May 2011 Archives

May 26, 2011

Hacking Autism

Article first published as Hacking Autism on Technorati.

One thing that most experts in the autism community can agree with is that those on the spectrum tend to perform well with computers. In fact, many special education teachers have found a lot of technology to be of use in the classroom. For instance, our son's teacher has computers that teach letters, reading, colors, shapes, etc. But resources are few, and often expensive.

Hence, enter Hacking Autism, a social initiative that was announced at the Maker Faire by Phil McKinney, the CTO of HP's Personal Systems Group.

Hacking Autism is a place where software developers and parents or specialists who need apps for those on the spectrum can get together and work out projects for their needs. The idea is to provide software tools for free (or at least with a free trial), thereby giving those on the spectrum assistance through technology.

The overall benefit for any company willing to invest time and effort in this project is name recognition and up-selling of other projects that may be related. The benefit for the community is, hopefully, the explosion of free apps that otherwise may not be created and/or may not be found.

For those looking for applications, web tools, mobile apps, etc., this will become a huge repository for software. It will make locating apps easier, having a single point of reference instead of searching through various websites in a vain attempt to find the tool you need. It also means getting software that actually accomplishes your goal, because you as a user can submit an idea for an application to the software developers who are registered.

It's a great idea. I like the focus that is placed on need as opposed to development, free as opposed to really expensive (autism is expensive enough with ABA therapies), and multi-platform as opposed to a single type of computer (Windows vs. Mac, iOS vs. Android, etc). Finally, it shows a level of trust in the development community to be willing to help satisfy the needs of those who are struggling to better understand the world around them.

A special thanks to HP for introducing this idea to the world, and to those developers who have already signed up. I am cautiously optimistic with this project, and hope to see it reach out and embrace those families who are struggling to find tools to better serve their members on the spectrum.

May 20, 2011

Bullying and Autism

Every parent of an child with Autism has a fear, that their child will be bullied constantly by other children.  I saw it happen with my older brother, and I fear that it will happen with my son.

Children can be very mean, particularly in those years that comprise Junior High (7th to 9th grade).  Kids are just starting to figure out who they are, and as such many feel they can best define themselves by picking on others.

Medscape news posted an article on bullying, and why children with Autism are more likely to be victims.  It seems that children with Autism are more likely to react emotionally, which just feeds the bully's ego.  They can control something by pushing buttons, and as such know they can continue to bully the child to get the same reaction.

When I was growing up, teachers and administrators were not prepared to deal with the bullying of children with Autism, mostly because Autism was not widely known.  They would often punish the child getting bullied, because they would try to defend themselves.  To someone coming late into the situation, the child reacting often looks the aggressor.  This is simple baiting, and it happens quite often.

So what is a parent to do?  Well, first, they need to talk with the teachers and administrators at the school their child is attending.  Most schools have a zero tolerance policy for bullying, when it is caught.  They need to be made aware of the potential for bullying based on the child's special needs.  Often teachers and administrators are willing to keep an eye out, once forewarned.  Second, parents need to pay attention to their child.  Children on the Spectrum generally do not talk, or don't mention anything they don't find relevant to the situation.  That includes being bullied at school, because it doesn't fit in the situation of "home".  So parents need to be aware of their child's behavior while at school and at home.

Another solution is to look for schooling that is less "public".  I don't mean you need to enroll your child into a private school, because often that can be just as problematic.  No, I mean look for a special school specifically for those on the Spectrum.  Salt Lake City has one, and it is a Charter school (meaning it is run with public school funds).  It's ideal because it helps children through their formative years with one on one attention from staff.  That, of course, means less of a chance of getting bullied.

Online learning can also be of benefit, as it blends the rigor of a structured classroom with the convenience of home schooling.  Utah also has a Virtual Academy, which is essentially a Charter school online.  They do mention there are special programs for children on the Spectrum, though I have yet to hear from the specialist I was supposed to contact.  Not that I would worry about that now for my son (he's just finishing up Kindergarten), but it is something I would easily consider for his Junior High years at least.

