Sunday, August 11, 2013

Three Things Autism Cure Culture Does to Individuals and Families

Today’s world is bombarded by ‘autistic people’ and parents who claim they have been ‘cured’ or ‘recovered’ by diets, sauna therapies, and other home grown remedies created by parents with little or no training on autism.  Late thirties Raun Kaufman claims his parents home-grown play-based therapy helped cure him of his autism and has made a fortune on his group Autism Therapy Association while some doctor’s question whether or not Raun was ever autistic at all.  Jenny McCarthy, using her credentials gained from her being a Playboy centerfold, claims her son was cured after she gave him a chelatin diet.  Her claims that vaccines cause autism has caused thousands of parents to endanger and lose their children who subsequently were not vaccinated.  Anti-vaccine activists have ‘edited’ MRI vaccine inventor Paul A. Offit’s Wikipedia page to say he studied at a pig farm in Toad Suck, Arkansas when in fact he has a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University and an M.D. from the University of Maryland (Jenny meanwhile proudly claims she has her degree from the University of Google).  Offit’s opponents have subsequently sent him death threats over the phone and envelopes filled with anthrax.  When I check my e-mails I will sometimes see e-mails titled Autism Lawsuits in my spam folder, against doctor’s who administer vaccines in America’s already crumbling health care system.  Cannabis magazine featured on it's front page an article called Autism and Cannabis: How Prohibition Makes it Tough on Parents.  Maybe the thousands of autistic people who have ended up on drugs have developed better social skills. 
Today many parents of autistic people feel guilt when their own child doesn’t develop as he/she should and struggle financially and emotionally to get their children the therapies necessary to do so.

                When put under a magnifying glass, maybe we should ask what these stories of ‘amazing recoveries’ really do?  For starters, here’s a few things you may have overlooked:

1)      Autistic people are maimed, injured, and even killed by applied ‘cures.’  An eight-year old autistic boy, Terrence Cottel Jr. was put under a blanket while a minister performed an exorcism to vanquish the demon supposedly causing his autism.  What this accomplished was Terrence suffocated under the blanket and subsequently died.  Despite widespread outrage over what the exorcism caused, the minister was given a slap on the wrist.

2)      Increased guilt among parents of autistic children.  When parents see these ‘cures’ shown in the media, the wonder Why can’t I do the same?  This guilt, already out of control by their children’s struggles, can make it hard for parents to give their autistic and non-autistic children the love and support they need to grow and develop.

3)      Increased financial stress.  Autism services, not provided by health insurance or schools, are expensive and difficult for parents to acquire.  Yet many gullible and unsuspecting parents, many with little education or income, will pay heavy for ‘therapies’ that supposedly cure their children’s autism.

Clearly it is questionable whether the cure autism culture has any real merit.  Moreover, Jenny McCarthy and Raun Kaufman clearly ignore the facts that autistic people are fully human with strengths, feelings, and talents like anyone else.  For more information on the subject, you can check out Paul Offit’s book Autism’s False Prophets, which unlike Jenny McCarthy’s and Raun Kaufman’s writings, is based off extensive research and training and does not rely on sex appeal, Wikipedia abuse, or death threats to doctors.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Will Autism Services Really Cost Us More?

…Freedom is much cheaper than oppression.
                                                -Desmond Tutu

