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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Disappointing headlines

Scientists Claim to Find Lost Civilization

Supreme Court Backs Abortion Protesters

NASA to Try for 3 Shuttle Flights in 2006

Remember those tests back in school where you matched the appropriate headline with the short essay provided... I think these people missed the point of that exercise.

Though, I liked this one, for the content, not the headline.

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Muddling Through: inspiration

I've been thinking about doing another double-post, to stick with my pattern.

Then I saw this and knew it was perfect. I'm not going to spoil it for you. Just check it out, you'll be glad you did.

It led me to finally look up a quote I've used for quite a while now, and the source.

I know God won't give me anything I can't handle.
I just wish he didn't trust me so much.

--Mother Teresa

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

To Label or Not to Label

I'm doing it again...

I got to responding to a comment, that was rather off-topic, in my usual verbose fashion and decided to bring it to my own blog instead, which is out of deference to Zilari at Processing in Parts. The discussion was about what is appropriate to teach children with autism from the perspective of an individual on the spectrum. As the parent of three children with autism, who has not had much opportunity to converse with adults who've "been there, done that" this was an invaluable opportunity for me. So much so, that I couldn't help but join in.

However, this comment takes us a bit off-course from that discussion:

I really like what Estee said at one point in her blog to the point of, "Nobody has 'special needs' -- it's that everyone has 'individual needs'." Recognizing this is definitely a step in the right direction. :)

And so, here we go...

I certainly understand, respect and empathize with the resistance to the use of ANY labels to describe oneself and/or one's children. ALL labels, no matter how inherently benign, can be used in a derogatory manner by those who choose to do so. And thus, prejudice is born. (At least, that's one way of looking at it, though I hold to the notion that the prejudice comes before the choice. But that's an irrelevant distinction for this discussion.) But, using a label in such a manner is a choice. I thrive on my intelligence. I embrace it. I cherish it. And thus, when people use the word "nerd" to describe me, I slough it off. If they feel my intelligence is a reason to attempt to degrade me, that's their problem. I don't care and I do not feel degraded. People may choose to label my intelligence in a negative fashion, but I do not choose to accept their label and I do not let their choices interfere with my choice to embrace the label of "intelligent."

In the same light, I embrace my children's autism and some of the labels that go along with it. Of course, I disabuse anyone who intentionally uses labels to degrade my children, because I know and can "prove" that my children are not inherently inferior to the children of anyone else. These linguistic abuses, however, do not deter me from choosing to use the language that I feel bests describes my children and/or their needs, because I've found those descriptions essential to meeting my children's needs. Especially when it comes to getting my children's needs met by a person who does not have an intimate understanding of the obstacles my children face under certain circumstances.

My husband, however, is of a different mind-set. He hates labeling in general, and especially hates the label "autism" or "autistic". He feels that this label is NOT descriptive of anything, because autism is a spectrum disorder that is not scientifically explained. Autism, as the word is used by medical professionals, is a group of symptoms. Nothing less and nothing more. The cause is unknown. The prognosis is unsure. The meaning can often be irrelevant.

For my readers who are not familiar with autism, I'll explain. The word "autistic" is used to describe someone who exhibits a set requirement of these symptoms. Essentially, autism is not a medical condition such as cancer. There's no empirical test that's currently available. It's not a disorder of the body or the brain, as per "normal" terms of disorder. Being labeled "autistic" means no more and no less than that you were assessed for a set of symptoms and it is the opinion of the professional(s) who performed the tests that you exhibit enough of the symptoms to meet the definition. It is, essentially, meaningless as it does not give one the necessary information to address the situation. Knowing one autistic individual does NOT prepare you for meeting another autistic individual, as the two can be so completely different that the knowledge you learned from one does absolutely nothing to help you adjust for associating with the other.

To stick with the cancer comparison, it would be like someone who's familiar with colon cancer thinking they know how to treat leukemia by doing the same things. It's absurd. The difference is, of course, that with cancer there is empirical evidence of malfunction. That's not the case with autism. We know that individuals with autism aren't "normal," but that doesn't necessarily mean there's something wrong. And that distinction is why many people resist using the label. For some, any medical label automatically implies that there's something wrong, whereas I look at autism as a weak description of what's different. It helps to know that the fact of the matter is that most people have some of the symptoms of autism to some degree or another: autism is an extreme of the normal human condition.

If you're noticing that my response to my sons' diagnosises of autism is atypical, you're right. I am not crushed by this. I feel no regret, no shame, no devastation here. My initial response was relief. Partly this is because it wasn't my fault, meaning I didn't somehow manage to irrevocably screw up my child before he even reached elementary school (which is the way some people made me feel), in fact I found that my child wasn't "screwed up" at all. More importantly, however, it is because these diagnosises led me on the path to understanding my children and myself.

I hate not understanding something I want to understand, and I desperately wanted to understand my children. Why did they scream, seemingly for no reason? Why wouldn't they eat regular food? Why did they strip off all their clothes? Why did they smear their feces? Why, why, why...? The label autism gave me the ability to find those answers, because it led me away from the how-to books that kept telling me it was somehow all my fault: I wasn't loving my children in the "right" manner. I didn't discipline them appropriately. I didn't stimulate them properly.

Though, in truth, those were accurate assessments, but for all the wrong reasons. I wasn't loving them in the "right" manner; I was expressing my love for them in ways that they couldn't readily understand. I wasn't disciplining my children appropriately; I was punishing them for trying to communicate their distress to me. And I certainly wasn't stimulating them properly; I was trying to fill their days with those activities that are better suited to neuro-typical children (and perhaps not even them), instead of meeting the sensory needs of my own children.

