Archive | November, 2011

Children’s book: Ben Has Autism. Ben Is Awesome! [Review]

Books in general that discuss Autism can be tricky since Autism can vary so very widely from person to person. Being the huge spectrum that it is, it’s effects can be completely different from one person to the next.

So writing a book, aimed at children, that attempts to explain some of what Autism is, can either be wonderfully enlightening or it can be a colossal fail.

In the case of “Ben Has Autism. Ben is Awesome!”, we have a wonderfully enlightening book that does a very very good job of explaining the pros and cons of Autism in a way that anyone, regardless of their age, can relate to.

benautismThe Book

Ben is a 5 year old that has Autism and as such, has his difficulties but also has some strengths in some areas. This book explores them all in a way that literally anyone can understand and in many cases, even relate too.

The Story

While not really a story, this book does have a logical progression as the reader explores the weaknesses and the strengths of Ben due to having Autism.

My Review

This book is really great in that it covers enough autistic traits that you really get the feeling that the author could have written about your own child.

I sat down on the couch with Cameron (6 and has Autism) and his little brother Tyler (3 and does not have Autism) and as I read, we would stop and say “who does that?” or “who feels like that sometimes?”

It turned into a bit of a game as the boys would try to figure out which one of them did or felt the way Ben did in the book. Most of the time it was Cameron, since he also has Autism but sometimes it was Tyler… and others it was both of them.

Every page of this book has big, colourful illustrations that are very imaginative and illustrate the words perfectly. The words are big, bold and even though few, are perfectly descriptive.

It’s a great book for the children as it helps them to recognize some of the things they’re feeling and helps them to identify it as a trait of their Autism rather than having them just feel they’re “weird” or “strange”… it is also great for the parents in that it helps to realize that you’re not alone. Other parents wrote this book, other parents relate to this book… other parents think that their children are awesome too.

It’s a big plus for understanding Autism, not just for “people” but also for those that most of us have a hard time explaining it to… children.

Ben Has Autism. Ben Is Awesome! is available in paperback and hard cover. I definitely recommend picking this up and adding it to your child’s library both for your child and yourself.

Order Ben Has Autism. Ben Is Awesome! here.

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Please be careful what you take away from the news or other media sources

Recently, a study was rehashed (it’s been done before) stating that intelligent people that have babies are more likely to have children with Autism than other parents.

This irks me for many reasons, which I will get into in a bit but there’s a bigger problem and that’s the spin that the media puts on stories like this.

Here are just a few of the headlines around the internet all reporting the exact same study:

  • Couple who meet at work have autistic babies?
  • Rise in autism ‘may be linked to clever parents’
  • Autism: The Result of Math Whiz X 2?
  • Intelligent Parents Have Higher Risk of Having an Autistic Child
  • Couples in Science Field at Risk of Having Autistic Children
  • Is the changing role of women in our society behind the rise in autism in the past 30 years?

Do you see the differences?

Where to begin?

First of all, let’s go back to Wired Magazine, circa 2001:

That’s right… 10 years ago.

That means that if this truly is a new study, it’s a study that people have now spent money on twice to come up with the same result. That’s not really a bad thing as it may reinforce the findings, meaning it’s more likely true. The problem is that neither of these studies dig deep enough to come up with real answers.

Being smart is pretty vague. Which is where the assortment of headlines come from… is it math? Science? Both working at the same place? What if only one of the parents is smart? What if the parents are super smart??

Women’s Lib?

For those of you who had to read the last headline twice to believe it really said what it said… the article itself doesn’t get any better.

Here is a paragraph from that article:

Until relatively recently in our history, being exceptionally bright was not much use to you if you were female. In Victorian Britain, for example, the opportunities for a woman to earn her living through brainpower alone were extremely limited.

Essentially, this news source revisits the old “refrigerator mom” theory of Autism, where it was believed that mothers that were cold towards their children somehow caused it in them. Only, in this case, it’s the evolution of women becoming smart (because they weren’t smart before?!?!) is the cause.

If only women had stayed in the kitchen and cooked and cleaned… we wouldn’t have this rise in Autism diagnosis rates. Right?

