Vacation Plans

It’s summer, and we really should be on the road to the beach or drinking at a pub along the Hudson, but I went and got a damn head cold, so we’re wasting a great summer weekend night at home. Maybe we’ll crawl to the theater to see The Incredibles 2 tonight. Not sure yet.

I would have a glass of wine anyway, but we have none in the house, and I can’t send Jonah to store to get some, because he isn’t old enough yet, dammit, and Steve isn’t home yet and I’m too sick to drive. Sigh.

Where is everyone going on vacation this year?

We’re doing a simple week at the beach this year, because all the moneys have been diverted towards college and kitchen.

Advertisements

There is no ‘Word Gap’ (Too bad that we created so many bad policies based on this study)

Back in the 1990s, a team of researchers spent two and a half years visiting the homes of close to four dozen families with young children, starting when the kids were 7 months old. Equipped with tape recorders and notebooks, the researchers—led by two Kansas psychologists named Betty Hart and Todd Risley—spent an hour per week in each home, recording every word a child’s primary caregiver said to the child during the sessions. After transcribing each conversation and then analyzing the exchanges as a whole, the researchers (who have both since passed away) discovered major differences in the number of words spoken in middle-class families and in lower-income ones.

The result of their research was a landmark study published in 1995, which maintained that a typical child whose parents are highly educated and working professionals is exposed to roughly 1,540 more spoken words per hour than a typical child on welfare. Over time, they concluded, this word gap snowballs so much that by age 4, children in rich families have been exposed to 32 million more words than children in poorer ones.

The study was a sensation, with the media and policymakers fixating on the so-called “word gap” as a key source of longer-term academic disparities between poor and rich kids. It was immediately embraced by academic researchers, and was cited in more than 7,000 academic publications. It influenced welfare initiatives, government pilot programs, and grant campaigns. The Obama administration championed efforts to close the “word gap,” organizing a campaign to raise awareness of the issue and to encourage parents to talk more to their children.

Now, a new study has failed to replicate Hart and Risley’s findings, further complicating the legacy of this body of research and renewing a long-standing debate among researchers about just how large disparities of language and vocabulary are among different social classes—and how much those differences matter, if at all.

More here

Spring Shots

I’m downloading my cameras and thought I would share. April and May were marvelous.

Jonah’s back, but only sort of. He’s taking a summer class at our state college, so he’s already moved into his off-campus housing, aka the disgusting, sticky, six guys/one shower, party palace. Oh, yay. Note to self — Bring some hand sanitizer next you visit.

In between work and the usual chores, we’ve found time for a concert, a get-away night in a hotel for our anniversary, celebrations, and laughter.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Grabbing Life by the Balls

Like everyone else, I was crushed by Anthony Bourdain’s death this weekend. Here’s a blog post that I wrote about his book, Kitchen Confidential, back in 2003. (Gee, I’ve been blogging for a long time, haven’t I?)

I think that’s little that we can understand about his death. Everybody’s depression is unique; we can never understand the demons that lurk in someone else’s brain. But what we can take away from his story is the passion that he had for life. That curiosity. That drive to do something new, to meet new people, to go places, to speak out about wrongness in the world. Unbeknownst to his fans like me, he juggled passion and despair    until he couldn’t any longer.

RIP, Tony. He was a local guy who done good.

I’ve been going back and forth within my own brain this week about what my next move should be.

Last week, I did what I love doing. I wrote an article. I talked with really smart people who taught me new things. The fact-checking process was intense – every word, number, comma was questioned by more super smart people, but there is also something thrilling about making it through that clothes wringer and making it out alive. The next person who shouts “FAKE NEWS” should just bite me. Seriously.

So, I’m doing what I like. The article will come out at some point, maybe today or tomorrow. And I’m lucky enough to get published at a place that will make sure that lots of eyeballs will see it. I have two or three other topics in embryo and a book proposal that I’m shopping around. In between articles, I can sit on the sofa and read the pile of books on the coffee table and on the iPad that range in quality from mindless fun to inspiring.

And at the same time, I can do it from home. I can stop working at around 3:30 and take Ian to activities. I can make dinner. I can go for a run in the morning. If the car breaks down or Ian’s bus driver flames out, I am around to handle the crisis.

But all this flexibility comes with a cost. There’s not much money in freelance writing, and there’s a lot of hustling. Maybe it’s time to take a less interesting, but full-time job at a foundation or a think tank in Manhattan. Farming out my household and parenting chores to others would be a necessity. I would have an hour commute on a good day. I have no idea who would make dinner, if I didn’t get home until 7.

I’m going to give myself one more year of writing full time to see where things go. I’m shutting down some of the volunteer work that I do in the community, so I can devote more time towards that goal. I want to squeeze as much awesomeness out of the next year, before I do something simply for a more regular paycheck.

The Other Families

With my special ed kid in high school, I started attending evening lectures and seminars about what to do when he turns 18. We’re not quite sure what supports that Ian will need as he gets older, so I am preparing for the worst case situation and the best case situation.

The worst case scenario is that he can never manage the real world on his own and will need full support for everything from work to food to housing. The best case scenario is that he can use his computer skills to find a proper job where they won’t mind his oddities, and he can live independently enough that he will only need light oversight from a family member.