You could say, I'm grateful for the word "autism" for that reason, and use it as a tool to help other people reach the understanding I have reached. So, while I respect the desire, and the reasons behind that desire, of some people not to use labels, it's not something I emulate myself. The linguistic difference between "special needs" and "individual needs" has it's merits, and is certainly accurate, but if it doesn't increase understanding, then I feel it's counter-productive to my goal.

Ah, and now you see we're back on track...

I tend to use "special needs" or other labels to express myself, because I'm usually not expressing myself to an audience of people who've "been there, done that." They don't understand my children, myself, or our family dynamics on a personal level. They haven't lived through the trials (or the joys) of autism or other "special needs," so some of them just don't understand that it is not the same as their own experiences.

As I've said, understanding is a big thing for me. Because of that, I don't water down my experiences or the experiences of my children. I don't soften the blows of my life as a parent by saying it's the same as the life of the parents of neuro-typical children, because it's not. That's not to say that my children are inferior, they're not. They're just different. Neuro-typical children do not feel PAIN when their hair is combed, or their teeth are brushed, or their nails are cut. Neuro-typical children do not go into shock when entering Chucky Cheese's, because the stimuli overwhelms their nervous system. Neuro-typical children understand the difference between being angry and sad.

These are important distinctions. Understanding these distinctions have made the difference for me as a parent, teaching me how to help my children cope and excel with their differences. It checks my own expectations and behavior, making me a better parent for my children. Teaching other people these distinctions is important to me, because these other people may eventually interact with my children, or other children with special needs. It also opens up communication so that people can realize that ALL children (and adults), no matter what their differences are, have special needs and that this does not make ANYONE inferior, it just makes them an individual...which is what we all were all along.

So, in closing, I respect Estee's opinion and the reasoning behind it. I do agree that "individual needs" is a more apt description than "special needs," because we all have individual needs irregardless of our similarities and our differences. And I do understand that this word choice is used to attain the goal of acceptance. However, I am coming from a different perspective. To me, understanding is an essential prerequisite for attaining true acceptance and I've found understanding to be severely lacking in all too many people. Even from some people who accept my children as being equal and worthy individuals, because they accept all people as equal and worthy individuals, I've found a lack of understanding to exacerbate preventable problems and misunderstandings.

I honor the goal to obtain acceptance for ourselves and our children. I share that goal. However, my primary goal at this time is to broaden the understanding between ourselves and those who do not share our experiences. Both are worthy and important goals and together, united as people irregardless of our differences, we can achieve them for everyone.

The statement:
I also like to say that there is really no such thing as special needs, but "individual needs" and every living, breathing thing has "individual needs".

This statement was made by Squaregirl as a comment on Estee's post.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Peace for the US and Iraq

I started responding to a comment in a post by Historymike and it just got too long to justify posting it on his site. So, I'm foregoing my posting pattern to put this up.

It started with the Mosques, the violence, and the effects this will have on Iraq. When someone said this was yet another reason for our troops to leave Iraq, I couldn't help but pointing out that al-Sadr, our enemy, agrees. That, of course, opened a can of worms. Dariush provided an excellent link, which I felt the need to respond to and so here we are...

As per the article Dariush cited, I don't think any one strategy is going to be entirely effective. I am, however, one of the "traditional conservatives" that thinks it's hypocrisy at it's worse that we are "spreading Democracy" to Iraq, while supporting dictatorships in neighboring countries. Also, I think an equitable solution between Israel and Palestine would certainly help (though I don't recommend "abandoning" either). Finding a peaceful solution that provided Israel with security and Palestine with prosperity would eliminate, to a certain degree, one of the wedges between the Middle East and the West. However, in the long-run, giving less fodder to the corrupt clerics and governments that convince their under-educated populace that the US is responsible for all their hardships by not supporting governments that force unnecessary hardships on their people would make a much bigger impact, imo, seeing that while many Middle Eastern Muslims give lip-service to their Palestinian "brothers," they don't actually help them rise above their extreme poverty very often or consistently. Over all, a new, saner policy should be enacted that will give the impoverished Middle East populace the opportunity to control their own fate, so they can demand decent jobs, decent housing, decent education and other necessities for growth that oppressive dictatorships keep their people from having. I don't claim to know exactly what that policy should be, but touting democracy in one country while supporting dictatorships that, amongst other things, don't actually take care of their people is foolhardy at best.

Of course, oil has a lot to do with that, and I think one of the first steps to "discovering" a sane approach to foreign policies in the Middle East is getting out from under our oil dependence. And I mean, really doing it, full-throttle, not the GWB way. We need renewable energy that's good for the environment, and if we actually made that a priority American ingenuity would make it happen. Instead, we get talk, trickling funding, and little progress. That's inexcusable.

These are obviously long-term solutions. There are no easy, immediate solutions to our predicament. This crisis has been building up for decades at the very least, and from the point of view of many Muslims, centuries and millennia. As daunting as that is, what we do NOW can have a lasting, positive effect. However, none of this will bring immediate peace in Iraq. Frankly, I don't think anything will. Our soldiers leaving, as was suggested at the start of this particular discussion, will NOT bring peace to that country, and it will not make us safer. Which is only one of the goals that this country should have. Immediate safety for our soldiers, no matter how desirable, does not win long-term safety for our soldiers and their families. Many of THEM know that, that's why they're soldiers. Some in the US do not understand the difference.

Back to the article Dariush cited:
"Even if U.S. foreign policies were changed, however, the global Islamist insurgency very likely would continue."