This particular news story puts a lot of unnecessary blame on moms.

Check your sources

If it’s not obvious enough yet that news sources spin stories as they see fit, then I’d suggest you stop reading the news.

Again, all of these headlines come from the same original source… a study that says that Autism diagnosis rates are higher than average when both parents are in “higher intelligence” jobs such as technology, medical, science or engineering.

It does not say anything about working together, how they’d meet, which field in particular they’d work in and most certainly doesn’t put any of the blame on women for being smart.

In fact, out of the (currently) 25 news sources I’ve found on this, there is only 1 that has put this particular women’s lib spin on it. The rest talk about both parents.

The results trickle down differently depending on which news source you read… when really, everyone should be forming opinions on the story, not the spin.

Take the Women’s Views on News for example. They only read the one news source… can you guess which news source they read?

You can read their story on this here:

Yup, they found the one that attacks women’s lib, putting the blame for Autism on women in the work force. As a result, there’s a lot of very unhappy women with the professor that came up with the theories behind the study. He didn’t even perform the study! And he certainly didn’t say anything about moms in the work force.

So a guy has a theory, a university conducts a study, the results are vague, a crappy news source puts a wild spin on it and a whole bunch of women all hate the guy that came up with the original theory.

See how that works?

The problems with this study in general

Ok, now that I have the big elephant in the room covered, let’s talk about the study itself.

Here is the way I see it.

1. Every single news source put some kind of a spin on the study in an attempt to get the most readers but not one of them explored the possibility of the parents having undiagnosed Autism themselves… or at least, somewhere in their family history.
Think about it… they’re smart, they work in the smart places (like Silicon Valley) and they get together and have children… wouldn’t it make sense that people with a history of Autism be more likely to have autistic children? If they’re truly that smart and being smart causes Autism… why couldn’t one assume that the parents might be somewhere on the spectrum?

2.  The only things that being smart has ever produced is a lack of sex life in college and a higher paying job after college. To think that two smart brains producing a baby would cause it to have genetic anomalies that produces Autism in a child is just… well, it’s a pretty big stretch of the imagination. At least, it is without the addition of some other factor, such as what I said in #1.

3. Give me 30 mins and I’ll give you 50 different studies that all have found “the cause” or at the very least, the thing that “increases the risk” of Autism. If I believed every single new study that came out, well… I’d just have to conclude that being alive causes Autism because at this point, just when I think they’ve covered everything… a new study comes out within the next week.

4. As I’ve said over and over… “smart people” is far too vague. How smart? Just clever? Did they have smart parents? Were they the first smart people in their family? What if they’re smart but don’t work in smart places? How do you explain the children with Autism for couples that don’t attend college and have no jobs?
There’s just too many holes to fill.

It’s the News job to interpret, not reproduce

The news agencies take a story and rewrite it and put it out in a way that you’ll understand and will get the most readers. It’s not their job to take a story, copy it and print it. So you’ll never get what the study actually said.

The more vague a study is, the larger the spin that can be placed on it.

When you find a new study in the news, go to and look up other news sources that cover the same story, or go find the study yourself and check it out. Because reading from just one news source can be dangerous sometimes.

news spin

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Which child am I talking about? [Game]


Let’s play a little game.

I have two children, one with Autism and one without. So I’ll tell you something about each of them and you try to guess which child is which.

First, some background

Cameron is 6.5 years old now and has Autism.
Tyler turns 4 in 2 weeks (so we’ll just pretend he is 4) and does not have Autism… nor any other disorders/syndromes that we’re aware of.

So I’ll tell you something, then you tell me which child is which. I’ll put the answers at the bottom.

Which is which?

1. One child refuses to eat most foods while the other child loves to eat most foods.

2. One child loves working with his hands, doing arts and crafts while the other child does not.

3. One child loves sweet foods, such as chocolate and the other child prefers salty foods, such as chips.

4. One child has several friends at school while the other has a hard time making friends.

5. One child says “fine, you’re not my friend anymore!” and storms off to his room when mad. The other child hits, kicks, throws things and screams uncontrollably.