Last week, I went to one talk where a social worker for the county gave us an overview of all the tasks that a special ed parent must do before the child turns 18, and then how they would have to manage the health, food, housing, transportation, employment, and social needs for their child. I knew some of those things already, but this was the first time that I got the broad overview.

It was horrific.

Until your child is 21, the school district is largely in charge of people with special needs. Not only do they have to provide the child with an education, but they also provide counseling, physical therapy, social groups, and transportation. They don’t necessarily provide health care, but in the special ed school that I taught at it in the Bronx many years ago, they wheeled in kids in wheelchairs who were semi-comatose and supervised them for the day. By law, they must care for all children until they turn 21.

Special ed parents talk about what happens when their child turns 21 as “falling off the cliff.” Services stop.

The woman from the county explained that parents had to manage all those aspects of their child’s life on their own. Yes, there were different bureaucracies with different pots of money that could help you, but the money was small and each bureaucracy had its own paperwork and quirks. It became very clear at this presentation that some parents, specifically the mothers, now had a full time job managing their child’s life.

It is a full time job just filling out the paperwork. And the quality of services is terrible. Yes, they’ll give your kid a lift to his job at the supermarket pushing shopping carts for less than minimum wage, but it takes 45 minutes for the van to arrive. At some point, the state will provide your child with housing, but there is a ten year waiting list for an apartment.

The woman explained that parents had to spend $5,000 on a lawyer to create a special needs trust and to get guardianship over the child-adult, which is necessary to pay their bills and to make medical decisions. She briefly mentioned that the difference between getting power of attorney versus the guardianship option, but told us to consult with a lawyer about these matters.

At one point during the talk, my face got all red as I realized the scope of work ahead of me, if we face the worst case scenario. I think I burst out with “THIS IS INSANE!” in the middle of her presentation.

How can anybody with a family with special needs ever vote for a Republican? I can’t understand how anybody would vote against their family’s needs in this way. We have no safety net in this country.

If some cells divide incorrectly in utero, you have spend the rest of your life out of the workforce, and instead your days become about managing paperwork just to get your child-adult out of the basement. A couple of wonky cell divisions means a substantially poorer family income and a lifetime of working your way through phone trees to find the right dispirited bureaucrat who will okay your transportation voucher.

If I knew all this twenty years ago, I might not have decided to be a parent. I probably would have anyway, because my kids bring me so much joy, but if I knew all this, I would have certainly paused and reflected on the risks.

More on Social Skills

Last night, on the way back from a Mother’s Day celebration at my brother’s house, we had to have a serious talk with Ian about the “Five Deadly Words” — ugly, stupid/dumb, old, smelly, and fat. He can’t address people (or their dogs) with those words. He wanted to know if they were curse words. We told him that these words were as hurtful as curses, and he should never use them.

Social rules have to be concretely explained to Ian. One we establish a rule, then he’s good to go, but he needs them to survive social situations. He doesn’t naturally know that you can’t say “Good-bye Old Woman” to someone when he doesn’t know her name. We explained to him that people love their dogs as much as their children, so those words apply to people’s pets as well.

Over the years, we’ve had to set this rule plus dozens more to help Ian navigate the outside world. I’m writing up these rules this week.

Have you had to directly instruct your children or your family members about social or conversational skills? Tell me about it.

 

Social Skills for Neurotypicals

Steve is at a conference in Miami this week. He was promoted this winter and will be doing more of this. Putting on a tie and schmoozing with people in the industry is not his strong suit, so I gave him some pointers for conversation starters.

When you’re at a business conference, you don’t want to talk too much about work, so what do you talk about? You look for commonalities and ask for advice. For example, you can say that we want to get a spot by a lake this year, but you don’t know where to go. Where would they suggest? If they have a kid in college, you can compare stories. You store little details about the person in a mental folder – their partner’s name, the age of their kids, some story they shared about their parent’s illness — and then ask about it.  You ask questions, even if you don’t care about their answers, just to keep the conversation going.

When you’re married for a long time, each person develops their strong suits and lets the other person carry their weaknesses. Because Steve’s sense of direction is so good, he drives everywhere and I can’t get anywhere on my own anymore. And because I’m good at the chit-chat stuff, I’m the talker when we go to cocktail parties. But he’s at the conference on his own now, so he’s got to work on this skills that he never had to develop.

Ian’s last remaining autism challenge is social skills. He’s outgrown just about every other issue, but he still can’t maintain a conversation and is often inappropriate. Yesterday, when we were at the podiatrist to get new orthotics for his flat feet, he insisted on calling the doctor by his first name. He was having a little trouble with a bully the week before and he couldn’t understand why the kid was purposely saying things to annoy him.

So, Ian goes to social skills therapy on Wednesdays and will attend a social skills camp over the summer. He has an aide at school that makes sure that he’s saying the right things. Even with all this help, he has no friends and will probably struggle his whole life with interacting with other people.

And I’ve learned a ton by taking him to all this therapy over the years. One thing that I’ve learned is that a whole of neurotypical people suck at social skills, too. It’s one thing to say the wrong thing occasionally. We all do that. But lots of people struggle with more basic skills, like putting themselves in another person’s shoes to understand their motivations. Or knowing how to make another person more comfortable and relax to tell you their secrets. Lots of people don’t know how to do that.

I sometimes think about writing a book for non-autistic people about the art of chit-chat.