The Pet Persuasion Paper

NHL recently had to complete a "persuasive essay" project for school.  He needed to write a paper to convince someone of something.  The topic he decided on was pets and why we should get him one.  Here’s his essay (and yes, I got his approval to share it here):


Of course, before he even showed this essay to me, he mentioned what he was writing about and I gave him our arguments against getting a pet.

Our first argument is simply that B is allergic to most dogs and cats.  That limits our pet options considerably.  Secondly, pets cost a lot of money to take care of.  Food, medical care, housing, and/or toys for the pet don’t come cheap.  When your budget looks like ours, taking on another expense for a pet isn’t a big option.  Finally, pets require space to live in.  This isn’t as big of a problem if the pet is a goldfish in a small bowl, but our house is so small and so tightly packed that even that would be a problem.  (Seriously.  We have that little room.)

Having seen NHL’s essay, I’d also argue that there are other ways he can learn to be responsible and not use his Nintendo DS as much.  He could read some books, play with the many toys he has and put them away when he’s done, and even volunteer to clean up areas of the house.

Finally, and most importantly, I talked to NHL about people who might try to bully him because they have pets and he doesn’t.  I let him know that bullies try to define what is "good" and what isn’t.  They are trying to define having a pet as "good" and not having one as "bad."  However, they have no right to define what is good and bad in his life.  If he doesn’t have a pet, that’s just fine.  He can’t live his life by doing things only because doing said things might get some people to stop picking on him.  Getting a pet just so some kids will stop bullying him is a poor reason to get a pet.

In the end, it was an admirable attempt by NHL, but he’ll need to try harder in order to convince us that we should get him a pet.

Diagnosis, Asperger’s, NHL and Me

Autism_Awareness_RibbonA few months ago, I mentioned having some big news.  Huge news.  However, I couldn’t share it at the time.  This led to some people wondering what it could be.  Well, after many weeks of keeping quiet about it online, we’re ready to reveal what it is.  But first, some history.

About five years ago, when NHL was only four years old, we wondered about whether something was up with him.  He didn’t seem to fit in socially like the other kids did.  He had trouble if a routine changed.  He would have fears way beyond what is age appropriate.  We went to one doctor after another and kept getting different advice.  Nothing seemed to help, though.

The closest we got to a good diagnosis was that he was gifted (IQ of over 135), but even trying to address his supposed boredom in the classroom didn’t help.  NHL was still yelling in class, cutting up paper, running around the classroom, freaking out whenever his routines changed, and more.  The teacher tried to be patient with him, but she had to teach the other kids as well.  Besides, we feared that he was painting a huge "Bully Me" target on himself with his actions.

Finally, at the end of our rope, we went to a neuro-psychologist.  She went to NHL’s class and, without him knowing, observed him for three and a half hours.  Then, not too much later, NHL met with her one on one for about four hours.  The report she put together from these meetings and observations was long, comprehensive, and difficult to read.  Within its pages, we read of kids moving their desks away from NHL, kids rolling their eyes at him and calling him weirdo, and other socially isolating events.  NHL, with his actions, was doing just what we feared.  He was isolating himself and making himself a target for bullying.

The good thing about the report, though, was that we finally had a diagnosis.  NHL was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome.

On the anxiety front, his fears would come upon him so fast and so strong that there wasn’t the barest hope of him keeping them in check.  The best I can describe it would be that he pictured the worst possible outcome in his head.  Then, once that outcome was imagined, he would assume it was certain to occur.  Next, he would totally freak out including yelling, stomping, running away, etc.  It didn’t matter if we were at home, if he was in a classroom, or if we were in the middle of a store.  His fears could be based on school work (homework was a half hour scream-fest) or a super-massive black hole destroying humanity.  Thankfully, new strategies have helped him calmed down a lot and we can head off his fears before they turn into full-blown panic attacks.

When it comes to Asperger’s Syndrome, it’s not a "condition NHL has" as much it is "a different way that NHL’s brain works."  NHL loves schedules, order, and routine.  He doesn’t like it when this gets disrupted.  Loud sounds or people getting in his space can make him uncomfortable.  (He’ll cover his ears when entering a public restroom in case the electric hand dryer turns on.)  He has intense likes (Math, computers, superheroes, etc) that he wants to share with everyone whether they like the same things or not.  He can tell you how a person should act in a given social situation, but when theory turns into reality, he has trouble knowing what to do.

In fact, many social interactions are tricky for him to navigate.  In the past, he’s been naïve enough to not recognize that his social "awkwardness" was isolating him, but he’s quickly realizing it now.  He’s a kind kid and loves helping and being a friend.  When kids don’t want to be his friend, ignore him, or tease him, he feels hurt and doesn’t know how to express this or remedy the situation.

He’s now getting help learning to cope and deal with social situations.  People with Asperger’s have to learn how to navigate the world at large.  His challenges aren’t as great as those of a child with a more severe form of Autism, but he still needs to learn the rules of the neuro-typical road.

