Is Jimmy autistic, or does he have autism?

As I shared in my last blog, I am currently writing a book about my family.  The book deals with my son Jimmy, and the impact he has had on Pat and I and our family since conception.  Jimmy is an autistic, middle-aged man.  Or is he a middle-aged man who has autism?

Language is a powerful tool.  It can shape the way we think about ourselves and others.  Take identity-first and people-first language.  In my book, I have used people-first language.  For example, when I talk about Jimmy, I mention he has autism.  I refer to children with autism, or people on the autistic spectrum.  Why do I do this?  It is partly out of habit, and partly because I have been taught to accentuate the person rather than the disability.  In other words, Jimmy’s disability does not define him.  He is unique, and part of his uniqueness stems from his autism.

As I become more familiar with the literature on autism, I have grown increasingly aware of the growing use of identity-first language.  When applied to autism, we might, for example, refer to autistic people or my autistic son.  In many countries outside of the U.S., identity-first language is the norm.  Moreover, many in the autistic community prefer identity-first language.  Their reasoning is pretty straightforward.  Autism is not an appendage, rather it is an integral part who they are.  Autism “colors” their emotions, their interests and preferences, their communication, and their socialization.  One autistic person compared identity-first language to a person’s race, stating that we refer to Black and White people, not people who happen to share a common color or race.  Race is not something a person has, nor is it possible to separate a person from his or her race.

How important is this to you?  Does it matter?  Whichever one I pick, should I be consistent throughout the book?  Or should I use identity-first and people-first language interchangeably?  Your thoughts and insight would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks, and please leave your comments.

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Update

Due to surgery, I will not be resuming my blog until the month of December.   Should be ok by then.
Additionally, I wanted to share that for some time now, I have been writing a book about my son, Jimmy.  Jimmy, who has autism, has transformed my life and my family’s life.  Writing this book is something I have wanted to do for a long, long time.  It is due to come out sometime next year.  Prior to its release, I will fill you in on all of the details.  Thank you.

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Trump or Clinton:  My Son Jimmy Explains

Recently, Hillary Clinton described people with disabilities in the U.S. as a group who are “too often invisible, overlooked, and undervalued.”  Carol Glazer, President of the National Organization of Disability (NOD), said that this was the first time a presidential candidate had taken a whole campaign event to focus solely on people with disabilities.  That blew my mind.  While Glazer said that addressing the potential of this community is an economic imperative, I might add that it is also a political imperative.

In an increasingly tight presidential election such as the one we are witnessing at the present time, establishing a relationship with the disability community is a game changer.  Data from the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations show that more that 35 million Americans with disabilities are now eligible to vote.  This is a larger voting bloc that African Americans, or Latinos, or Asian Americans.  Add to this bloc caregivers, parents, and family members of people with disabilities.  To many of them, Trump’s and Clinton’s position on key economic, educational, social, and health issues for this population will carry a great deal of weight.  Clearly, people with disabilities could make a difference, especially in key states that will determine who becomes our next President.

My son is a middle-aged man who also happens to have autism.  But he is also a keen judge of character.  Once in a while, I ask Jimmy about current events and people in the news.  During the last few months, we have been talking about the upcoming presidential election; who is running, who might win, and the importance of voting; something Jimmy knows his mommy and daddy take very seriously.  Jimmy’s apparent interest in voting led me to ask him, “Would you like to vote?”  Often Jimmy is noncommittal or wishy washy when I ask him to make a choice.  Not this time.  His answer was an emphatic, “Yes!!”  Before we started planning all the details, I had to assure him that it would cost him nothing to vote.

Jimmy is 39 years-old, and for the first time this year, he will be exercising his right to vote for the President of the U.S.  He just became a registered voter.  As the election draws closer, we have discussed both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, what they stand for and their backgrounds.  Also, we have talked about why it is important to vote.  Recently, I contacted the Board of Elections and made plans to do a “run-through” ahead of time.  If I need to follow Jimmy into the voting booth, I will.  But Jimmy alone will decide which candidate he prefers.  After all, that is his right as an adult.

Not too long ago, I asked Jimmy what he would like to know about each candidate for President.  When he hesitated, I rephrased the question.  How should a person running for President of the United States act?  That triggered four interesting responses from Jimmy

  1. Kind
  2. Nice
  3. Polite
  4. Good behavior, not rude or mouthing off.

Two weeks ago, we continued this discussion over lunch at a local restaurant.  I posed the question, “What makes a president a good president?”  After giving it some thought, he simply said, “a good listener.”  When I complimented Jimmy on his excellent answer, he smiled from ear to ear, and so did I.

