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France to Require All Parents Vaccinate Their Children

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France will require all parents vaccinate their children, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced in a speech on Wednesday. The announcement follows a warning from the World Health Organization (WHO) that measles is spreading across Europe, despite vaccines which can prevent the virus, Independent reported.

France currently requires all children to be vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and polio, and will add eight more required vaccinations — pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae bacteria, pneumococcus and meningococcus C — starting in 2018.

France is not the only country to have a rise in measles. In 2017, CNN reported 73 confirmed cases of measles in Minnesota, compared to 70 cases of measles in the entire U.S. in 2016, a majority of whom were unvaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is likely a result of antivaccination sentiments surrounding the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine.

“Measles is a dangerous and vaccine-preventable disease. There is no reason to decline MMR unless the individual is too young to be vaccinated or has a severe immunodeficiency and they cannot be vaccinated,” Patricia Stinchfield, director of infection prevention and control for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, told CNN. “The reason we vaccinate is because of the potential for infection of the brain or lungs that can cause permanent and lasting damage. Death from measles is one to two per 1,000 cases because there is no antiviral medicine against measles. All we can do is provide IV fluids, oxygen and support and hope they survive,” she said.

Many antivaxxers falsely claim the MMR vaccine causes autism spectrum disorder, a statement which has been repeatedly disproven. In 1998, the Lancet published a study which claimed autism was linked to the MMR vaccine. The publication then retracted the study in 2010 after scientists were unable to replicate its findings, and the study’s author, Andrew Wakefield, lost his medical license.

France now joins Italy in mandating vaccines. In Italy, to attend a state-sponsored school, all children must be vaccinated.

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Confronting My Sexuality as Someone With Autism

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I am asexual, which for me means that I do not view people in a sexual way, or think about sex. I’m also gray romantic, meaning that I lack romantic attraction to a certain extent. I could also be called bi or panromantic, because I could see myself in a semi-romantic relationship with someone of any gender. I’m overall more attracted to feminine-presenting people, but can be attracted to masculine-presenting people based on their personality. Some may call me a special snowflake for requiring an entire paragraph to explain my sexual orientation, but I like to think I’m simply acknowledging the complexities of my existence. Complexities I refused to deal with for years.

I had already had the label of autism attached to me in early childhood. Society doesn’t give disabled people permission to be anything other than straight. I spent the ages of 10 to 16 concealing my feelings for girls, and magnifying my feelings for boys in front of the world. I was 8 when I found out what being gay is, and wanting to have relationships with people of the same gender made sense to me. I told myself that I wasn’t old enough to feel that way about people, brushing aside the fluttering I got in my chest when I saw women and girls my mind decided were attractive. I was a “late bloomer” anyway, not having had intense feelings for someone of any gender beyond finding them physically attractive; I told myself that my life would sort out eventually. I’d meet a boy I liked and that would be that. It all had to be part of my autism and needing extra help.

As I hit puberty, I didn’t get the promised thoughts about sex. I thought it was something teenagers did to be cool, and not for pleasure. In middle school, I was bullied for my social awkwardness and lack of interest in boys. The popular girls bombarded me with questions of who I liked, and if I had ever liked anyone. A couple times, one of them even asked me to come to a party where there would be boys. I don’t want to think about the likelihood that they were actually trying to humiliate and overwhelm me. In ninth grade, I was playing a game with someone I was briefly friends with that involved listing off four boys I was remotely interested in. I was embarrassed by how long that part of the game took.

Along came 10th grade, when social justice work entered my radar. Such development brought me the knowledge of different sexual orientations. I attended an overnight camp run by the local chapter of a human relations organization in, in which a lot of the teenagers identified as LGBTQA+, and were proud to do so. Now that I can get past all the talk about sex that went on in the cabins at night, I can appreciate the benefits being in an intimate space with other people of such identities. But during the camp’s workshop on heterosexism, I silently repeated to myself that I was straight. The idea of loving other women or life without what society deems as true love fueled my anxiety.

That summer, I was on a long car ride to Nova Scotia with my family. We stayed overnight in St. John, the halfway point. But I was kept up with tormenting thoughts about who I am attracted to and how. As I ate my breakfast of eggs, fruit, and a muffin in hotel lobby, I tried to distract myself from the thoughts by looking at the view of some apartments outside. After we got in the car, it hit me. The anxiety of denial was stronger than the anxiety of accepting myself for who I was. I am someone with a marginalized sexual orientation as well as disabled. I’m both. That day in Atlantic Canada, I embraced the notion that a life not straight can be a beautiful, happy life. Even with autism in the mix.