There are lots of options to help parents protect their children.  Each is great, depending on the needs of the child, and the best remedy for any bullying issue is parental awareness.  Kids may not want to share the fact that they are being bullied, but if parents are aware and alert, they can help stop it from ever becoming a problem.

May 19, 2011

A Case Against The Cloud: Local Servers and Security

When Amazon's cloud network went down, there was a panic on the Internet.  Several well known and professional services were down for hours, if not days, and we were reminded once again just how fragile the Internet can be.  With all the push for "cloud" computing, this seemed to be a huge argument against it.  Couple it with the recent hacking of the Playstation Network and Android's revelation of authenticating users in clear text internally, and I began to think again about security on the Internet.  Sure, it's convenient to pay someone else to host your services, email, etc, so that you can access that data on the go anywhere, but what control do you have over that data?  In a private world, it's not that big of a deal, but in the professional world privacy and security are crucial to business operations.  Providing security for the data is a top priority, and if you can't rely on your hosting service, on whom can you rely?The obvious answer is to host the services yourself, in your own server farm.  But this can be expensive when you consider the costs of data connections, bandwidth, power requirements, and air-conditioning to keep the server room comfortable with all that heat pumping out from the computers.  And then you need to monitor the servers' performance, keep them up to date, patch them with security patches when necessary, reboot them if needed, etc.  All the expense that caused businesses to farm out their services to dedicated service hosts in the first place.  So what is the answer?  I'm not sure there is one, to be frank.  Bandwidth is becoming less of an issue, as more municipalities add fiber optic connections (e.g. UTOPIA), and less power consumption has become a priority with chip makers like Intel, making the power bill for servers less of a headache.  That also means less power being converted into heat, so air conditioning needs are dramatically reduced.  But there is still the cost of the administration team to keep and manage the servers. But what is the alternative?  I doubt something this big will happen to Amazon again, and even smaller service sites will be better served by the failure on April 21st as they make sure they don't have the same problem.  But what control do you have over your services?  Let's take a simple thing like email as an example.  If you use Google Gmail, then your emails are stored on their servers. But what if they are hacked, and your email is then taken?  It's remote, but it could happen (as it has in the past).  If you keep your email internal, or even have two email services, one for internal mail and one for a public communication service, you then control your internal mail content.  Perhaps I'm just being paranoid, or over cautious, but it's something to think about.  There are huge benefits to the cloud and being able to access your desktop/service/files anywhere you need them.  But there are potential costs as people with nefarious intent/nothing better to do will try to attack and glean anything they can from big service providers.  It's a dilemma I'm working on for my own potential startup, and one that I think should be taken seriously before I put my infrastructure in place. So what do you think?  Am I just being paranoid?  What would you do, if you were starting a business and security was something very important to that business?

May 12, 2011

Life After High School: Autism in College

Article first published as Life After High School: Autism in College on Technorati.

To date the discussion of autism has been primarily on the load that is weighing down our public elementary school system. The number of children being diagnosed, the number of children in need of special handling or exceptions, all have become a growing concern to the school system. It then spreads upward to secondary schools for a continuation of those same services. Then what?

There are a number of adults with autism, many of them undiagnosed, and they are also in need of assistance. Many of them are already in college, or at least looking to go eventually, but are not aware of the services that many colleges and universities offer.

As a test, I checked here locally at the University of Utah (of which I am an employee), to see what services are available. Their services are provided through the Center for Disability Services, which is located in the Union building, first floor, in the very back hallway. It's a small office, but don't let that fool you.

So what services do they offer? First and foremost they offer general advising. That is, help in planning their academic future. They will investigate the student's academic strengths and weaknesses to help plan what program would be the best fit for them. They can also refer the student of various other campus and community services that may be available. Utah is not well known for the services they offer, but those that are offered are very welcome to those on the spectrum.

If necessary, they can act as a liaison between the student and faculty or other departments for accommodation needs. They identify the ideal learning strategies for the student, and provide assistance when needed. They can also assist in registration and admissions.