                You may have heard of the idea of autism being covered by health insurance and them all being guaranteed the right supports in school.  You will undoubtedly have heard one thing involved in it: costs! 
                The notion that providing for or granting equality to certain groups of people has been used against every disenfranchised group whether gays, blacks, women, Filipinos-just about everyone you can think of.  With that, here’s a radical idea I could suggest: maybe it would be more expensive to NOT provide autistic people with equal access to society.
                It’s no secret that autistic people suffer from a wide range of social and cultural problems: depression, drug abuse, alcoholism, crime, unemployment, and underemployment.  Over the long term what all these can cost our society can amount to having to pay more than it would cost to pay for inclusion that could prevent so many of these things.  Unemployment and underemployment lower our per capita gain.  Autistic people too often possess all the professional skills necessary for many jobs, which grow businesses creating jobs, yet lack the social skills which autism therapies could rectify.  Furthermore, when people abuse drugs and alcohol, it costs our government a lot to prosecute, imprison, and convict them. 
The biggest myth ever proposed by politicians is that autism insurance coverage would cost insurance companies.  Yet the fact is the very things they can provide would actually prevent health problems among autistics that arise from lack of social development among autistics such as lack of independence leading to poorer hygiene and lack of good diet that often leads to diabetes and other health complications.  Stress and lack of toilet training resulting from unaddressed autism can lead to bladder problems and urinary infections.  Drug and alcohol abuse arise as a result of low self-esteem due to lack of friends due to lack of social development.  To be fair, being against autism exclusion is not being against budget cuts.  It’s merely against budget cuts that don’t include them.  Providing for anyone is costly but a question that has to be asked is Why are some people paid for while others are not.  Another question that deserves to be answered or at least be food for thought, is Would we rather pay more to keep a person out, or less to give them access to society.  It seems that the government doesn’t want to pay dues to the autistic rights movement it’s spent years opposing, not money. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Dharma of Waverly Place: Selena Gomez Character Shows Buddhist Psychology

Since I’ve had Tyler as a roommate, I’ve grown used to watching Wizards of Waverly Place but when a commercial was playing on Disney about an episode where one of the main characters, a sarcastic teenage girl named Alex (played by Selena Gomez) casts a spell on herself that makes all the parts people don’t like about her put into a cell where they are trapped and it later comes back to get her, something started to seem familiar.  Like the way Buddhism teaches energy cannot be destroyed, even though Alex’s less likeable traits don’t show up in her, they still exist.  Also, doesn’t Alex’s behavior seem sort of familiar to what we do every day (most of us at least) at least unconsciously?  Haven’t we all been told, by school, parents, religion, work, etc., that certain things about ourselves are not acceptable and put them into a little box where they can be contained so that they won’t show up when they’re not wanted?  And then they just seem to come out at us when we least expect it, causing embarrassment in our personal and professional lives.

                According to a documentary The Shadow Effect (which is not Buddhist, by the way, but has teachings in it that are similar to Buddhism) we all repress some part of ourselves that we are told is inappropriate and then later they come back at us and embarrass us in our lives.  In Britain, a social worker finally snapped from the pressures of his job and restrained a twenty-year old woman with learning difficulties.  Other examples of this can be seen in politicians, celebrities, and clergymen.  Alex in Wizards of Waverly Place puts her unwanted characteristics in a mirror just as we put them in a pit in our gut and never let them out and likewise, Alex’s alter ego comes out to get her.  But what do we do about this “shadow side?”

                In meditation, we look at ourselves without judging or condemning.  Even though a voice in our head may say something about who are at that point, we realize those thoughts are not who we are and we let them come and go without holding onto them.  Our “negative sides” are merely traumas we are reliving every day in our heads but meditation helps people to transform those traumas into wisdom.  These “traumas” are energy and energy cannot be destroyed, according to both Buddhism and science.  But through meditation, our traumas need not remain what they are because energy does not stay in one state forever, and neither do our traumas.

Zen Huna: Enlightenment Lessons of Sharkboy and Lavagirl

True, I don’t normally watch a movie like Sharkboy and Lavagirl, but like Spy Kids, things about it caught my attention for their Buddhist significance as my roommate watched it in our dorm.  The movie revolves around a boy named Max who invents a dream world which he records in his dream journal.  One day, after a particularly bad day of school, people from his dream world, Sharkboy and Lavagirl, find him at school and take him his dream world.


“Life is but a dream.”


               Buddhists have sayings, “Life is a dream,” “Reality is an illusion.”  This is often taken to mean that whatever’s going on isn’t real.  We’ve just created it with our minds and not being able to get out of it is a sign of weakness.  This is not true.  On the contrary, Buddhist really believe something more like this, “A dream is reality.”  The problem is the differences between Western and Buddhist languages, such as Pali, Chinese, or Tibetan.  When I took Exploring World Religions, Eastern Civilization, and Religions of the East at Johnson County Community College all with the same teacher summed up the worldview of the Chinese, “Experience vs. Order.”  The way these languages work I guess is that the category something belongs in doesn’t precede the thing itself.  For example, saying, “I am tall,” is basically the same thing as saying, “Tall is me.”

