Last week, I had the honour of representing World Moms Network at the Geneva Centre for Autism 2016 Symposium, held in Toronto. Over the course of three days, I reconnected with friends in the autism community and made some new ones, I saw an act by an autistic stand-up comic who was absolutely hilarious, and I learned a lot of things that gave me insights into my own autistic son.
In due course, I will be sharing some of this information with the World Moms community. For now, I offer you ten insights from the presenters:
1. Mental health in people with autism is largely overlooked: autistic youth are almost four times more likely to experience emotional problems than their neurotypical peers, and many of these problems are undiagnosed and under-treated.
2. Our ability to make social connections depends in part on genetics and hormones. About two hundred chromosomes are related to our ability to make social connections.
3. Language is not about words. It is about seeking social connections. People with autism need to acquire language, but more importantly, they need to develop the social motivation to use it.
4. Kids with differences like autism tend to process social stimuli in non-social areas of the brain. As a result, interactions with autistic people can seem somewhat clinical.
5. People with autism should be allowed to make eye contact on their own terms. Being forced to make eye contact can create anxiety and distract them from their efforts to communicate.
6. Just because someone is unable to speak, that doesn’t mean they have nothing to say. When interacting with someone on the spectrum, we need to look for other ways they might be communicating.
7. Don’t just tolerate the differences of autistic brains, embrace them. People with autism have very distinct neurological wiring that make them think in ways that neurotypical people cannot relate to.
8. People with autism tend to process small changes similar to how typical people process major changes, like the loss of a job or a loved one. This can make a neurotypical person’s average day like a minefield of trauma for someone with autism.
9. People with autism learn best visually. Their brains are not wired for the kind of auditory learning that is found in most regular classrooms.
10. The hidden curriculum consists of unwritten rules that are not directly taught but everyone knows. Violation of these rules can make you a social outcast. People with autism do not pick up hidden curriculum items from their environment like everybody else. They have to be taught.
Are you the parent of a child with special needs? What little snippets have you learned on your parenting journey?
This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.
Photo: Courtesy of Mona Haydar
In the age of cellphones and social media, it’s very easy to disconnect from people without realizing you’re doing so. How many of us create walls subconsciously, especially if it concerns people of different nationalities we don’t usually associate with?
I was struck by a story of a woman who decided to set up a stand outside of a library in Cambridge, MA. Inspired by a story her husband saw on NPR titled “Ask an Iraqi”, Mona Haydar thought that it was important for her to establish a connection with those who may not know what’s it’s like to be a Muslim, especially a Muslim woman living in the United States.
For Haydar, setting up a stand titled “Talk To A Muslim” was a way for her to dispel any preconceived notions or stereotypes so many have of foreigners, especially of Muslim women.
With so many crises affecting different nationalities, in light of events happening in Syria, Haydar’s goal of creating a physical stand and waiting for people to approach her was a bold move since she had no clue how it would be received. What was surprising and hopeful was that people did stop by and spoke with Haydar, and that was a start. She was quite surprised to see how people did respond to her stand and while the reception was initially uncertain, it was enough for her to think about setting up the stand again.
In the current climate regarding people of cultures we aren’t familiar with, not willing to find out about them says more about us than them. There shouldn’t be a division of “them” and “us”, but unfortunately, there is.
How many times have we been guilty of giving in to fear of the unknown instead of taking a step back and dispelling the stereotypes we have learned about other cultures?
As someone who has had to answer questions about my nationality or religion over the years, the initial offense I felt has made me rethink of how people perceive me. Over the years, I have been mistakenly identified as either Korean or Japanese, rarely a Filipina. In addition, since I’m married to a Jewish man, I have been asked whether I’m a convert or adopted due to my Jewish maiden name, and to which I answer “no” to both. Answering these questions over the years, my frustration over being categorized primarily due to my physical appearance has made me realize that it’s not because of ignorance, but lack of communication. Asking questions and conversing about each other’s cultures would go a long way than being presumptuous about other people’s lives.