Test taking is very important, because departments need to provide some method of measuring what has been learned. The Center will provide accommodations for test taking (verbal reading of the questions, scribes, and test taking technologies), offer note taker or interpreter services as needed, and so on. They can also provide text books in alternative formats if necessary (such as braille). They also work with adaptive technologies to further the student's learning ability. And, of course, they can work with the student to receive scholarships.

The one thing that the student needs to provide for these services is documented diagnoses for their related disabilities. For autism, that can be a bit of a problem, as many children and adults live without a diagnosis. All the more reason to utilize the University's student counseling center to find a good psychologist that can make such a diagnosis. At that point, the services are available to anyone.

This, of course, is just the University of Utah. All state schools are required to comply with the accommodations outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act, and should provide similar services. Some provide more, but I can't imagine any providing less (and not getting a lawsuit).

So if you are wondering what would be the best school to attend for your young adult on the Spectrum, check first to see what services are offered. You may be surprised by the options available.

May 11, 2011

Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Review: What It Really Means

Article first published as Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Review: What It Really Means on Technorati..

There has been a recent preliminary review that has gotten a lot of press lately, as a claim to proof that vaccines do cause Autism. The claim is shocking, as just about every clinical, double-blind study (not falsified with fraudulent data) has conclusively shown that there is no link between Autism and vaccines. Yet still this persists, and now a "Study" can be pulled from the court cases of the Vaccine Courts to prove it. At least that is the claim of many websites, so many in fact that it's becoming a popular link to share.

So, what can one do but review the data? 

The article is very telling. It mentions the past compensation offered by the Vaccine Courts to children with symptoms that can accompany Autism, and then the immediate denial of Autism directly as a cause. They then continue to question the fairness of the vaccine courts in an attempt to identify inconsistencies in the rulings. Nowhere does it claim that vaccines cause Autism, or have any relation to the condition. In fact, on page 482, fourth paragraph down, they say, "This assessment of compensated cases showing an association between vaccines and autism is not, and does not purport to be, science." All the authors point out is that the "finding raises fundamental questions about the integrity, transparency, and fairness of this forum."

So what is the article all about? 83 cases of damage related to Autism had been ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and now the Vaccine Courts no longer rule in that favor. They are just drawing attention to this fact in order to call for a review of the courts themselves.

So what does it mean to the rest of us? Vaccines are still not the cause of Autism, and we need to let that argument go. Worry about what to do for your children instead of who you can sue. The review is there to call into question the legal grounds of each dismissed case, not the scientific causes of Autism.

Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Review: What It Really Means

Article first published as Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Review: What It Really Means on Technorati..

There has been a recent preliminary review that has gotten a lot of press lately, as a claim to proof that vaccines do cause Autism. The claim is shocking, as just about every clinical, double-blind study (not falsified with fraudulent data) has conclusively shown that there is no link between Autism and vaccines. Yet still this persists, and now a "Study" can be pulled from the court cases of the Vaccine Courts to prove it. At least that is the claim of many websites, so many in fact that it's becoming a popular link to share.

So, what can one do but review the data? 

The article is very telling. It mentions the past compensation offered by the Vaccine Courts to children with symptoms that can accompany Autism, and then the immediate denial of Autism directly as a cause. They then continue to question the fairness of the vaccine courts in an attempt to identify inconsistencies in the rulings. Nowhere does it claim that vaccines cause Autism, or have any relation to the condition. In fact, on page 482, fourth paragraph down, they say, "This assessment of compensated cases showing an association between vaccines and autism is not, and does not purport to be, science." All the authors point out is that the "finding raises fundamental questions about the integrity, transparency, and fairness of this forum."

So what is the article all about? 83 cases of damage related to Autism had been ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and now the Vaccine Courts no longer rule in that favor. They are just drawing attention to this fact in order to call for a review of the courts themselves.

So what does it mean to the rest of us? Vaccines are still not the cause of Autism, and we need to let that argument go. Worry about what to do for your children instead of who you can sue. The review is there to call into question the legal grounds of each dismissed case, not the scientific causes of Autism.

Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Review: What It Really Means Read more: http://technorati.com/women/article/vaccine-injury-compensation-program-review-what/#ixzz1M3H5ZM21

Article first published as <a href='http://technorati.com/women/article/vaccine-injury-compensation-program-review-what/'>Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Review: What It Really Means</a> on Technorati.

