October 2009 Archives

October 30, 2009

The Diagnosis of Autism: A Plea From A Parent

Recently a parent posted a question to one of my autism posts, stating the following (edited for their privacy)"

Hello,
My son turned 5 in March 2009. On Sep. 15 he started to go to K in public school in NE Philadelphia. Yesterday after few call of his teachers we've got a letter from the Principal telling us that his teacher is requesting help from another pro. & my son will participate in small group activities to help him to achive high education program needed...
I called counselor & she asked me about his eye contact & if I ever spoke to our pediatrician about that. I said "no". But since then I'm thinking about it...Can you pls help me with my concern about my little kid?
Thank you

Wow, this brought back a lot of memories, of fear, of pain, of uncertainty.  Here is what I wrote for this parent. First off, I want to point out that I'm not a psychologist, and therefore I'm not qualified to make a lot of diagnosis.  Much of what I state down here is based off of months of research, following that research, and from my own experience.  If you are ever in doubt, consult a psychologist who specializes in autism!

Hello Marina!

I'm going to edit your post to remove your phone number, in order to protect your privacy.

Now, about your son. The first thing I would tell you is that his teachers, as concerned for his welfare as they are, are not psychologists, and therefore are not qualified to diagnose autism. This is probably why they raised their concerns with you, and why they wanted you to talk with your pediatrician, who will probably refer you to a specialist. But before you panic, know that there are a number of different disorders and causes of autistic-like behavior, none of them related to autism. Only a specialist can know for sure.

Next I would tell you that panicking in general is not going to help. Don't start rushing out and looking for "cures". Don't start looking for answers from anyone but those who are conducting clinical trials and studies. Why? Because there are a lot of people out there that continue to pander to fear and fear-mongering. Celebrities, doctors with questionable ethics, and people who feel they just "know". No one knows what causes autism, or I should say what triggers it. We do know there are now currently 22 identified genes that can cause autistic-like symptoms, but no one knows why those genes mutate as they do. So don't panic about vaccinations, gluten in the diet, bad parenting, or monosodium glutamate (for autism, at any rate). Get the facts, which your psychologist will provide.

So, the first thing I would do is check with your psychologist and see what he says. Yes, lack of eye contact is one common behavior characteristic of autism, but it is not the only one. Does your son give you regular eye contact? Does he look at people in the store? Does he respond to his name with eye contact? These are some questions your psychologist may ask of you.

Also, is your son verbal? Has he been speaking all this time? Has that changed? Does he speak less, is his speech slurred at all? Does he say random things out of the blue? These are other questions your psychologist may ask you.

Now, if your son does indeed get diagnosed as having autism by a qualified specialist (i.e., a psychologist), here are some things to keep in mind. YOU ARE NOT TO BLAME! Autism is not caused by bad parenting, pandering, or abuse. Regardless of what some radio talk show hosts have said, parents do not cause autism. Doctors do not cause autism. Vaccinations do not cause autism. Heartless corporations do not cause autism. Politicians of any party do not cause autism. Government does not cause autism. No one is "hiding the facts", no one has snuck in poisons to your son to make him autistic. It's a result of genetic mutation(s) that cause the brain to produce too many neurons (causing an enlarged brain or overly dense brain), and/or to slow or halt neuron pruning that begins roughly at the age of 2 and ends roughly at the age of 6. That is autism in a nutshell. All the meltdowns, the social issues, the lack of eye contact, the difficulty in speech, the sensitivity to sound, touch, light changes, etc. all come down to many more neurons within the brain than a neurotypical child.

1. Your son is in good company! Many of the geniuses of the past had autism. Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, and Vincent van Gogh, to name a few. His mind will be thicker, more dense than a neurotypical child, and as such he can process and retain more information and more detail. The only side effect from this extraordinary ability is the inability to judge social situations on the fly. So, he may need more schooling in social interaction. There are a couple of ways to do this, which I will number.

2. Find out if your public school has an autism program. Many do across the nation, though not all do. I'm not sure about PA, so you may want to contact your district and find out. If they do, get to know the teacher and her aides. Do they seem like your son's success is important to them? Do they understand autistic children? My son is lucky, his teacher has an autistic child, and therefore completely understands what we parents go through. If they don't know, or don't seem to care, find another teacher. It's your right as a parent to demand a proper education environment for parents. Make sure they know what Applied Behavioral Therapy is, and how to implement it (It's called ABA, and there is a lot of good info on Wikipedia if you need more info).