That is a statement I agree with 100%, which is why I don't see leaving Iraq as a viable option. If we cut and run, then the terrorists win. While that doesn't seem to bother liberal_dem and other liberals throughout the nation, that does bother me quite a bit and not for the sake of any gold medals as liberal_dem ignorantly suggested. It will embolden the extremists and make them all the more difficult to defeat on the larger scale. And, make no mistake, to win a lasting peace these extremists HAVE to be defeated, not just side-tracked, much like Hitler. After all, their goals are very much the same. I don't want my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren being blown up or worse, because we didn't have the courage to face a group of terrorists who want to rule the world.

See, that's the thing. Their fighting us isn't about Iraq. It's not about our foreign policy. It's about world dominion. I've read enough on this particular sect of Islam to understand that. They believe Islam should be spread across and rule the world the same way some misguided Christians (sometimes most Christians) have felt over the last couple millennia. I do not want America or Christianity to rule the world. I do not even believe that "democracy" has the right, that democracy is right for every nation right now irregardless of their own desires. And I certainly don't want Islam to be spread that way. While I respect the Islamic religion as practiced by the many, many moderate Muslims, I don't want to convert to their faith, not by choice and certainly not be force.

Don't believe me, then look further down in the article:

Extremists among the Sunnis dream of the restoration of the Islamic caliphate, which would rule by Islamic law the entire Muslim umma, or community, around the world. When the last Islamic caliphate, that of the Ottoman sultan, was abolished along with the Ottoman Empire in 1922, the Muslim world broke into a plethora of separate and competing states. These states and their apostate or heretical regimes would in turn be abolished with the establishment of the new caliphate.

Will staying in Iraq solve the problem? No, probably not. At least, not exclusively. Nor will leaving Iraq. Leaving Iraq, however, will cause more problems than trying to solve the situation there. I don't recommend "staying the course," i.e. doing the same things we've been doing--insanity isn't going to win the peace. But, neither is cowardice.

But that doesn't mean we are without options. This paragraph, in particular, had great meaning for me.

The history of the Cold War shows that, when dealing with an opposing political ideology, a strategy of separating its moderate adherents from its extremist adherents can sometimes be successful. In Europe in particular, the United States was very successful in separating moderate Marxists-socialists and social democrats from extremist Marxists-communists during the 1950s, and this division largely persisted for the rest of the Cold War. This splitting strategy was not very effective in the Third World, however. There, moderate Marxists the "Third Way" rarely existed or, if they did, they were soon marginalized by the extremist Marxists or repressed by the authoritarian, anticommunist regimes that were the allies of the United States.

I have had or do have several Muslim friends. They're good people. They enjoy the freedoms of our Democracy and want that for their homeland. They enjoy the ability to make choices for themselves without being repressed by their families, their religion or their government. However, the sad truth is that this is NOT the reality for many Middle Eastern Muslims. They simply do not have our freedoms. For some, the under-educated masses in particular, they can't understand or imagine having our freedoms. That's where policy changes come into effect. The US has a history of supporting these governments that deny their own people the basic tenets of life we often take for granted. If we are going to be able to co-exist peacefully with the Middle East, this has GOT to stop. I don't recommend sending in our soldiers to ring the Liberty Bell for all nations near and far. That's ridiculous. However, NOT supporting the governments that oppress their own people...that's just common sense for a nation that believes in Democracy! If Middle Eastern Muslims desire Democracy, they will demand it. If not, then they will find a way to live equitably eventually, so long as more powerful nations aren't forcing oppressive governments down their throats.

Also, (and this is for those of you who aren't familiar with my blog) I must say that this isn't news to me. Supporting moderate Muslims is something I have a bit of a passion for. Far too many people call for the moderate Muslims to do something, and don't pay attention to the fact that they are doing quite a bit...and we're ignoring them. This does not help our situation.

The article Dariush cited somewhat dismisses this strategy:
"There, the features of authoritarian regimes, widespread poverty, and polarized societies combine to nurture extremist Islamism along with extremist political actions."

My point is that instead of dismissing the strategy, addressing why it is not effective will help to not only make the strategy viable, but it would actually be a PART of the strategy itself. If we were not actively infuriating the people we want on our side by supporting those that make their lives miserable, then they would be more likely to want peace with us. If we were actually helping them to get the necessities of life...well-deserved gratitude does have it's advantages. Right now our "aid" efforts often end up lining the pockets of the wealthy and powerful, instead of filling the bellies of those who go hungry. And yet we wonder why they hate us?

With the Mosques we are, of course, seeing this next quote live:
The contemporary analogy is the division between Sunnis and Shi'ites in the Islamic world. The ongoing sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites in Iraq provides a daily reminder of the intensity of the division in that country, but the division, suspicion, and conflict between the two versions of Islam is a feature of many other Muslim countries as well, especially Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. Sunnis normally regard Shi'ites as heretics and inferiors; Shi'ites normally regard Sunnis as hypocrites and oppressors.

In this article it's proposed as a good thing:
"In the Muslim world there might be Sunni Islamists and Shi'ite Islamists, but each might consider their greatest enemy to be not the United States, but each other."
But that really depends on how humanitarian your view is. Personally, I don't want to win peace for us, but helping the Middle East slip into a massive war. Despite the evaluations of the author of this article, I don't think that is a wise and equitable choice.

Nor do I believe that this statement is entirely accurate:
"The Bush administration persists in trying to construct--or conjure up--a democratic, unified Iraq, but this objective will probably prove to be unrealistic and unattainable."

It's a matter of choice. The Iraqis may CHOOSE to split. That's a likely possibility. However, if the Iraqis leaders genuinely want a unified Iraq, they can obtain it. It's THEIR choice to make, not ours.

After all, this is what I find inexcusable:
"The methods of these Shi'ite and Kurdish militias or armies would indeed be ruthless and would probably reach the point of expelling many of the Sunni inhabitants from the Shi'ite and Kurdish regions in a way reminiscent of ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia."