There has been a recent preliminary review that has gotten a lot of press lately, as a claim to proof that vaccines do cause Autism. The claim is shocking, as just about every clinical, double-blind study (not falsified with fraudulent data) has conclusively shown that there is no link between Autism and vaccines. Yet still this persists, and now a "Study" can be pulled from the court cases of the Vaccine Courts to prove it. At least that is the claim of many websites, so many in fact that it's becoming a popular link to share.

So, what can one do but review the data? 

The article is very telling. It mentions the past compensation offered by the Vaccine Courts to children with symptoms that can accompany Autism, and then the immediate denial of Autism directly as a cause. They then continue to question the fairness of the vaccine courts in an attempt to identify inconsistencies in the rulings. Nowhere does it claim that vaccines cause Autism, or have any relation to the condition. In fact, on page 482, fourth paragraph down, they say, "This assessment of compensated cases showing an association between vaccines and autism is not, and does not purport to be, science." All the authors point out is that the "finding raises fundamental questions about the integrity, transparency, and fairness of this forum."

So what is the article all about? 83 cases of damage related to Autism had been ruled in favor of the plaintiff, and now the Vaccine Courts no longer rule in that favor. They are just drawing attention to this fact in order to call for a review of the courts themselves.

So what does it mean to the rest of us? Vaccines are still not the cause of Autism, and we need to let that argument go. Worry about what to do for your children instead of who you can sue. The review is there to call into question the legal grounds of each dismissed case, not the scientific causes of Autism.

May 10, 2011

iPhone App Pet-Peeve: The Splash Screen

I am a huge fan of iOS devices.  I have both an iPhone and an iPad, and both my kids have an iPod Touch.  Why?  Because they are easy to use, quite prolific in apps, and are extremely powerful in their versatility.  But one problem I'm seeing with many of the high-end games, is the need for splash screens.  They are annoying, take forever to get past, and are there purely for advertisement.  And they had no real value to the application.

I understand why they are there.  They advertise collaboration between production houses, are meant to build brand loyalty, and sometimes they provide time for the game to load.  They provide a venue to increase brand awareness based on association.  This works great with console games, where a purchase is made in a store and brand is important.  Same with PC games, as brand identifies the company within a physical store.  The mild wait for a program to load while going through splash screens can be a little annoying, but tolerable in these instances (for many, though not for me).

Unfortunately, this is completely counter to the design of an iOS device.  The idea behind these devices is to get out of the way and let you do what you need to do.  Notes opens directly into the first page of the Notes notebook.  iCal will open to the calendar view.  Even many of the writing apps ia Writer open directly into the writer app.  None of them give you a splash screen with the company's name.  Why?  Because you already have the app, and you can find that information in the App Store if you need it.

My personal pet-peeve with the splash screen is the long duration that often cannot be bypassed by tapping.  When you are on an iOS device, unlike a PC game or a Console game, you don't have the guarantee of uninterrupted play for hours.  A phone call could come up, or you may just be on during a long commute, and will need to turn it off to work on another task.  Splash screens take up valuable time that could be spent enjoying the game.  For a console or computer game this would generally be a small portion of your time.  But for an iOS device, it could happen quite often.  And so, what is generally a minor annoyance quickly becomes a reason not to play that particular game.  Why should I, when I can start enjoying another game without a splash screen in less time?

Now, of course, this is just my personal opinion, and represents my own experiences of needing to quickly jump between apps on my devices throughout the day.  Splash screens just take up too much time, and I find myself gravitating away from high quality games from well known production houses because of it.

