Autism Enters the Conversation at the Second Republican Presidential Debate

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Autism entered the conversation at the second Republican presidential debate on Wednesday, September 16, at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.

After about two and a half hours of debate, moderator Jake Tapper asked presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon, whether or not fellow presidential candidate Donald Trump should stop publicly claiming that childhood vaccines are linked to autism, according to a New York Times transcript of the debate.

Dr. Carson responded by saying that numerous studies have failed to demonstrate any correlation between vaccinations and autism, then attempted to move the conversation in the direction of big government.

When Tapper again prompted, “Should he (Trump) stop saying it? Should he stop saying that vaccines cause autism?” Carson responded with, “I’ve just explained it to him. He can read about it if he wants to. I think he’s an intelligent man and will make the correct decision after getting the real facts.”

See the interaction in the video below:

Trump responded with the following:

Autism has become an epidemic. Twenty-five years ago, 35 years ago, you look at the statistics, not even close. It has gotten totally out of control. I am totally in favor of vaccines. But I want smaller doses over a longer period of time. Because you take a baby in — and I’ve seen it — and I’ve seen it, and I had my children taken care of over a long period of time, over a two or three year period of time. Same exact amount, but you take this little beautiful baby, and you pump — I mean, it looks just like it’s meant for a horse, not for a child, and we’ve had so many instances, people that work for me.

Just the other day, two years old, two and a half years old, a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.

I only say it’s not — I’m in favor of vaccines, do them over a longer period of time, same amount. But just in — in little sections. I think — and I think you’re going to have — I think you’re going to see a big impact on autism.

Dr. Carson responded by saying, “The fact of the matter is that we have extremely well documented proof that there is no autism associated with vaccination, but it is true that we are probably giving way too many in too short of a time and a lot of pediatricians now recognize that and I think are cutting down on the number and the proximity in which those are done.”

After the debate, Autism Speaks released the following statement:

The issue of autism took center stage during last night’s Republican presidential debate, and it must remain at the forefront of the national dialogue. There are millions of Americans affected by autism, many of whom are in need of better treatments, supports and services, and deserve more research on the cause of autism. Our elected officials must take action on behalf of them. We need a national plan that addresses the needs of people affected by autism across the entire lifespan.

As for the issue of vaccines, over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism.

Go here for a full transcript of the debate. 

What’s your take on this discussion of autism? Let us know in the comments below.

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Police Officers Escort Daughter of Fallen Cop to Father-Daughter Dance

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Jewel Warren, 8, lost her father, Memphis, Tennessee, police officer Tim Warren, when he was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2011, according to a post on the Memphis Police Department Facebook page.

When Jewel recently received an invitation to attend a father-daughter dance at her school, she was saddened by the letter. Her mother, Taylor Amen, spoke with Donna Kirk, founder of Our Fallen Heroes Foundation, and they began reaching out to officers from Warren’s department looking for an escort.

Many officers jumped at the opportunity. Because of space was limitations, six were chosen to escort Jewel to her dance, Yahoo Parenting reported. There’s already a wait list for which officers get to take her to the next dance.

 

On Friday, September 4, the community came together to make it a night Jewel will never forget — local florists donated boutonnieres, a corsage and roses for the officers to give Jewel, a photographer donated her time to capture the special night and Jewel arrived in style to the dance by taking a ride in a classic 1972 Cutlass Supreme, according to a post on the Memphis Police Department Facebook page.

 

We know we cannot replace Tim, but we can be there for his family when we are needed,” Said officer Amen, according to the Facebook post. “It was truly a honor.”

 

h/t Reddit Uplifting

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To the Soccer Coach Who Stepped Up in a Big Way for My Son With Autism

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Dear Coach C,

As my son Ben’s first soccer season draws to an end, I wanted to take a moment to write this to you. I know I said thank you today on the field, but I also know those two simple words cannot convey just exactly how grateful my family is to you.

There are not many people would volunteer their time to coach 4- and 5-year-old soccer on a Saturday. I know this because of the multiple emails I received pleading for coaches for the league. If I’d had the slightest clue how to play soccer beyond “don’t touch the ball,” I would have helped. But you stepped up in a big way.

