Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cutting the Cable

Recently my wife and I have hit a crossroads.  We are looking for ways to maximize our funds and simplify our lives.  Having decluttered quite a bit, we are now looking at our bills to find a way to trim them to manageable levels.  And our eyes fell on our Cable bill.  We have the Xfinity Triple Play, with Cable TV, Voice, and Internet.  The Internet is necessary as it's the most reliable Internet connection available to our older neighborhood (which isn't really saying much).  But as we both have mobile phones, the phone bill didn't seem to be bringing us a lot of benefit.  

We then looked at our cable TV.  When we got it, we had grand visions of watching great channels like the Discovery Channel, History Channel, and BBC America for all our favorite British Comedies.  And yet, since we started using Netflix on our Apple TV, we haven't been using Cable at all, other than for local channels which we could get for free over the air with the right equipment.  The other problem is that Cable does provide television signals to two TV's, so we would need quite the antenna to replace it.  We have discussed the possibility of getting rid of it before, but it seemed like too much hassle.  And in the mean time, our bill continued to siphon a lot of funds for unused channels.  

Finally, the push came.  A pending purchase was in need of those funds.  It was time to pear down.  Doing a little research I found a good indoor/outdoor antenna for sale on Amazon for a decent price, and then I called my cable provider.  Once I got to the right selection in their phone tree (not a big fan of phone trees), the representative was helpful and willing to try and lower our bill without discontinuing service.  Unfortunately, he couldn't lower it to the amount I wanted, until he offered to put us on a special one year promotion for Voice and Internet that cost less than Internet itself.  It was a good deal, and it was one less thing I had to return, so I went with it.  The Cable Box will be returned today, and we will no longer be paying for unused channels. 

But what about entertainment, you ask?  Well, aside from reading books with the kids, we will still have our local channels using our antenna, and that covers all the major shows we watch.  Other than that, we still have Netflix, and less signal being eaten by the unused cable box which will (hopefully) increase Internet performance.  But in the end, it feels good to no longer be throwing money away on something we don't use, and instead spend it on something we will need. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Light It Up Blue for Those with Autism

Article first published as Light It Up Blue for Those with Autism on Technorati.

A boy with Autism sleeping in the chair with a cat cuddled up.April is Autism Awareness Month, a month to think about the causes of Autism, the impact it has on our lives, and the opportunities we can take to help those with Autism apply their unique gifts for us all. Municipalities and private homes are using blue lights to draw awareness to Autism.

The media seems to have used this time to focus on research into the causes of Autism, the recent CDC announcement of 1 in 88 kids in the US having Autism, and the various results of surveys that have been used to identify areas in need of research. But instead of focusing on the progress, they seem to be more concerned with the "scare tactics" to boost interest. In particular, they are focusing on the results of a survey that identified a trend between older fathers and obese mothers as being at increased risk of having a child with Autism.

The survey is very useful, as it identifies some common issues and tries to narrow the field of research. It's been used in the past for every medical condition from AIDS to cancer. And in the past the media has been right with them, reporting "causes" of cancer to be eggs, cranberries, cell phones, etc. Instead of taking the survey data at face value, the media seems to have taken it upon themselves to draw the conclusion of a link.

With Autism, it started with vaccines. One "doctor" (who has since been exposed as a fraud) had research data linking the MMR vaccine to Autism. It's since been disproved, but the media jumped on it with a thirst for ratings, readership, and advertising funds. Now, for the first time in decades, several large populations are at risk for Measles, Mumps, and Rubella. These are potentially deadly "childhood" diseases that had all but been stamped out in this country, and they are coming back with a vengeance. Why? Because of the scare of Autism.

Autism isn't scary. It can be frustrating when your child doesn't want to look you in the eye, or doesn't seem to want to talk at all. Or embarrassing when your child is screaming bloody murder in the supermarket because of the lights, starts head-butting everything out of frustration or takes all their clothes off in the back yard (or front yard, for that matter), because they don't like the feel of the fabric on their skin. It can cause panic when your child runs off and you can't find them, knowing they will not find their way home on their own (or think to).