May 9, 2011

Autism, Bolting, and Progress

Article first published as Autism, Bolting, and Progress on Technorati.Recently, it was reported that the peak age at which children with Autism bolt is four years old. Some will outgrow the bolting stage, and some do not. We are lucky that our son has started to grow out of the bolting age. When we had our son tested at age 3, he would start running and wouldn't stop. He would take off regularly, so much so we couldn't trust him to walk without a hand in ours. and he would just run, never looking back. Sometimes he would stop and look back to see if we were following, but not as a result of us calling. It was frightening.There were times when we thought we would lose our son. Some times when he would leave the house and then wander the neighborhood, passing the busy street two or so times before we could find him. Other times when he would dash out toward the road when a car was coming. Because he is generally silent, we would immediately search through the house and the street. This is when I have felt the intense grip of panic.This continued until just recently, for three long years. But recently, he has started to head our calls. He will look back when we call to him, he will follow directions when given (like "go to the car"), and he will stop running when called. Another benefit from this change is his new focus on the task. I am thoroughly convinced this is the exult of is excellent teachers, as well as our constant focus on relating a task name with an action. He now focuses on what he is told, though he is still easily distracted (but then, he is only 6). Still it is a welcome change. So for all those parents out there that are going through something similar, know that it can get better. At least, it did for us.

May 5, 2011

The Last of a Generation: The End of the Great War

MSNBC reported today that the last known veteran of World War I has passed away.  This marks an end of an era, one that is profound in it's impact on the world at large.  When I read the headline, I was struck by that remark.  The war that was supposed to end all wars now lost it's last living representative.

We live in a world of, what seems, constant war with the United States currently in Iraq and Afghanistan, Libya at war with herself, the Middle East clamoring for freedom.  It seems that everyone wants to get a piece of the world as their own, or dominate someone else.  It's so easy to get caught up in the world stage that the cost of war is often lost.  WWI was supposed to change all that, as the League of Nations was to be the governing body that would mediate any differences between nations.

The Great War, was it was called, has always fascinated me.  The circumstances that lead to it, the managing of the war, and the 20 year peace in between that changed the world without the world knowing.  It was supposed to be a war of Gentlemen, yet those gentlemen were mostly slaughtered.  Americans were late coming to the war, and though I would like to think we had a hand in bringing it to a swift conclusion, we didn't feel the loss that Europe felt.

And now, all those with a living memory of fighting in the war have passed away.  Debt from the war lingers, scars on the old battlefields linger, but memories fade.  Just like that.  It's sad, because when the memory fades and history (or historians) are allowed to write their own versions of events, we risk repeating those same mistakes.

Personally, I felt a loss when I read that Claude Stanley Choules of Western Australia passed away.  Not because I knew who he was, but because of what he represents.  He represents the last man to know of the senseless slaughter WWI had caused.  In reading the article, I saw that he was a pacifist, and refused to march in veteran parades to commemorate wars.  To me, that speaks volumes to the reasons of WWI.

I fully support our service men and women, because they are all dedicated to protecting our country and the freedoms we enjoy.  I support their efforts to bring peace, prosperity, and freedom to others are they are instructed, either rightly or wrongly, by our leaders.  But most of all, I see them as living reminders of the cost of war.  They should be a living reminder to those who would make war, to remind them that just because a cause seems just, it needs to be worth the cost if it is to be right.

To all our service men and women out there, I want you to know that my family does pray for you, to keep you safe in your duties, and to return you home to your own families, whole and unharmed.  And to the family of Claude Stanley Choules, I want to give you my condolences, for his is a significant loss for the World.  One can only hope that we have learned something from his constant, silent reminder.

May 4, 2011

The Family: Existing Support Infrastructure for Autism

Article first published as The Family: Existing Support Infrastructure for Autism on Technorati.

Autism as a diagnosis seems to be on the rise. Estimates have changed from one in 150 children in the United States, to now one in 110. That means that it's an epidemic, right? We are seeing more diagnoses, an epidemic, right? This very thought has paralyzed government, schools, and even health insurance companies, as the cost of autism therapies can be staggering.

Not true, according to the study by several UK universities, as reported by Medpage Today. It seems that there are just as many adults today with autism are there are children: about one percent, or close to one in one hundred. But how? How has this number eluded so many researchers for so many years? Quite frankly, it's because no one thought to ask.

