January 2011 Archives

January 31, 2011

The Autism "Epidemic": Looking Past the Fear, Uncertanty, and Doubt

The Big Think has an article on their recently convened Breakthroughs: Autism series that addresses the concern of Autism being an epidemic.  Autism started as a very rare diagnosis, and held the stigma of bad parenting over the parents. 

Originally used to identify a group of symptoms in schizophrenia, it began to be associated with children who had social or emotional problems.  It wasn't until the 1060's that Autism was finally separated from schizophrenia, and let to heavy-handed medications like LSD, or using electric shock therapy or pain and punishment techniques to modify behavior.  Because of this stigma, it's been rarely diagnosed, and rarely discussed. 

But now one seems to hear about it everywhere, and see more children with Autism.  Why?  Is it because it's truly becoming more common?  Are children getting Autism from water, pollution in the air, watching too much TV when infants?  Monosodium Glutamate?  Witches?  What's the deal? 

According to Dr. Christopher Walsh of the Children's Hospital in Boston, Autism is simply "suffering" from increased awareness and a broader definition of the term.  Because the medical field now has more specialists in the field, better and more diagnoses are being made.  Add to that the inclusion of various subgroups of the Autism Spectrum (from low-functioning Autism to the higher-functioning Aspergers), more children and adults are being diagnosed. 

The article is excellent, and I would highly recommend reading it, or watching the discussion.  Autism has always been here, it's just been known by different names, or has been hidden within families.  But the important thing is to stop blaming vaccinations, pollution, the tooth fairy, pixie dust, or low-hanging power lines without any evidence (beyond surveys) that provide proof. 

January 26, 2011

Why Mac OS X? My Journey from DOS to Mac OS X, and Why I Like the Mac

This is a question I get quite a bit, and often from friends who have known me from my early days with DOS.  Why do I prefer the Mac over other computers, and why Mac OS X?  Those who use Windows can't understand why I don't just use what they use, and those that use Linux can't understand why I don't go for the completely open operating system.  So, let me tell you a story about how I made my choice about my computing platform. 

I started with DOS, like most of us did in the late 80's, and I liked the command line experience.  I could play various games, write documents, and do generally what most teenagers needed to do with a non-network computer.  It worked well, and I was happy.  So happy in fact that to this day I have Dosbox installed on my Mac with many of those nostalgic DOS applications installed. 

Then Windows came along.  I didn't much like Windows 3.x or earlier, because I didn't see the point.  It took up a lot of memory and disk space (very precious back then), and didn't give me any advantage over using DOS.  So I ignored it.  Until Windows 95 came out, and I couldn't ignore it anymore.  But it was buggy, crashing constantly, with memory allocation issues and whatnot being the bane of computer users.  About this time I started working for Packard Bell/NEC on the NEC technical support line.  So I knew computers on the inside, and knew how to troubleshoot them through Windows 95/98 (we will not discuss ME).

So my foray into Windows began, and about this time I was introduced to the Mac OS.  Mac OS 9, to be precise, and I was not impressed with it.  Sure, it did the job, but it was difficult to work with memory allocation, and I would often get memory leaks that killed the entire OS.  It was like working with Windows 95 all over again, and I didn't like it. 

Then a friend introduced me to Linux (officially called GNU/Linux, but I'll just refer to it as Linux for simplicity).  I had heard a lot about it, and at this point I was getting jaded with Windows and Microsoft in general.  I wanted to find something that didn't require purchasing to use (legally), and Linux was the new kid on the block.  My first experience with Linux was...  frustrating.  It didn't work (at least from what I could tell, because of inexperience), and left me with a pink screen and a mouse.  What was up with that?  It wasn't until a year later after playing with different Window Managers that I realized it was twm, and all I had to do was right-click to get my menu.  But after a couple of false starts with Mandrake, I got it working. 

