Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Spectrum Academy: High School for Autistic Minds

This morning I was reading the news in preparation for my day, when I came across the announcement in the Deseret News of the opening of the Spectrum Academy High School for Autistic children in North Salt Lake.  Intrigued, I read on to learn more.  I've heard of it before, as they had a booth at the Autism Autumn Carnival, but I didn't learn a lot about it because my son is far from ready for High School, and we don't yet know what will be awaiting him for Kindergarten this next year (we find out in the coming months). 

The Spectrum Academy is a Charter School currently serving Kindergarten through 8th Grade, specifically for Autistic children.  They are located just West of Redwood Road and at about 600 North.  Because it's a charter school, they have funding from the State and have flexibility in their teaching methods.  While I am a supporter of public school in general, there are situations like disabilities where a special charter school is very useful.  I just have to look back at the incessant bullying and teasing that my older brother went through in public school to know that a special charter school for autistic children would be just what my son would need.  So, I started checking out their website.

On thing I absolutely love is the curriculum information listed for each grades, so parents can see what their children are using, and can tailor their own home experiences to reinforce their learning.  This is what I would expect from the public school system anyway, though it may be a little difficult to locate.  Handbooks for both the students and teachers are available as well.

What's more impressive is the flexibility the teachers have in managing their student's success.  Gone are the rigid rules about sitting up straight, not using toys as a tactile stimulant while learning, etc.  Children are able to take breaks when they need to in order to gain control of their attention when necessary.  The grade system is based on ability, not age, so there is no worries about being left behind while going through the school system.  Wouldn't it be nice if all schools were like that, as they were once? 

All in all, I was very impressed with the news of the Spectrum Academy.  It's a bit of a way out of my way to work, but I think I could make a special trip to get my son there if need be.  The only thing I didn't like was the lack of fee details, and how much fees would cost.  It being Winter Break (I don't know if they can call it Christmas and New Year's break anymore), I can't get firm information on that, but once I do, I will post it.  Until then, this is definitely a school and school system that needs to be watched!  I see this becoming a more common situation as the needs of Autistic children are met. 

Friday, December 18, 2009

Autism Genetics: Autism and Schizophrenia Possible Genetic Opposites?

The Boston Globe had posted an article on the 15th regarding a study that links autism and schizophrenia as genetic opposites.  I have to say, I was dubious at at first, but the article is well worth reading. 

It seems that Bernard Crespi, Philip Stead, and Michael Elliot identified a the same places within the human genome that cause both events.  The difference is in the number of copies the genes the genome has.  For Schizophrenia, there are multiple copies, for neurotypical people, they have just two copies.  For those with Autism, they have just one. 

So, it seems that Autism could be a genetic opposite to schizophrenia, making similar treatments possible at the genetic level.  The research was completed at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.  The research is interesting, and it reaffirms the genetic link to Autism.  What's even more interesting, is that once these evidences have been identified, real definitions can be made when it comes to Autism, beyond just the behavioral observance.  Perhaps one day, Autism can be treated as other mental conditions, and families can receive real support in every State.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Autism Christmas Poem

This poem was sent to me by a friend on Facebook, and I had to share it.  Unfortunately, I don't know who wrote it.  If anyone knows who the author is, please post it in the Comments.  I would be happy to give them credit for this wonderful and touching poem. 

Twas the Night Before Christmas
And all through the house

The creatures were stirring
Yes, even the mouse
We tried melatonin

And gave a hot bath
Asleep early for Christmas?
...an unlikely path
The children were finally
All nestled in bed
When visions of Christmas
Ran through my OWN head
Did I get the right gift?
The right color and style?
Would there be a blank stare
Or even, maybe, a smile?
Friends & family come
But they don't understand
The pleasure he gets
Just from bending his hands.
"Just make him stop it," some say
"Just tell him "no",You must learn to be tough.."
On, and on they do go...
We smile and nod
Because we know deep inside

The debate is moot
Let them all take a side
We know what it's like
To live with the spectrum
The struggles and triumphs
Achievements, regressions.

But what some don't know
And what some don't see

Is the joy that we feel
Over simplicity.
He said "hello"!
He ate something green!
He looked me in my eyes
He did not cause a scene!
He peed on the potty!
(Who cares if he's ten)

He stopped saying the same thing
Again and again!"
Some others don't realize
Just how we can cope
How we bravely hang on
At the end of our rope

But what they don't see
Is the joy we can't hide

When our children with autism
Make the tiniest stride
We may look at others
Without the problems we face
With envy, with wonder,
Or even distaste.

What we want them to know
What's important to see

Is that children with autism
Bring simplicity.
We don't get excited
Over expensive things
We jump for joy
With the progress work brings

Children with autism
Try so hard every day

That they make us proud
More than words can say.
They work even harder
Than you or I
To achieve something small
To reach a star in the sky
So, to those who don't get it
Or can't get a clue

Take a walk in our shoes
And I'll assure you
That even 10 minutes
Into the walk
You'll look at us all
With respect, even shock.
You will realize
What it is we go through
And the next time you see us
I can assure you
That you won't say a thing
You'll be quiet and learn
,Like the years I learned too
When the tables were turned.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Future of eBooks, Books, and Reading: A Historical, Technological, Consumerist, and Hopeful Writer's View

Lately Nathan Bransford, a literary agent and writer that I have been following for some time, has been posting information about the future of books.  With the Kindle, Nook, and the much-anticipated Apple tablet (which I have been blogging about for 3 years in high hopes), it seems that many people are already writing eulogies for the hard copy, bound book.  Often I'm surprise with the comments he receives from his readers, many if not all are writers in various stages of publication (from established to hopeful, like me). 