You see, autism is still a new concept that defines a set of criteria. Right now, it's applied to a set of behaviors that were defined by Leo Kanner. But these behaviors have existed for generations. They have been documented as early as 1566, and have mystified people for generations. It is only now, now that psychology has grown out of the realm of mesmerizers and in the direction of science, that we can start to understand. Now we know about the spectrum, how wide it is, and what behaviors to look for in the diagnosis.

Autism is common, and has been for generations, a fact we can find reassurance in. Relief in knowing that instances are not increasing, just that it is being more noticed. It also lets us know that an infrastructure can be put in place to help those with autism learn to manage their own lives, while also providing options for those that cannot manage on their own.

Ideally, this would mean providing therapies, learning sessions, etc. that can all become very expensive. When you look at the costs of occupational therapy, sensory therapy, speech therapy, and special needs teachers, it becomes staggering. This is exactly the sort of cost our politicians, city administrators, and school officials see when they are faced with the daunting task of providing services for those on the spectrum.

But they don't see the infrastructure that already exists, or at least should exist, and that is the family. Parents have always been there for their children. Some go a little overboard, some may not be there at all, but in general most parents are willing to do what they can for their child. This existing infrastructure is powerful, because with the right training, parents can be just as effective as occupational therapists, speech therapists, and the like. Once they know what to do, they are out there doing it.

There is a lot of good work being done to identifying causes of autism, and perhaps one day there will be treatments that can make it more manageable for those who need it. But for right now, there are children and adults that need us to focus on helping them in their present situation. Give the family the power, and marvelous things can happen.

May 3, 2011

Autism: Living With the Fear of the Unknown

People fear and hate what they don't understand. This is a given, and has played itself out throughout history. From the attacks of religious "mysteries" in the Ancient world to modern day fear around, well, just about everything, we seem to thrive on the thrill of fear. We even have a whole industry in the media designed to either insight panic or deliberately scare us through fictional movies. Autism is no exception.

It has been almost 70 years since Leo Kanner first used Autism as a diagnosis, and defined what we see as the "typical" behavioral symptoms of Autism. Since then theories have run the gambit from schizophrenia as the cause to poor parenting. With every new theory, someone gets hurt, someone gets offended, and everyone becomes afraid of their child being different.

While the first diagnosis of Autism was made in 1943, there are many documented examples of children who would later be diagnosed as being on the Spectrum. Because they were seen as children without souls or possessed by evil spirits, early treatments were generally harsh. And it seems that even today harsh treatments continue, even in our "more enlightened" age.

Why? Because we fear the unknown. We don't know what Autism is, just the results of it. We have people, children and adults, that seem to ignore all those around them. They do not make social connections, because they don't know how. Stuff that is natural to a neurotypical person, like catching and mimicking body language, is foreign to a person with Autism. And because they are so different and we don't know why, we are afraid of them.

So what happens when your child is diagnosed as being on the spectrum? I can only speak for myself, but it begins with going through the stages of grief. I worked my way through all seven stages, from denial to final acceptance. At that point, we as parents have a crossroads to match. We need to decide what to do. Do we blame others, look for a scapegoat? Or do we take the responsibility on ourselves to do what is right for our children and help them succeed? The answer is obvious, as every parent wants their child to succeed. So that means we work, and we work hard with our children to make sure they learn those necessary skills to succeed in life. As they say in the movies, "fear is not an option".

So let me reach out to all you parents out there who are looking for answers in your child's Autism diagnosis. Don't fear it, don't hate it. Accept it. Your child, after all, is in great company with some of the greatest minds of History. Embrace it, and never give up.

Read more: http://technorati.com/women/article/autism-how-to-live-with-the/page-2/#ixzz1LIWJd6UH

May 2, 2011

New Opportunity: Now Posting for Technorati!

I've recently been invited to contribute to Technorati, as blog aggregation site that provides original content.  It's a great opportunity to practice my craft with a real editor, learn to make more interesting, gripping, and useful posts, and gain recognition as a writer.  It's a huge opportunity, and one I'm looking forward to with gusto.  Most of the posts that I make for Technorati will also be posted here, though Technorati will come first.

I'm really excited to be working with the staff at Technorati, and hope to learn as much as I can.  When my first post is published, I will let you know!

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