But Autism can be amazing. The amazing abilities of these kids provide such a feeling of awe as they accomplish things their neurotypical peers wouldn't even dream of doing, such as tearing down a vacuum cleaner and putting it back together again (and it works!). These special children have the ability to create such a feeling of compassion in so many people, it's inspiring, because it's not pity, but rather a feeling of love for children who are so close to their feelings and very honest about their thoughts.

For Autism Awareness month, we are lighting our front yard light in blue. It's for all the kids who are in need of a voice, those who can't defend themselves against thoughtless comments, bullies, judgmental neighbors or family members. It's for my two boys who astound me every day with their progress toward mainstream education, and the smiles they bring to me and each other when we play. It's for the sleepless nights when dealing with night terrors that turn into full fledged meltdowns.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Article first published as What Autism Means for Me on Technorati.
Family and their children with Autism at Disneyland.

This month is Autism Awareness Month. All month organizations will be trying to bring the awareness of Autism and it's impact on families to the forefront of all who care to listen. It's a cause that is near and dear to my heart, having now both children on the Spectrum.

So what is Autism? It's a disorder, and in ever-deepening levels. First, it's a disorder of the brain that causes social dysfunction, speech delays, and odd, repetitive behaviors. It's a disorder in that parents need to spend more time focusing on their child on the Spectrum to help them learn and keep up with their peers. It's a disorder that changes family dynamics for siblings of a child with Autism as their parents spend more time with the child on the Spectrum than with them. It's a disorder that places a burden on school districts to provide classes that focus on the Autism Spectrum disorder. It's a disorder that affects a family's choice of school districts, places of worship, daily routines, places of employment, and even the choice of where to live. Everything seems to revolve around this disorder.

The United States Center for Disease Control has increased the estimate of Autism occurance in the United States to 1 in 88 children. It used to be 1 in 150 when my son was first diagnosed, and then went up to 1 in 110. There are cries of an epidemic, calls for funding to find a "cure", rallies and walks to raise funds in order to help these children. Governments are being tasked with finding ways to fund therapies to intervene as early as possible in order to increase the chances of a child on the Spectrum to contribute positively to society. Companies are being established that use the unique abilities of many adults with Autism in order to help them take care of themselves. Political candidates, talk show hosts, researchers, and parents are doing everything they can to bring awareness to their particular point of view of this mysterious condition.

So what is Autism? For me, Autism is an older son that, at 7, remains simply on the cusp of speaking but not quite there. Yet he can type on the computer, use an iPad without difficulty, write, read, and now draw faces and stick figures. Autism is a boy who will do everything himself if he can, yet has trouble with some basic functions like using the bathroom. Autism is a son who has an amazing mechanical sense, able to take toys and, well vaccuums apart, and put them back together again (and they work).

Autism is a younger son, 3, who speaks in memorized phrases instead of words. A son who can also type, has taught himself adding and subtracting for the most part, excellent at matching objects and a love of reading. Autism is a son who is happy to see you one minute, and then frustrated that you don't understand his needs immediately.

Autism is a wife who is tired after getting up early with a son who had trouble sleeping, excited to learn what she can to help her children, and willing to accept conditions as they are and move on. Autism is a family who, in a true stoic sense, look to help in anyway they can while understanding the limitations we as a family have.

Autism is getting up at 1:30 AM and putting on old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies to quite down a now wide awake 3 year old while trying to snooze on the couch. Autism is making time to talk with my sons' teachers to discuss what they have been doing in class what what needs to happen at home to support their efforts. Autism is accepting that my sons will most likely never be sports stars, popular at school, or accepted by their peers when they are mainstreamed. Autism is accepting the heartache that will come when my children will be bullied at school because they are different.

Autism is coming home from a long day at work, exhausted, and finding two children bouncing off the walls full of energy, giggling and waiting for a good tickle session. It's missing movies that you would be excited to see because you want to put your children's needs first. Autism, to me, means being thankful for the support and love of those around you, even when you can't seem to find the words to thank them personally.

If you have a child with Autism, perhaps you can relate. If you don't, it's hard to explain what is so different about the experience than raising neurotypical children. It's difficult to say, as I do not have any neurotypical children. But I love both my kids, and wouldn't have it any other way.