One of the so-called “core deficits” of autism is an inability to communicate.  Sometimes, I wonder about that.  When we talk, Jimmy has a way of zeroing in on the really important stuff.  He is one of the few people in this country who has not been affected by media coverage.  Like many voters, the debates, commentary by political analysts, and campaign speeches by the candidates have left me searching for more.  During our limited conversations, Jimmy has helped me sort out what really matters.  Thank you son, for sharing your insight and wisdom.

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Is the Olympic Ideal Dying?

More than sixty years ago, my father, Dr. Charles Bucher, wrote an article that appeared in The Reader’s Digest.  Dad was a Professor at New York University and the author of more than twenty textbooks on the subject of physical education and recreation.

In this article, he made the point that the Olympic ideal is dying.  He quotes Pierre de Coubertin, a French educator and founder of the International Olympic Committee.  Coubertin said, “The important thing is not winning, but taking part; the important thing in life is not conquering, but fighting well.”

Actually, this philosophy seems more closely aligned with what I observe each year at Special Olympics.  The motto of Special Olympics, which all athletes repeat at the start of competition is, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” While Special Olympics awards gold, silver, and bronze medals as well as ribbons for different athletic events and different abilities within each event, these awards symbolize that athletes have done their best, regardless of the challenges they might face.  Recently, the effort I saw being expended by a special Olympic athlete who was competing in the 25 yard freestyle race compared favorably to Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky.  Even though this SO athlete had only one arm, he was using that arm to propel himself as best as he could, going round in circles as he slowly made his way to the other end of the pool.

My dad concluded the article by stating the emphasis in the Olympics should be on making friends, not making points.  He felt that given the founding principles of the Olympics, winning with grace and losing with grace was much more important than the medal count of an athlete or nation.

Is the Olympic ideal dying?  Consider the two runners who collided with each other in the women’s 5,000 meter run.  Their legs became entangled, whereupon they both fell down.  Even though one of the athletes was severely injured, they both stopped dead in their tracks, more concerned about each other than finishing the race.  Consider what an American fencer said after she became the first American athlete to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab.  “I feel like it’s a blessing to be able to represent so many people who don’t have voices…”  The theme of taking part and doing your best was echoed by still another athlete, Kristin Armstrong.  After becoming the oldest woman to win gold in cycling, Armstrong said, “I have always loved that we were all born with the power to believe and to believe in ourselves.  You can set a goal and go accomplish anything…”  These positive examples grabbed the headlines, but there were many more.

Sure, there were athletes such as Hope Solo, the goalie for the American women’s soccer team who referred to the team that beat them as a “bunch of cowards,” and Ryan Lochte, an American medal-winning swimmer whose behavior after a night of carousing showed he has a lot of growing up to do.  Solo, Lochte, and numerous others who lost sight of the Olympic ideal would do well to volunteer each year at Special Olympics.  They might learn something about sportsmanship, priorities, and hopefully, themselves.

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Summer Camps:  Experiential Learning and Lifelong Lessons

Sometimes I wonder why my passions and interests have coalesced around diversity, race, and respect.  All I have to do is look back at how I spent my summers as a child.  First, let me say that I grew up in nearly an all-white middle class community in Armonk, New York (the site of IBM’s headquarters).  My dad was a professor at New York University (NYU) and my mom stayed home to raise me and my three siblings.

From the age of 1 to 10, I was privileged to attend NYU Camp on Lake Sebago in Suffern, New York.  At Lake Sebago, I had the run of the camp since my dad spent part of each day teaching students who attended the camp.  The students, majoring in Physical Education, Health, Recreation, and Dance, adopted me in a way.  I hung, ate, and played with them.  Amongst other things, I learned how to swim, play badminton, make a lanyard, and square dance.  NYU camp was very diverse, with a large contingent of both male and female international students.  Also, there was a sizable number of African-American students, many of them courtesy of the GI Bill.  Looking back, NYU broadened and diversified my world.

At 11 years of age, I started attending Camp Dudley, the oldest camp for boys in the U.S.  At the time, I did not know just how fortunate I was to spend 8 weeks of my summer at this beautiful, serene camp on Lake Champlain in Westport, New York.  I do now.  Recently, I visited Camp Dudley with my wife.  While there, I got to “go back in time” and talk with a number of campers.  The neat thing about Dudley is that it is far from a sports camp; rather, there is something for everyone.  The highlight of my visit was delivering a sermon at their Sunday Chapel Service.