James Kurth may feel that letting the in-fighting destroy this area of the world is a reasonable alternative to the hard work of building peace, but I cannot and do not. While, should the Iraqis choose to do so, I would have no problem with supporting an equitable division of Iraq that was peacefully effective, giving each party what it needs to survive and thrive on it's own; I can not in good conscience advocate abandoning them to kill each other. Strategically that may be a sound strategy, but morally in is inexcusable. We're there. We need to find, develop, and make effective a strategy to obtain peace, not just for ourselves, but for the Iraqis. We've taken this responsibility, which very well may have been a mistake, but abandoning that responsibility is an unconscionable strategy.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Some Protests are Just Wrong!

I hate to admit it, but Doyle has actually done something right for a change. Yes, surprisingly enough, I support him in this action...as, I suspect, most of Wisconsin does.

Over the years, I have heard of many protests against the war. I've heard of many protests against homosexuality, but this...

The Topeka-based church, led by the Rev. Fred Phelps, believes soldiers' deaths are God's vengeance for the United States' tolerance of homosexuality. It often pickets with signs such as: "Thank God for IEDs," referring to roadside bombs that have killed many soldiers in Iraq.

It's just wrong!

Protesting is one thing, permissible by the Constitution. Free speech is what it is and it is important. However, funerals are solemn occasions. They are not a time for politicizing. They are a time for remembering those who are lost to us, celebrating a person's life and mourning the loss of said life. Setting limits on protests that are designed to intentionally disrupt these solemn occasions should not be viewed as unConstitutional, but as a respectful restriction that would not even be necessary were common sense and common decency an indicative factor in these organized protests.

Our soldiers' families already have to grieve for the sacrifices their loved ones have made. They should not be mocked while doing so. Thank you, Gov. Doyle and Wisconsin legislators, for standing up for the troops and letting these brave men and women rest in peace. Hopefully our courts will show as much decency.

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Patriotism or Celebrating Power?

Hmmm. Or, perhaps, yet another reason to be dissatisfied with the results of the Vietnam War?

David Shribman wrote an opinion article entitled "Don't Call it Presidents Day" that I found interesting. It just goes to show, you never know what you'll learn from random clicks while trying to get out of your e-mail account!

Apparently Monday (technically today, but I haven't slept yet, so the day hasn't officially changed over in my little world) is Presidents Day. Except, it's shouldn't be, at least according to Shribman. It should be Washington's Birthday. Except, it shouldn't be that either, since that's Feb. 22, and Monday's only the 20th (he says it's the 19th, but I'll allow him that little error). See, according to Shribman, it goes like this:

"This February holiday is a real mess. Back in the middle of the last century, when Americans didn't hate all their politicians for the mere character flaw of being politicians, we celebrated two holidays. Every American schoolchild knew that Abraham Lincoln was born on Feb. 12 and that Washington's birthday (with the car sales that made it famous) was 10 days later. Two presidents, two holidays. Made a lot of sense: the president who helped found the Union, the president who helped save it."

Aside from the accurate, but not entirely appropriate, political digs, like this:
In 1968, a year in which virtually nothing good happened, Congress started to fiddle with the nation's holidays. Unable or unwilling to move American troops out of Vietnam, and unable or unwilling to move Americans away from violence, the lawmakers instead started moving holidays, the idea being that most of them should be on Monday so as to assure three-day weekends.

It's an interesting piece. Though, I, for one, wouldn't call it a "day off from work," nor would my children, who'd be going to school had they not decided to come down with the flu today (Sunday).

So, Happy...um...Day, folks. Enjoy the time-off if you get it!

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Parenting Hazards:driving, doctors and the dangers of caring

Thursday was NOT a good day to travel. Yet, there I was driving from Janesville to Milwaukee, typically an hour and half drive, to take my son to a doctors' appointment (and yes, the plural is intentional) at the Feeding Clinic there. By the time I got to Beloit (fifteen minutes from Janesville via the interstate at normal speeds) I was thinking I was an idiot. However, it had taken me three months to get this appointment and I had someone on their way to meet me there. Alex's school Speech and Language Pathologist (who also works with us concerning some of his eating issues) took the day off from regular class work to attend. I simply couldn't cancel.

So, being the stubborn woman I am, I drove through the snow, the rain, the sleet, the hail, the thunder and the lightning (has anyone else ever seen pink lightning?), only adding an extra half hour to my travel time. And, believe it or not, it was worth it.

Now, I realize that sounds crazy, so here's some background. Alex has had digestive problems since birth. For the first three months of his life he slept on my chest (or somebody else's when I simply got too exhausted), because he refused to sleep on his back. Because he has a weak valve between his stomach and his esophagus, bile runs up his esophagus into his mouth causing intense pain when he sleeps on his back, not that we knew that then. I just knew he wouldn't sleep on his back and sleeping on his stomach caused occasional lapses in breathing. If he slept on my chest I could stay aware enough to help ease his breathing when necessary. The stress of this on me (including sleep-debt), the breast-feeding mother, was severe. I'm not one who sleeps well when pinned into position and I don't function well without at least some occasional deep sleep. It got so bad for me that I literally had a mental break-down (I required psychological intervention, but no form of hospitalization). And while the sleeping arrangements have changed, the cause for concern have not lessened since those first few months.

We've seen several nutritionists, who've all given us the same useless tactics to counter-act his picky eating. We've also had a slew of therapists try to change his eating habits. All to no effect. Simply put, Alex is under-weight, nearly to the point that it endangers his life. (His body composition is all too reminiscent of starving children in Africa, though his stomach isn't quite that distended because he does eat, just not enough food with nutritional value.) To demonstrate that: Alex is six-years-old and weighs thirty-three pounds. His three-year-old brother, who is also considered under-weight, though not as severely, weighs twenty-nine pounds. It's scary. We're not a family who has no food. We've got plenty of food. Alex just won't eat what's good for him.

