In a Nation (and world) Divided, Kindness Matters

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The country in which I live is reeling from an unprecedented and divisive Presidential election. Are we going to drown in the wake of hatred that threatens to overcome our land? I beg you to be kind to one another. Now, maybe more than ever, we desperately need it.

There are people in the United States and beyond who are hurting and afraid. This includes religious and ethnic minorities, the LGBT community, people with disabilities, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, or even anyone who has felt different or mocked or had their rights oppressed. Many of them are feeling vulnerable, and those feelings should not be dismissed. Even if your vote was different from theirs I would encourage you to treat them with compassion and respect and make an attempt to understand their concerns.

When the pinnacle of a country’s power is attained by a person who openly acts unkind (I can make a list of examples, I just choose not to) it makes you wonder if the people in that country value kindness. For any of us who have ever been discriminated against or felt “other”-ed by those with power, it makes us sad and uncomfortable.

We are not just afraid because of who won the election, we are also afraid of how we will be treated by those we encounter in day-to-day life. Judging by accounts I have read it is apparent those fears are valid.

Story after story has emerged of individuals being subjected to hateful treatment by their fellow human beings, and it began even before the final votes were tallied.

Earlier in the week a young man in a wheelchair attended a Trump rally to protest, saying “I wanted to go because Donald J. Trump made fun of disabled people.” The Washington Post reports that as he and his Mother were escorted out, “Trump supporters near them started pushing her son’s wheelchair, and calling her a ‘child abuser’ and telling others to ‘grab her p—y’.”

As a mother and a member of the disability community this horrifies me. Did his choice to exercise his right to make a peaceful protest warrant such treatment?

Stories are pouring in. They run the gamut of intensity from snide, insulting comments, all the way to physical violence and destruction of property. Many of the stories are directly connected to people I know or their friends.

A friend of my sister shared that the day of the election one of her children’s black classmates was asked by another student, “Are you packed yet?”

Jennifer Boyle, an extended family member who teaches in a Denver public school, shared this disturbing encounter endured by one of her students:

“A, a 16 year-old black female, told me she was spit on this morning by a white male Trump supporter on her walk to school. After he spit on her he ripped the Hillary sticker off her backpack. No bystander, of which there were many, intervened”.

Jennifer also wrote of the myriad of emotions experienced by her students the morning after the election: Continue reading

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Why Some “Good Deed” Stories Can Do More Harm Than Good

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Another day, another “feel-good” story. But what if these stories actually do more harm than good? Before you judge me for being cynical, let me explain.

What often happens is there is a person who has some sort of disability and they might also need some assistance. Then some “typical” person decides to be kind and help them. Usually that’s fine. Great even. We should reach out to our fellow humans. The world needs more genuine compassion and caring.

Sometimes a third-party happens to witness the scene, and interprets it as the grand gesture of an amazingly generous individual who took their time to help out a poor, pitiable and helpless disabled person. Then pictures are taken without asking the permission of all the parties involved, because they want to spread the amazing, feel-good story throughout all kinds of news outlets and social media platforms. Still sound great?

There is nothing inherently wrong with positive stories about people with disabilities or tales of good deeds. It’s the motivation behind it or the way the subject is handled that can be problematic. Sometimes the individual performing the good deed or telling the story does so with motives other than just being kind to someone else; sometimes they do it for notoriety.

In other cases I don’t doubt that the overall intention of the story tellers was good, yet somehow things took a turn. Often that is the fault of the tactics used by the media, who love a heart-tugging, viral story. News sources often spread these “feel-good” messages at the expense of the dignity of their subjects, presenting the person with a disability as merely a pawn in someone else’s story. It is designed to make US, not them, “feel good,” and praises and elevates the person performing the “good deed.” These stories do all that at the expense of the recipient, often without their consent. Stories like this are commonly referred to as “Inspiration Porn.” Continue reading

The Day a Sea Lion Wanted to Play: Autism Acceptance in Unexpected Places

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We all want to feel happy, connected, and accepted. Sometimes that is found in ways we least expect.

One late winter day my family visited the zoo in Washington, D.C. It was early and we had the underwater viewing area at the sea lion exhibit all to ourselves. My youngest son had on a jacket with contrasting colors and we noticed it seemed to catch the attention of one particularly curious sea lion. I starting recording as the two darted back and forth on opposite sides of the glass, and she followed his every move. When my son realized what was going on he joyfully cried out, “She likes me!”

My son is *Autistic, and social interaction as well as playing with other children is sometimes hard and complicated. Some research has shown that children with Autism and other disabilities are actually  2-3 times more likely to be bullied by their peers. They also often find it easier to relate to animals and can connect with them more easily than with people.