3. Get a dog, if you can, or another animal in the house that your son can interact with. I don't recommend cats, because they are only social on their terms, and behave actually a lot like someone with Asperger's syndrome (on the autistic spectrum). That, and they can be less tolerant with children than many dogs (at least our cat is). Dogs are excellent for children with autism, whether or not they are trained as "autism dogs". You may have heard that horseback riding can help with autistic children.. This is true, at least as far as some clinical studies have shown. But it's the same concept: have a connection with an animal that requires some social interaction, but is non-threatening about it. Any animal can help, not just horses or dogs. If you can't get an animal, spend some time at a petting zoo. If there is no petting zoo, see if you have a friend with a dog. Animal interactions are great fun, and do help.

4. Be prepared for frustration, at every corner. Know that people are intolerant in general, and more so if they detect any deviance from what they consider the norm. Learn to grow a thick skin, it's the only way to deal with it. You can't change other people's perceptions, you can only change your own. I would recommend printing up cards that have links to various autism websites that explain autism, should someone suggest your child is just badly behaved or your parenting skills are not up to their standard. While I have never had to give out any, I've come close a couple of times. Though now you are more likely to meet someone who has an autistic child in their life than ever before.

And finally, my last bit of advice is to love your son. Love every new discovery. Love every funny, quirky personality trait. Autistic children are just like other children, but tend to live in a different world, or a different level of the world we are in. Encourage your son in his interests, looking always for a future career. If he has an interest in music at all, go for it! Nothing is better for an autistic child than playing an instrument of some sort. Even if it's the drums, it's something that will teach him creativity and meld it with the mathematical order that will appeal to his brain.

There are so many more things I could tell you, but I want you to have the joy of experiencing them yourself. If you do have any questions, feel free to post them on the blog, and I'll get back to you.

Good luck!

October 22, 2009

The Power of Media: The War of the Worlds, and Hitler's Airwaves

With the latest developments of hostility between Fox News and the White House, and the general feeling of incredulity within the Media with this open declaration of hostility, my mind has been focused on the impact of media, if any, on the general populace.  This seemed to coincide with an old tradition that I had and I am now resurrecting:  listening to the infamous original radio broadcast of Orson Wells' The War of the Worlds, and coupling it with the propaganda broadcasts made by Germany to England during World War II. 

In both cases, the Radio was the primary method of external communication to a mass audience.  Sure, telephone existed, and people could call each other using a handset, but to reach a large audience Radio was the method of choice.  And, like all methods of communication, information and entertainment were coupled together in one way or another. 

Germany's use of radio gave rise to Lord Haha and his spread of propaganda touting the strength of the German war machine and the futility of England's defense.  He raised the spectre of the Soviet threat, the willingness of the Germans to let bygones be bygones, and the defeats of Allied forces as proof that England needed to get out of the war.  As with all democracies, Germany assumed that England would capitulate if the people were to rise en masse to demand surrender to the Germans. 

The Brits, on the other hand, were more savvy than Germany I think had understood, having had their face slapped after the Munich treaty was completely disregarded and Neville Chamberlain was disgraced.  They instead remained vigilant against the German propaganda, no matter now disheartening it was, and with the assistance of all the Allies, managed to defeat Nazi Germany, ending what began in World War I. 

The broadcast of War of the Worlds was very different, as a small group of actors used the powerful media of radio to induce mass panic across the American countryside and through all of New York through a clever adaptation of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds.  Because of the realistic presentation, the excellent understanding of their medium, and the credence given to the one mass portal of information, they managed to send the entire East Coast into the hills, running for their lives. 

In both instances, radio was used as a tool, and as a tool to frighten or dishearten people.  What's interesting is the reaction of the target audience.  How much trust can we place in the media, or those feeding information to the media?  It all comes down to where we get our sources of information, and how much we are willing to research those topics in debate. 

Today, with the benefit (or detriment, you decide) of the Internet, first person accounts are more likely to be provided, and collaborative information provided through multiple sources.  If the War of the Worlds were conceived and broadcasted today, Twitter would quickly expose it as a piece of fiction through first hand accounts of people in Grover's Mill stating the lack of a cyllinder in their back yard. 

Does this mean that media has lost it's power?  By no means!  Many people find a single trusted source of information, and makes it their only source.  They don't like getting multiple points of view, because they don't want to take the time or make the effort to do the research themselves.  Instead they trust their news source to do it for them.  Whether they be Liberal or Conservative, the same holds true.

It also means that more complex and devious methods of propaganda, by any group, is easier to distribute.  With the complexity of media outlets now, one merely needs to identify their target audience, and utilize their one favorite method of communication.  It could be Radio, it could be Cable News, it could be Blogs, it could be Google News..  It doesn't matter, because once you find a person's habitual media source, you have them right where you want them. 