Finally, last year things got so bad we got sent to the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin to a special feeding clinic there that could help us. The first few visits didn't go very well. I tried to convince them that I had tried all the methods they had suggested to no avail. They didn't work then, and I had no reason to believe they'd work this time. Yet, because they're the professionals, I tried. The Pediasure was a hard push, and only now (a year later) is he willing to drink it consistently. The medicine was a complete no-go. Alex isn't even willing to take the tasteless, odorless medicine they said could be snuck into his juice. He wouldn't drink the stuff at all. I gave up on their suggestions about the time my son started swallowing chunks of wood chewed off of wooden blocks.

After not going back for several months, I got another appointment and this time I brought reinforcements. Molly, Alex's SLP, came with and did a great job of adding to my credibility. Azurine, Alex's senior therapist with IDS was going to come, but she got snowed in worse than I should have been. Overall, it was a great success, and I really don't know what had more to do with it, the doctors, the support or the prayer.

For the first time I heard potential solutions (though, not exactly happy ones) to Alex's feeding difficulties. A major part of this is the recognition that I cannot do this alone. I'm often put in the position where I'm expected to do miracles. I mean, if I actually tried to do ALL the things I was suggested to do for the benefit of my children (not just because of their medical needs, but also the general needs of children) I would never sleep and I'd still need at least 36 hours in a day. So, for me, it's very much appreciated to have the medical professionals recognize that when I say I can't do something that I mean I can't, not that I don't want to. This in and of itself would be enough to give me hope that this round of brainstorming would be more effective.

However, that wasn't all. They came up with some real ideas that I can imagine helping Alex. The long-term goal (about nine months off) is to put him in the hospital for two weeks to go through intensive feeding training, for both of us. It's going to be hard, and it's not without risks, but it's a program that's designed to help children with whom normal means are not effective. That's Alex to a T. Short-term, they're going to help me continue what's working and improve his general health. They've devised a way to (hopefully) rid Alex of his perpetual sinus infection without me having to give him antibiotics, which never works because he never swallows a full dose. They're also going to get him the dental care he needs, and run more tests to determine if the new theories they've come up with hold water. Overall, I think we're on the right track!

Now, Alex is not my only child being seen (or supposed to be being seen) at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. Ben, my three-year-old, is supposed to going through his own diagnostic process there. Unfortunately, it's been nine months and let me tell you, no news is NOT good news. When Alex's doctor learned that, she was understandably upset and helped to rectify matters. Rather quickly too! I had a message waiting for me before I was even able to get home. That's after leaving several voice mail messages asking what the heck was going on, all to no avail! So, all in all, this was a very successful trip and much worth the effort.

After all, Alex is our child whom we worry about the most. He is the only one of our children whose condition could very well prove fatal. His body is the most severely affected by...well, we don't really know what it's affected by, but we know it's severely affected. His weight is not his only concern, nor is his development. He also has an eye that's at risk of going blind and has other erratic health concerns, while not being "normal" for a child with autism, are certainly exacerbated by it. So, even this small victory is a great thrill for us (and the fact that Ben will benefit too is a nice plus), and in the long-term, a major triumph. Well worth a rather perilous drive!

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Why don't the moderate Muslims denounce the violence?

I get sooooo tired of that question, because they do. They do and too few people pay attention to them doing so. Usually the ones who ask why they don't. They ask, but apparently they don't look. I found the answer fairly easily and I SUCK at searching for links! So, here it is folks:

Why don't the moderate Muslims denounce the violent riots? Take a look!


"Why would you want to be violent about a cartoon?" said political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda, who felt an apology or editorial resignation would be sufficient restitution by a Danish newspaper that flouted Islam's ban on pictures of its prophets.

"Why don't you be violent and protest about your own governments, Muslim governments who have not provided basic sanitary facilities and housing?" the Malaysian analyst asked.

"These are far more important issues to Muslim communities around the world than some stupid cartoons. Cartoons are cartoons, period."

But mainly Muslim Malaysia, which has banned the cartoons and suspended the licence of a newspaper that printed them last week, has warned that angry voices were drowning out the tolerant tones of moderate Muslims and Westerners.

"As a result, the silent majority looks on as the extremist and intolerant minority takes over and turns the civilisational dialogue between Islam and the West into an angry and ugly shouting match," Malaysian news agency Bernama quoted Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak as saying at the weekend.

Oh, wait. According to that article they are. Hmmm. Let me try again.

Here's one from BBC News:
Coach-loads of demonstrators arrived at the rally called United Against Incitement and Islamophobia, which got off to a peaceful start at about 1340 GMT on Saturday.

Police said the total turnout was about 5,000, a figure endorsed by a spokesman from the Muslim Council of Britain.

Among them was Hanifa Brka, a 29-year-old student from Birmingham, who said: "This is the heart of our faith - we believe it is wrong to talk badly about the prophet.

"I would like to send a message to all honest Christians - we are all brothers and sisters."

A series of speakers gathered to support the Muslim community, including MP Jeremy Corbyn.

In his speech, which was met with cheers from the crowd, he said: "The only way our community can survive is by showing mutual respect to each other.
"We demand that people show respect for each other's community, each other's faith and each other's religion."

Nope, sorry. Missed again.

Here's one from The Observer. The Progressive Muslim Union of North America has this to say. CAIR even goes further, and condemns this form of "peaceful" retaliation! Here's one from Afghanistan of all places, jeesh, and I thought moderate Muslims were supposed to be hard to find!?!