Linux was sort of a heaven for me, and took me back to my old DOS days.  Most of the free software for Linux was based in the command line, and all of it could be executed from the command line.  I was back home again, and I loved it.  The only problem with Linux was the time it took to configure a computer.  And to get the best performance, it took longer to configure.  Now, many people will call this a definite benefit, as you can tweak performance and get the most efficient system for your needs, but my needs became very basic.  I didn't need anything fancy, just something that would get me through college and my Masters while allowing a little recreational activities.  And that was another drawback for Linux:  games.  Sure, there are games, but not many of the big name games worked on Linux (though I did spend a lot of time playing Unreal Tournament). 

While working in a Mac lab, I was introduced to the new Mac OS:  OS X.  My boss, an avid Mac user, said I would probably like it because it was based on UNIX, much like Linux.  He, on the other hand, wasn't too impressed.  So, I sat down on the one Mac OS X computer they had (the rest were OS 9.22), and quickly found the UI useful, and the Terminal application.  I smiled, but still wanted to see what would be coming to the new platform.  At this juncture, anything released for the Mac short of a view software titles were still only available on OS 9. 

And then, while I was working for eBay, I checked out the Mac again.  By this time, Mac OS X v10.2, the Mac had matured considerably.  It was very well developed, had a great UNIX platform and developer base, and even had big name games that were released for it (like Starcraft).  What's more, I had some of that software already.  I didn't have the money to buy a Mac computer at this point, but it was the first time I wanted one.  So, I configured XFCE on my Linux box to look like the Mac, in preparation for my purchase. 

And then, when Mac OS X v10.4 came out, I got a 12-inch Powerbook G4.  The hard drive wasn't huge, only 80 GB, and I only had 768 MB of RAM, but it was a great little computer.  The computer was powerful enough to do everything I wanted, including play World of Warcraft, and I had all the Office software I needed in Open Office.  It was, quite frankly the best laptop I had ever purchased as it had lasted the longest.  That, my friends, is why I like the Mac platform. 

So what sold Mac for me overall?  The first and foremost reason:  it does, actually, just work.  The OS will get out of my way and let me get the job done.  Linux required a lot of high maintenance, much like the pretty but expensive girlfriend you had that you knew wouldn't ever be your wife.  Windows went through a lot of reliability issues, so much so that even with as good an OS as Windows 7 is I'm not trusting it.  But the Mac, with all the drivers either pre-installed or quickly available through Software Update, the solid user experience, and the overall focus on the product rather than the process makes it a winner for me.  It also has much of the same security benefits of any other UNIX environment, which is a huge incentive. 

So, that is why I like the Mac.  It's not because I was "brain-washed", or that I have a burning hatred of Bill Gates, it's just because the user experience on the Mac is so polished, so simple, and therefore so impressive it won me over.  I still use other operating systems for specific tasks, but I find the Macintosh is a fantastic way to get things done and not worry about compiling, configuring, or having to authorize every action you want to do every 5 minutes.  The same reasons spill over onto iOS devices, as they have that same level of polish and customer experience that makes it a joy to use when I want to, and easy to let go when I have something else to do.  It does the job and gets out of the way, leaving me to the task at hand rather than the process of trying to get the task done. 

So, what are the reasons you like your operating systems?  What operating systems do you find useful?

January 25, 2011

Is an Institution the Best Way?

The Winnipeg Free Press has an article about a man with Autism being confined to his room for 15 days with no free access to a toilet or washroom.  The man, a 20 year old at a privately operated institution, had a double lock on his door and could only use the toilet when the staff noticed that he needed it.  When they did not notice, he would use a corner of the room. 

The outrage of the man's mother is understandable, as is the outrage of everyone that has been questioned in regards to the incident.  But Dr. Andre Blanchet, the Massachusetts-based physician tapped for an interview noted that the allegations suggest deeper issues.  And I am inclined to agree.  This sort of problem is inherent with institutions.  Those who are not emotionally invested in the care of individuals can become careless.  There are plenty of examples of abuse at general institutions, regardless of Government or private ownership.  So is the idea of institutionalizing patients not safe?

Absolutely not.  Those signs of abuse are generally the exception rather than the rule, even for disabled individuals.  But it does bring up a potential problem, and one that current care-givers need to keep in mind as they contemplate institutions.  Private care can be just as bad, or even worse as medical assistance much needed is not given even by the most loving family member. 