6. One child has to have a hug and kiss before bed while the other prefers a comfy blanket.

7. One child is eager to go to school and play while the other feels abandoned and lost.

8. One child gets very sucky and whiny when sick while the other child shuts down and sits quietly all day.

9. One child could listen to his mom read a story book for hours while the other can’t make it through a single page.

10. One child can throw a ball like a 6 year old while the other child can throw a ball like a 3 year old.

Have you figured who is who?

Based on everything you know about Autism, some of these answers should be fairly obvious. However, I think some of them may still surprise you. For the answers, read below.

Which witch is which? The answers!

Alright, here we go… and remember, Cameron is 6 and has Autism. Tyler is 4 and does not have Autism.

1. Cameron was a born pasta eater. He has refused to eat meat since birth, refused almost all vegetables and most fruits, preferring primarily to eat pasta, cheese and potatoes. He ate his food mashed/blended right up until his 6th birthday. Which was great because we could hide meats and veggies in his food that way.
Tyler, on the other, went straight from baby formula to chicken wings and ribs. That kid will eat virtually anything.

2. The child that loves to do arts and crafts and is always dying to do things with his hands is Tyler. He’s our little artist, usually preferring to paint or work with play dough rather than playing a video game or going somewhere.
Cameron’s main areas of interest are books, video games and movies… in that order. He loves how the stories play out.

3. Our choco-holic is Cameron. He has a sweet tooth and would eat an entire Easter bunny in one sitting if we let him. Meanwhile Tyler would likely take 2 hours to eat a bunny’s ears and have it melted all over the place. But a bag of chips? He’d devour in minutes.

4. The popular boy at school is Cameron. He has several friends, even one that he considers his best friend. He even has some friends in another class besides his.
Tyler, on the other hand, is very shy and would rather hide behind me (if I’m there) than talk to anyone… even teachers. He’s very uncomfortable talking to anyone at school. In contrast though, he has the most amazing, hilarious and vibrant personality… once you can get him to talk.

5. So which child hits, kicks, throws and screams when he gets mad? Tyler. Tyler has always been unusually aggressive when he gets upset and even though he’s about to turn 4, it has not slowed down.
Cameron used to get plenty mad and still has complete meltdowns to this day (just not as frequent) but he has never been aggressive/violent. He will break things, but doesn’t throw anything at anyone or hit anyone. These days, he tends to just leave and find a place to be by himself.

6. My hugger and kisser before bed is Cameron. He refuses to let me leave his bedroom at bed time without getting a hug, a kiss and then he also kisses me on each cheek. It’s his bed time ritual.
Tyler often wants a hug and kiss too, but mostly when Cameron reminds him of such a thing. Sometimes even then he will just snuggle up with his “blankey” and be perfectly content in me just getting out of there to leave him sleep.

7. Since you’ve read the friend answer above, you likely know the answer to this one… Tyler feels abandoned at school. Every single day he tells us that he does not want to go despite the fact that he actually has a lot of fun while there and does very well.
Cameron, on the other hand, looks forward to getting back there on Monday after having a couple of days off. He really enjoys being there.

8. Our sucky and whiny sicky is Tyler. He cries easily, wants stuff all the time, always feels so miserable… he becomes a very big handful when he’s sick.
Cameron though, is quite the opposite. In fact, sometimes we don’t even know he’s sick until later in the day when we realize that he just isn’t getting off the couch or doing much of anything. If he seems quieter than normal, less active… then we check his temperature. Most of the time, that’s how we know there’s something wrong.

9. Again, I’ve sort of already answered this one but my story book lover is Cameron. Not only does he absolutely love stories, he becomes fully immersed in them. You can read a story to him in September one time and he can tell you about it in April. He doesn’t just memorize it though, he understands it and enjoys it.
Tyler has a very short attention span for stories. He either talks through it or wanders off. He says he does like the stories, he says he does want to hear a story but he just can’t sit still for that long.