I could go on, and on, and on, but what's the point? This moderate Danish Muslim said it well:
One could see that the matter would take a turn for the worse when, late last year, the Danish prime minister refused to meet a group of Arab diplomats who wished to register their protest. In most other countries they would have been received, their protest accepted. The government would have expressed "regret" and told them it could not put pressure on any media outlet as a matter of law and policy. In their turn, having done their Muslim duty, these diplomats might have helped lessen the reaction in their respective countries. By not meeting them, the prime minister silenced all moderate Muslims just as effectively as they would be later silenced by militant Muslims around the world.

Like many other moderate Muslims, I too have been silent on these cartoons of the prophet Muhammad and the ensuing protests. Not because I do not have anything to say, but because there is no space left for me either in Denmark or in many Muslim countries.

If you want the moderate Muslims to speak out against the violence...if you want them to denounce the acts of the extremists and take action against it...if you want them to have an effect on the violence that is repeatedly spiraling out of control throughout the world...then you have to stop, listen and pay attention. They're there doing exactly what they should be doing; they're just being drowned out by all the shrill voices from both sides and your voice just might be one of them!

Void Sticker

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Shameless Self-Promotion

Leading Edge Magazine has accepted a poem of mine for publication. It is currently slated to be published in issue 51, which comes out in April. Please check it out!

Also, if you like rare books, autographs or hand-crafted plaques, please check out Quality Wordsmiths.

Thank you!

Void Sticker

Monday, February 13, 2006

Two Worlds Collide: A lesson in step-parenting

"You know better!"

The words are out of my mouth before I think it through. I register the shock on my step-son's face and only then realize, truly, fully realize, that he doesn't.

Let's back up a bit. Brandon lost video game privileges over at his mom's place, because he'd refused to get off his game in time to go to school. *sigh*

What was he doing on the game in the first place? Just turn off the game and tell him to get ready! Are just a few of the words I didn't let slip out of my mouth when I'd heard. I had to bite my tongue (almost literally), but I didn't say it. There's just no use to it and I've come to terms with that, sort of. After all, I still haven't been able to convince the woman that "shithead" is not an appropriate nickname for a child. Nor that for disciplinary measures to work you can't just tell the child what you're going to do...you have to actually do it.

But that's neither here nor there. My husband chose not to uphold the decision for punishment completely, allowing Brandon the privilege to play his video games during their weekend together at our home if he behaved himself. To say the least, he didn't.

Now, the next day, he was repentant and asked his father if he could have the privilege back. Mark left that up to me.

So, what did Brandon do...? He turned on his puppy dog face, pushed out his pouty lip, and tried to manipulate me. Sure, it's cute and developmentally appropriate for a two year...the thing is, he's nine!

"You don't do that, Brandon! You don't try to manipulate people like that! Now, you definitely DON'T get to play any games! You know better!"

Shock...pain...tears. The sudden realization that, no, he doesn't know better. His mother does it to anyone who'll fall for it. He does it to her habitually. Sure, he doesn't get away with that at our house, but she has the advantage of quantity over quality. HE DOESN'T KNOW BETTER.

*sigh* Luckily for me, I learned rather early on in this parenting gig that saving face is not nearly as important as teaching appropriate behavior. So, I apologized and explained, within the realm of his ability to understand, why I got so upset and why what he did was wrong and why he will not get away with it at our house and I even recommended he not do that to his mother. Then, of course, he asked if this meant he could play his video games....no.

Being a step-parent is never easy. Nor is being a step-child. When two radically different households are involved we get more than our share of trouble. Maybe someday I'll learn how to bridge that gap. Maybe someday my husband and I will be able to teach Brandon the things he needs to know and appreciate so that he doesn't follow the same path as his older brother. Right now, I've just got to accept that Brandon really doesn't know what I think he should. The only way for that to change is for his father and I to teach him...without alienating him first. And, I also have to accept that as hard as this is for us, it's even more difficult for Brandon who has to live and try to function in these two radically different environments where, sadly, he doesn't always understand the rules.

Void Sticker

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Jim Doyle: A good incumbent to VOID

Jim Doyle is the incumbent Governor of Wisconsin. He's up for re-election this year, and let me tell you, if I have my way it ain't gonna happen.

Doyle's administration has been plagued with scandals in recent months. Including a connection to Jack Abramoff. Not a surprise when Doyle started his gubernatorial career with a whopper of a scandal in his first 100 days. He's profited big time from these unethical campaign practices, so it's no wonder he has no interest in campaign finance reform.

However, scandal isn't the only reason to vote out Doyle. He also tends to over-use his veto power. Doyle rewrote the Wisconsin budget using his veto pen. He refused to sign into law a bill that would limit property taxes. And, while I'm not a big gun fan, many in this state wanted this concealed-carry bill to pass, which Doyle vetoed...again. He's used his veto pen to give trial lawyers an unfair advantage, which is not at all surprising for a Democrat. More to my disappointment is his veto of voter ID legislation that would go a long way to prevent all the voting fraud that occurred last election cycle. Of course, being the conservative that I am, his veto of the marriage bill troubles me greatly, though since Wisconsin law already defines marriage as between one man and one woman we're fairly safe unless the Court gets involved. Of course, I could go on and on here, since Doyle vetoed so many well-supported bills it's hard to keep track, but this one tops it for me.

Sadly scandals and corrupt use of power aren't enough for Doyle. He's made it his policy to raise fees while reducing services. He transfers funds raised for specific purposes to fund his pet projects. He robs students to raise pay for administrators. And yet he calls education his "priority." Of course, he cares more about domestic partners than students, but you know that's education too isn't it?