Buddhists don’t believe reality is an illusion.  Rather something starts as an illusion and becomes reality.  A Buddhist saying states that, “With our minds, we create the world.”  Take a child who’s been told for years that he will misbehave by his parents and he later does.  Children learn from elders. 

Another example would be the process of creative visualization made popular in the West by writer Shakti Gawain.  One simply visualizes something happening for it to take place.  The theory being is that it trains people to do the things that cause these things to happen.  Celebrities such as Tiger Woods, Will Smith, and Jim Carrey stated they have all used visualization to help them achieve their goals.  Will Smith imagined no longer living in poverty and that became a reality with his film and television successes.  Jim Carrey stated once that in 1994, he wrote a check to himself for “services in acting.”  In 1995, he received that amount of money he wrote to himself for starring in the movie Dumb and Dumber.

The world we inhabit is more or less a product of our minds.  Saying this, it should be noted that it does not mean it is the product we intended.  But what goes on in the world is more or less a product of what our mind has believed.  When we fear the results of our tests, they may turn out to be unsatisfactory.  We may think we’re going to find love, but really we’re only doing it because we think if we don’t, we’ll be miserable, and often times we are.  An Eastern axiom states that the world is a projection.  Take a social worker whose performance is called unsatisfactory and the social worker believes him and she takes it to be a remark about her personally.  She may not be the one who called herself that in the first place, but in believing so, she considers her critic to be making her feel unhappy with her performance, when really the only one making her feel so unhappy with herself is her.  Maybe she reacted that way because she is unhappy with herself.  Be defining herself as a social worker, her feelings of how other’s perceive her are based on how they see her doing her job.  Without this view of herself that she has created, no coworkers comment could be able to hurt her so much inside.

Spy Satori

Spy Kids isn’t normally the kind of movie I would watch.  But as I heard the actions and the dialogue as my roommate, Tyler watched it in our dorm, there were some things that caught my attention in it, apart from the brilliant performances of Mike Judge.  God, he is great.

                What eventually struck me as significant about this movie is the premise where a menace wrecks chaos by trying and failing to go back in time.  At the end of the movie it is said by one of the children that the menace cannot go back in time, merely create different versions of himself that exist in a similar scenario as the past.  It’s true.  You can’t travel back in time, or forward.  The only time that exists is now.


Innocence of Children


             At one point in the movie, the stepmother of the kids tells them that the Spy Kids program was created by the government because adults dawdle in taking action since they over think things.  According to Buddhism, unhappiness is created when we don’t participate in this moment.  Experiences we have make it much harder to take part in the now as we get older because they shape our views so much.  After they occur, we feel like reliving them again when similar things happen.  And when different types of situations occur, we reflect on how things used to be.  Of course, we can’t just be na├»ve for the rest of our lives.  We have to grow and mature.  Present awareness is hard work but once our present situation is lived at this moment, we no longer have to view it with the same feeling we learned from doing it before.  Christ, interestingly enough, said to his followers, “You must become children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”  The Celtic people had a concept of “the Wise Child.”  Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki said that, “Zen minds are like beginner’s minds.” They are very fresh.  What’s best is we don’t have to forget all are experiences or start things completely anew to be like “Zen minds.”  We simply have to stop lumping old experiences with new ones and transcend the conceptual mind.  This is not to say we must stop having names for things, but we need to understand the Buddhist principle of Sunyatta, or emptiness.  Look at a picture of a pear and see how you describe it.  One might describe it as red and round, but then take a red bouncy ball.  You may notice that it is also red and round, and yet you don’t lump a bouncy ball and a pear in the same category.  It may be because you don’t define it as “red and round” but that is true of it, as are a number of other things you could notice about it (rubbery, shiny, etc.)  Similarly, though we may encounter experiences similar to our old ones, we respect that no two experiences, like snowflakes, are exactly the same, and we no longer have to apply the lessons of old experiences where they can hold us back in life.

