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Dan Aykroyd, still autistic after all these years

5 Dec

With all the recent hullabaloo about how celebrities being autistic somehow harms the autism community (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, check news sources for Jerry Seinfeld and autism), one counter example seems to be ignored: Dan Aykroyd.  Mr. Aykroyd is perhaps most famous for his movie Ghost Busters, but his credits are many (including my favorite, Elwood Blues of the Blues Brothers).  He’s a successful entertainer, and a diagnosed autistic.

Begs the question, why no backlash against him?

One can only speculate, so speculate I will.  First, Mr. Aykroyd’s “coming out” didn’t make such a public splash.  In my mind, that’s the most likely explanation for a lack of backlash.  People could see his statement as more of a threat.  Also, with more publicity, people know that their responses will be more widely read.  A second reason for the difference in response is that Mr. Aykroyd handled the topic much better than did Mr. Seinfeld.   Consider these two news stories:

In 2013 he was interviewed by the Daily Mail.  In ‘I have Asperger’s – one of my symptoms included being obsessed with ghosts’, Mr. Aykroyd responded to the question of what is his “worst illness” thus:

I was diagnosed with Tourette’s at 12. I had physical tics, nervousness and made grunting noises and it affected how outgoing I was. I had therapy which really worked and by 14 my symptoms eased. I also have Asperger’s but I can manage it. It wasn’t diagnosed until the early Eighties when my wife persuaded me to see a doctor. One of my symptoms included my obsession with ghosts and law enforcement — I carry around a police badge with me, for example. I became obsessed by Hans Holzer, the greatest ghost hunter ever. That’s when the idea of my film Ghostbusters was born.

Dan Aykroyd: ‘My Harley-Davidson is a form of psychiatric therapy. You get on that and you don’t need a shrink’

My very mild Asperger’s has helped me creatively. I sometimes hear a voice and think: “That could be a character I could do.” Of course there are many different grades, right up to the autism spectrum, and I am nowhere near that. But I sympathise with children who have it.

Let’s do the compare and contrast with Mr. Aykroyd and Mr. Seinfeld.

1) Mr. Aykroyd has a diagnosis.  About 3 decades ago he was diagnosed.  Of course, back then Asperger syndrome wasn’t an “official diagnosis”.  But, of course Asperger’s work on autism goes back as far as Hans Kanner’s work.  Mr. Seinfeld doesn’t have (nor did he claim to have) a diagnosis.

2) Mr. Aykroyd was also diagnosed with Tourette syndrome.  At age 12.  So, having a neurlogical diagnosis early on gives more credence to his later-in-life autism (Asperger) diagnosis.

3) Mr. Aykroyd has acknowledged that his challenges are much less than most autistics. This is a big point.  Temple Grandin does the same thing, by the way.  As do pretty much every self-advocate I’ve ever encountered in real life or online.

So, yeah, Mr. Aykroyd and Mr. Seinfeld approached their public discussions of autism very differently.  And, as a result have received very different responses.

Leaving aside the lack of any “rage spirals” involved in Mr. Aykroyd’s revelation, what about the basic fact that he’s been essentially ignored?  Here we have an autistic, with comorbid Tourette syndrome, who is successful.  Who credits his autism as contributing to his success.

Why is he ignored?  Perhaps that question is asked and answered.  He’s successful and he credits his autism with contributing to his success.  That doesn’t fit into the narrative.  While Mr. Aykroyd is NLMK (not like my kid), he could be a hero for some in the autism community.  Why can’t we have autistic heroes?  Autistic people whom autistics and non-autistics can look up to and say, “Dang, s/he did well”?

The answer is we can have autistic heroes.  We can acknowledge successful autistics.   Because there is no one face of autism.  Autism can be Dan Aykroyd and be people who need extraordinary support so they don’t end up sedated or restrained in an emergency room.  Sometimes we talk about those who meet a more standard definition of successful. Sometime we talk about those with more extraordinary challenges.  And sometimes we talk about the entire spectrum in a single conversation.  That’s what it means to be part of such a varied community.