Personally, I blame Bush (you know, it is the popular thing to do, after all). If he hadn't stolen Tommy Thompson we would never have had Scott McCallum. Without that, Doyle would never have stood a chance.

Void Sticker

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Monster Rancher 2: An unusual family activity

Monster Rancher 2 is a Playstation game that involves breeding and raising a variety of monsters to send into battles and on adventures. It's kind of like having a virtual pet that you can train to do certain things successfully. This game is full of cartoon-like pictures, numbers and words. It's not particularly educational (except for the concepts of proper health considerations for animals, to some extent), but it has turned into a family activity in my household.

I was first introduced to Monster Rancher 2 by a family friend and got hooked on it. Playing this video game helped me through my second pregnancy, including the first three hours of labor.

For a long while after that we didn't have a Playstation or Monster Rancher 2. That all changed this Christmas, when my husband found and purchased a used copy of this compelling game for me. We've been playing it ever since.

At first my husband and I expected it to be an escape from the kids...one of us would be upstairs playing while the other one took care of our children. Little did we know that our kids would want to watch. After watching a while, some of them have started asking for certain things when we're playing. "Do the Power Drill, please?" "Don't click the short-cut!"

Then, the truly amazing thing happened. Alex took my hand, led me upstairs and put my hand on the controller! He asked me to play Monster Rancher 2! This is truly remarkable, since before that moment the only requests like that Alex would make were for food and for puzzles. :-)

Now, Monster Rancher 2 is a regular family fun activity in my household. If you're kids like cartoons and you're looking for a way to get them to spend some more interactive time with you, you might just want to give it a try! ;-)
(Warning: some violence is involved, but it's not graphic.)

Void Sticker

Discovering the Ability in Disability

Having a child with disabilities is hard work. Having three...the word "exponential" just doesn't seem to cover it.

I'm told I handle it well. Like most parents I often wonder if this is true. There are times when I feel so overwhelmed that I just can't help but wonder how I'm going to make it through the day. There are other times when I've no doubt I'm doing well; my children are reasonably happy, reasonably healthy, very exuberant individuals who are thriving each in their own way.

Still, there are a few things that really get to me. Line's like the one in this article: "A child with autism is unable to relate to or communicate with others. For a parent, the diagnosis is devastating."
(emphasis added)

I've heard that many times. I've been told that many times. Some people have even gone so far as to tell me that I'm in denial because I DON'T feel devastated!

Don't get me wrong, finding out your child has autism is very unsettling, very upsetting. It's a very emotional, heart-wrenching experience. Trust me, I know. I've gone through it twice already, and am in the very slow process of going through it a third time.

However, when people constantly tell you how devastated you should feel, when you buy into that, when you let yourself grieve continuously over your fate or the fate of your child...you lose sight of something very important, absolutely essential in fact.

Autism is NOT an end. Your child's life, your child's future does NOT end just because he or she is diagnosed with autism. Your child's future is in your hands, as it always was, and you as a parent have a responsibility to maintain your vision for your child's future. That vision may have to change, as it undoubtedly would as your child got older, but that change does NOT have to be seen as a negative one.

As each of my children were born my husband and I had distinct hopes for them. Hopes that they would grow, that they would learn, that they would independently seek ways to make this world a better place. We had visions of marriages and grandchildren. We envisioned them going to college or learning their own trade. We wanted a family owned business that our children, once they were older, would be able to work in and learn in, perhaps taking it over themselves one day.

All this happy idealism came to a screeching halt during a long dinner filled with extended family. My sister-in-law was getting married. My husband's family had gathered together at a restaurant, amicably enjoying each other's company. As for myself, I was miserable. Like everyone else with kids, I brought my two, little children with me. Unlike everyone else's kids, my children wouldn't sit at the table, they wouldn't eat, they didn't want to have anything to do with all those "strangers." It was a very upsetting experience, and despite having a table full of people who cared about us, including my mother who repeatedly took one or the other of my children outside to calm them down for me, I felt totally alone.

One time during this seemingly unending meal, my mother took my oldest child, Willy, outside, because he was throwing yet another tantrum and disturbing the meal for everyone else. My husband's grandmother (who'd raised three children and was an experienced nurse) urged me to follow them out with her. For a long moment we were both quiet. She watched Willy scream at my mother and noted my exhaustion. Then, she said it.

"It's not supposed to be this hard, Stephanie. There's something wrong. We need to get this checked out."

All the hurt, all the pain, all the confusion came pouring out and I burst into tears, which is indeed a rare occurrence for me. She'd said what I both longed and dreaded to hear...it wasn't my fault, I wasn't a bad parent, there was something wrong that was beyond the expectations of normal parenting. From that moment on I was determined to help my child (this was, of course, before I knew Willy wasn't our only child with developmental disabilities) recover from whatever was making him so uncontrollable and such disagreeable company.

It wasn't an easy battle, and we're nowhere near through all the obstacles we face, but we've succeeded to a great degree. We got the help we needed and our children, Willy especially, are making great progress.

However, it took one more catalyst before I made the firm, irrevocable decision to turn my back on the "autism is devastating" mentality.

In the process of obtaining a diagnosis for Willy we went to a developmental clinic near our home. There they not only confirmed that Willy's diagnosis of autism was accurate, but gave him a prognosis, which the first doctor we saw wasn't willing to do. We were told he would never really talk. He would never be able to learn with his peers. He would never practice pretend play. Basically, they told us he didn't have any hope of living a normal, productive life. Furthermore, because we had my step-son to care for, along with our other child, Alex, and a fourth on the way, Ben, we were strongly encouraged to forego developing a treatment plan and simply to place Willy in an institution.