This case in Nova Scotia is a good wake-up call for all institutions that deal with the disabled:  make sure all your patients are getting the care to which they are entitled.  My hope is that others will learn quickly from this example, and make sure this outrage will never happen again.

January 20, 2011

Remembering President Kennedy: The 50th Anniversary of his Inaugural Speech

I don't remember President Kennedy, perhaps because I was not born during his term as President. All i knew about the Kennedys was the scandals that came out often, the political humor regarding the scandals, and the lampooning in the Simpsons in the form of Mayor Quimby. That, at least, was the extend of my knowledge of President Kennedy until high school. In high school I took the AP American History class, and enjoyed very brain bending, hand cramping minute of it. My teacher was conservative, and his positions on a lot of things reflected that conservativism. When he spoke of President Kennedy, he spoke of the big events that marked his presidency: the bay of pigs, the escalation of the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and, of course, his assassination.Years later, I learned of the National Endowment for the Arts founding and the role the First Lady had in that movement. I learned of the rumors of extramarital affairs of the President. I read about and watched in film the conspiracy theories regarding the assassination, and watched documentaries on the political rhetoric that led to the assassination in Dallas. But the one thing I took for granted, aside from his declaration that he was a jelly-filled doughnut, was his famous line, "Ask not what this country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."In a world of free giveaways, government run programs to feed and house others, I think it's time we stop to think about this position. It isn't what we can get out of our country that is important, but rather what we bring to our nation. Whether it be outstanding scholarship, sportsmanship, or the best chili in the world, it is up to us as individuals to make this country great. But more than that, as Kennedy said, it is up to other nations to stop relying on the US to fix their problems, but to band together and serve the World Stage with one purpose: to better the lives of everyone. And finally, a lesson that political pundits should take to heart (on all sides), we are a strong nation if we are not divided, but united in a common cause. Perhaps we as a nation can take this time to think back to those ideals President Kennedy gave to us 50 years ago. Let's stop thinking about ourselves, stop thinking about the short term win, but look for long term progress for our nation.

January 19, 2011

iPhone And Android Programming With Corona SDK

For someone that has had little experience with object oriented programming, I have had some trouble with trying to get into the iPhone programming world. I have several ideas for the platform, but find trying to learn Objective-C a difficult task. So how does one do it? Here is my process that I have gone through, should someone else have the same problem.I first started by searching the internet, looking for tutorials. There are several, but most assume you have some experience in coding for the iPhone, and have previous experience with Xcode. I have had none, so the explanations were troublesome at best.Next I tried the various iPhone programming courses available in iTunes U, but they all assumed one has previous experience with C++ or Java, of which I have very little. they are great courses, but without an instructor handy it's difficult to learn the process. Following that I started various iPhone programming books. The best, at least in my mind, was the Head First series on beginning iPhone programming. While it doesn't cover anything other than utility apps, it explains the parts of Objective-C necessary to get apps created. Using these techniques, I learned how to create an interface for AmoebaOS for the iPhone, which may eventually make it to the App Store.But it didn't cover everything I wanted, so I checked out some SDK tools out there. I started with Titanium by Appcelerator, but found the training material very lacking. It was hard to understand, both for creating iPhone apps, and apps for the Android platform. Finally, I checked out Corona SDK. It seems promising, and the language one writes in, Lua, seems very easy to learn. It's related to Actionscript, so those who program in Flash and AIR can use it with little help. Also, the language seems easy enough to learn that just about anyone can pick it up. The one drawback is the need for at yearly subscription of almost $400 to submit your apps, on top of the Apple Developer fee of $99. But the good thing is that you can create an app with one set of code, and publish it for the iPhone, iPad, and any Android platform. So, where does that leave me now? Well, I'm going to invest my time learning the Corona SDK. It fits nicely with the programming language that is popular amongst web developers (action script and Flash), and seems simple enough to get some real apps created and published in a short amount of time. And after all, isn't that really the important thing? Get the app out there as soon as possible, so you have time to do the important things, like make new apps.Has anyone out there had a similar experience? How do you develop for mobile platforms, and what languages do you prefer?