By Matt Carey

Disneyland and the Disability Access Service Card

2 Dec

When Disney announced that they were going to change how they handled services for disabled guests, I and many others were concerned. The old system was very informal and worked well, in my opinion.  It was just a piece of paper and you showed it to people at the line and they would help you by either putting you in a separate disability line or let you go to the exit and get in line there.  It made it possible to enjoy the park without waiting in long lines where the disabled person and, possibly, others in the line would have a much less than optimal experience.  While it didn’t guarantee short lines, in practice that’s they way it often worked.  So people who just can’t take Disneyland for long periods of time could get a “full day” in a few hours.  With Disney costing $90 for kids, $96 for those 10 and older, it’s a big deal if you can only be there for a few hours and most of that time is spent in line.  I could seriously see getting on one, maybe two major rides and that’s it.

But, sadly, informal systems can be gamed easily.  And that’s what happened.  See Rich Manhattan moms hire handicapped tour guides so kids can cut lines at Disney World for an example.  Or just read the title.

Shannon Rosa wrote about the new system over at The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism as One Autistic Teen’s Disneyland Success Story.   She and Leo visited Disneyland a few weeks ago (Nov. 2014).  Also, there’s Disney DAS from a diary of a mom describing their trip in May to Walt Disney World.

Shannon mentioned in her article that they were about to change the disability access service again.  And by the time I went with my family, changes had taken place.

I’ll go into more detail below, but the main point in how the disability pass works is this: for rides where they have a fast-pass entrance, the ticket for the disabled person is the disability pass.  That ticket works much like a fast-pass.

So, here’s the “more detail” part:

Step 1: go to City Hall on Main Street (it’s too your left as you enter the park).  Bring your entire party and all the tickets.  I stood in line and called my family when I got to the front (that whole, not doing well with lines, thing).

Step 2: At City Hall they will take the picture(s) of the disabled person(s).  They will scan all the tickets.  You need to specify which ticket(s) belong to the disabled person(s).  They ask you to write that person’s name on the ticket. That ticket has to be used for most rides where he/she wants disability access.

You will also be given a white piece of paper with the terms and conditions for disability access.  You will be asked to sign a copy of these terms and conditions.  Keep your copy–it’s your disability pass for rides without the fastpass like access.

Step 3: They will explain the process to you while they scan your tickets so you can get more accurate and up-to-date information than I’m giving here.

Step 4: The Disney cast member who is helping you will ask which ride you want to go on first.  Tell them that and they will scan your tickets and tell you when you can go on that ride.  For example, we said, “It’s a small world”. It was 10:30am.  We were told that any time after 11am we could go to the disability line.

Step 5: Enjoy the park, other rides, shopping, music, resting, etc. until your time.  Any time after your appointed time, you can go to the disability access line for that ride.  Tickets are scanned and you are allowed in line. For It’s a Small World, there is a separate disability access line.  For other rides, say, Star Tours, one goes to the fastpass person.  That person will scan your ticket and then you are in the regular line.  The Star Tours person gave us a plastic laminated pass that we took with us to the next person in line.  I’m not sure what purpose that serves.

Step 6: Once done with a ride, you can get in another “virtual” line with your pass.  There are three kiosks in Disneyland for this.  One in the Main Street central plaza.  One is in Fantasy Land between Dumbo and the Storybook Land ride.  The third is in Tomorrow Land between Star Tours and the gift shop at the exit of Star Tours.  The person at the kiosk will scan your tickets and tell you what time you can get in the disability access line.

Alternatively, one can go to the fastpass person at the line for the ride you want to get on and ask to be put on the virtual line for that ride (and that ride only).  When I went to some rides I was asked “do you want to get in line or are you already registered”.  So, you don’t have to go to one of the three disability kiosks each time.  I got some mixed messages about that, though.  One person told me that I couldn’t be added.

Not all rides have disability access lines or fastpass.  For example, the train. At the train we asked a cast member what to do and were told to just wait at the exit.  When the train came to the station, we showed another cast member our white pass (remember those terms and conditions discussed above?) and got on the train.  Basically, this is how the old disability access pass worked.

Disney has a web page on disability access and strategies: Services for Guests with Disabilities.  There’s a pdf on the Disability Access Service (DAS) there, and I’ve copied it here: dlr-disability-access-service_2014-11-19.

I bring this up because here’s a key paragraph in that document:

DAS, with its virtual wait, will accommodate many of our Guests with disabilities. We recognize, however, that our Guests with disabilities have varying needs, and we will continue to work individually with our Guests to provide assistance.
In unique situations, our Guest Relations staff will discuss special accommodations for persons who are concerned DAS doesn’t meet their needs (e.g., those whose disability limits the duration of their visit to the park or limits their choice of attractions).

