the based on our education and experiences we make a decision. It's how the human race has survied and evolved all these thousands of years.

However, in our modern society we're not limited to making survival decisions, or even decisions of comfort. I doubt primitave man was thinking, "Gosh, that fur coat undermines the rights of that bear." or "I wouldn't have gone with that shade of brown. It does nothing for her features." No, he was thinking, "I got to get me one of those cause it's freezing out here."

On social media I'm constantly reading about the judgment of others, or more specifically the activity of thrusting our judgment upon other people. Also, because I have a child on the Autism Spectrum, I find myself reading how other adults (and subsequently their children) treat other with varying disabilities. From the adult who needs a handicapped parking spot yet isn't outwardly showing why, to the older child still in a stroller, the tragedy of a child being killed by an alligator, or the kid who has no friends to come to a birthday party. We see stories of both the darker side of and generous side of human nature. We also see articles about plus size models or what kind of cosmetic surgery an actress might have had, and we as a society make constant judgments from the vapid to the highly controverial topics of race and religion.

And no matter how hard I try to keep an open mind and see things from another's point of view, I'm still passing judgments. In fact, I find myself passing judgments on those I believe are overly judgmental. I think they're less socially evolved. I truly try not to read the comments to online news articles, but like a train wreck I have to look and then I pass judgment on all the idiots.

We are hardwired. It takes a lot of effort to overcome it. No one is perfect at censoring our judgments - keeping our opinions to ourselves and being open to the other side. We have to teach our children this new and special life skill needed by a member of modern society.

Ethan was lucky enough to go to an elementary school where the teachers, parents, and specifically a PTA initiative (Project Cornerstone) actively pursued teaching kids empathy, point of view, and openess to differences at an early age. I know I've quoted Rodgers & Hammerstein before in this blog, but I'll say so again, when it comes to hate, "You've got to be carefully taught." And by teaching acceptance and how to temper our judgment we are helping our children grow into a better world.

I see Ethan as a kid that any other kid is going to easily pick up on the fact that he's got something going on. In this day and age, they'd probably guess Autism correctly. Still, aside from some eyerolling or quiet snickers (which he doesn't pick up on), he's been accepted and has been relatively bully free except for a few small isolated instances and not since elementary. He has kids who've taken him under their wing and kids who look out for him. I can't quite say what's the formula for his self esteem, how much school environment, home life, therapy, his own innate brain personalty factored into his high self esteem, but he has it.

A parting anecdote from last week. Ethan's little brother was trying to get him to play a game with him and when the answer was no, his brother complaine to me that Ethan wouldn't play with him because he was socially awkward. To which Ethan blurted out, "I"m not socially awkward!"

My immediate thought was 'good for Ethan!'. It's nice that he can stand up for himself. I also set his younger brother straight, Ethan's not wanting to play a game has to do with his not wanting to play with him versus any type of social issue. Yet, secondarily I was thinking, "he is socially awkward." We're constantly working with Ethan to improve his social skills and get him to fight against his isolationist tendencies. And in that same way I have to teach his little brother to not be proclaiming his judgments. They are opinion not fact. And while many of our opinions are develped from facts, we still have to be respectful of alternative possibilities.

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