Friday, January 30, 2009

A 'Foggy' Blogger Provides Two (OK, Five) More Links

Image: Spring Flowers and a Light Therapy Lamp might just provide some relief from the winter blues!
Back in The Bloggy Groove

Please Answer Question at the End of Paragraph: I'm still here! It's been a week since I last posted. I did want to leave the last post about Justin up a little longer than I usually leave up a new post, but the truth is I'm having trouble deciding how to follow up the post on the artist. The big question is: should I stay with art or should I move to a theme that deals with topic of providing parental support to a person with autism? What sounds more interesting?

My Confession: I'm fighting the annual brain fog that comes with this time of year. Hopefully, this is a temporary condition. I might have a slight case of Seasonal Affective Disorder or it could come be that I'm underwhelmed with the isolation that comes with being a stay at home mother in a time of year when frigid temperatures inspires one to stay in the house most of the time. At least I know I'm not alone.

According to this Time article, a researcher has found that the third Monday of January is the day of the year we are all likely to be depressed. However, the same article asserts that a look at web searching behavior indicates that November is the month we are all most likely to be down. So is it the the month when the holidays start to go into full swing or is it the month after the holidays when we are all depressed? I'm too foggy headed to answer this one right now!!

At Last the Promised Links: Justin's mom suggested that I add a link to my sidebar that will take readers to a link to the Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation (D.J.F.F.). This foundation provides grants to programs all over the world that serves adolescents and adults. It is definitely worth checking out. The site is listed under Helpful Links and can be found on the sidebar to the right.

The second link is also related to my previous post. The program, Arts Unbound, which has benefited from the D.J.F.F. supports adult artists (and emerging artists as well) from New Jersey with various challenges. The best part of the Arts Unbound Site is their Artist Profile Section, which I'd like to suggest as a worthwhile read. All of their artists have inspiring stories.

P.S. Don't forget to answer my question from the first paragraph! : )

P.S.S. The fifth link is one that has also been recently added to the Helpful Links sections on my sidebar. The link is for fellow Michiganders and will lead them to the Autism Society of Michigan.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mystery Person Revealed: Justin Canha, Artist Extraordinaire

Image: Justin Canha, Artist

Introduction: I first became a fan of Artist Justin Chanha, a 19-year old with autism, when I noted that he created the delightful cover art for Just Give Him the Whale, a book that supplies tips on how to use special interests to help a child succeed in an inclusive classroom. Special interests has been my theme at Autism Blog for the last two weeks. Today's spotlight on this talented and successful artist is my grand finale. I hope you enjoy the following updated biography that his mother sent to me earlier this week.


"Justin Canha, 19, is an accomplished artist. He also happens to be autistic.

His childhood passion for drawing animals and cartoon characters revealed an innate talent that attracted the attention of the mainstream art community when Justin was 14 years old.

Justin explores a wide range of subjects that showcase his clever sense of humor and unusual sensitivity to human and animal relationships. Using characters all his own, Justin's computer animations are full of action-packed stories, while his paintings celebrate still life and portraiture. His charcoal drawings have an innocent and ethereal quality that capture, for example, poignant moments between friends or love between mother and child.

In sum, Justin's illustrations demonstrate the intensity and perspective of the autistic mind and serve as a powerful form of communication.

Represented by the Ricco/Maresca Gallery in NYC, Justin was the featured artist in its Autism/Aspergers Art Exhibit in New York City in January 2005. Justin's animations received an honorable mention by Jerry Saltz, who juried the Studio Montclair Exhibit, "Taboo," in May 2005. Justin's work has also been exhibited at The Cooper Union in New York and at Montclair State University in Montclair, NJ. Justin has had solo exhibits at The Montclair Public Library in Montclair, NJ, Pace University in NYC, at The JCC in Manhattan, and at Bloomfield College in Bloomfield, NJ.

In August 2006, Justin's artwork was featured in Oprah Magazine. Aspects of his autistic and artistic life have been described in two recent documentaries, Autism: A Different Way of Communicating and Sidecars. In January 2008, Justin successfully made his world debut at the Outsider Art Fair in NYC. In April, his artwork was shown at Art Chicago, the world-renowned international contemporary and modern art fair. Justin's artwork [has been] exhibited at the Morris Museum in Timeless: The Art of Drawing in Morristown, NJ.