All accommodations will be made in person, on site at Guest Relations. We are unable to provide accommodations in advance of a Guest visit.

This tells me they’ve been paying attention to people like myself who have complained that it isn’t just the lines for each ride that matter.  For some of us, our time in the park is very limited.  And at $100/ticket ($90/kids under 10), it’s a big deal to go to Disneyland.  Even with accommodations, my kid was melting down in the last line and we were not at the park for very long.

Next time I’m printing out that pdf (or whatever they have at the time) and bringing it along.

By Matt Carey

Final Reminder: 2014 IACC Call for Nominations Closes Friday, November 14, 2014!

13 Nov

The email below was just sent by the Office of Autism Research Coordination to remind the communities that the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee is being reformed–nominations are still open but only until tomorrow.

In other words: if you want to be considered, or if you want to nominate someone else for consideration, now is the time to get those nominations in.

From OARC:

Final Reminder: 2014 IACC Call for Nominations Closes Friday, November 14, 2014!

Only one more day to send in submissions!

The Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) is seeking nominations of individuals to serve as non-federal public members on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, a federal advisory committee established in accordance with the Combating Autism Act of 2006 (Public Law 109-416, PDF – 49 KB) and reauthorized by the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-157, PDF – 211 KB).  The Committee, composed of federal officials and public stakeholders, provides recommendations and advice to the Secretary of HHS regarding issues related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including ASD research and services activities.

The Office of the Secretary of HHS has directed the Office of Autism Research Coordination to assist the Department in conducting an open and transparent nomination process. Nominations of new public members are encouraged, and current members may also be re-nominated to continue to serve. Self-nominations and nominations of other individuals are both permitted. Final selections and appointments of public members will be made by the Secretary. The period of service will be from the time of appointment through September 30, 2019.

The call for nominations opened on October 1, 2014 and will close at the end of the day (11:59 p.m.) on November 14, 2014. Please ensure e-mails or standard mail/Fedex are sent and date and time stamped by the given deadline.

Please click on the links below for information about the committee, and the requirements and instructions for submitting a nomination.

IACC Co-occurring conditions workshop: Lewin Group presentation on co-occurring conditions in autistic children in the U.S.

4 Nov

Anjali Jain of the Lewin group presented on data they have collected from medical records about the prevalence of co-occurring conditions found in autistic children in the U.S.. This presentation was made to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee in Sept. 2014. (the original video is here, and the Lewin Group talk started at about timestamp 17:50.  The original has closed captioning).

Some of the most common co-occurring conditions are anxiety and depression. In fact, mental health conditions are found in about 70% of autistics. Similarly, neurological conditions and neurodevelopmental disorders are found in about 70% of autistics. By comparison, GI+nutritional disorders (which include areas like allergies), which get a great deal of attention, are found in about 20% of the autistic population. While large, this is much less common than the 70% rates found for mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Another interesting finding was that autistic children are seen more often for treatment of infectious diseases. If the risk for serious problems from infectious diseases is higher in autistic children, this makes the decision of many autism parents to stop vaccinating their children even more problematic.

The full video (with closed captioning) can be found here:

http://videocast.nih.gov/launch.asp?18636


By Matt Carey

Presentations made to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC)

4 Nov

The U.S. Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) holds regular meetings. Each IACC meeting typically has presentations by experts in various fields of autism research and services. Video of the meetings is made available by the NIH. For example the IACC workshop on under recognized and co-occurring conditions in ASD is there. It can be somewhat inaccessible in that the entire meeting is 7 hours long (and so is the video) while each talk was typically 10 minutes. In other meetings the talks have been longer, but it seems to me that some may find it valuable to have access to the individual talks. With that in mind, I have been pulling some of the meeting videos and cutting the talks out and posting to YouTube. I will post these talks as I get time.

The first set will be the epidemiology talks presented at the recent Workshop. One by the Anjali Jain of the Lewin Group, one by Lisa Croen of Kaiser Permanente, one by Isaac Kohane of Harvard University, and one by Daniel Coury of The Ohio State University.