The discussion has interested me on four levels: as a trained Historian, a trained Computer Technician, an avid Reader (consumer), and a Writer (instructional and hopeful novelist).  Here is my view of each:


Books as we know them have gone though a lot of changes ever since man had learned to use writing as a method of communication.  What started as tablets of clay became scrolls of paper and papyri, which then changed to parchment and a codex, or bound book.  The codex didn't change for thousands of years, and now a move from the printed to the digital page is being made.  But is it really so recent?

Computers originally had a "monitor" that was a printer, printing out the results of commands as one navigated, executed, and errored their way through programs.  The digital monitor, the one we know and love today, both simplifies the reading of computer results, but also saves a tremendous amount of paper.  And ever since print could be read on a computer screen, people have been reading books on the computer screen. 

So the idea of an eBook is not new, but rather the mainstreaming of the eBook is what is so scary.  Just as ancient Egypt was afraid of the parchment codex (threatened their trade in papyri), those tied to the old methods of distributing the story both fear and hate the coming mainstream eBook consumption.

Computer Technician

The technology for eBooks have been around for years.  I had eReader on my PocketPC for years, and I loved being able to read while on the go.  But before it could become mainstreamed, there are some factors that needed to be met:

  1. Battery Life:  The early PDAs were terrible in their battery life.  This hampered reading, as you needed to either change your AA's or recharge your book within just a few hours of getting into it. 

  2. Performance:  There are a lot of old eBook readers out there that were so clunky to use they were not worth it.  I went through several before I settled on the couple of eBook readers I use today.  It all came down to performance.  I was looking for something that was easy to use, easy to customize, and had a small memory footprint (so I could have more books in less space).

  3. Storage:  What good is it to have an eBook reader if you can only store at the most 10 books?  If you are going abroad, or spend a lot of time commuting, just a couple of books will not satisfy. 

  4. Reputation and Appearance:  eBooks needed to have a good reputation behind them, or come from a reputable source.  Often times some books were, or at least appeared, to be bad copies, which creates distrust.

Others may outline more points, but it is my humble opinion that technology needed to advance to this point before the eBook could have even thought of being mainstreamed.  With ebook readers like the Kindle, Nook, and even with current Windows Mobile, Android, WebOS, and iPhone OS devices out there, we have finally made it to the point where big names feel comfortable in releasing their books in eBook form to reach a profitable audience. 

The thing is, dedicated devices are, at least in my opinion, doomed to a quick death.  Part of the reason why I have an iPod Touch instead of a Kindle or Nook is because I need more than just an eBook reader.  eBooks are a convenience, not a lifestyle.  I want other conveniences to be just as convenient, and preferably on the same device.  This is part of the reason why the iPod Slate (or Apple Tablet) is so important to me as a device, and why I have been so keen on it's release. 


I love to read, but I find that I have little time at home with the kids, and very little time at work.  But I also have a long commute, in which reading becomes convenient.  It's also convenient to work on my novel, get some work done, and listen to my music/old radio shows.  Suddenly carrying around even one bound book can take up more room than I am willing to give, as my bag becomes overloaded with various other devices.  But carrying an entire library in my pocket, which also will play my music, videos, and allow me to do some text editing; that's the way to go. 

Now I've heard the arguments against eBook readers because of eye-strain.  Well, I don't strain any more with an eBook reader on my iPod Touch than I do with any other book, and I can guarantee that, in the dead of night in winter, when the bus or train is dark, I can read my book without having to have a separate light.  I can also adjust the text on the book to make it larger or smaller based on my needs.  You can't do that with a printed book. 

Also, there is the convenience of purchasing and downloading the books.  I have the Kindle app for iPhone, eReader app from Fictionwise, the Barnes & Noble eReader app, and Stanza.  I have tried each one, and my favorite two so far are the Kindle app and Stanza.  Kindle because of it's flow (they have changed it a lot since Amazon purchased Stanza), and Stanza because it's so convenient to download books from the Gutenberg Press (free books in the Public Domain).  They are easy to configure, and easy to manage.  Within a few seconds I will have several new books that I have purchased and downloaded, ready to read.  It sure beats waiting for a book to ship, I can tell you!


Some day I hope to be published, as soon as I write something that I wouldn't be embarrassed to have someone else read.  I would also like my book to be quickly accessed by those who are interested, and I want to write a story that will flow well enough regardless of which format it is in.  So you can imagine that the interest in eBooks has had me thinking, and I'm watching this very closely.  Adding multimedia components for higher-end readers or computers (like the Slate, hint, hint!) can change a story as much as adding slides to a presentation, or video to a musical performance.  All of a sudden you have more content to relate to, all at the same time.  It's challenging, it's exciting, and it's a little scary. 

So what exactly will be the future of books?  I think most analysts out there are right:  the codex book will not be going away anytime soon.  There is a feeling of intimacy that comes from reading a well-worn and well-read book again and again that you don't get from an eBook.  Because of this a good hardcover or even paperback will not go away entirely.  But I think you will see a huge shift from the published book to the eBook by casual readers in particular.  The idea that one can turn on their device while waiting in line, riding a bus, or riding in the back seat of a car, read a couple of pages, and then turn around and do something else when the need arises?  It's huge, and it's happening more every day.  Add always-on 3G or 4G networking and integrated media, and you have a revolution that will absorb the mainstream out of pure convenience. 

Are there problems?  Of course!  But there were problems with first Gutenberg Press, the codex, the papyrus scroll, and even the clay tablet.  The real question is not whether or not we will manage with what we have, but rather how soon it will take the industry to adapt and make the situation better.