My sermon focused on Dudley’s motto, “The Other Fellow First.”  As I preached to about 500 campers and guests, I shared how the Dudley motto has stuck with me all these years.  Specifically, when I think about the Dudley motto, there are three parts that were ingrained in me each and every day:

Part One:  Put the other fellow or other person first.  This might mean listening before speaking, doing a favor for a camper you didn’t know, or simply being humble.

Part Two:  It did NOT matter if the other fellow happened to be of a different race, color, culture, social class, sexuality, age, or ability.  You put the other fellow first, period.  That was it; no exceptions.

Part Three:  Dudley has a strong spiritual component, with hymn sings on Sunday night, vespers every other night of the week, and chapel talks at the start of each day.  It was in this context that we learned it was not enough to simply put the other fellow first, and just tolerate him.  Rather, we needed to actually put him first in our hearts.  That meant showing respect and being there for him.

In recent weeks, much is being made of the importance of conversations about race and respect for each other, and how we can all do better.  I agree, and yet, I believe that experience is our best teacher.  And many of those experiences that teach us something valuable about diverse cultures, religions, and races can be traced to our childhood.  In my case, NYU Camp and Camp Dudley taught me lifelong lessons about diversity and inclusion at a time when they were the last things on my mind.

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ANSWERS Who’s Racist: Trump and/or Duke

Note:  Trump officially secured the Republican nomination for President last night, and David Duke, a Trump supporter, recently announced plans to run for Congress in the state of Louisiana.

In my last blog, I posed the question:  Which of these quotes came from Duke?  And which ones came from Trump?

The source of each quote is identified below:

David or Donald?__DAVID_____________ “As for America and the rest of the European world, I want to live in a nation that reflects my traditions and values, and I do not want my people to become a minority in the nations my own forefathers built.”

David or Donald?__DAVID_____________ “Immigration along with nonwhite birthrates will make white people a minority totally vulnerable to the political, social, and economic will of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Orientals.”

David or Donald?__DAVID_____________ “I don’t consider myself a racist, I don’t hate other peoples, but I certainly want to preserve my own.  And I think that’s true of all people.”

David or Donald?__DONALD____________ “I love Muslims.  I think they’re great people.”

David or Donald?__DONALD___________ “An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud.”

David or Donald?__DONALD___________ “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best…they’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems.”

David or Donald?___DAVID____________ “More than 95 percent of both legal and illegal immigration into the U.S. is non-white.  Because of the way immigration law is structured, the highest-skilled nations on earth – those of Europe – are allowed only a tiny percentage of immigrants, while the third world nations such as Mexico are dumping their chaff onto American shores at the highest rate in history.”

David or Donald?___DONALD__________ “I think Islam hates us…There’s tremendous hatred.”

David or Donald?___DONALD__________ “I have a great relationship with the Blacks…I’ve always had a great relationship with the Blacks.”

David or Donald?__DONALD___________ “A well-educated Black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white in terms of the job market.  I think sometimes a black may think they don’t have an advantage…If I were starting off today, I would love to be a well-educated Black…”

David or Donald?___DAVID____________ “…affirmative action is a very nice term for racial discrimination against better-qualified white people in jobs, employment, promotions and scholarships, and college admittance.”

David or Donald?__DAVID_____________ “I think the basic culture of this country (U.S.) is European and Christian and I think if we lose that, we lost America.”

Is David Duke a racist?  What about Donald Trump?  You be the judge.

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Who’s Racist: Donald Trump and/or David Duke?

Donald Trump and David Duke are both politicians.  Both participated in the Republican Presidential primaries.  Trump has garnered more support than Duke ever did.  However, it is worth mentioning that Duke ran for Governor of Louisiana in 1991 and received 32 percent of the vote.

Despite his popularity in the state of Louisiana, Duke was repudiated by the Republican Party.  The same holds true for Trump.  And both have been criticized for making racist remarks.  When he ran for governor, The Louisiana Coalition against Racism and Nazism took a strong stand against Duke.  Many journalists, politicians, educators, and scholars have characterized Trump’s remarks toward Muslims and other minorities as racist as well.

Is Donald Trump a racist?  What about David Duke?  How much overlap exists between Trump, the likely Republican candidate for President, and Duke, a former Imperial Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and the Founder of the National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP)?