10. Throwing a ball… you likely know where I’m going with this one.
Cameron is the one that throws like a 3 year old while Tyler can throw like, probably better than, a 6 year old.
Cameron, due to his Autism, and lack of wanting to really even try much, has under developed motor control. That is to say, he doesn’t have the muscle capacity or muscle control to hold, swing, release and get the ball moving very far, very fast or very accurately.
Tyler, on the other hand, can throw a ball pretty far. He’s always eager to throw the ball for our dog, he’s always eager to throw anything that he sees me throw to see if he can do it. Also, his temper tantrums that I mentioned earlier give him lots of practice in the throwing department as well.

So how did you do?

Some of the questions were a bit personal and if you don’t read much of my blog, may be a shot in the dark while other questions may seem obvious due to the traditional symptoms of Autism.

Still though, I bet some of the answers may have come as a surprise, for the same reason… the traditional symptoms of Autism.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Autism is such a varied and complicated disorder… what may be true for 1,000,000 autistics isn’t necessarily true for the next autistic that you meet.

As much as it’s possible for a child without Autism to be super shy, aggressive when mad, picky when eating or any other trait you might associate with Autism, it’s also possible for a child that does have Autism to not have those traits.

I certainly didn’t write this to trick anyone… these are honest answers. I really did write about my boys.

But perhaps it will help to demonstrate just how little we can simply assume to know about a person. Common traits are not guaranteed traits.

So, how did you do? Please share in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

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Sometimes Autism makes things easier

Most of the time, Autism makes things much more difficult… even the most simple of tasks. But sometimes, in some interesting ways, it actually makes some things easier.


All children need some sort of routine… even if that routine is a complete lack of routine. Wait, does that make sense? Anyway, when things are predictable, children feel the most safe and at ease.

This is ever more so important with autistics. Think of it as… obsessive compulsive disorder with a photographic memory. Now, obviously, not everyone is to that extreme but it should give you a good idea of what some people have to deal with.

If your child can memorize the placement of 1500 items around your house and NEEDS them to be in the exact same place at all times… you may as well invest in super glue because those things are not allowed to move.

So how is this a good thing? Well, think about it… your child kind of forces structure into your life, whether you’ve had it or not. You will always know when supper time is, bath time, bed time… you’ll always know which movie(s) or book(s) you’ll have to choose from… you’ll always know where you need to be and when.

Ok, imagine this.. you have one child with Autism and one without. Nap time is at 2pm each day. At 2pm every single day, your autistic child runs off to their bedroom and gets mad if you’re not there to turn off the light. Your other child? (S)He’s in the living room screaming and crying because they don’t want to have a nap today.

See the difference?

Same goes for bath time, bed time… you name it.

When the clocks were changed for Day Light Savings time one year, my son had a meltdown because we tried to keep him up a little bit later to adjust him to that extra hour. He was mad because he wasn’t going to bed when his internal clock told him it was time to do so.

My other boy? He has a tantrum when it’s time to go to bed… at bed time!


Dropping off my autistic son at school, in the beginning, was easy. You take him in, he sits down, picks up a book or a puzzle or a toy and you walk out. He did what he needed and at the end of the day, he went home. He’d have the occassional meltdown, not listen or what ever… but the fact that there were other people, that we weren’t there.. that life was just happening around him, didn’t seem to matter a whole lot. (this is aside from the break in routine, as discussed above. He did not like the routine change, but I’m talking about how it was once school became a routine… anyway, I digress)

My other son, on the other hand, was super excited about school because his older brother went there every day. It was a magical land filled with friends and games and stuff to do and you got smarter doing it. However, when you’re 3 and your parents abandon you at the door and there’s strange people all around you… that perception of the place quickly changes.

I’m writing this mid way through November and my son still cries when we leave him at school… he started at the beginning of September. It’s not a routine for him yet. It’s not feeling safe for him yet. He has a lot of emotions going on and a lot of needs and, while is doing very well at school because he listens and does his work, it’s a bit heart breaking to hear him bawling his eyes out as I walk back to the car (don’t look back, don’t look back, don’t look back!)