January 18, 2011

On My Faith: Talking About My Religion

If you are one of the three people that regularly follow my blog, you will note that I rarely mention religion.  And if I do, it is generally in passing.  You may also ask why.  Am I ashamed of my religion?  Not at all.  In fact I am quite proud of my religious affiliation.  I just don't often feel it necessary to the discussion or topic I'm covering.  Generally it's because I feel that Religion is a very personal thing and to share with others should be reserved for genuine love and respect for that person.  Also, I don't like to offend others (generally), and the easiest way to offend others it to talk about religion or politics.  So I try to keep neutral within my posts. 

Today I thought it would be a good idea to share my personal feelings about my own faith, and hopefully answer any questions about why I believe the way I do.  I hope not to offend anyone, as that is not my goal.  I don't believe that my belief in my own religion requires the condemnation of any other Faith.  But I do have specific reasons for my beliefs, and I hope to share them in a way that is informative and clear (if not concise).  Please forgive my verbosity here, but there are a lot of potential questions I'm trying to answer in this post.

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Most people refer us as Mormons, Mormonism, etc, when they are being nice.  And I've heard many of the other names from people not trying to be nice.  While many people have heard of the LDS faith, few people have bothered to learn more about it than from hearsay or passing media mentions.  Let me tell you about it, from my point of view. 

My family are all members of the Church, for several generations on most sides.  An exception would be my grandfather on my mother's side, who was not affiliated with any religion (interesting story behind that).  But then living in Utah, finding people with a long history in the Church is not uncommon.  And many people find it convenient to remain a member of the Church, just because they grew up in it.  But the Church does not encourage this, but rather encourages all members to gain a personal testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, and in the Prophet Joseph Smith.  This is a challenge I took upon me when I turned 16. 

I had always felt an affinity to religion, and enjoyed growing up in the Church.  But, like many people without a personal testimony, or knowledge, about the Church and it's teachings, I had issues with people (including myself) who were not perfect.  So, I started to look around at other religions, particularly through reading the sacred texts available to those faiths.  I chose the sacred texts based on the premise that such texts should reflect the Divinity being worshipped.

I read the Talmud with several commentaries made by various rabbis.  I read the holy Quaran.  I've always read the Bible, so for many of the Christian religions I read many of the religious commentaries from their points of view.  This way, I would have a wide basis of experience on which to base my conclusions.  And, of course, I read the Book of Mormon. 

Now Faith is a process, in my experience, and requires testing assumptions and looking for divine confirmation.  The first test of my faith was to know whether or not a Supreme Being was there, and whether or not that Being cared for me as a single individual.  The only way to know for sure was to ask that Being directly, and so I prayed.  I received a comfortable feeling, one of peace, and took this as an answer.  This feeling of peace confirmed my belief in a God who loves me personally, and has a vested interest in my welfare. 

I continued with my prayerful search for months, reading texts, pondering their meanings, and praying about them.  My answer came as I read the Book of Mormon.  I have read it many times before, or out of it, but now I read it with a distinct interest in it's authenticity.  It's hard to describe the feelings I had at the time, but they confirmed my feeling that the Book of Mormon was true, and by extension the story of the Prophet Joseph Smith was true.  Of course I continued to pray about every aspect of the LDS doctrine, and received confirmation each time.  As I continued to study, I was struck with the way all aspects of the LDS faith fit within the principles of Faith and Repentance, and the importance of a line of authority for Baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit if you prefer, though the KJV of the Bible says Holy Ghost), which were the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  With it all fitting together so neatly, the Book of Mormon reinforcing the lessons I read from the Bible, and the confirmation I felt from God made it a logical choice.

So how can I base my whole faith on a feeling?  Well, if you believe in a Supreme Being, and this Supreme Being is one that is all knowing, all powerful, loving, good and kind, then you know that he will want you to trust him.  I personally don't believe faith comes from flashy displays of Divinity (based on my personal experiences), but rather faith is required for any divine "sign" to be given.  Therefore, once you start to exercise faith into action (such as praying, attending services, reading scriptures, being nice to your neighbor, etc.), you will receive a confirmation on whether or not that faith was well placed.  The more faith you develop and exercise, the stronger the confirmation.