After reading about Haydar and seeing the NPR segment titled “Ask An Iraqi”, it made me wonder if we should put ourselves in Haydar’s shoes. Should we have to set up a stand in order to be understood or be compassionate towards others? Have we become so desensitized by our own prejudices that we have no room for being tolerant? I would hope not. Haydar’s stand may just be one form of starting conversations regarding one’s culture, but I think it’s an idea worth exploring. We might just realize that we may not look alike, but we all share the same intrinsic values of goodness towards humanity.
Read the original article regarding this post Here.
How do you think we can nurture better cross-cultural understanding?
This is an original post written by World Moms Blog Contributor Tes Silverman of The Pinay Perspective
Christmas and autism are two things that don’t always go well together, because Christmas involves so many of the things that are anathema to people with autism: flashing lights, loud noises, crowds, changes to routine, the displacement of household furniture to make way for the tree. Since autism elbowed its way into my house, Christmas has been a mixture of stress and tentative enjoyment.
This year, our festive season was a little unusual. Both me and my husband were sick for most of December, and for the first time, the four of us were going to be celebrating Christmas all by ourselves. No friends, no extended family, no in-laws. Just us. I wasn’t too sure how everything would work out. The combination of autism, illness and no guests made me think that the whole Christmas thing would be a wash.
To my surprise, we ended up having the most chilled-out, magical Christmas we’ve had in a long time. When I stopped to think about why this was, I realized that what I had seen as obstacles had in fact been opportunities to do things differently – and the differences worked.
Here are some of the things that made Christmas great, in no particular order.
1. We didn’t do the Santa picture. The Santa picture is kind of a family tradition. Once a year, the kids get all dressed up in fancy outfits, and we go to the mall or some other place where Santa pictures are being taken. It’s usually a terrible ordeal that involves lots of crowds and waiting. This year, with both my husband and I being sick, Santa pictures just didn’t feature on our list of priorities, and so our family was spared an entire day of angst. We still plan to honour the family tradition and get our Santa picture, but it will be just us and a friend dressed in a Santa suit. No crowds. No lineups. No overpriced prints. No stress.
2. We didn’t stress about the shopping. In spite of my annual promises to myself, I am a last-minute Christmas shopper. This year I was filled with good intentions to get my shopping done at least two weeks before Christmas, but being sick put a spanner into that particular plan. The fact that I was stuck doing my Christmas shopping the weekend before Christmas did result in some stress, but I decided to just not care. I braved some shopping crowds, but I did not commit to getting everything for everybody. I got what I could and bought the rest from Amazon. I didn’t mind that the gifts I ordered probably wouldn’t arrive before Christmas, although in the end they did. In future years, online shopping will feature more prominently in my pre-Christmas preparations.
3. I let the kids help with the decorating. And by that I mean that I really let them help. Usually I hover anxiously around the Christmas tree micromanaging the proceedings and worrying that the tree will be knocked down. This year, I put the tinsel and lights on the tree and perched the angel on top, and then I left the rest to the kids. James hung the decorations on the tree while George put lights up around the living room. James wanted tinsel in his bedroom; George wanted lights in his. I didn’t trail behind them making sure everything was done to my liking. I left them alone to do it to their liking.
4. We totally got into the whole Santa thing. I mean, in prior years, we’ve talked about the nice list, and Santa leaving gifts under the tree, and that’s pretty much been that. This year, we really got into it. On Christmas Eve, James and I kept the NORAD site open so we could track Santa’s progress around the globe, and at bedtime, James meticulously arranged milk and treats for Santa and his reindeer. Once the kids were asleep, I managed to arrange the gifts under the tree without being busted. I even left the empty plate and milk glass on the tray for James to discover in the morning. George didn’t really get into the Santa thing, but it was a touch of magic for James.