My son with Autism told us what he wanted for Christmas in July. JULY! While that may not be all that surprising in itself, what is a bit of a shock is that it has remained and still is the same wish. See, most children want what other children have or what they see on the television or what they hear is the next cool thing to have… my son figures out what he wants and that’s it. There are no other options. In fact, you can’t even ask him for other options (“What else do you want besides that?”) because there is nothing else. He spends a great deal of time thinking about it, but comes back with no answer. He wants what he wants.

By the way, heaven help us if we don’t get that for him! Yeesh!

My other son…  put it this way, when family members phone me and ask what to get for him, I say “I have no idea.” It’s not that I don’t know him, I do…. it’s just that his tastes change, his desires change and, this is totally just my boy, but he has no specific want.

When I ask him, he tends to say something that he knows his big brother wants… why? Because there is nothing specifically on his mind.

What I expected is that his mind would change from product to product as he sees them on television or passes them in the store, and to an extent that does happen, but once all that is removed and we’re sitting around the dinner table, he has no Christmas wish list in mind.

One, I know what to buy for… the other? Haven’t a clue!

enjoy the little thingsConclusion

That’s only 3 examples but this is getting long already so I’ll end with this… Autism truly is a disorder and as such, can cause much disorder. In your life, in your family… it’s a struggle and no one can argue with that.

But there are positives. There are some ways in which you can appreciate the good differences. Not just the savants, not just the lessons of life in being more appreciative and patient and loving… but also in just realizing that it’s not all doom and gloom.

Take the positives, no matter how minor or insignificant or trivial they may seem… and smile.

I’m not asking you celebrate with me as my son doesn’t care if I leave him with strange people or not… but smile. Because it’s different.

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Understanding… The bigger picture

For the last couple of years, I’ve really been pushing the idea of taking awareness of Autism and upgrading it to understanding and acceptance. I truly believe that, while awareness is a great start, it’s simply not enough in that, being aware of something doesn’t necessarily mean you understand it. And what most autistics need is some level of understanding and, of course, acceptance of who they are.

Understanding of…

The thing is, you don’t have to necessarily understand every nuance about Autism… it would be nice. If everyone just instantly knew all about Autism, acceptance would be a breeze. But you don’t have to.

What you do have to understand is that there is a reason.

When you see someone acting strangely on the street corner, when you see someone being mean and rude in general, when you see someone hitting themself, when you see a person being… not what you expect… there is a reason.

Perhaps the person has a disability/special need, perhaps the person had a really bad day (fired, family member died, lost everything), perhaps the person simply is the way they are… it is not personal. It’s nothing against you.

All you need to do is understand that there is a reason. Rather than say “that person is weird” or to think about how what they’re doing affects you… instead, ask yourself what the reason could be. Perhaps it’s bigger than you think. Perhaps it’s not. But there is a reason.

It’s not always Autism… so it’s not just for autistics that I push for understanding.

But I do know this. If people stop judging and take a moment for greater understanding when they see an autistic acting “against the norm”… then perhaps those people will take a moment for greater understanding in all circumstances.

Don’t let someone lashing out at you affect your day. They had a reason and it wasn’t you. Don’t let someone acting strangely affect how you see people. They have a reason… they’re not strange.

Greater understanding… it starts when you stop taking it personally and judging the person for it.


With understanding comes acceptance… once you come to understand how a person is, how they think and who they are… you accept them.  You may wish to avoid the person who lashes out at strangers when they have a bad day, but you accept them for that.

Same with people with special needs, or even just regular every day people who go about their life differently than you do.

They have a reason for being who they are just as much as you have a reason for being who you are. And if you understand that, you can accept that.

I want for people to accept me for who I am just as much as I want for people to accept my children for who they are. Not because one has Autism and not because one does not. But because they are who they are.

Just One

If you can gain understanding and acceptance for just one new person, someone you see as different than yourself, someone you do not yet know… then you can do it for anyone and everyone.

It doesn’t matter if it’s Autism, Tourettes, Down Syndrome, political differences, religious differences… anything! If you can gain greater understanding and acceptance of anyone… you have the tools necessary to do that for everyone.

Be quick to to understand…. not judge.


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