So in the end, the more things change, the more things stay the same. 

Ruby On Rails Contract Job Needed By Local Company

Recently a good friend of mine asked me if I knew of anyone who could take over a programming job for their in-house programmers who are expecting a baby soon.  So, I thought I would post here and see if anyone following my blog would be interested in a contract position.

If you are a Ruby on Rails programmer and would be interested, contact Jason Fowler at Freightlink Air & Sea International.  His email address is jason at freightlink.net, and his phone number is 801-264-6130. 

October 20, 2009

Taxes and the Romans: I Look Into History

Lately I have taken to reading Theodor Mommsen's History of Rome under the Emperors, and I have to say I am absolutely enthralled.  I love Roman History, but in particular I like to look at how complex governing systems worked.  Rome was a very complex system from it's Republic to even under the Emperor, and continues to surprise me with every new look.

Lately I have been reading the history under Vespasian to Caraculla, which is the Second Semester in the book.  Here Mommsen talks about the Imperial income, and how the government made money. Now I realize that I will be talking in generalities, so please forgive my lack of specifics.  This was just an idea I had from a night reading over a couple of nights.  I do not have exact numbers, and so I remain vague.  If you would like to provide specifics, feel free to do so in the comments.

Now, current governments make money through taxation.  For the American people, this means taxation at the Federal, State, and even municipal level through income taxes, excise taxes, property taxes, and sales tax.  Income is then generated, and distributed for the good of those governed.  That's the theory, at any rate.  Whether or not it's to the benefit of those governed is a completely different discussion that I want to avoid for this post. 

What's interesting in Antiquity is the method of income:  It's not taxation, though taxes did exist, but rather through government monopolies and land usage fees (rents).  The State controlled all mines, and the wares sold were 100% profit for the State.  Lands were, once a region was made a Province, automatically owned by the State, and any that wished to "buy" it back could do so through annual payments, and even pay it off completely within a short amount of time.  Those wishing only to use land for pasture, planting, etc, could then pay a usage fee based on the type of usage.

Because of these sources of income, the Roman State had roughly a 4% tax it levied on it's citizens, and even less on provincials.  I found this almost incredulous, but yet it was enough to build massive roads and works all across the Empire, not the least of which were in Rome itself. 

So why isn't this same method of State income still in use today?  A lot has to do with the history between Rome and now.  Let's look at property first.  The Feudal period in Europe caused a huge backlash against the idea of a central government taking ownership of land.  Partly because of small feudal families wanting to keep their lands, partly because of the concerns of religious land ownership, it all came down to the right to own property that is protected by the US constitution.

With State-run monopolies, they were generally discouraged (with a few exceptions) with various experiments in various other countries failing.  That, and the fear of Communism becoming the new world economic model starting in the early 1900's. 

Still, it's interesting to see how different Governments have chosen to make their capital, and what they choose to do with it. 