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Thinkstock photo by Purestock.

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Zenaviv Sells Work by Artists on the Autism Spectrum

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After Himal Bikmal was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, his parents began researching everything they could. What they learned about their son and autism turned into Zenaviv, a company which sells artwork created by people on the autism spectrum.

Because Himal is nonverbal, Harrish Bikmal and his wife Sandhya worked with a few researchers to help identify what their son’s strengths were. They attempted coaching him through sports such as basketball and baseball but found Himal could not get the hang of the game.

One day, when Sandhya was painting, something she did as a hobby, Himal grabbed her paintbrush and began dabbing at the canvas. From there, Bikmal and Sandhya decided to help Himal pursue painting. They approached an art teacher for guidance, and within about three months, Himal’s painting skills had improved.

“As parents, you constantly worry about a few things, both day-to-day life and also what your children will do with the future,” Bikmal told The Mighty. “We were pleasantly surprised with his paintings. It takes time and effort but he has continually grown since then.”

A couple of years after discovering Himal’s affinity for painting, the Bikmals found paying for their son’s therapies difficult. Realizing they had over 50 of Himal’s paintings, they decided to hold a fundraiser and sell them. They were thrilled when over 100 people donated their paintings to the fundraiser as well.

The Bikmals converted Himal’s paintings into 1500 greeting cards, which sold out within two hours. Within seven hours, all of the paintings were sold too.

Himal Bikmal with his painting of a forest

After the successful fundraiser, Bikmal spoke with other parents of children on the autism spectrum, and decided, along with his older son Saket, to launch Zenaviv.

“Since childhood, [Saket] has played a vital role in Himal’s life,” Bikmal said. “When me and my wife were in a depressed state of mind, Saket stepped up and has helped shape Himal’s life. He took it upon himself to be his brother’s best teacher and best friend.”

Together, Bikmal and Saket launched the Zenaviv site, featuring Himal’s work and illustrations from other talented autistic artists. The site currently features a half-dozen artists with their designs sold as original paintings, greeting cards, calendars and more. Each artist earns 60 percent of the profits from each sale.

Painting of a forest in winter at sunrise

Bikmal told The Mighty he hopes Zenaviv provides another way for those on the spectrum to live a productive and fulfilling life. Having helped foster his son’s love of art, Bikmal said he encourages other parents to help their children find their talents and creative outlets. “Look for clues from your child,” he said. “Look for clues from your child, and pursue them.”

According to Bikmal, Himal will look at the work of different artists sometimes and smile. Himal is also fond of his own work, his dad said, including a recent piece titled “Peaceful Forest.”

As for his dad, his favorite pieces are “Bright Winter Morning” and “Colorful Macaw.”

Bikmal hopes Zenaviv can help hundreds and thousands of individuals going forward, as well as change people’s perception of autism.

[People on the spectrum] are often perceived as people with deficiencies or problems and we can change that to a perception of people with talent. We need to nurture [that talent] and help to grow it.

In the long outcome hopefully we can have a world where people with autism, regardless of their abilities, can enjoy a better quality of life.

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To the McDonald’s Employee Who Double-Checked My Order: Thank You

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I was with a friend shopping late one afternoon, and we decided we were hungry, so we stopped by McDonald’s for a quick bite. As someone on the autism spectrum, I’ve always been sensitive to certain foods. Some might consider me to be a “picky” eater. I have tried new foods over the years, but this time, I settled for what I usually get.

When I was younger, ordering my food would have been difficult for me to do. But as an adult, I have very few issues with this part. I walked up to the cashier and told him what I wanted.

“I’d like a plain double cheeseburger, small fries, and a medium chocolate shake with no cherry.” I ordered like a pro.

“OK.” He began to punch in the information, and then stopped. “When you say you want a ‘plain’ double cheeseburger, does that mean you want only the burger and the cheese?” he asked me.

A huge smile grew across my face.

“I would like just the burger, the cheese, and the bun.” I explained.

“Got it.” He replied, and continued. “Sorry, I just know some people are really particular about their order, and wanted to check to make sure I had it right for you.”

“Oh, I understand completely!” I told him. “There are a lot of people who are like that for a reason, and I appreciate that you took the time to ask me.”

I ate my meal happily.

It may not seem like much, but for some folks, the wrong order can be devastating. Perhaps someone has a food allergy. Or maybe a child would have a meltdown. Imagine being so hungry, potentially unable to communicate exactly what you want or need, being overwhelmed by the environment, and then ending up with food you just can’t eat (whether due to allergies or sensory issues).