Illustration commissions include the cover for Paula Kluth's book, Just Give Him the Whale and all the drawings for Pedro's Whale, a children's book by the same author, to be released in 2009. Justin has also been commissioned to illustrate a whole new line of math teaching books for young children on the spectrum called IBET (Integrated Behavioral Experiential Teaching). He is also working on the illustrations for a book entitled, It's Not a Problem, by Ron Pecarek.

Currently a student at Montclair High School, Justin has been taking college level courses in cartooning and animation at Bloomfield College, Montclair State University and Pace University during the past couple of years."

Concluding Thoughts: I'd like to thank Justin's parents for giving me permission to use Justin's photo, emailing me a list of links and for sending me his biography, which is an update of the one on his website. I look forward to taking a look at Justin's artwork which will be featured in the children's book Pedro's Whale, written by Paula Kluth, one of the authors of Just Give Him the Whale. The book, which I hope to review when available, is expected to be released sometime in 2009.

Please take time to visit Justin's website where you can view several of his works done in array of media. It is worth your time. The versatility and talent of this young artist is quite impressive. My favorite group of work was his oils depicting animals in vivid colors, but I also appreciated how much his style changed when he used other art forms such as charcoal.

I'd like to suggest two other sites. The first is the one for Sidecars, and second one is for the Ricco/Maresca Gallery. The first provides a trailer and information about the documentary Sidecars (which features Justin and a friend/art student) and the second website features five of his works and a short bio about Justin. It also provides the options to see either the trailer or the entire version of Sidecars, which was directed by Ben Stamper and produced by Justin's parents.

At 19 years old, Justin already has a career that most artists dream about. I should know as I'm the aunt of neuro-typical two nieces (cousins) who have parents nervous about their chosen fields in art. It is not easy or typical to be successful as an artist, but Justin Canha has managed to establish his place in the field.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

President Obama and an Electric Spark of Hope

Yesterday, felt a lot like New Year's Day. As we celebrated the birth of a new U.S. administration which will be lead by a superstar politician whose political career shot upward almost instantly, an electric current filled the air with hope and joy. The atmosphere yesterday was in general celebratory. It was a day when most of us could put the nation's problems aside temporarily and just smile.

Now the day after the inauguration of Barack Obama, it is time to reflect and wonder. Many have put their faith in this new president to solve most of the nation's problems, but our problems are huge and will take time to correct and solve. Hope is an essential part of putting a positive spin on life, but patience must back it up.

It will be interesting to look back in four years and see the actions President Obama took to correct these problems. Ideally, good decisions will abound from the new administration and inevitable mistakes will be kept to a minimum. If this holds true hopefully the shape of the nation and the economy, in particular, will be at least somewhat improved.

President Obama's decisions will effect us all which is why this post is relevant to a blog about autism. Those who have children with autism, hope that decisions of the father of two, will make decisions that will have a positive economic impact on their families. Individuals, families and especially parents and spouses with loved ones in the military hope for peace and the aversion of terrorism. Perhaps most relevant to this blog is the hope that the new U.S. President will adequately address the health care issue and treat the subject of autism with the respect that it deserves.

In four years, will we see at least some of the hope we all felt yesterday regardless of who wins the 2012 election? Will the inauguration in January 2013 produce the same joyful atmosphere? The expectation (and hope, of course) is that the answer will be yes.

Author's note: This post only vaguely fits the two-week focus of special interest at this blog. Thus, I'd like to dedicate this post not only to the new President, but to my husband, who explores a special interest at his blog, and to my own little patriots who have signed up for an audition to sing the National Anthem at their school's upcoming talent show.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Herbie Update: So Far, So Good!!

Image: There's Herbie in his home. After a little investigation we confirmed that Herbie is actually a toad rather than a frog.

Herbie's home looks a little spotty because my son, C1, decided to "make it snow." My husband and I discovered the hard way that he could reach Herbie's vitamin powder. At least it was harmless compared to scouring powder (with bleach), which could have been chosen to serve as the snow. A stern lecture to C1 seems to have prevented another snowstorm.