October 17, 2009

Making Yeast Doughnuts, Sliders, and Ice Cream

A good friend of mine, Joseph, let me borrow his Good Eats episodes a couple of weeks ago.  As we no longer have the budget for other than local television, I've been missing a lot of these shows.  One show recently that I am quite happy with was Alton Brown's yeast doughnut recipe.Now, like many men my age, I love my doughnuts.  When my wife and I went on our honeymoon to Las Vegas, we made sure we stayed in a hotel (or near one) with a Krispy Kremes.  Since then I have been wanting to make my own, though in the past they have always been too bready for my liking.  Then I got a hold of Alton Brown's recipe.The recipe is linked to Food Network's website, so I won't bore you with the recipe.  But I will tell you how the making went.  I don't have a Kitchen Aid with both a paddle and a dough hook, so I had to mix it by hand.  Not too bad, though the first time I tried this (on Wednesday), I think they were worked a little too hard.  kneading the dough was fun, and brought me back to the days of making homemade bread with my mom while growing up.I then fried the the doughnuts using vegetable shortening, because it cools hard and has a nice shine to it.  But, I didn't have enough shortening, so I added some canola oil to the mix.  I then tried to heat the required 365 degree temperature, and was called away to take care of the kids.  I came back with the oil too hot, and the candy thermometer, um, no longer useable.  Yes, it heated too hot, as I found out.I started with the doughnut holes to test the temperature and to see how long it would take to cook to the center.  The recipe said 1 minute, but within 30 seconds a nice dark brown had developed..  Not good eats, as it turned out.  It was very nutty, close to burned on some.  It cooled down a little on the actual doughnuts, though not enough it would seem.  Hence the reason why I didn't blog about it on Wednesday.Tonight, after missing both breakfast and lunch today, I was feeling hungry.  We also needed to use up some ingredients while they were still, ah, useable.  So I made some real ice cream (not frozen custard, by the way, so no eggs), and some sliders (which was really cool).The ice cream was just two cups of whipping cream with one cup of whole milk, a cup of sugar, two teaspoons of vanilla extract, and two tablespoons of peach preserves.  I heated it until simmering, and then placed it in the fridge for freezing tomorrow.  More on that later, if it turns out really good.  ^_^The Sliders I made by rolling a pound of ground beef really thin on some parchment paper, and then seasoning them with a quick rub of salt, pepper, and onion powder.  Then I folded the ground beef on itself, cut it into six portions (to fit on the hamburger buns we had), and then threw it on the electric griddle heated to 350 degrees.  They were excellent, and very light with a lot of flavor.By now the dough had risen for my doughnuts (after an hour), so I flattened it out and cut them out with a part from a sandwich cutter (that has never been used, interestingly enough), and the center cut out with a boiled egg cup (I love multi-taskers!).  I let them rise for 30 minutes more (bench-proofing), and ate my sliders (yes, I only had two).  At this time I also turned on the oil, and without a thermometer, I guessed that one notch below medium would do it (I have an electric stove, more's the pity).By the time the half hour went by, the oil was ready, I thought.  So, I tested them with the doughnut holes.  I placed them in for a minute, and they didn't seem to heat up very fast.  I was worried it was too cool, but then when I turned them over, I had a lovely golden brown crust.  They turned out great.  I then went through all 20 doughnuts and their respective holes, and let them cool for 20 minutes.Now I made the glaze.  I made the chocolate doughnut glaze as penned by Alton Brown, and it turned out great.  I had some left over, but as my son loves chocolate now, his fingers were forever in them.  I dunked each of the doughnuts, and quickly finished the doughnut holes myself (hence why they don't show up below).  Needless to say, the second time they were excellent.  I even think they were better than Krispy Kremes, if only because I know how they were made, and everything tastes better when you make it yourself.  Tell me what you think.[caption id="attachment_477" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Doughnuts made on a Saturday afternoon"]Doughnuts made on a Saturday afternoon[/caption]

October 9, 2009

Another Genetic Link Found For Autism: By the U of U!

Another genetic link as been identified by University of Utah researchers, this time focused around chromosome 5 which control neuron development in the brain.  The Salt Lake Tribune has an excellent story on the research done, and the implications of this particular discovery. 

The really good news is the reaction that most professionals are taking of this news:  nothing new, we are aware of it already, so let's start supporting those with Autism with the current treatments that have been most beneficial.  That is the attitude the Autism community needs to have.  Petty arguments as to the cause isn't nearly as important as the need to provide real support for those children suffering with Autism.

So what do you say Legislators?  Isn't it time to take the matter up?  What do you say insurance providers?  Isn't it time to at least cover the costs of diagnosis of Autism?  So many different genetic links have been made, I think it's pretty safe to say that Autism is a real health care concern, not a bunch of misbehaving children that have irresponsible parents. 

October 8, 2009

Increased Autism Rates: What It Really Means, And What It Should Mean

According to the National Institutes of Health's Parental survey, US estimates for Autism has now gone up to 1 in 100 based on a survey of 100,000 random households.  This is up from the estimated 1 in 150 that was based on surveys done in 2002.  People are panicking because of this news, because Autism seems to have had a massive surge in the past 7 years.  Organizations are calling for answers, quacks are touting their calls of everything from MSG to vaccines as the cause and they were right all along, and the belief in a massive Government conspiracy as a cover-up for increasing Autism rates has become almost religious in it's following. 

What I first want to outline is that the survey started with a specific question, "Has a doctor or Health Professional ever told you that your child has autism?"  From this question the statistics were generated, identifying the health care needs of children with autism versus neurotypical children among other statistical information.  The survey doesn't rely on data from health professionals on diagnosis rates, but rather the parents themselves.

Now, I don't want to suggest that the parents were anything but honest and forthcoming.  No one I know of would joke about having an autistic child when they don't.  But I know a lot of people in general that are paranoid and seem to see Autism where ever they look (I'm aware that's anecdotal evidence, but it's enough for me to view statistical information skeptically until additional evidence backs up the claim).  I would also like to point out that diagnoses tend to spike when public awareness is focused on a condition, like those for ADHD and food allergies.  It's not that they are wrong, but they do tend to come in waves.  For this reason, without doctors and psychologists being surveyed for diagnosis rates for comparison, I would take the actual rate numbers with a grain of salt.

