“I’m sorry, Ken, but that is incorrect”: My response to Ken Jennings

Wrong Answer

Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings made the following tweet yesterday: “Nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair.” The Twitterverse almost immediately exploded. Some people laughed, most were outraged. Jennings has not yet responded to inquiries and comments about the tweet. Part of me wanted to resist giving this ableist nonsense any more exposure, nor give that person any more free press, but I just have to say: I’m sorry, Ken, but that is incorrect.

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Jellyfish in the Baby Pool: Protecting my child with special needs

pool fun

All parents want to protect their children. We are constantly on guard, looking for potential threats. Parenting a child with special needs often requires an extra measure of caution, because problems can hide in the most innocent of places. Where some parents see fun and merriment, we may only see danger, potential meltdowns, or sensory overload.

An experience we had many years ago on a family vacation comes to mind as an analogy. My husband and I took our two small sons to the beach and it was a lot more work than we expected, partly because our toddler and preschooler had distinctly different sensory needs at that stage. My oldest child spent most of his time avoiding the sand and crying “Dirty, dirty…” under his breath. My youngest, on the other hand, couldn’t get enough of the sand. He would sit and eat it by the handfuls.

sticky fingers                      sand feast

After a while I was exhausted and decided it was time for “easy.” We headed to what I thought would be a safe haven: the baby pool at the beach club. After a few minutes of play I stepped on something squishy at the bottom of the pool. I picked it up, and to my horror realized I was holding a jellyfish. A JELLYFISH. In the BABY POOL! A man saw my reaction and said nonchalantly, “Oh yeah. my kid was playing with that. It doesn’t have any tentacles!” I was appalled. Why would anyone take a risk like that with the safety of small children? Not to mention the fact that a baby pool doesn’t need any extra organic material, if you know what I’m saying. Not wanting to take that man’s word for it that no one could get stung, I disposed of the jellyfish. It was a wake-up call to me that there was something potentially dangerous in an environment that should be protected.

As my children got older, and my youngest son was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, I realized that the world is full of “jellyfish in the baby pool,” so to speak. Other parents of children with special needs know what I am talking about. Experiences that may be perfectly safe or enjoyable for typical children can be dangerous or overwhelming for a child who is physically or neurologically different.

Dinner out as a family? Lots of ways you could get stung by jellyfish. Taking your kids with you grocery shopping? Jellyfish. Public school? Jellyfish. Amusement parks? Jellyfish. Trick or Treating? Jellyfish. Dentist appointments? Jellyfish. Enjoying the latest Disney movie at the theater? Jellyfish. Haircuts? Jellyfish. Playing outside with other children? Jellyfish. Easter egg hunts? Have mercy. (If your child can get through the waiting for the start of the hunt then you sure as heck better have some emergency eggs stashed in your pockets just in case the hunt itself doesn’t go well.)  Chuck E. Cheese? Actually, never mind that last one. I’m pretty sure all parents feel the same way about that place.

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Wizard World Comic Con

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Check that one off the bucket list~  I finally attended my very 1st comic con! For some reason Wizard World decided to come to my little ole’ town, and as a a lifelong geeky fangirl of sci-fi, superheroes and the like I was SO there. It was the first year for this event here, and it was a smaller con. Smaller can also mean less crowds and less waiting in line, especially since a lot of people had not heard about the event (I saw a lot of “wish I had known about this!” comments after it was over). But it was still well-attended , and it was if I had finally found my people. I was positively giddy, and all day long I felt like my son at 1:06 in this video, “This is the best thing of my life!” The video (our own little brush with media and pop culture when my son’s enthusiastic response to playing with a sea lion briefly became one of those “viral videos”) even came up a couple times in conversations about using media opportunities to help bring about more than entertainment, but also a greater good.

When we arrived downtown it was right at starting time, but there was a loooong backup to get into the parking deck. I tried not to go into fits, thinking about the fact that I was wasting time in the car. Must. See. COMIC-CON! Finally I asked my husband if he could pleeeease park the car without me, and I jumped out with oldest child and scampered to the convention center. I then proceeded to break rule #1 of comic cons: make sure you know what line you are waiting in. Luckily, I didn’t waste more than a minute, ha.

Commence the joy.

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Kids get in free with a paid adult so we had our two boys with us for the first two hours, then my parents kindly picked them up. The boys enjoyed seeing all the superhero, comic and sci-fi merchandise. My youngest son wore a shirt with the Autism Ninja, our very own family superhero.

The NinjAlex, our Autism Ninja superhero, created by my son and drawn by my brother.
The NinjAlex, our very own Autism Ninja superhero. Copyright Jennifer Bittner and Brian Roberts.

My oldest was wearing a Minecraft shirt, and the highlight of his day was when someone dressed as Steve gave him a thumbs up. There were a lot of cosplayers, and we were impressed by how elaborate and creative some of the costumes were.

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I have no idea what that third set of people are supposed to be, except that they are now IN MY NIGHTMARES! And look at that intricate cardboard Groot! But baby Rocky, however adorable, was just NOT having it.
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