Damnocracy: Discrimination That Undermines America’s Way of Live

Despite public “awareness” on autism, nothing really has changed.  In schools autistic people sit in different classrooms from their neurotypical peers, apart from the mainstream of the school, turning them into outcasts, because typical public school classrooms are not equipped to teach them, despite it being perfectly possible, which in turn, damages their chances of reaching their full potential rather than only being able to be a UPS driver, while their neurotypical peers go off to exciting careers of their own.  The “cost” of autism cannot be used to justify the status quo.  According to Time Magazine’s 100 New Scientific Discoveries asthma, cancer, lead poisoning, and developmentally disabilities combined account for only 2.8% of our national health care budget meaning autism accounts for only a fraction of that cost.  The fact is, discrimination is unconstitutional, and does not fit a legal exception to this rule.  But you, unless you have autism yourself, are maybe wondering, ‘What does this have to do with me?’  Valid question.

                The fact is, only educated people vote.  Education affects voting because it teaches people about the issues in our country.  Without a universally relevant and equally accessible public education system, democracy is compromised.  Of course you may be thinking, it doesn’t affect me.  I mean it’s not like the price of gas is going up.  Ok, good point.  But what does cause the price of gas to go up?  The Arab Spring, right?  And what is the Arab Spring about?  Ding, ding: democracy!  And what country is looked to by the rest of the world to model democracy?  Well, us.

                The Economist ranks countries according to four levels of democracy: Full democracy (That’s us), flawed democracy (India, Mexico), hybrid regimes (Venezuela, Kenya), and authoritarian regime (China, Russia, North Korea, Myanmar, etc.,).  South Africa, currently a flawed democracy, still experiences huge setbacks, even after three decades of the apartheid being over.  Miners protests, much like the Arab Spring protests, have caused inflation to rise significantly.  South Africa modeled much of their post-Apartheid democracy after ours just like they modeled their Apartheid after our segregation.  Whenever there is a patterned inconsistency in democracy, there seems to be in varying degrees, large amounts of social unrest.  Whenever the Arab World seems to suffer this, oil prices tend to go up.  You might want to consider how we integrate autistics and other people with cognitive differences if you want to go to your job or see a long-distance partner.

Autism: Why Prevention is Not Better than Cure

Autism rates have been seen as going up in the past few years in the United States, or if not at least being recognized more.  The people who want to cure it are often rebuffed by activists, particularly autistic people, who say they don’t want to be “cured” because they deserve to be respected for the content of their character, rather than their abilities.  One group of people in on all this is the people who want to prevent autism, rather than cure it.  While they do not exactly seem one hundred percent in the same class as the curebies, most autistics, including myself, would not consider their views to be any better.  Both seem to believe in a world where there are no autistic people, whether in the future or in the present.  How would it be for a group of people to imagine the world with no gays or no blacks?  Some may say that prevention is wished for as a result of compassion, wishing autistic people not to suffer discrimination.  But we also cannot overlook the fact that the people advocating prevention, like the curebies, seem to hold autistic people accountable for their suffering, rather than the people who discriminate against them.  Real respect for any group of people would mean giving them the same rights as any other group and respecting its individuals for the content of their character, not their abilities, or lack of thereof, in both present and future.  Real respect for a group of people such as people with autism means they can be on this earth for the rest of time and don’t have to change to be respected while others can do so and remain the same.  Anything else would be only partial respect or a total lack of it.  Did Rosa Parks risk going to jail so that Americans would all be partially equal?  Did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X risk their lives so African Americans would be partially integrated?  No.  It seems all these individuals put themselves at great risk so others good know real genuine equality and integrity, even if it did not occur in their lifetimes, which means respect for the rights of people that is not dependent on them becoming more like their societies majority, or minority for that matter, at all times.  You have only two choices.  You either have un-fake respect for people with autism, or you don’t.