That being said, I fully believe that the attention is nothing but positive for the Autism community!  Now people are looking at Autism with a more serious attitude, and perhaps Legislators and other government officials will start to take notice.  Perhaps now healthcare providers will look to Autism as a condition that needs treatment and coverage. 

What this survey should mean is this:  Autism needs to be understood, and those with Autism need to be assisted now.  There is no waiting, there is no ho-humming that can be tolerated from policy-makers, because we are looking at a significant and growing population of special needs that require help.  The Healthcare debate has yet to include Autism, which honestly needs to be addressed.  Public healthcare or no, Autism needs to be part of the equation in some form (if only coverage for the diagnosis).  Perhaps this will be the wake-up call needed for Legislators at both the State and National level to take Autism seriously.

October 5, 2009

Job Posting: Looking For Additional PHP, JavaScript, and Database Driven Websites Instructors

We are currently looking for additional instructors for PHP, JavaScript, and our Database Driven Websites classes to help supplement the demand for these classes.  We are looking for instructors with some teaching experience, and hands on knowledge in these areas. 

If you are interested, please contact Inita Lyon at ilyon@aoce.utah.edu with your resume.  Please mention the specific class (or classes) you would like to teach, and your experience in these areas.  Be sure you also check out our main website at http://continue.utah.edu/edtech/ to learn more about our department and the classes we offer. 

Thanks everyone!

October 1, 2009

Latest Apple Tablet Rumor: E-Reader, and My List Yet Again

AppleInsider recently posted an article outlining an outreach to current print houses to create content for a new platform.  It seems that Apple may be seeking to create a device that would make reading content while on the go simple and easy, but more than that:  They want interactive material to make the content more engaging.

eReaders have been around for a long time with varying levels of success.  I think the most successful device would have to be the iPhone/iPod Touch, though that is my personal opinion.  For dedicated devices, it's the Kindle by far.  Amazon has not only done a great job with the device, but has done a great job marketing the device.  It's all the rage with literary types, and I think mostly because of it's e-ink technology.

But there is one really big problem with the Kindle:  it only does one thing.  Now, I love applications that do one thing, because they can do that one thing really well.  But when it comes to my hardware, I want it to multitask as much as possible.  That's not to say the Kindle couldn't do more than one thing, it's just that it doesn't do more than one thing. 

So enters the Apple Tablet, the much rumored iPod Slate.  Apple has already shown that the tablet platform can be versatile, as shown with the iPhone and iPod Touch.  The iPod Slate would build on that success by providing a more powerful interface, longer battery life, and a larger viewing area.  That is, assuming Apple does things right. 

So, we come back to my list of requirements for the iPod Slate or Apple Tablet:

  1. Unrestricted Bluetooth:  Please don't throttle my bluetooth, as it has been on the iPod Touch!  I want to be able to tether my headset I've had for a while, and a bluetooth keyboard. 
  2. A Mini DisplayPort:  I want to be able to connect the device to a projector for presentations.  I can technically do that with an iPod Touch, but it's not as clean as using a Mini DisplayPort.
  3. Full Office Software Availability:  I don't necessarily need to have Microsoft Office installed, but at least have a full version of iWork on the thing.  It would allow me to create, edit, and display presentations, spreadsheets, and documents on the fly.  I have a watered down version of Office for the iPod Touch, but it's not nearly to the level I want. 
  4. Full Operating System:  I want an OS with a Terminal, the ability to manage, and install applications.  The important thing here is the Terminal..  I want shell access to my device, unlike the iPod Touch (without jailbreaking).
  5. Reasonable Pricing:  I'll be the first to admit, Apple has had trouble with this in the past.  That being said, I've been happy with the iPod Touch pricing, and with the iMac and Mac Mini.  The MacBook Air was a fiasco, because you were paying more for less of a computer.  Don't make the same mistake with the iPod Slate!!!  Price it below the entry MacBook computers.  That would make it solidly in the $800 range.  If you are going to price it here, make sure it's worth it!

So, that is my list.  It's been modified slightly, as the need for USB will eventually be replaced by Light Peak, and with more storage going to the cloud, SD card usage wouldn't be that necessary.  A video camera on the front would be nice as well, but not that necessary.  Mobile video conferencing would be fun, but hardly a requirement. 

But the real issue will be pricing.  It's definitely going to be more expensive than the iPhone, but it needs to be less expensive than a MacBook.  Otherwise, why purchase it?  Why not get a MacBook instead, with all the hardware features you wouldn't have with the tablet?  Apple would run into another MacBook Air issue, where people would rather purchase a full featured MacBook Pro over a stripped-down version that's a little lighter. 

First Quarter, 2010!  Let's see what happens.  

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