However, C1, still likes to "make it rain." Herbie needs to have his bedding sprayed down on a regular basis, so "making it rain" is OK as long as he does this in moderation. We have taught our son how to hold the nozzle of the spray bottle upward rather than downward when spraying so that the water will come down more gently if Herbie is out rather than under his log where he sometimes hides for hours at a time. We noticed that Herbie sometimes comes out of hiding when it starts to rain. Herbie seems to like having water sprinkled on his home.

My husband and I still take the responsibility of feeding Herbie. The toad eats crickets and/or blood worms. We let our both of our sons watch. When C1 gets older this may be a responsibility we can trust him to do without consequence. Cleaning the cage (to my dismay) will be my job. Fortunately it's not something that needs to be done a lot and I'm grateful for that!

Final thoughts: Caring for Herbie has taken my husband and I out of our comfort zone regarding pets. Before Herbie, the only pets in our home have been cats that have been in our home for a long, long time. So far, though, caring for Herbie is easier than we thought it would be. We also both have admitted to having a soft spot in our hearts for the cute, little toad.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Autism Blog: Changing at a Snail's Pace

As a parent of a special needs child, I am used to changes that at times only occur gradually--at a snail's pace. With my son, I have patience in abundance. Having patience with myself is sometimes a different story. At times, I feel like a tortoise in a hare's world and find it difficult to keep up with others. I suppose tortoises move quicker than snails, but both are known to plod along at a slow pace--a pace I emulate in life and at this blog. This author is slowly and carefully making changes at this blog.

I was hoping to be finished making changes by now, but a lack of time combined with slow-dial up speed has slowed down progress. I have a few ideas that I'm looking forward to implementing, but changes will be coming at a slow and steady pace. I know good things can happen tortoises like the winning of a race that occurred in this fable, although I'm not planning on winning any sort of race.

The main goal is to be around for a while--something inspired by my husband who reserved this domain name for ten years!! I also hope to keep my valued readers--if not for ten years, at least for a while.

Up for the week of January 18, 2008: A Herbie Update, an Inauguration Day Post, and A Spotlight on a Mystery Person.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bibliography Related to Autism and Special Interests

Image: The cover for Song of the Gorilla Nation: My journey through autism by Dawn Prince-Hughes. In this memoir, Hughes writes in detail about how her love for gorillas turned into her life's work. The books on the following list either specifically discuss special interests or at least touch on how special interests can positively impact the life of a person with autism. These books were suggested by Paula Kluth and Patrick Schwarz, authors of Just give Him the Whale.

The Bibliography
Books by people with autism:

*Blackman. L. (1999) Lucy's story: Autism and other adventures. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Tammet, D. (2007) Born on a blue Day: A memoir. New York: Free Press.

Books by Parents:

Holland, O. (2002). The dragons of autism: Autism as a source wisdom. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Hughes R. (2003) Running with Walker: A memoir. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Mont, D. (2001) A different kind of boy: A fathers memoir about raising a gifted child with autism. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

*Willey, L.H. (2001) Asperger syndrome in the family: Redefining Normal. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

A book by a professional:

*Denotes that the book was written by a person with autism.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Power Card Strategy

Image: I attached this 1-inch by 1.5 inch picture of Barack Obama on a 2-inch by 3. 5-inch business card and wrote three tips (see seventh paragraph below) to teach my son with autism to be a "good citizen like Barrack Obama." Putting political beliefs aside, the goal is to use a role model to teach good behavior. If this card is effective, similar cards on different topics will be made.

Power Card Strategy

The authors of Just Give Him The Whale, (the book I'm focusing on this week), Paula Kluth and Patrick Schwarz, attribute Elisa Gagnon with developing the power card strategy. The power card strategy is another way to use a student's special interest as a tool for support. The authors write that the technique consists of two elements:'

"1. a story about a strategy that a student's hero has used to solve a problem, which is usually written on a single page and...

2. the Power Card itself, which is the size of a business card and recaps how the person using the card can use the same strategy to solve a similar problem. [...]"