5. There were no expectations surrounding Christmas dinner. In previous years, Christmas dinner has been a delicious but stressy affair with the four of us, my mother-law, and my brother-in-law and his family. There’s been a well-meaning but misguided expectation for the kids to get all dressed up for dinner and to sit quietly at the table for the duration of the meal. I’ve invariably spent most of these meals getting children to sit down, cajoling them to eat what’s on their plate and keeping their fingers away from other people’s plates. By the end of dinner, I have been exhausted and the kids have been wound up beyond belief. This year, it was just us. I cooked the fancy Christmas dinner and decorated the table, but the kids were allowed to wear their comfy clothes and be themselves, and the usual air of formality wasn’t there. Everyone was visibly more relaxed, and although I was still exhausted after dinner, it was a contented kind of exhaustion.
6. We didn’t try to schedule what was going to happen when. Christmas is busier for us than it is for most people, largely because of the time I decided to pop out a baby on Christmas Day. Most years, I have a stipulation that we will celebrate Christmas in the morning, and give over the afternoon to James’s birthday. That, of course, puts a lot of pressure on us to get all the Christmas stuff done before noon, and with my husband and I not feeling well, we just didn’t have the energy to rush things. So things just happened when they happened, and that worked out fine. We had a leisurely Christmas, and James enjoyed opening his birthday presents and blowing out his candles. The two celebrations kind of melted into each other, and it was perfect.
I think the biggest lesson I learned this year is that I should just chill out and go with the flow, and enjoy whatever moments end up happening.
How do your kids like the holiday season? How much planning do you do?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Kirsten Doyle of Running For Autism. Photo credit to the author.
As a trainer in intercultural communication and mom to multilingual children, I am always taught to accept other cultures, various ways of thinking and perspectives of looking at the world.
I may of course have a lot to learn about tolerance but I like to think that I’m doing a decent job at understanding all the different viewpoints. But there is a place where my tolerance stops.
One thing I have no understanding for is woo and quackery. The argument, “but indigenous tribes in enter-remote-location-here have been using this plant for ages and it cured all diseases” is useless when scientific research shows that said plant doesn’t work at all or can even be poisonous.
Unfortunately many people believe this stuff and it can have dangerous consequences. And then it gets worse.
Advocates of female circumcision claim that it’s a part of their cultural heritage and without it women feel they are not “real” women. But any cultural tradition that is based on suffering and disfigurement of the human body should be gotten rid of very quickly and no amount of cultural appreciation will suffice for me to accept such a tradition.
Let’s also remember that culture, while it brings people together and helps them get along better and makes sense out of their environment, can also smash our individualism and make us unhappy.
But as dangerous and untrue these claims are, it gets worse. Women get killed, raped, disfigured and humiliated every day. They are afraid to go out on the streets in the evenings; they take great care in picking their clothes out of fear of being proclaimed “indecent”.
In many parts of the world, people kill each other over cultural, religious or political differences which are often minor. In some parts of the world, certain people are considered worse than other people.
Should we just accept it as it is, saying, “It’s another culture, we shouldn’t do anything about it, we should just appreciate our differences”? I agree that cultural diversity is great- and I myself benefit tremendously from it. But shouldn’t we be drawing a line somewhere? And if so, where should we draw it?
In her book, “Medaliony”, Polish writer Zofia Nałkowska tries to make sense of what happened during WWII in Poland. She could have put blame on the Germans, the way many Polish people did and still continue to do today. But she didn’t. Instead, she wrote, “People prepared this fate for people”, or in a better translation, “humans prepared this fate for humans.”
I guess that line should be drawn when it’s not about cultural differences anymore. When the action in question can’t be explained by traditions, cultural heritage or tolerance. In short when it’s about humans hurting or killing other humans.
A common criticism of the understanding cultures approach is that deep inside, we are all the same. Of course there are some things that are universal: we are all humans, we have hearts and brains and skins. We’re so afraid that if we start mentioning our differences, we will start comparing ourselves to others and consider some of us better.