For those who don’t know the phrase, Neuro-typical is the word used to describe people who aren’t on the Autism spectrum.  Never use the word "normal" as it insinuates that someone with Autism is some sort of freak.  We aren’t freaks,  We just have a different way of thinking.

Yes, I did say "we."

in my "I can’t share this yet" post, I said: "This news is so big that it has rattled my very idea of who I am."  You see, as we were reading more and more about Asperger’s, I kept stopping and remarking about how that sounded so much like me.  One example: People with Asperger’s tend to think in an If-Then manner sort of like a computer.  One of the reasons I make such a good computer programmer is that my brain basically works just like a programming language is written!

Growing up, I had a lot of trouble with social situations.  I never felt completely natural in them.  To me, it seemed as though everyone had gotten the Social Situations Complete Guide while I got the Cliff Notes edition.  I wanted to be social, but didn’t quite know how.  I always pictured it as wanting to be in the spotlight, but feeling highly uncomfortable when that happened.

I always figured that I was "socially stunted" by the bullying I went through.  After all, my reaction to being bullied was to withdraw from the world.  The less that I showed to the world, the less the world had to bully me with.  After high school, I tried very hard to tear down those emotional walls and open up.  To this day, though, I still struggle with it.

Maybe my social awkwardness wasn’t a result of bullying, though.  Maybe, it was due to Asperger’s.  Back when I was growing up, Asperger’s wasn’t diagnosed.  I didn’t have the options that we have for NHL to aid him with socializing.  Of course, the bullying didn’t help, but perhaps all these years I had it backwards.  Maybe my social awkwardness was something that the bullies picked up on and used to target me.  Maybe my quest to "be normal socially" was completely misguided because I wasn’t neuro-typical at all.

At first, this saddened me.  Was there an upper ceiling beyond which I couldn’t top no matter how much I tried?  Was all my hard work over all these years for nothing?  Should I just give up and say "Asperger’s" whenever a social situation had me stymied?

For awhile, I wasn’t sure what the answers should be.  Then, I heard someone mention that Asperger’s doesn’t define us.  I can’t give up on growing as a person just because I have Asperger’s.  It will always be a challenge I deal with, but it won’t be the only thing there is about me.  And, with luck, I can use my Asperger’s experience to help NHL avoid some of the pitfalls I fell into.

NOTE: The Autism Awareness ribbon icon above was created by Melesse and comes from Wikimedia Commons.

Faith in Humanity

Last week news broke of a horrible situation.  Some teens on a bus apparently thought that it would be fun to harass a bus monitor, a senior citizen named Karen H Klein.  They called her fat, poor and a bunch of other mean, and hurtful things.  While they were doing this, one recorded the entire event and uploaded it to Facebook to mock the bus monitor even more.

This could have been just another in the long list of horrible bully stories that you hear of which results in a lot of anguish but nothing substantial.  Or, even worse, it could have stayed hidden with the bullies getting nothing to dissuade them from bullying again and with the bullied feeling like they were alone in the world.

It could have been, but then a man by the name of Max Sidorov intervened.  First, he noticed the video on Facebook and decided that the whole world needed to see this.  So he reposted the video on YouTube.  Here’s the video, if you can watch the whole thing.  Personally, I was only able to make it about a minute in.

Secondly, he decided that Karen deserved a vacation.  He opened a fundraiser on Indiegogo.  His goal was to hit $5,000 in about 30 days.  As I’m writing this (on Sunday night), there are 26 days to go and the fundraiser is at $641,196.  No, there isn’t a missing decimal point.  They have raised over SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND dollars for Karen.  This isn’t just "take a vacation" money or even ""take a really nice vacation" money.  This is "retire and never have to deal with these horrid teens ever again" money.

There were (as of this writing), 29,606 contributors.  That’s almost thirty thousand people who gave over $20 each because Karen’s story touched them and they wanted to throw some support behind her.  Beyond that, there was a groundswell of emotional support as well.  I haven’t seen any comments saying "Oh this lady’s so old and fat, she deserved it."  I haven’t seen any comments saying "Meh, kids will be kids.  This is just part of kids growing up.  Ignore it any it’ll go away."  Instead, I’ve seen questions asking how the kids could be so cruel, asking how the kids could be allowed to do this, asking why didn’t anyone intervene, and asking what role do the parents have in this.  Emotional support was thrown behind Karen big time.

This overwhelming support shows that there *are* people out there who care.  There *are* people out there who will see bullying happen and will say "this is wrong."  It sends a clear message to bullyings that their activities will be exposed and will *NOT* be tolerated.

Moreover, I was impressed by Karen’s response to the kids who were bullying them.  During the bullying, she could have lost her temper.  She could have yelled, screamed, and threatened the boys.  She didn’t, though.  She kept her cool and stayed calm.  Yes, she cried, but so would most people subjected to such emotional torture.  (It didn’t help that they said she was so ugly that her family probably killed themselves… when her son killed himself when he was ten.  The kids hit a big emotional trigger there, purely by mistake but still in a malicious manner.)