So through my personal conversion story, I've learned that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true.  It teaches the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, is lead by Him through his appointed Prophet on the Earth.  I know this to be true, and I'm happy with that knowledge. 

But what does this mean?  There are a lot of principles that are followed in the Church that are often not understood.  Let me cover some of the main ones, and hopefully clarify what they are: 

  1. Is it true that Mormons do not drink?  Not even coffee?  Yes, it's true.  Why?  Because we believe in modern revelation, meaning that God will speak to us directly (when the matter is personal) and through his appointed Prophet (if it involves a larger body), we listen to the teachings of our Prophets.  Joseph Smith received such a revelation, which is called the Word of Wisdom.  Subsequent revelations have set a rule:  no alcohol, coffee, black tea to drink, tobacco to smoke or chew, or any drug abuse.  There is also guidance in how to eat healthy, get exercise, and so forth.  I see the ability to abstain as proof that I am free, as opposed to being restricted based on chemical stimulants. 
  2. Is it true that Mormons have more than one wife?  No.  But what about (insert polygamous group here)?  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has not practiced polygamy since 1896.  Groups that do are not members of the Church, and any member of the Church that does practice polygamy is not a member for long. 
  3. Why can't Mormon's do (insert something here)?  Okay, I get this a lot when someone finds out my religion.  They want to know why the Church prohibits something, or why people can't do something else.  Let me make one thing perfectly clear.  Everything you do in the Church is voluntary, which is to say the Church doesn't MAKE you do anything.  The Church has standards, just like any other religion.  Those standards are, essentially, the Ten Commandments.  Also included there is the Word of Wisdom (see number 1).  You have a choice to follow them, or not.  The Church doesn't break your kneecaps, publicly shame you, etc. 
  4. Why aren't Mormons Christians?  Well, we are, and very much so.  It is called the Church of Jesus Christ, after all.  We believe in God the Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.  So why have you heard that we are not Christians?  Well, because we also believe that, along with the Holy Bible (which, by the way, is excellent to read in the original Greek!), another record of Christ and his prophets has been made in the New World, and has been brought forth now as the Book of Mormon.  It also testifies of Christ, His mission on the Earth, and God's plan for Salvation for his children.  But to claim we are not Christian is very wrong, and shows a distinct lack of understanding (or willingness to understand) just who we are. 

There are a number of other questions I've gotten, but I will leave it there for now.  I hope this helps you understand the point of view I am coming from, particularly when I talk about Autism.  I'm a Believer, and proud of it.  If I don't mention my religion much after this, just know that it's because I don't see it as relevant, even more so after this post. 

If you have any questions about the Church or it's teachings, I would highly recommend you start by reading the Book of Mormon.  Then either contact your local meetinghouse, or the Missionaries in your area.  You can also post any questions you may have here, and even whether or not you want them made public (I can and will respect any private comments, if you mention you want to keep it private). 

January 12, 2011

Genetic Tests for Autism Now Introduced

Lineagen has developed the FirstStepDX genetic test that looks for common genetic markers for Autism and conditions that can result in autistic-like behavior (like Fragile X).  The genetic test has been developed specifically because early detection can lead to early intervention, which can lead to a better overall lifestyle for the child with Autism. 

The test has been first introduced in rural Utah, with amazing results.  It is about 70% accurate, which, short of an MRI scan, is the most accurate Autism medical test available.  The reason this is so important is because the genetic markers are there in the child well before Autism starts to show it's symptoms, which may not be until age 3.

But what is even more important here is that Autism can be detected through a genetic test, as opposed to hours of psychological analysis.  This saves time for the family, and also saves money for insurance coverage.  And that's the kicker, because if insurance companies can save money on a test that is medical, then they are more likely to cover it. 

So is there a down side to this test?  Well, depending on when the test is administered, there is a fear that parents may choose to abort a pregnancy (assuming it can be conducted before birth), or abandon a child in accordance with safe harbor laws.  The simple idea of that sickens me to think that anyone would treat their own child that way, but as people are known to do great acts of kindness, they are also known to do horrendous acts of evil. 