I beg to differ. Of course we are all humans and some of the things we do are universal. But the truth is that we are an extremely varied species, on a wide spectrum of sizes, skin colours, temperaments and cultural and social backgrounds.
Saying we are all the same eradicates the wonderful differences in us and I think that’s a shame. We are all humans and all different, and if one human kills another human it’s a tragedy.
Sadly, such tragedies happen all the time. Recently, the three boys: Eyal Yifrcah, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Naftali Fraenkel disapeared and were later found dead. The #BringBackOurBoys campaign, while beautiful, did nothing to revive them. Then, the flight MH17 crushed in Ukraine. Expatica Manager Antoine van Veldhuizen was on that plane. He and other victims of the plane crash will be hugely missed and the Netherlands are in mourning.
We like to say that humans are great with making sense out of tragedies. They need to feel that they suffered for a reason. Again, I beg to differ. Suffering and pain don’t make sense. We can certainly make sense out of them but to do so means to accept that and this is something I’ll never ever do.
Humans killing humans doesn’t make sense. And no amount of cultural appreciation classes or tolerance will convince me otherwise. Before you see someone as a part of a certain culture or religion, you’d better see the individual human first.
Our differences shouldn’t divide us. They should bring us together.
But above all, being different is no excuse to kill other people.Because nothing ever is an excuse to kill, nor should it be.
Instead, killing other people should be considered the shocking and saddening tragedy that it is and nothing should ever change that.
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Olga Mecking, The European Mama, from the Netherlands.
Photo credit: DIBP images. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.
Left: The author, Olga Mecking, when she was growing up in Germany. Right: Olga’s daughter today in the Netherlands.
Sometimes, I find myself rediscovering simple truths about life in general and parenting in particular. My latest epiphany is this: “My child is not me.”
On the contrary to all the books and articles out there that tell us that we will grow into our parents, I don’t think this is the case. I think that while our parents influence our lives, we’re still separate individuals with our own thoughts, ideas and opinions.
And never has this simple truth rung more true to me than it has when my eldest daughter started school. I’ve been very worried about sending her to school at the tender age of four. I thought back to my old school days and worried and worried. And worried some more because my experiences weren’t all that great.
But this is when I realized: my child is not me! Pretty much everything about her will be different.
I was born and raised in communist Poland and went to school shortly before Communism fell. As much as I love my country, going to school in these times wasn’t so great.
We had to learn everything by heart. Language teachers weren’t too good. Classes were huge and the teachers were strict, even to the point of giving bad grades for pretty much anything. Nobody knew anything about bilingualism, and I was even lucky to have German classes offered at my school, as bad as they were.
But my child is not me.
She goes to school in a modern, Western country and has been speaking 3 languages from birth. Her teacher is amazing and lets the children play a lot. They go outside for recess and learn letters and numbers, and they even went on a school trip. In my daughter’s school, it is normal to speak two or more languages.
As a child, I was shy and timid. My idea of a good day was, and still is, to stay at home and read a book. School proved to be too much for me at times: too loud, too big. On the other hand, I was often told to sit still, be organized, and listen when all I really wanted to do was run around.
But my child is not me.
She seems to be more of an extrovert than I ever was. She could be outside all the time, playing, jumping, swinging, playing with other children; and, she seems to enjoy school.
I even often receive photos from her teachers. Guess who of all the children in the pictures has the biggest smile? My blond beautiful daughter.
When I went to school, we were taught about computers, but seldom used them for school. We were told that learning is hard work and were given grades for our work, even for our paintings. After school, I totally stopped painting.
But my child is not me.
She thinks learning is fun and can use all the great apps for learning, and she has a great selection of books in all the languages that she’s learning. She loves getting her hands dirty with paint and uses them to paint on a large piece of paper. She paints the funniest creatures and people, and she gives them funny names.
My daughter and I both have straight blond hair. Many people tell me she looks like me. I think I have an idea who she got her willpower and stubbornness from, but my child, she’s not completely me.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Olga Mecking in the Netherlands.
Photo credit to the author.