Friday, August 30, 2013

Younger Siblings and Autism

Unsurprisingly, there is plenty of evidence that the chance of a child being born with autism is much higher if they have an older sibling on the spectrum. In fact, as more data has become available, this probability is understood to be even higher than previously thought. In addition, non-autistic siblings often imitate autistic behaviour. In the early 90's when time my brother and I were diagnosed, autism "experts" my parents encountered were often interested in study our genetics make-up. Parents who had an autistic child frequently stopped having more, so we were a rarity.

Over the years as I've met more families with autism, I've noticed that younger siblings often seem to have stronger autistic symptoms- such as more speech and developmental delays than their older autistic brothers and sisters. My younger brother and Dan's were both delayed in speech, whereas were considered quite precocious. Dan went straight from Dr. Seuss to National Geographic while his brother struggled to read. So why is this?

If a child proves more difficult to raise, parents may wait longer to have another child, thus increasing the likelihood of disability in the next.  My brother and I are 3 years apart, as are Dan & his brother, and our mothers were both 30 when the had us. So not considered old enough to be risky. Are the parents a little worn out raising the first, so they are a little less conscientious with the second? My dad has joked that its the reverse- that the first child is a sort of "guinea pig" and with the second kid the parents know what they are doing more!

Of course this isn't always the case, I've certainly plenty of autistic kids with younger non-autistic siblings (though frequently they have traits, or related disabilities like AD/HD- and one or both or the parents- often identified after the child with more severe symptoms has been. It's interesting to see the reaction of the parents when another child is labelled (older or younger) Sometimes they are more accepting, in other cases more resistant. (Nooo- why can't I have a "normal" kid!)

I'd be interested in other people's observations and experiences- Please share them below, or post a link to your own blog or website.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sensitive Language for Oppressed Groups: Who Decides?

I was raised in the early 90's, as there was a rising awareness of multiculturalism and efforts toward gender equality in the workplace and society as a whole- with accompanying controversies. The culture wars raged around me, demanding that I take a side. My parents were active in the peace and civil rights movements in the 80's and 90's (being a little young during the beginnings of these movements. So I learned to use words like "African American" and "chairperson" (chair sounds like a piece of furniture to me) But I wonder, where do these terms come from, who decides they are better to use? . Since "political correctness" is a derogatory phrase coined by the Right in the United States, for lack of a better term I'll say "sensitive language for oppressed groups" Long-winded, but it gets the concept across.

Some words like the "n-word" and the "r-word"  are agreed to be offensive by most people, even those who are less politically or culturally savvy. Others, while not as blatantly offensive, mostly just sound old-fashioned, and insensitive if said in a certain way. Homosexual is a neutral term by itself, though most use gay or lesbian, and I typically hear "homosexual" being used in anti-gay rhetoric.

Advocacy groups, and academics who think and write about various "isms" and the connotations of language usage, are the ones who coin these words for the most part. The problem is that it is rather elitist to expect most people outside of these settings to know and use these terms. I would not know many of these things if I had not been raised by educated activist parents, and gone to a liberal arts college. How many people would know for example, that they should use "little person" instead of "midget" to refer to very short people- without having watched or heard of the reality show "Little People Big World".

So I think we need to be careful to understand where others are coming from when it comes to their language usage in these areas. Polite correction, without condescencion, and suggestions of books and resources to learn more about groups that we are unfamiliar with is much more helpful that accusing a well-meaning person of racism/sexism/ableism etc. Also not every individual in a particular identity group is going to be aware of or prefer to be called by the latest term. It's often amused me that in spite of all the white teachers who have told us to say "African-American" and "Native American", the folks I meet typically call themselves Black and Indian or American Indian.  It makes the most sense to me to use the terms members of the groups use themselves (aside from "reclaimed" words that they use among themselves) and simply being (gasp!) being respectful.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Will the Real Service Dog Please Stand Up?

Canine Companions for Independence, the nation's largest breeder/trainer/distributor of service dogs, has issued a petition to the Justice Dept- calling for the outlaw of false service dog vests and certificates.

Apparently in another one of those "ethically questionable things you didn't know people did til the Internet came along" there are people out there selling these items, and perhaps dogs that aren't properly trained to go with them. So, being disabled is cool now? Not so much- but being able to take your dog places otherwise not allowed is- or at least more convenient for you.

In addition to dishonesty, this misuse of service dog disguises for regular pets jeopardizes the inclusion of service dogs in public spaces. People with disabilities have fought long and hard for public accommodations and we still struggle with defending and extending the rights we have. Currently users of service dogs are not required to carry documentation (though other types of service animals are) but that may become restricted if there is more suspicion of the animals' status.
Potentially this could also lead to folks who need service dogs getting ones that are not properly trained.

So- go sign the petition!