I know for many parents, soccer is one of many sports and activities their child participates in. For us, deciding to put Ben in a regular soccer league was a really big deal, and we didn’t make the decision lightly. For you see, we’ve tried other sports and watched them not work out well. Like the karate class where Ben spent almost the entire time in the penalty box because he would not “focus.” Or gyms that were too noisy, too confusing, too…much. So after careful research, we chose a soccer league that emphasized sportsmanship over competition — a league where everyone gets a trophy — and we held our breaths and hoped for the best.

So when I approached you on that first day and told you my little boy is autistic and may not look you in the eyes or always focus on the game, I fully expected to see an expression of panic on your face. I would’ve understood if you glanced for the nearest exit. I would’ve even understood if you had said, “Autism? I’m just a volunteer and I don’t think I am equipped to handle your son.” But you did none of those things. Instead, you gave me a reassuring smile and you told me he would be fine, and I knew immediately you weren’t patronizing me. I felt the confidence in your voice, and a glimmer of hope grew inside me. For the first time, I let myself believe that this could actually work. And then, you gave my son a jersey, and he suddenly he was a soccer player. Number nine. I know no one else felt it, but a momentous shift happened in that moment. My little guy who prefers his world of solitude was now part of a team.

Coach C’s soccer team doing a team cheer

Watching you with the children each week was just magic. Your positive energy was infectious, and even the most reluctant child was drawn to your energy. When my son would wander away from the field or in front of another player during drills, you never showed an ounce of impatience or exasperation. You guided him to where he needed to be. You talked him through what was going on in the game. You even adapted some soccer drills along the way to meet his needs. When Ben had the idea to knock down the cones with the ball, everybody took turns doing it. When Ben lost interest kicking the ball to a team member, you became his teammate until he was ready to join the group again. And you did all this with a smile.

Because of you, on soccer Saturdays he would wake excited to get on the field, and when he saw your bright red shirt, he’d run to you, yelling, “I’m here, Coach!” He got to feel the thrill of a game well played. He got to bask in the glow of applause from the crowd. He learned how to huddle up with his teammates and do a team cheer, “Go Cheetahs!” He got to slap the hands of the other team at the end and tell them, “Good game!”

During the games, it was hard for Ben to keep his focus on running after the ball, but you never lost sight of him. You always made sure he had equal turns to play. I watched as you made sure he had his turn to kick the ball in. I saw how you took the time to listen to him as he told you he was an airplane and joined his world by looking up to the sky, too.

I was touched when, on the tournament day, you made sure to say something personal to each child. You called Ben your “most enthusiastic player” with a great deal of heart. We all laughed together when you told the team they had grown so much this year, to which Ben piped up, “Even me!” Your example of acceptance to Ben’s unique soccer style paved the way for his teammates to accept him, too. I know that Ben has grown so much because of you, but the example you set for those other children will be lessons they take with them in the future about accepting differences in others and finding the strengths in everyone.

A simple thank you isn’t enough to convey our gratitude for the gift you have given him. Ben has regained his faith in the world of sports, and I know this will pave the way for him to try more in the future. I hope our paths will cross again, on the field or elsewhere, but I know one thing for sure. I believe God puts people in our lives in the moments when we need them, and he brought you to us. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Love,

Jessica, Nick, and Ben

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe a moment you gave or received a gift that touched your life in a special way. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The Challenge I Gave the Classmates of My Son With Epilepsy

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Some of the faces in the crowd were familiar to me, though having lost a little of early childhood’s pudginess. Fifth graders scooted in around me as I sat at the front of the room. I’d been invited to talk to my son Calvin’s classmates about him and about epilepsy, as I do every year for a handful of teachers who’ll have me.

I always start by telling them Calvin was born prematurely and missing a section of his brain — some of its white matter, its superhighway — and as a result it takes Calvin a long, long time to learn things and some things he may never learn. I told them he’s visually impaired, can’t talk, doesn’t walk well and still wears diapers. I explained that when he was 2 he was diagnosed with epilepsy. Then I asked if any of them knew what epilepsy was. A cute boy at the edge of the group raised his hand.