This strategy is number 15 of the 20 tips featured in Just Give Him the Whale. At the moment I believe this strategy has the potential to help our family perhaps more than the other 19 tips. It's not that the other 19 tips are not good. They are. It is just that we have a situation that #15 might help us solve sooner rather than later.
The Situation

My son is not happy with being in the MICi classroom. In his mind, he has taken control of the situation by declaring himself the winner of a (nonexistent) election. As a result, he goes around telling everyone that he is president of his school and often says "I won and you lost!" to any of his eleven other classmates. Sometimes name calling factors into this performance and sometimes he'll even hum Hail to the Chief (the song that is often played when the U.S. President makes an entrance).

We have a social story intended to discourage this behavior, but the social story doesn't seem to be working efficiently as the undesired behavior keeps popping up almost every day. I'm thinking a power card might work because it is more portable and relies more on role models than on the potential for the person with autism to please other people (as social stories seem to do.)

While frogs tend to be a dominant interest, my son has other interests such as all things American, American presidents, and campaign ads. My guy knows that Barack Obama has won the election to be the next president of the United States and that Mr. Obama defeated John McCain.
Our First Card
Pictures of the object of interest is one aspect of the power card. The picture of the card is accompanied by three tips. So in this particular case, a picture of Mr. Obama would be more appropriate to use on the card than a picture of a frog. The title on our first power card is To Be A Good Citizen Like Barrack Obama.

These are the three tips I have typed up for him: (1) Please do not call your classmates and teachers names. (2) Please stop saying "I won and you lost." (3) Remember that presidents do not elect themselves.

I recycled an old business card by using the blank side for the picture and tips while covering up the existing print side with a picture of the American Flag and the words "Power Card #1. Please see other side." I then punched a hole in the card and attached it to an American Flag Key chain, with the hope that the ring will fill up with other cards if this first one is successful.

My thoughts: The authors of Just Give Him the Whale provide a example of how the power card strategy was effectively applied. The example was taken from one of the author's experiences working with a student with autism who loved pigs.

Please note that I have yet to test the theory. The power card has been made and the accompanying story (which as I mentioned before, is similar to a social story) has yet to be written. The strategy will hopefully be introduced next week. I will provide an update of how this strategy works with my own child (who happens to be quite stubborn) with autism.
A Possible Way of Adapting the strategy for non readers: Put two small pictures side by side on a card to illustrate a change. An example would be a before and after photo of a caregiver who just had a haircut. The goal would be to help the person recognize the caregiver who just made a change in appearance. If you try this, I'd love to know how it worked out for you and your child.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Just Give him the Whale; 20 Ways to Use Fascination, Areas of Expertise and Strenghs to Support Students with Autism.

Image: "Just Give Him The Whale!:" 20 Ways to Use Fascination, Areas of Expertise and Strengths to Support Students with Autism by Paula Kluth and Patrick Schwarz. Attention Mt. Pleasant area residents: This book is in the collection at Central Michigan University's library (or will be once I return it.)

Ten Reasons to Read "Just Give Him the Whale!"

1. The book demonstrates to teachers how to connect and teach students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) by using the special interests of students with autism. It was inspired by a student on the spectrum who was fascinated by whales.

2. The book is meant for general education teachers who have a fully included student with ASD, but is also great for special education teachers, and all college students studying education. The book can be used as a college text, but most people should find this one easy and enjoyable to read. It is only 143 pages long.

3. There are also some great tips for parents. My next post will be about power cards, which I had not heard of until reading this book. My own tip is to mention or show this book to teachers who work with your child.

4. This book is well written by professionals in the field of education. Paula Kluth, Ph.D, is a consultant, teacher, author and independent scholar who works with teachers and family to provide inclusive opportunities for students. Patrick Schwarz, Ph.D, is Professor of Special Education and Chair of Diversity in Learning and Development for National-Louis University, Chicago.

5. This book convinces readers that special interests can be used to teach students on a range of topics from proper behavior in the classroom to the core subjects in the classroom such as math and reading.

6. The artwork and layout of the book is delightful. The cover art was created by Justin Canha, an individual on the autism spectrum. (Am hoping to do a post about him later in the week.)

7. This book is helpful because many people on the spectrum tend to have a specialized interest whether it is basketball, manhole covers, ceiling fans, calendars, or frogs.

8. Appendix A focuses on frequently asked questions in regards to using special interests to educate students on the spectrum. This section addresses many of the concerns that have come up on this topic.