So to the McDonald’s employee who took the time to make sure my order was correct, thank you. Keep up the awesome work, because it really does make a difference.

 

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Photo source: McDonald’s Facebook page

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How I Encouraged My Autistic Son’s Interest in Numbers and Math

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When my son turned 3 years old, I noticed he was interested in numbers. He learned how to count one until 20 at the age of 4 and could count one to 100 at 5 years of age. He learned all these through self-teaching by watching a children’s educational show on TV.

I was amazed by the way he quickly learned how to count, so I bought him a number book and tested his ability to say the numbers. I was in great awe at how quickly he said the numbers. So I tested him again by pointing to the numbers I wanted him to tell me and he was able to say it correctly.

Through his interest in numbers, my son gradually learned how to communicate with me. He did not speak that much at that time because he just started to learn how to talk. His interest in numbers grew. I saw him counting the pages of our telephone directory until 1,000 all by himself. It was fascinating to see him fully engaged with his counting.

Teaching Time Conversions

When my son was about 9 to 10 years old, I taught him how to convert the time. I taught him how to convert hours to minutes, minutes to seconds and hours to seconds. I taught him using a visual aid (our wall clock) and explained to him that one hour is equivalent to 60 minutes which goes from one to 12. Number one is equivalent to five minutes. I also explained to him that the shorthand corresponded to seconds and that one minute is equivalent to 60 seconds. He was able to learn this quickly and could convert hours to minutes and minutes to seconds immediately in his mind alone.

 

Keeping Up With the Times Table

I was thrilled when I heard my son learning the times table by himself for the first time when he was 10 years old. He was able to memorize the times table from one up to 12 times table. I tested his ability by randomly asking him questions and as expected, he was able to give me the correct answers. A gifted child indeed when it comes to numbers!

Entry Level Three Maths Test

My son took his first Entry Level Three Test in Mathematics when he was in year 12. His teacher gave him practice test papers to take home to answer, and I was thrilled at the way he quickly answered the test. He was focused and eager to finish his math practice test on time. I told him not to rush and to understand what is being asked of him to do. It’s all word problems he needed to work out in order to get additional marks. I taught him some essential keywords he should try to learn so he will know right away what particular method to use. He passed his actual Entry Level Three Maths Test with very good marks. He got 19 correct answers out of 20. Almost a perfect score!

GCSE and Functional Maths Test

My son’s special interest in numbers has gone a long way and has further improved because after taking the Entry Level Three in Mathematics last year, he took his GCSE Maths Test. He also took his Functional Skills in Maths this June. Both examination results would be released this August. I’m hoping for the best to whatever the results would be!

Having a special interest in maths helped provide relaxation to my son and helped him understand the physical world. It gave him an outlet to overcome his anxiety. It gave him a sense of identity and self-esteem. This also gave him the opportunity to have social conversations with me and with others as well to exercise his intellectual ability.

My child’s special interest has been a way for him to communicate with me. Through play, I was able to build his trust and encouraged him to communicate to lessen his social anxiety.

His ability to concentrate and focus for long periods of time to his special interest is remarkable. All it took was for me to have patience, perseverance and positivity that my child could achieve whatever his mind is telling him to do. Every achievement is a milestone we always celebrate.

Enhancing his special interest through encouragement and constant practice has helped my son improve his numerical ability. I taught him in a way that is stimulating and fun by making each experience an enjoyable one!

I believe his special interest in mathematics will be his stepping stone for a better future and contribution in today’s busy world. Who knows, perhaps he could be next Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton? Besides math, my son also has a special interest in learning languages specifically Spanish, French and German.

How about you? What is your child’s special interest? Are there things you do to help enhance or encourage your child’s special interest?

A version of this story originally appeared on Del’s blog.

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Thinkstock image by Digital Vision.

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6 Things Being the Mom of an Autistic Child Has Taught Me

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Once upon a time, I began to realize my amazing first-born stood out more than I thought. I knew he was special, with his infectious affection and incredible jump-up-and-down-arm-flapping excitement. I knew he saw the world with passion; he reacted severely both in joy and displeasure. I knew his heart was full and his mind was active, yet as he continued to grow, the development of his abilities was unlike other children. He knew his alphabet and numbers by a few months after his 2nd birthday, but he couldn’t string two words together. He could put together a 24-piece puzzle, but he couldn’t hear “no” without reacting with force, frustration and anger.