“It’s when your brain has seizures and you have to take medication to stop them.”

His answer hinted that he knew someone or perhaps had a pet with the disorder.

I went on to explain what seizures are, how several kinds exist and how some seizures can cause one to lose consciousness. I told them in some people, the medications don’t always completely control seizures but how folks still have to take the drugs and experience their side effects. I mentioned how the cannabis oil I’m making, which comes from a plant, seems to be helping Calvin safely come off one of his addictive, debilitating and harmful drugs. I ended my intro by saying Calvin is the best person I know. Then I asked them why they supposed I felt that way:

Because he’s your child?

Because he’s happy?

Because he’s nice?

I praised their answers and told them Calvin is the best person I know because he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body; he’s pure. I noted that I had one more important thing to say at the end of the session before I opened up the floor for questions.

“You can ask me anything about Calvin and about epilepsy,” I said, assuring them no question was out of bounds. After a short pause, the first hand went up from a pretty girl with long brown hair.

“Are all people with epilepsy like Calvin?”

I thanked her for the important reminder that, no, most people with epilepsy are not like Calvin, though a lot of people like him have epilepsy. I explained how it’s difficult to tell if someone has epilepsy unless you witness a seizure or you’re told. The boy who knew what epilepsy is raised his hand high.

“I have epilepsy,” he said, standing brave and sure beside his desk.

I was careful not to pry, instead channeling his courageous energy, underscoring how most people with epilepsy are smart and able to do the same things their peers can do. Then more questions began to flow:

How long is the longest seizure Calvin ever had?

How does Calvin communicate with you?

Can Calvin play any games?

What are his favorite things to do?

What medications does he take?

Do you know what his different sounds mean?

Will he outgrow his epilepsy?

Can Calvin recognize himself in a mirror?

Does Calvin sleep in a special bed?

Does Calvin’s body hurt after a seizure?

They looked sad when I told them Calvin’s longest single seizure lasted 45 minutes and the emergency drugs didn’t seem to be working. I told them that one time, while in the hospital when he was tiny, Calvin had scores of little seizures over the course of hours and the doctors didn’t know they were seizures but I eventually realized that they were. I assured them doctors don’t always know everything. I explained the words advocacy and paradoxical and convulsion. I talked about how Calvin doesn’t feel good after seizures and, finally, that he’d said the word Mama once, before the seizures and the taking of drugs began.

When there was a brief lull, one boy raised his hand and asked what I’d been saving to tell them.

I gently challenged them all to be an example for their peers by showing kindness and compassion to Calvin and by being his friend. I encouraged them to be kind to others who might look different, sound different, act different, dress different, speak a different language or come from a different country, because all of us have the same heart, and that by doing so, they can make the world a better place.

As I left the room, the children thanked me, and a freckled girl with a bob of ginger hair looked intently into my eyes, smiled sweetly and waved as I pulled the door closed and skipped off to see my Calvin.

This post originally appeared on Calvin’s Story.

Do you have a story about your experience with epilepsy? Please send it [email protected] include a photo for the story, a photo of yourself and a 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Why It Was Hard to Ask for Help While Living With My Disorder

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I have lived with dystonia for 15 years. For more than half of those years, I had a hard time asking for help. My ego stood in the way. I was certainly helped by my loved ones, but it came with guilt until I put myself in their shoes. They wanted to help. They just didn’t know how, and I didn’t know how to ask because I struggled with the reality that I had limitations.

One time I had to fly across the country to go to a clinic because my symptoms were severe. My parents wanted to get me a wheelchair to use in the airports, but just the idea of that was beyond shocking. Me, a former competitive athlete in numerous sports and a well-seasoned traveler, needing a wheelchair? Never! Boy, was that silly. Turns out I needed more than a wheelchair, but because of my ego, I faced more challenges than I had to.

I felt guilty for having a condition like dystonia. It caused me to experience negative feelings about myself. I felt a sense of helplessness and unworthiness, which led to isolation. Sharing my feelings with others helped to break this isolation. Communicating about how I felt was vital to release my shame.

I also didn’t ask for help because I felt like a burden to others. But most people want to help. They often just don’t know how to help. This is where clear communication is vital. Let others know what we need and also let them know we’re here for them as well.