My personal take on the test is this:  IT'S A MEDICAL, GENETIC TEST!  That means Autism is a MEDICAL CONDITION, and therefore should be covered by insurance. 

So what do you think?

January 11, 2011

Closely Spaced Pregnancies and Autism: Does It Mean Anything?

Another day, another survey about Autism that the media is claiming is a cause.  This one is about closely spaced pregnancies and the likelihood of baring a child with Autism.  It seems that in a survey of 662,730 second-born children in general, parents were three times more likely to have a second-born child with Autism if the pregnancy were spaced less than three years apart.  Yet again, genetics were not taken into consideration, just passive observation. 

I've posted before about my, erm, thoughts about this type of passive observation.  Just like with anything, simple observation of a few facts without seeing the whole picture, such as genetics, cannot do much more than justify making a pitch for additional funding.  The article itself, which will be published in the journal Pediatrics in February (click to see web access to article) indicates that the goal of the survey was to compare pregnancy planning, and nothing else.  So, based on the data, they had to draw some conclusion, and that was the conclusion they made. 

So is it right?  Is it the cause?  Well, as it is a one in three chance, I don't think so.  Just like a previous survey on proximity to freeways during pregnancy term, a pattern was emerging.  But let's step back a bit, and see if there is another possible answer. 

Could it be that parents with genes associated with Autism may be slow at developing social skills, therefore marrying late and wanting to have children as quickly as possible?  I don't know, seems like a reasonable conclusion, but could only be identified by looking at genetic data along with these pregnancy spacing surveys.

Perhaps it's time we start looking at the whole story instead of just trying to look for environmental causes.  If I were to council parents now on whether or not to wait to have additional children, I would have them look at all the facts, family history, and then decide if waiting is something they can do, want to do, or perhaps is something they don't want at this time.  Right now this survey shows an interesting pattern, but no real, concrete connection to Autism in children.  Until then, look at it as at most an interesting pattern.

January 5, 2011

Disneyland and Autism: The Good and the Not So Good

Unlike many other amusement parks, Disneyland is perhaps the best place to go with your family, even if your child has Autism.  Sure, there are crowds, and sure, there are long lines, but for the most part Disney tries to make it as easy as possible for everyone.  But it's not perfect (like everything in this world), so let me give you a heads up on some of the experiences we had.

First, the Not So Good

World of Color:  Disney has a new attraction, the World of Color.  It's essentially Fantasmic without Mickey and the Dragon, or any other performers.  They do a water display at night and project scenes from movies while shooting colored lights through the water jets.  It's really cool, but unlike Fantasmic where you can sit down, everyone is standing.  When we went it was an hour's wait after getting a fast pass just to get placed, and then another half an hour until it started.  Both my kids were getting bored, and then it started.  My son with Autism was good with the loud music for about 20 minutes, but the display went on for 45 minutes.  It was just too much for him and we ended up leaving it early.  It wasn't bad, nor would I discourage anyone from seeing it, unless you have a little one that can't take the wait. 

Fantasmic:  We didn't get to see it this year, but then we didn't want to overwhelm our little ones.  It's a great performance with both light and characters, but it can be a little long if you are not prepared.  For our child with Autism, we often pull out the iPhone or iPods and let him focus on that instead of what is around him.  As long as he has something to focus on, he's good.  If you are sitting, and you are encouraged to sit for the performance, then it makes it easier to manage meltdowns.  I would recommend getting there at least an hour to an hour and a half early, sit at the restaurant there and eat while you are waiting.  It makes it that much more manageable. 

The Good

First and foremost it is best if you get a Guest Assistance pass.  This pass is available for anyone who has a hard time waiting in line.  I'm not talking about children who are just unruly, but children who are incapable of waiting in a long, crowded line.  Maybe they have Autism, or maybe they are claustrophobic, it works for them.  Have a physical disability?  It's there for you (and a number of other passes).  Also, for any person bound to a wheelchair, more rides are being fitted for wheelchairs, including Monster's Inc, It's A Small World, and the Toy Story Mania ride (if I remember right).  Expect more, similar rides to have a special car just for wheelchairs. 