After my father visited and gently advised that I check, I read and read and didn’t sleep for days. I knew my son is Autistic. I also knew it wasn’t a tragedy. I knew it meant more effort to teach some things, but it also meant gifts, lessons and joy I wouldn’t know otherwise. Still, the reality of parenting can be filled with uncertainty.

So I continued to learn all I could, both about autism and about my son’s uniqueness. Most of all, though, I had to learn how to balance apparent opposites in my parenting and, honestly, in all other aspects of my life. I had to learn how to balance conviction and flexibility, discipline and gentility, endurance and self-care.

I realize all of us must learn this — it’s called virtue. It’s those habits of the mind that improve us, our relationships and our communities. It’s that life-long effort to overcome our weakness and impulsiveness in favor of prudence and consistency. It’s the gift of responding properly to those things outside of ourselves. And, of course, this is an obligation and a gift to all people, but having a child on the spectrum moved me with particular force to strive for virtue. Autism taught me about patience and endurance. It taught about conviction and fortitude because nothing will move us to get our act together like our children will. Moreover, in learning how to help my son with his areas of difficulty, I learned a thing or two about human behavior in general. So, for all of us who sometimes feel discouraged, exhausted or hopeless, here is what neurodiversity can do. Here is what autism taught me about virtue:

1. It taught me that every behavior has a motive and an end. It is not without reason.

Not unlike Aristotle’s account of personhood, applied behavioral analysis tells us that every act seeks an end, we get something out of it, we seek some good. With my son, I learned to analyze why he might rock, arm flap or express frustration. Whether it was motivated by seeking attention, avoiding a task, being over-stimulated, etc. The same is true for all people — we do things for a reason, we are motivated to achieve some good, so we act, we do so repeatedly and we become habituated to have certain responses. Learning about it taught me that I had options for coping with stress, communicating my concerns and avoiding harmful situations.

 

2. It taught me to be patient.

Teaching my boy not to be afraid of the toilet took us several months of desensitization, as did bath time, haircuts and other fairly common activities. Sometimes things that are easy for other people take me longer, too. It’s part of the human condition not to be great at everything immediately. Some things take time. The greatest things take time and effort. This teaches us gratitude, humility and fortitude.

3. It taught me to exercise self-care.

As parents, we sometimes forget that we too need care. Planning, observing and being super consistent sometimes results in unshaven armpits, severe sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, etc. I stopped being important to myself in the midst of caring for my children and my home suffered. We can’t serve the most important people if there’s nothing left in us. Caring for ourselves can be an act of humility, in accepting that we have limitations. Caring for ourselves is an act of love, giving those we serve the best we have.

4. It taught me to speak with conviction and not to be afraid.

I used to be afraid of hurting people’s feelings or of making them feel uncomfortable. I still care about not hurting people, but I care much more about forming a positive and nurturing environment for my children. It’s OK for people to see the world differently than I do, but if this worldview involves doing things that hinder the progress of my children, their trust in me or the peace we need to move forward, I am no longer shy about speaking up. Moreover, it is my responsibility to protect my children from all harm, so now I not only speak but actively exclude those environments that cause regression and anxiety in my little family. My babies come first. Just as my son can choose to lose screen time with his behavior, so can those around me lose the privilege of my children’s company with their behavior.

5. It taught me to be a mother.

Honestly, I really sucked at being consistent, disciplined and bold. Having to be up and about 24/7, insistent about what my children need, and having to apply principles consistently moment by moment, day by day, actually made me a better mother. I probably would’ve just winged it otherwise just because I’m naturally that disorganized. But now I even plan meals, shower daily, shave my legs and try to budget. I even find time to write about it now and again.

6. It taught me about my own Asperger’s.

Through observation of my own little Einstein, I saw so many oddities I engaged in as a child. I saw myself in many of his self-regulatory and repetitive behaviors. I saw myself in his sensibility, hyper-focus, and yes, in his intellectual ability. As I read, I learned about the “gender gap” in Asperger’s and autism and why autism can “look” different in women (and why we are grossly under-diagnosed). I will write more about it next time, but I must say now, it saved my life to know the “why” to so many things I wondered at (and disliked) about myself.

There is really too much to write that being Christof’s mom has taught me, but this is a short list to shout to the world that autism is not a tragedy and that it can teach us so much about our humanity. More so, it can teach us so much about being better at our humanity.

Follow this journey on Letters From My Bouncy Castle.

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Photo by Jose H. Guardiola, Jr.

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