By Matt Carey

Nick Walker on Neurodiversity: Some Basic Terms & Definitions

25 Oct

Nick Walker starts his introduction with “I’m an Autistic educator, author, speaker, transdisciplinary scholar, activist, parent, and martial arts master.” His writing is excellent and I’d highly recommend adding Neurocosmopolatinism to your list of blogs to track, if it isn’t there already.

A recent article by Mr. Walker covers the topic of neurodiversity clearly and accurately. It’s a great resource: Neurodiversity: Some Basic Terms & Definitions.

It is one of those articles I’d like to copy in it’s entirety. But instead I’ll send you to: Neurodiversity: Some Basic Terms & Definitions.


By Matt Carey

Press Release: IACC Reauthorized by Autism CARES Act to Continue Through 2019; HHS Seeks Nominations for Public Membership

1 Oct iacc-logo[1]

Below is a press release about the nomination process for the next Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC).  Note: I served as a public member to the previous IACC but my comments here and elsewhere are my own.

IACC Reauthorized by Autism CARES Act to Continue Through 2019; HHS Seeks Nominations for Public Membership (PDF – 94 KB)

On August 8, 2014, President Obama signed the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support (CARES) Act of 2014 (PDF – 256 KB) into law, reauthorizing and expanding the provisions of the Combating Autism Act of 2006 (PDF – 142 KB). New provisions include an increased focus on services and supports, a report on the needs of transitioning youth and adults, and the creation of an Autism Initiative within the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure accountability and ongoing implementation of autism activities across the Department. The new law also reauthorizes the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) to continue until September 30, 2019.

The IACC is a federal advisory committee composed of federal officials and non-federal public members, including autism self-advocates, family members, representatives of private autism organizations, and other public stakeholders. The committee is charged with:

  • Providing annual updates on its Strategic Plan for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Research, which under the new law will be expanded to include recommendations on services and supports provision;
  • Providing annual updates on its Summary of Advances in ASD Research, a document that summarizes each year’s top ASD research advances;
  • Providing advice and recommendations to the HHS Secretary regarding issues related to ASD;
  • Providing a forum for public discussion of issues related to ASD.

As a federal advisory committee, the IACC does not have authority or appropriations to fund research or services activities, nor to implement federal programs. The IACC’s role is to provide advice that can be used by federal agencies to guide them in setting program and funding priorities, and in developing partnerships with private organizations to address issues of importance to the autism community.

Under the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011 (covering the period from 2011-2014, PDF – 121 KB), the IACC completed several important projects, including issuing: a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius regarding the need to fill critical gaps in health coverage for people on the autism spectrum; a statement from the Committee on the 2012 update in the ASD diagnostic criteria, which emphasized the importance of basing healthcare and service provision decisions on the need of the individual; and an in-depth 2013 IACC Strategic Plan Update that analyzed progress made over a five-year period (2008-2012) toward implementing the recommendations in the IACC Strategic Plan.

Reflecting on the completion of the current IACC members’ terms on September 30, 2014, IACC Chair Dr. Thomas Insel stated, “We deeply appreciate the contributions and accomplishments of the IACC members who served on the Committee from 2012-2014, and we look forward to working with the new committee, starting in 2015, to address the community’s most pressing ASD research and services needs.”

The Autism CARES Act extends the work of the IACC another 5 years to 2019. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is currently seeking nominations of individuals to serve as non-federal public members on the next iteration of the committee. Members of the public are welcome to nominate individuals with personal and/or professional experience with ASD for public membership on the committee. The Office of Autism Research Coordination (OARC) at the National Institutes of Health, which manages the IACC, will assist the Department in collecting public member nominations. Selections and appointments of public members will be made by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

For more information on the IACC public member nomination process, please see the 2014 IACC Call for Nominations Announcement.***

The IACC is a federal advisory committee that was created by Congress in an effort to accelerate progress in ASD research and services. The IACC provides advice to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on activities related to ASD, and works to improve coordination and communication across the Federal government and work in partnership with the autism community. The Committee is composed of officials from many different federal agencies involved in autism research and services, as well as people with ASD, parents, advocates, and other members of the autism community. The documents and recommendations produced by the IACC reflect the views of the Committee as an independent advisory body and the expertise of the members of the Committee, but do not represent the views, official statements, policies or positions of the Federal government. For more information on the IACC, please visit: www.iacc.hhs.gov.

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