The Guest Assistance pass acts as a Fast Pass for any ride that has one, and for those that don't (Pirates, Small World, and Finding Nemo are examples) you enter through either the Exit or designated Assistance lines.  If you are unsure of where to go, ask any employee you see.  If they don't know, they know who to ask. 

If you do get the pass, which is good for 5 guests, please don't abuse it.  If the line isn't too long, stay in line with everyone else.  If it is very long, take one ride and then move on to another.  Don't keep riding in front of all the other people who are waiting, because it breeds resentment, and that's one thing no one want's at an amusement park (least of all at Disneyland).  Be respectful of others when using your pass.  Also, the pass doesn't guarantee instant access, and you may still need to wait.  On New Year's Eve it was packed, and even the Assistance entrance had a long wait.  Just move on to another ride or experience.

Also, I would highly recommend the Crush Experience in California Adventures, which is awesome and children with Autism adore.  So much in fact that they tend to start talking after the event, a lot more than what is typical.  I can also recommend the Muppet Vision 3-D show, even without the glasses (they tend to give me a headache).  And a Bugs World is fun, along with any of the other rides there.  The Ferris Wheel may be a bit much for children with height issues, as can be Soarin' over California.  But other than those, the rides in California Adventures tends toward fun, as will the two new rides slated to open in 2011.  ^_^ 

So, which rides can I recommend?  It really depends on the likes and dislikes of your child, but here are the rides and experiences we tended to frequent:

Finding Nemo:  Both my boys loved this ride, and we ended up going every day, once a day.  I even took a recording of the ride, and though it's a little dark (no flash photography allowed, right?), my sons still watch it, riveted to their seats.  If you are claustrophobic it may not be the ride for you, but it is fun.  If it's too much for your child, you can get off before you start.  You may want to first try out the ride by watching a YouTube video of it with your child, and see how they react.

Haunted Mansion:  My kids make me so proud, they both love the Nightmare Before Christmas, and as a consequence of that they like the Haunted Mansion.  So much so that we ended up taking the ride every day, once a day.  Even packed this ride moves quickly, making it a very popular ride.  If your child has terror issues, this may not be the ride for them.  Try it out first by watching it on YouTube, just to see how they handle it. And keep in mind that it changes based on the season.  If your child or children cannot handle the typical ride but don't mind Nightmare Before Christmas, then you may want to plan a trip first during the Holidays, and then they should be good for the regular ride as well. 

Pirates of the Caribbean:  My youngest has height issues, and didn't like the initial falls in this ride, but after that loved it.  So much so that we went back for each day we there there, and twice on New Year's Day morning (best time to be in Disneyland, I might add!  Completely dead!).  It's not scary, and they enjoyed the relaxing boat rides.  But then both my children love water, so being on the boat was exciting enough.  Again, you may want to try out the ride on your child through YouTube.

Oh, and it is a boat ride, so there is a very good chance your seats will be wet.  So, unlike the jerks that rode behind us one night, don't complain and stand up in the boat.  If you don't want to get wet, don't ride.  If you are going to be a jerk about it to the employees and everyone else on the ride, do us all and yourself a favor don't come to Disneyland. 

It's A Small World/Storybook Land/Jungle Cruise:  These rides are all boat rides, so my kids loved them.  They also have placements of Disney characters throughout It's a Small World, making it a great ride for children that adore scavenger hunts.  See who can point out the most Disney characters, and name which films they are in.  And for the Holidays, I was surprised to see a Saint Lucy (Santa Lucia) figure, which was awesome.  Both Storybook Land and the Jungle Cruise are perhaps the most relaxing of all the rides, and were just a blast.  These rides are great for kids of all ages, because there is nothing even remotely scary about them. 

Fantasyland Rides:  All the rides in Fantasyland were favorites of both my kids, as they are geared to little ones.  The dark rides are not too scary, and they were fun.  Both my kids liked the Teacups, which is beyond me as they have not been my favorite.  They must have gotten that from their mother.  I would recommend them all. 