When I finally realized it was OK to ask for and accept help, those around me began to change. Life became much lighter for all of us. I learned asking for help and relying on other people doesn’t indicate weakness or failure. It’s a sign of strength. It takes courage to admit we need help, especially when we’re so used to an active, fully functional life.

We’re also not the only ones who live with dystonia. Our friends and family experience pain, too, as they sit by feeling helpless, watching their loved ones face challenges. This can put a lot of stress on friendships, marriages and other relationships to the point they can be dramatically altered or even end. Plenty of people have left my life because of dystonia. As much as we want to be understood by others, others want to be understood by us just as much. Please be sure to give your loved ones the opportunity to share what they’re experiencing.

While some relationships have ended because of the life changes associated with dystonia, many new ones can begin and some existing one can become stronger. It’s all a matter of how we deal with it individually and collectively. We need to listen just as much as we talk, if not more. An open-door policy with any challenge in our lives is the best way for us to help one another and strengthen our relationships.

Some people have a strong desire to fix us. When they realize they’re unable to, some will retreat and then less of our needs are met. It’s our responsibility to let our spouses, parents, kids, siblings and friends know that it’s OK they can’t fix us and we don’t expect them to.

We need people to listen to us without trying to fix or change us. We need to feel they’re there for us, and the best way they can do that is to just listen, open their arms and hearts and simply acknowledge our feelings, not change our feelings. Acknowledge our feelings to let us know we matter and what we feel matters.

It’s important for us to understand the people we seek all these things from may also need the same things from us. I think it’s more difficult to watch a loved one in pain knowing we can’t take any of it away than being the one experiencing the pain. Please keep this in mind when you judge how others handle your situation, remembering it’s also very hard on them. Support is a two-way street.

Many helping hands are there for us. We just need to reach out. To feel comfortable allowing others to help us, we have to overcome the fact we sometimes need help. All people do in one way or another.

Tom Seaman the mighty.1-001

September is Dystonia Awareness Month. To learn more about this neurological movement disorder, contact the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation. To sign the White House petition to have September formally recognized as Dystonia Awareness month, click here.

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Why It’s OK When My Son With Autism and I Need to Leave a Party

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“Where are you going?” We’re often asked this question when we have to remove our son, C, from an activity, family gathering or a party.

“He needs some quiet time,” we’ll say. Our response is often met with confusion, a remark that I must also need quiet time or a simple nod of understanding. Maybe I was naïve, but I thought it would be easier for others to understand after my son had been diagnosed with autism.

Over the years, we discovered that scheduling breaks to avoid sensory overload is necessary to our son’s success in any non-routine situation. We didn’t always schedule breaks for him and learned the hard way. Meltdowns came out of nowhere — or so we thought. The truth is we didn’t know how to recognize his nonverbal communication.

Now I can see when he starts to get on edge. He clings tightly to a Matchbox vehicle — maybe even one in each hand. Cars and trucks have always been his comfort items. He calms himself by playing with them, resting his head on the ground to study the wheels.

He starts to snap a little at other children, not allowing them to play near him. If his sister is there, he picks an argument with her to place his frustration somewhere “safe.”

Verbal communication diminishes. Baby talk, grunting or whining begins.

Instead of seeking out new toys or playmates, he retreats into his own world. He ignores the kids around him and refuses to let them into his bubble.

Once any of these signs appear, I whisk him away to a quiet place. We call it his “quiet time,” and we go to a quiet room and close the door. He can play with cars or watch a cartoon. When he is able to retreat to a quiet, safe activity, then he finds a way to center himself.

Now that he’s 4, he’s better at telling me what he needs. “I want to go home,” is actually code for, “I have reached my limit.” Time has taught me that making him stay is unfair and, in some cases, can hurt him. Making him stay means forcing his body into sensory overload and discomfort, which will result in explosive meltdowns.

Being a special needs parent has toughened me a bit. I used to care more about what people think, but now the bottom line is this: I need to do what is best for my child.

Kristin Novotny the mighty.2-002

Follow this journey on Little Mama Jama.

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