My son was thrilled to find a playmate that day and to feel free to be himself. It came so easily. All the sea lion wanted was to play, and nothing else mattered; not social rules, not appearance. Just fun.

We learned later that the sea lion was named Sophie, and she was famous for interacting with her visitors. She accepted all potential playmates equally, but I would wager that few were as enthusiastic as my youngest son. As their game of follow-the-leader continued, he exclaimed, “THIS IS THE BEST THING OF MY LIFE!”
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Our Talk with Christopher Ulmer of Special Books by Special Kids: A Seriously Not Boring Interview

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My youngest son and I recently had the opportunity to talk via Skype with Christopher Ulmer, aka “Mr. Chris,” of Special Books by Special Kids. Usually Chris interviews other people, so we thought it would be fun to turn the tables and be the ones asking the questions to learn more about him and his students. For those of you who may not know who he is,  Chris is an exceptional education teacher in Florida. His unique and affirming teaching style as well as his extraordinary class of students has captured the hearts of many and become a viral sensation. The first video to gain widespread attention showcased his “compliment time” with the students at the start of each school day, and it was featured first at “The Mighty” and then in an article on ABC News. From there the message spread all over the mainstream media, reaching far beyond the typical “Awareness” circles, and Chris even made an appearance on Rachel Ray’s television show. The messages from Mr. Chris and his students continue to spread all over the internet, and the page has even been mentioned on unexpected sites like MTV, prompting Ashton Kutcher to say, “Mr. Chris, you’re a great teacher.”

Two videos from our conversation are embedded at the bottom of this post. In the first video he talks with my youngest son (his older brother decided not to participate because this isn’t his kind of thing 😉 ). Noodle Dog makes an appearance, there is some Minecraft talk in the middle, and an eyeball crossing contest at the end. Chris described his teaching philosophy and what influenced his decision to become an exceptional education teacher. I was also finally able to ask something I have long wondered about; it seems, when watching the SBSK videos, that teaching in a private school setting allows a level of flexibility in the classroom that wouldn’t be able to occur in a public school setting (for many reasons). He addresses that, as well as whether or not they have any sort of standardized testing. He also recalls an excellent and entertaining musical concert performed by his students, and all the work that went into it. You will have to watch the video to hear the fun story.

Update: here is the short “highlights” version of just the silly parts. 🙂

 

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Our Trip to the TV Station/ Review of Top Toys

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My youngest son and I recently had the opportunity to visit a local television studio to record a piece about the Holiday shopping season. A reporter named Morgan Dean (who is also a Morning News anchor) provided some of the items on many of the “Top Toys” lists and we gave our feedback. For the Little Ninja this was a dream come true because, 1. Toys, and 2. He wants to be a media STAR. (He is obsessed with YouTube, and I’m pretty sure Thomas Sanders is his spirit animal).

My oldest son declined the opportunity to be interviewed on camera because he is more a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. I totally respect that, and think it’s cool that my boys have such interesting personalities that are so different from each other.

Here is a link to the article and interview on the WRIC website: http://wric.com/2015/11/24/hottest-toys-of-the-holiday-get-a-jump-on-black-friday/

Taping went pretty well, even though it involved a good bit of needing to wait quietly. That can be hard for any child, but especially one who is Autistic. I had initially been concerned about how my son would handle himself in studio and on-camera, but he did great. I was thankful that Autism didn’t get in the way of something he wanted to do, or make things extra hard that day (Don’t get me wrong, he is proud of his unique brain. He is also aware of the challenges that it can cause). The only hiccup was when he started playing with the electronic lightsaber toy, and the first thing he blurted out was, “IT SOUNDS LIKE A FART!”  In all honesty, it did. You can see him giggling about it near the beginning of the clip. His “fart” comment surpirsed us all and got a good laugh, so he became stuck on the idea of farts for a while. I worried we wouldn’t get back on track. Thankfully the moment passed (see what I did there?), and he went back to being his typical exuberant self. The fart comments didn’t make it into the final edit, by the way.

Another cool thing was that Autism didn’t need to be a part of the dialogue that day, even though we have talked with WRIC before about Autism. In this instance we were simply people (and bloggers) talking about TOYS. Moving on…

Our friend Carissa Garabedian of Macaroni Kid Richmond and the special-needs website Know Different was also interviewed for the piece. She got to talk about the Girl Scout Cookie Oven among other things, and it looked yummy. Well, the cookies did. I always wanted an Easy Bake Oven as a kid and never got one. This looks similar and made my inner child VERY happy. I WANT ONE. Plus I want to be able to make Thin Mints on a whim.

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After we completed taping we were able to take a brief tour of the studio.

Green screens are COOL
Green screens are COOL

The Little Ninja was mesmerized by the Green Screen.

Then they let us venture behind the Anchor Desk.

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