Tomorrowland:  All these rides were fun and exciting for my kids, with the exception of Space Mountain.  Not that it scared my oldest (the youngest is still too small to ride), but it wasn't a favorite of his.  All the other rides they love, and had a blast in Inoventions.  It's a great place to relax while one or the other is taking a nap on your shoulder and you need to sit down. 

Adventureland:  The surprise here was Tarzan's Treehouse.  Both my kids loved this one.  It was quiet, an easy stair climb, and gave them plenty to focus on.  You also get a great view of Thunder Mountain from the top. 

Frontierland:  The many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh ride was a favorite, as was waiting in line for Pooh and friends.  Occasionally you would see Briar Bear and Briar Fox, but the kids just don't know who they are as Song of the South has not been released.  We didn't go on either the Steamboat or the Galleon, nor did we try the canoes.  My oldest didn't like Splash Mountain, mostly because of the drop at the end (he loved it all up until that point). 

Toon Town:  This was great, and if definitely helps if you have the early Toon Town with Mickey voucher, meaning you can get in at 8:00 AM before it opens at 9:00 AM.  You can ride Gadget's roller coaster (the youngest just barely made it for this one!), Roger Rabbit's ride, and you get to see a presentation with the Mayor, Mickey.  Once done, you get special photos in Mickey's house with the Mayor.  My oldest didn't really like this, because Mickey wasn't in the Movie Barn like all the other times.  But while everyone else was at the presentation, we got to go through the character's houses with no one else there, which both sons enjoyed. 

So, if you got this far, you are probably thinking "Gee, what's so special about this?  My kids like/don't like those rides too."  Well, yeah, children with Autism are, first and foremost, children.  They like all the same things that other children like, they just don't like over stimulation, extensive waiting, and having to leave a ride they enjoy.  Children with Autism are just more intense about the emotions, and more likely to be overwhelmed by multiple stimuli.  But all in all, Disneyland can be a great trip suggestion for any child with Autism. 

January 4, 2011

Disneyland and the iPhone: The Apps and Video

For the holiday, my family went to first San Diego and Disneyland.  There is a lot I have to share about both trips in relation to both Apple products and Autism, but first let's talk about Disneyland.  It's fun, and it's REALLY BUSY around Christmas and New Year's.  So you will want to be prepared, both in knowing where you want to go and how long you will have to wait until you get there.  So here are a couple of apps that I can recommend. 

Skobbler US (free):  Turn by turn navigation is very important if you are not sure of where you are going, or how exactly to get there.  And Skobbler for the US is a great way to get there.  It's managed by a spinoff company from NAVIGON AG, and is completely free!  It uses the OpenStreetMap project, and is very accurate.  But, because it is open source, be prepared for some interesting events, such as being advised quite often to keep to the right on a freeway (my guess is someone wanted to keep the "fast lane" open).  Also, be sure of the spelling of your road, and aware of the iPhone's almost compulsive behavior of "fixing" your spelling.  You may also need to increase the voice volume, as it is by default very quiet.

Disneyland Maps (both free with ads and $1.99 without ads):  Once in the park, it's helpful to have a map.  You can grab the paper map, but how does that help you with wait times?  And how do you know where exactly you are in relation to a ride or restaurant?  Nope, interactive maps work great in this case, and Disneyland Maps is a great app for both. 

The map gives you locations of all rest rooms (in blue), restaurants (in green), and rides (in red).  And the rides will have wait times listed, if one has been posted.  How do they get wait times posted?  They are posted by users of the app within the app.  So, if someone else in the park is using the map, you are set.  If not, at least you know exactly where everything is located.  The only thing really missing from this is menu offerings at the various in park restaurants.  Perhaps in later renditions.

Something else I learned:  taking video with your iPhone is very dark on most rides (as you are discouraged from using a flash), but 13 minutes of video is about 550 MB of space, to that should give you about 3 hours of recording time in 7 GB of free space.  I'll talk about recording and recording options when I talk about the Autism aspect of Disneyland. 

So, does anyone else have a favorite app for the iPhone at Disneyland? 

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