My husband and I gathered our son up, finished up the paperwork that they required, declined scheduling any further appointments and left. We've not been back. That was two years ago.

Now, Willy is happily attending first grade with his peers. He has lots of friends. He talks up a storm and can read and spell at his grade level. And he plays marvelously, with plenty of pretend play mixed in with his functional play. Yes, he needs a one-on-one aide to get through the rigors of the school routine. He still throws an occasional tantrum. He can't quite comprehend the difference between emotions yet. He still needs therapy and specialized intervention. But Willy is a success story! He's making progress, keeping up with kids his own age, and is actually participating productively in our society. He's able to do a lot of things, many things we were told by the "specialists" that he simply would never be able to do. He's got a ways to go, but I know, as long as we focus on what Willy is able to do now and what he'll be able to do in the future, our dreams for Willy will come true...and nobody is going to tell me I should be devastated!

Void Sticker

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

McCain's Letter to Obama

Senator John McCain wrote a letter to Senator Barack Obama, a very polite, if a bit caustic, chastisement for political duplicity. Once upon a time this type of political bravery would have pleased me very much.

"Rah, rah, McCain"..."Eat that you dirty Democrats"..."Who's corrupt now!"

I've learned a lot since then. As encouraging as McCain's letter is (at least there are elected representatives trying to recognize the problems inherent in our current Congress), it's no longer enough for me.

Please read the letter for yourself, but I will highlight some points that disabuse me of my initial enthusiasm.

The first paragraph is good. A nice, pointed dig. I especially like this quote:

"I'm embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss routinely used in politics to make self-interested partisan posturing appear more noble."

I definitely agree with McCain on that score. There's far too much "typical rhetorical gloss" being used by our political representatives, irregardless of party affiliation, these days.

However, I can't help but wonder...
"As you know, the Majority Leader has asked Chairman Collins to hold hearings and mark up a bill for floor consideration in early March. I fully support such timely action and I am confident that, together with Senator Lieberman, the Committee on Governmental Affairs will report out a meaningful, bipartisan bill."

...what a "meaningful, bipartisan bill" will look like. Will a meaningful, bipartisan bill be effective? Will it STOP the corruption? Is Congress capable of cleaning itself up with our current batch of representatives?

While we can, of course, hope that the answers to these questions are a resounding "Yes!" I have my doubts that that's the case. Maybe that's because I'm still very much discouraged by the ineffective campaign finance reform that McCain and Feingold (my very own Senator) put into effect. I mean, has anything really changed on that front? Obviously not enough. Money is the major determining factor in an election. It doesn't guarantee a win, but it comes pretty close.

McCain also says:
"Since you are new to the Senate, you may not be aware of the fact that I have always supported fully the regular committee and legislative process in the Senate, and routinely urge Committee Chairmen to hold hearings on important issues. In fact, I urged Senator Collins to schedule a hearing upon the Senate's return in January."

Frankly, I no longer am able to support the regular legislative process. The process itself has been corrupted by the dirty fingers of our "representatives." That is why I feel it is essential for me to support Vote Out Incumbents for Democracy. We need a new set of representatives who are willing and able to remember that they are there to be public servants, not to take advantage of their power. Get rid of those dirty fingers, and I think Congress will stand a much better chance of straightening itself out.

McCain said:
"As I explained in a recent letter to Senator Reid, and have publicly said many times, the American people do not see this as just a Republican problem or just a Democratic problem. They see it as yet another run-of-the-mill Washington scandal, and they expect it will generate just another round of partisan gamesmanship and posturing. Senator Lieberman and I, and many other members of this body, hope to exceed the public's low expectations. We view this as an opportunity to bring transparency and accountability to the Congress, and, most importantly, to show the public that both parties will work together to address our failings."

I wish McCain the best of luck...but I'm not holding my breath. Our representatives, irregardless of party affiliation, have earned our low expectations. Perhaps they can rise above them. I sincerely hope they can. However, I think Obama is more indicative of the mood in Congress than McCain, and that is simply not going to be enough to exceed our low expectations.

Which McCain dismisses this concern:
"As I noted, I initially believed you shared that goal. But I understand how important the opportunity to lead your party's effort to exploit this issue must seem to a freshman Senator, and I hold no hard feelings over your earlier disingenuousness. Again, I have been around long enough to appreciate that in politics the public interest isn't always a priority for every one of us."

Politics as usual is no longer acceptable to me. As I've said, I've learned a lot. I've learned that politicians are more than happy to say what we'd like to hear. I've also learned that "talking the talk" is far different than "walking the walk." Maybe McCain will surprise me. Maybe he will indeed find a way to bring "transparency and accountability to the Congress." If not, VOID will still be here, working to educate voters and ensure that the federal government is of/by/for the American people.

(Special thanks to Unsomnambulist at Offline Adventures for bringing McCain's letter to my attention.)

Void Sticker


This, my first post on my own blog, is dedicated to Lisa Renee at Liberal Common Sense, may she rue the day she nudged me into this! (Not that I'm really blaming you.)

I suppose I might as well introduce myself.

I'm an intelligent (or so I'm often told) conservative, who's not a Republican. I very much enjoy debating the issues from that all-too-unique perspective. I support an organization called Vote Out Incumbents for Democracy, a rather important fact, considering I'm not only the Secretary/Historian, but am also a Board member.

I am also the mother of three wonderful boys who are on the autistic spectrum. And through that lens my life and point of view is often colored. This blog will, amongst other things, allow me the opportunity to raise awareness of autism and individuals with disabilities.

I am also a fantasy and sci-fi writer, who might use this as a source of self-promotion. We'll see.

Now, I guess you might be wondering why I consider these to be hazardous pastimes. All I can say is, you'll have to keep coming back to find out!