The following are quotes from these two men.  Which ones do you think came from Duke?  And which ones came from Trump?

David or Donald?____________________ “As for America and the rest of the European world, I want to live in a nation that reflects my traditions and values, and I do not want my people to become a minority in the nations my own forefathers built.”

David or Donald?____________________ “Immigration along with nonwhite birthrates will make white people a minority totally vulnerable to the political, social, and economic will of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Orientals.”

David or Donald?____________________ “I don’t consider myself a racist, I don’t hate other peoples, but I certainly want to preserve my own.  And I think that’s true of all people.”

David or Donald?____________________ “I love Muslims.  I think they’re great people.”

David or Donald?____________________ “An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud.”

David or Donald?____________________ “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best…they’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems.”

David or Donald?____________________ “More than 95 percent of both legal and illegal immigration into the U.S. is non-white.  Because of the way immigration law is structured, the highest-skilled nations on earth – those of Europe – are allowed only a tiny percentage of immigrants, while the third world nations such as Mexico are dumping their chaff onto American shores at the highest rate in history.”

David or Donald?____________________ “I think Islam hates us…There’s tremendous hatred.”

David or Donald?____________________ “I have a great relationship with the Blacks…I’ve always had a great relationship with the Blacks.”

David or Donald?____________________ “A well-educated Black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white in terms of the job market.  I think sometimes a black may think they don’t have an advantage…If I were starting off today, I would love to be a well-educated Black…”

David or Donald?____________________ “…affirmative action is a very nice term for racial discrimination against better-qualified white people in jobs, employment, promotions and scholarships, and college admittance.”

David or Donald?____________________ “I think the basic culture of this country (U.S.) is European and Christian and I think if we lose that, we lost America.”

Is David Duke a racist?  What about Donald Trump?  You be the judge.

The source of each quote will be provided in my next blog.

 

To find links to current events/thoughts/perspectives relating to diversity consciousness, go to Diversity Consciousness on Facebook.

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Quality Teaching in “The Hood”

For more than four decades, I taught predominantly African-American students in downtown Baltimore.  I also happen to be a white guy.  My students, who attended Baltimore City Community College (BCCC), were amongst the poorest in the state of Maryland.  Given my background, Christoher Emdin’s book, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood – and the Rest of Y’all Too, caught my interest when it came out earlier this year.

Emdin, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, strongly encourages white teachers and for that matter, all teachers, to become more diversity conscious.  The reason is simple.  Diversity conscious teaching is quality teaching.  Students learn more and are more successful when they are taught by teachers who can relate to their cultural realities.

For some time, there have been calls to make teaching at all levels of education more culturally relevant.  A decade ago, I presented a paper at the Oxford Round Table addressing this very thing.  The paper was titled, “Building Cultural Intelligence (CQ): Implications for Closing the Achievement Gap.”  Drawing on my book, Building Cultural Intelligence, I discussed a number of CQ competencies, including respect for students’ diverse backgrounds and abilities, awareness of cultural bias – including one’s own, intercultural communication, and ability to shift perspectives.  I argued that the intractable and well-documented achievement gap that leaves too many minority students lagging behind can be narrowed, in part, through culturally intelligent teaching.

Emdin talks about creating a sense of community.  To do this, teachers need to inhabit the worlds of their students; go to their churches, local schools, and even barbershops.  In other words, teachers need to do the personal growth work that allows them to reach out to all of their students and value their unique gifts.  One of my former students at BCCC made this very point.  He commented that instructors at BCCC tend to work on their subject matter, not on themselves.  At night, they retreat to their “safe havens.”

During a discussion with another BCCC student, I realized how little I knew about her hidden diversity.  “Struggling, trying to work, take care of a child, run the child to daycare.  The bus driver used to wait for me while I ran my child into the day care center so I could get back on the bus.  I caught the 19, 13, the 8, dropped my child off, and then caught the 8 to the 22 to school every day.  And that is the reality.”

Considering the demographic mismatch between students and teachers and concerns about minority achievement, Emdin’s concerns deserve our attention, regardless of where we teach, what we teach, or who we teach.  As our cultural landscape changes, diversity creates both educational challenges and opportunities, “in the hood” and throughout the U.S.

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Should We Celebrate Autism Awareness?

