Happy Independence Day: Let’s all revolt for Liberty and Justice for All

The declaration of independence inserts itself into all things today, so why not bring it up again here (for a transcript).

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

I believe these rights to refer to ALL people, inclusive of race, religion, gender, abilities or dis-abilities.

The first part, that often gets left out when people try to quote from their grade-school memory banks,  contains one of my favorite phrases:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

“Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”.

Note that this does not say “Christian” god, or “Jesus”, or refer in any way to the bible, new or old testament.  Although the “Founders” of our nation came from a christian tradition, their writings did not refer to christianity above all other religions.

The “laws of nature”: sounds a bit like science to me.

“Nature’s God”: could be any god at all, including pagan.

Our forefathers came to these shores to remove themselves from a society that was rigid and stultified. They were often persecuted and their lives were in danger because of their beliefs or lack of beliefs. Like the immigrants that came later, they were fleeing to a new land of Freedom and Liberty.

There were some initial attempts at recreating England here in the colonies. Religious liberty was curtailed in Boston forcing free thinkers like Roger Williams to move on to Rhode Island to start again. By the time of the Revolution, thirteen colonies existed with separate laws and currencies, and, separate religious affiliations, and yet, a common goal: to be free of the old ways and move on.

So I say: “Revolt!” Leave the old ways, the old thinking, and move forward. The time for revolution is now!  Join  your compatriots in making a place for everyone in this new century. The old laws that discriminate against race and gender, that prohibit, that protect hate, that keep society divided, that breed fear and distrust; those old ways of living and thinking are behind us and we will move forward into century that aspires to fairness  and freedom for all of our members.

By the way, in case you are thinking I belong with the idealists and dreamers, those who romanticize “revolution” in all it’s forms.  I am fully aware that no revolutions have solved all the problems that they were meant to, even ours.

I leave soon for Russia, to visit the place where my husband has worked for twenty plus years (while I have been caring for our lovely Lily). Certainly the Russian people’s attempt at change via revolution has not been as successful as they had planned, nor has their re-entry into global capitalism been smooth.

Americans forget that we revolted at a time when Europe was in turmoil and the age of enlightenment encouraged many philosophers and intellectuals to reconsider how nations could be organized to better allow the rights of all peoples. Even Catherine the Great, Empress of all the Russias at the time, was a devotee of these new ideas. She could not find a way to bring her country out of slavery and serfdom in her life time and it took a violent and bloody revolution, like that of France and over a hundred years later, to finally free the serfs.

So I am not advocating bloody revolution and Molotov cocktails,

(gin and tonics more likely).

But people, think about it. What is wrong with letting people live their own lives in peace?

So here’s to a peaceful revolution in our time…

We will search for a new way to move forward towards a more just world here in the great USA.

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Calling All Revolutionaries: Families for Freedom

It has been difficult to find families who want to work on a new revolutionary way to provide a full life for their adult children with autism, perhaps because we have been looking for adults that are just beginning the transition process. The children are still in school and the parents are satisfied with what they are doing and receiving for services; having worked to get it right, they are making progress and perhaps even seeing the positive changes that can come with maturity and stability.

The nightmare experience of seeing all that progress disappear into the maw that is adult services has not yet occurred.

Last week I attended an invigorating “brainstorming” session about planning the future of the autism programming for the new agency that I am working with for Lily’s new life.  I was amazed to be invited and even more astounded that “Families” was the first on everyone’s list of values. So often in my three and a half-year experience with the adult system the parents are ignored or “yessed” in meetings. The attitude is one of “us” and “them”. How refreshing and encouraging to meet this very sincere group that I hope soon to be an even more active member of.

Today, looking out over the shining blue of the bay with the puffy clouds and the dappled sand, I wonder whether the first English, French and Viking settlers to these shores thought about the physical beauty surrounding them as they pulled in their nets and laid out the fish to dry in the sun.

Were they too busy working to survive to be awestruck by the colors of the sunrise after so many days of rain and fog?

Did the wildflowers blowing in the breeze ease the ache of their backs as they gathered wood for the winter and plowed and seeded the garden?

Here in the Northeastern United States, with long, cold winters of bleak landscape and hungry wildlife, we treasure the few short weeks of spring and summer, hoarding days spent fishing, gardening, hiking and sailing, or perhaps simply sitting on a rock, gazing out at the beauty.

We know what man has done to nature as well; we have the contrast of the cities and industrial pollution versus the sea, woods and farms and appreciate all the more what we still have seeing it next to the examples of destruction.

The First People, or Native Americans or Indians or whatever you wish to call them in your culture, appreciated the sustaining value of the natural world around them and protecting it has prominence in their religions and way of life. They knew this truth without need to compare with the absence of nature; it puzzles me sometimes why we seem to need to miss something after it is already gone.

Missing our school experience that treated our daughter as a whole person, and having the experience of seeing her regress under a program that sees her as flawed and broken, to be managed like unwanted refuse, we have become acutely aware of the destruction around us and wish to reclaim and rebuild her world to more closely resemble what we had before.

We will build a new world based on the rights that Americans hold to be self-evident, a revolutionary new world, dedicated to the rights of ALL people to happiness and freedom.

Perhaps we need to look for our families amongst those who have seen the future, instead of those who are have not yet experienced the destruction.

Examining the Unexamined Life: Adults with Autism, Part 2

This post is the second in a series in response to the question of what I think would make a life happy and fulfilling for my autistic daughter, Lily.

Learning and Growth          

Throughout my life, teachers, professors and mentors have always recommended “life long learning.” “Medical School does not stop when you graduate.” People who deal with dementia recommend adult learning to keep brain cells active and formulating new pathways to stave off Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and aging. Elder Hostels, Senior Colleges and Brain Fitness Programs are designed to continue learning and growth in adulthood.