9. Appendix B has great lists of references. The first list is of autobiographies written by people with autism and Asperger Syndrome. The second list is autobiographies written by families of people with autism and Asperger Syndrome. The third list is titled Other Strengths-focused Resources. As this last list is a short bibliography on special interests which is the focus for the week, I am hoping to share this list in a post sometime this week.

10. The book reveals that the idea of using special interests in the classroom has not always been well received. I was rather surprised to read this because my child's special interest in frogs has been embraced by his teachers. It never occurred to me that someone might think avoiding a child's special interest is a good idea. My thought on this is why wouldn't someone use a such a good bridge to reach a student? Using special interests to reach someone just seems sensible.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

New Mission Statement

Narrowing the Focus at Autism Blog.Net.

In the past, my focus has been fairly broad. I've written about celebrities, social issues, forming support groups, news stories and research. Most of all, I've written plenty of stories related to my family. This year, I decided that it would be helpful to both my readers and myself to tighten the focus so that we all will know what to expect from this blog.

My readers are primarily parents of individuals on the spectrum, my friends and family members, teachers, college students, and professionals who work with individuals on the autism spectrum. My posts will be written with my audience in mind. I'm also aware of the limitations of time and resources in this economy that seems to be going continuously downhill. My main goals will be to provide free information that may or may not be found at other sites and to provide helpful strategies or tips that do not cost a lot of money.

I have access to a wonderful library at Central Michigan University where my husband is the head reference librarian. A lot of the information will be culled from books about autism, educating individuals with autism, and from other print resources like journals and magazines. I' still might write the occasional post about my family, but will try to maintain a focus that is helpful while doing so.

What you are likely to see at in the near future:

  • Book Reviews and/or excerpts
  • Pros and cons of various therapies
  • Tips that cover a variety of topics

  • Methods and Strategies used to help a person with ASD

  • Occasional personal family story related to solving an ongoing problem
  • Week long insights into certain topics

  • Bibliographies

  • Photos or images for most posts
  • Occasional inspirational story

Other Changes: I changed my blog description and profile and have a new blogger identity. Instead of J, I am now Jules. Hopefully, I will be able to put a profile picture up soon.

Topic for the week of January 11, 2009: Special Interest Areas.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Taking a Brief Blog Break

I'm hoping to return soon with a new approach to this blog. The look will be the same, but the content will be different as I strive to move past writing posts about my family into providing material that will be more helpful to the general public. I should be back by Monday or Tuesday of next week. In the meantime I have some fine tuning to do. . .

Friday, January 2, 2009

An Essay on Hope

Image: Will your glass be half empty or half full this year?

I've been thinking about the annual New Year's celebration most of us so joyfully participate in and have come to realize how closely hope (with all those New Year resolutions and well wishes of a Happy New Year) is related to the holiday. Hope is a good thing, a positive thing (for lack of a better word.) According to Wikipedia "hope is a belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one's life."

If there is anything we all want it's a positive outcome. It might be losing five pounds or fifty pounds. It might be the belief that one will conquer a plague of continuous bad frizzy, wild hair days. It might be that a truly awful year, might be replaced by a shiny, cheerful new one. Or it It might be that the economy might unexpectedly change for the better or that a new president of a powerful country can conquer the overwhelming challenges that face him.

Overall the world is a better place with hope. New Year's Eve and New Year's Day for example would not be as fun without it. Wouldn't it be something if we all sat around predicting our dooms on New Year's instead of crafting resolutions? Or how would we feel if we said "Happy Doom's Year" to everyone instead of "Happy New Year"?

As a parent of a special needs child, hope is believing that my child will continue to develop, improve as a student, and learn to cope with the extra challenges in life that he faces. Sure I want to keep my weight in check and my curly, sometimes wild hair in place.

But in terms of hope, the desire to see positive outcomes for my child (well both children actually) is stronger than most other desires. It's a helpful desire that overcomes the overwhelming emotions this parents feels when taking her child to doctor on a list of specialists her child must see or if her child has an extreme meltdown or a so, so report from school.

There is also the hope that she can successfully balance the needs of her child with autism with the needs of her typically developing child--which is one of the biggest, most daunting challenges she faces. However, despite all the challenges, hope is one thing that is always there to grasp. Hope, as they say it, springs eternal in this parent's soul.