April is Autism Awareness Month.  Celebrating Autism Awareness Month would seem to be a slam-dunk.  That is, who could object to something like this?  And yet, there seems to be a difference of opinion.  Should we celebrate autism awareness, given the lack of awareness in this country?  Is Autism Awareness Month an excuse for fundraising?  And why are we focusing on awareness, when in fact awareness is only one piece of the puzzle so-to-speak?

A while back, I read a blog by a parent of three young women with autism, whose ages range from 14 to 20.  The title of this parent’s blog was “My three daughters are autistic.  I despise Autism Awareness Month.”  For this mother, the word “celebration” rubs her the wrong way.  In her blog, she discusses how her life is consumed by the needs, worries, stress, and challenges of raising her daughters.  She questions why we celebrate a global crisis.  Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism advocacy organization, bills Autism Awareness Month as an event “that celebrates the unique talents and skills of persons with autism.”  This mother takes issue with those who see these unique talents as a gift and leave it at that.  Last year, Jerry Seinfeld commented that he thought he was on the autism spectrum, and characterized it as an “alternative mindset,” not a disorder.

As the father of a child with autism, I can feel this mother’s anguish and pain.  I too have issues with some of the ways in which we celebrate Autism Awareness Month.  Too often, we sugarcoat autism.  As caregivers and parents, we tend to keep our frustrations and anguish to ourselves.  Autism Speaks’ “Light It Up Blue Campaign” becomes a substitute for taking a hard, real look at this developmental disorder.  Congressional declarations, online activities, and National Autism Awareness Month Posters give us a false sense of accomplishment.  Large amounts of money raised by T.J. Maxx, Toys “R” Us, Walgreens, and other corporations for research diverts attention away from the fact that people with autism are in dire need of social programs, educational and employment opportunities, and quality health care.

Instead of celebrating, let us acknowledge how far we have come and how much work needs to be done.  Autism is not the “death sentence” some people perceive it to be.  Like anyone else, a person with autism can be a productive, caring, contributing member of society.  When my son Jimmy was born nearly four decades ago, the public’s awareness of autism was virtually nonexistent.  Autism’s public profile in contemporary society is something to build on.  But instead of simply becoming aware of this thing called autism, let us work at understanding the wide range of differences among people along the autism spectrum.  Let us move beyond putting autism puzzle magnets on our cars, wearing blue bracelets, and holding rallies and other “events” in our communities to celebrate autism awareness.  Let us do the small but significant things that make a difference in everyday life.  For instance, invite a child with autism to a birthday party.  Take a moment to provide some type of relief to parents and caregivers of children with autism.  And finally and perhaps most importantly, do what is necessary to help someone understand that people with autism have feelings, talents, and a need to feel loved just like anyone else.

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Perspective in Adversity

If you are not a fan of golf, you might not know that Jordan Spieth is the #1 golf player in the world, and the reigning champion of the Master’s Tournament.  At 22, he is almost half Tiger Wood’s age.  Yet, he is very humble, and seems to have his priorities in order, unlike many young superstars in the sports and entertainment industry.

Last year, when he won his first Master’s golf tournament, he was an unknown.  During Masters’ week, he talked about his inspiration, Ellie.  Ellie, his 15 year-old sister, has been diagnosed with autism.  She attends a special school and needs constant care.  Moreover, she has radically changed Jordan and his family.  As he said recently, “Ellie certainly is the best thing that’s happened in our family.”  He goes on to say, having a sister like Ellie “puts things in perspective.”  I feel that “I’m lucky to play on the tour and to compete.”

Only recently has research on autism started focusing on siblings and how they adjust to having a brother or sister on the autism spectrum.  In general, much of the research paints a negative picture.  Many siblings report feeling overwhelmed, vulnerable, ignored, and embarrassed.  But there are also positives, as shown by Jordan Spieth and his family.  Many siblings find meaning and motivation in this experience, or perhaps it is better described as a journey.  Jordan has a humility about him that is due in part to Ellie.  He understands that the Masters is not “real life.”  Rather, it is simply a game.  As his mother said, “Jordan wouldn’t be where he’s at today if he didn’t grow up with Ellie.”  Having a sister with autism provides a round-the-clock lesson in perspective, patience, and empathy.

Jordan Spieth’s love for Ellie and commitment to children with disabilities has spurred him to action.  One of the primary beneficiaries of the Jordan Spieth Family Foundation are special needs kids.  “My experience with her (Ellie) and her friends, it’s fantastic.  I love being part of it, helping support it.”

I don’t know who will win next month’s Masters, but don’t bet against Jordan Spieth.  He’s got a lot going for him.

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