Why then, do adult programs for intellectually and developmentally disabled offer no stimulation and stop all programs designed for learning as soon as the individual leaves school and enters the Day Hab?

The primary reason is that attitudes in the current system are that the individual has no capacity for learning and it is a waste of time and money to try to teach them anything.

How much sense does this make? Because a person “turns 22”, do they magically become a different person from that day forward? What programs they were making progress with at age 21 and 364 days no longer work at age 22?

We know that the brain is elastic and plastic and even if damaged by whatever damages these autistic brains, or cerebral palsy brains, or traumatic brain injury brains, can and should be stimulated to grow and learn. The progress may seem slow to outsiders and I suppose there are some individuals who have a disorder that means that they will not progress at all. For most people with autism, though, I would argue that they are learning even when you think they are not even paying attention to you.

The elements of learning and growth MUST be present for Lily to feel happy and fulfilled. At present, after 3 years at the group home of trying to achieve some adequacy of basic needs with only partial and temporary success, I am seeing that no learning can really be expected to take place unless the individual feels safe and cared for and adequate nutrition is provided. The staff must be willing to see Lily as a person capable of learning to have the motivation to teach her anything. She must be motivated to learn and the staff must be trained in patience and perseverance.

Just maintaining skills that Lily learned in school has been a challenge. The first time we visited her after she had moved in to the house, we picked her up for the weekend and the staff person said to us: “Is she a feeder?”

Perplexed, we asked, “What is a feeder?”

The staff person replied, “Well, she won’t eat unless I spoon feed her.”

On graduating from school at age 22, Lily had impeccable table manners and used her utensils better than most Americans. She tied her shoe laces, dressed herself, showered herself and could shave her legs with help. She was able to help prepare meals, do the laundry and clean windows (as well as other house keeping skills), with assistance.

Now, after 3 years of neglect, she eats like a gorilla, steals food from others, uses her hands while eating and licks her plate. When I say to her,” Why are you eating like a gorilla?” she gives me a twisted little smile and picks up her napkin and fork. They no longer ask her to do things independently so she hands me the towel and her shoes to help her when she comes home. She is now, “Princess Lily”.

The 45-year-old son of a friend of mine spoke very little when I met him at age 20. Now, his speech is very much in evidence as he learns the ways he can enjoy music, movies and communication with his new iPad.

Learning new skills improves self-esteem; behavior improves as a result. This leads to better acceptance by the community and more opportunities for community inclusion in volunteer, vocational and recreational situations. A major area of happiness and fulfillment for anyone involves giving purposefully in the community and building relationships. This is no different for Lily. Intellectually disabled individuals were secreted away in  institutions  because of society’s fears and prejudices, not because they wanted to be hidden away.

A life of happiness and fulfillment must include abundant opportunities for learning at all ages and all abilities. I wish for Lily to work on communication skills first and foremost. This is her greatest need.

Examining the unexamined life of an adult with autism: Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts examining the question of what I think might lead to a happy and fulfilling life for my adult autistic daughter, Lily.

The first and most essential basis for a happy life is that ones basic needs of food and water, shelter and warmth, health and safety should be adequately met. Some might argue that these are Human Rights and I think we would agree that they are at least American Rights. (For some reason Republicans are now balking at the idea that Health is a human right but this is relatively new. Richard Nixon practically invented Health Care Reform).

Because Lily has little sense of self-protection or awareness of danger, she needs people who care about her to watch over her at all times and they need to be trained and vigilant. They must help her prepare food and must be trained in adequate nutrition on a small food budget and how to prepare foods safely. The staff help her care for her house and keep it clean. They drive her to and fro in a van and take her into the community. They keep her safe from harm and keep her from harming herself.

Staff who work with Lily must also be watchful and aware of subtle changes in behavior that might indicate a medical problem and be active in searching out the cause.  New “behavior” is not just a “behavior”; but, might indicate a physical or emotional problem. They must take her to the appropriate health care provider for evaluation, (providing they can find one willing to care for a nonverbal autistic person on Medicaid).

I think basic needs must be met first before expanding upon the other areas of life that enhance happiness and fulfillment. Maybe some ascetics and monks can claim happiness and fulfillment on an empty belly, but not most and not my Lily.

There are adult persons with autism who need less support in these areas of  basic need but they might still need help for a number of years managing life in a more independent living arrangement.

Unfortunately, when communities and states need to cut budgets for social services because the tax rate is so low, lower than it has ever been in this country, too low to maintain our standards of living, too low to provide for basic needs for the elderly and disabled, the already low wages paid to direct care workers in these support service industries are so low that the quality of direct care workers suffers.

I am dealing with these issues of poor quality staff and unmet basic needs every day now. Although it is frustrating that Lily is not being challenged to learn skills or even maintain skills, the more pressing problems are adequate nutrition and safety.

Why does our society now value keeping money in the pockets of the rich  over basic human rights for the disabled, the elderly and the very, very poor?

Happy and Fulfilling Life for a Person with Autism

What makes a happy and fulfilling life for a person with autism? What makes a life fulfilling and happy for a person without autism?

The theme of what it takes to make a happy and fulfilling life is not a new one. When my loyal reader asked what I think would make a happy life for my daughter Lily, I made a list of areas that I consider essential components of life to explore and examine.

  • Basic needs
  • Learning and growth
  • Fun and recreation
  • Joy
  • Spiritual
  • Creative
  • Family and Friends: Relationships

As I have written before in these pages, I am not satisfied with Lily’s adult program. I do not think it meets her needs in any of the above areas. My task, as I see it now, is to examine these areas and develop a program that does meet her needs. I have done similar exercises for my own life at times when I was unhappy or felt unfulfilled. The examination can be fun and very enlightening.

Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck. 

—The 14th Dalai Lama