Instead of screaming, Karen took the abuse and tried to respond calmly.  She showed more grace and restraint than those teens deserved.  She took the high road and rose higher than those teens could ever hope to soar.  Not unless they have some serious attitude adjustments.

When I hear about these bullying incidents, the bullies make me sad for humanity.  Especially the "mob bullies" who band together to take on a victim but would be too scared to do anything by themselves.  However, Karen’s reactions and the legions of people who came to her defense once the video was posted leave me with renewed faith in humanity.  Perhaps we can band together and defeat bullying after all.

Karma, Starscream Bullying and the Stolen T-Cog

Starscream_PrimeAs all parents do, I’ve tried to teach my boys right from wrong.  Of course, there are times when doing the wrong thing results in an immediate reward for the person while doing the right things results in a near-term penalty.  Young kids, being short-term thinkers, can often take the wrong path due to the short-term gain, even while knowing that it is the wrong thing to do.

To help NHL with handling this concept, I decided to introduce him to the concept of Karma.  Karma, as I explained to NHL, is the concept that good things happen to those who do good deeds and bad things happen to people who do bad things.  (Karma dates back to ancient India, but for NHL’s purposes, I relied on the modern interpretation.)  NHL seemed to understand as we ran through a few scenarios describing what would be the right and wrong thing to do.

A week or so after we spoke about it, NHL, JSL, and I were watching Transformers: Prime.  We’ve come to really like this incarnation of Transfomers and look forward to each new episode.  This two-parter, Operation Bumblebee, saw Bumblebee lose his T-Cog.  For those who didn’t watch, a T-Cog is the biomechanical organ that lets Cybertronians scan vehicles and transform.  So when MECH, a group of humans trying to make their own Transformers, knock out Bumblebee and take his T-Cog, Bumblebee finds that he can’t transform anymore.  Since transformation is so integral to what they are and since Bumblebee enjoys driving fast in his vehicle mode, this makes him feel useless to his team.

Back to Starscream, though.  We first see him arriving on the scene after Bumblebee was knocked out by MECH.  (They had both been tracking the same signal that MECH used in their trap.)  Starscream’s reaction wasn’t to help Bumblebee, but to muse "Better him than me."

After this, he follows MECH back to their headquarters and proposes an alliance.  The alliance goes well enough until Bumblebee tracks them down and tries to retrieve his T-Cog.  MECH’s troops prove no match for Bumblebee despite the robot being unable to use his weapons.  (No T-Cog means no transforming his arms into guns.)  As MECH retreats, its leader tells Starscream to bring the T-Cog.  Starscream grabs it.  He describes Bumblebee as pathetic and a failure for being unable to transform into vehicle mode.  When it looks like Bumblebee will get his T-Cog back, Starscream shoots it.  He leaves Bumblebee with one final taunt: "Time to jet.. because I can!"  (Note to non-geeks: Starscream’s vehicle mode is a jet.)

Of course, MECH isn’t happy with Starscream for losing the T-Cog.  When Starscream says they can get one soon enough from another Autobot, they zap Starscream and take his.

I intended to use this episode as a lesson in bullying.  I described to NHL how Starscream took advantage of Bumblebee’s weakness, helped the people who hurt him, and taunted him to make him feel bad about himself.  (Of course, schoolyard bullying rarely involves blasters.)

NHL, however, dredged up the Karma talk from a few weeks back and pointed out that it applied here.  Impressed, I admitted that he was right.  Starscream could have done the right thing by helping Bumblebee (either right away or after he tracked down MECH’s headquarters).  Previous episodes have established that he can contact the Autobots (when he was in need of medical assistance).  His actions throughout the episode were one bad action after another, right down to shooting the T-Cog to spite Bumblebee.

For his bad actions, something bad happened to him: He lost his own T-Cog.  His description of Bumblebee as a pathetic failure who couldn’t achieve vehicle mode became him as he scampered away by foot.

I was extremely proud of NHL for remembering our lesson and for applying it so perfectly.

Disclaimer: The image of Starscream above is from Clement Soh‘s Flickr stream and is shared via a Creative Commons license.

Aloha Friday: Bully Petitions and Videos

As someone who was bullied a lot in school, bullying is a subject very close to my heart.  No child should have to go through what I went through.  Sadly, many kids go through not only the level of bullying that I encountered, but much worse.  I’ve heard some stories of bullying that make my own tales seem like a trip to the spa.  Is it any wonder why kids crack and kill themselves or inflict harm on others?  When your daily outlook for the foreseeable future is pain and torment followed by torment and pain, your sanity begins to strain.  Too much and you can snap.  No child (or adult) should ever have to bear this burden.

Luckily, there has been a growing anti-bullying movement recently.  In fact, there’s a movie headed to theatres March 30th titled "Bully."  The movie follows five families as they confront the ugly reality of bullies.  The makers of this documentary were not only going to release this movie to theatres, but wanted to screen it in middle and high schools.

There’s just one problem: The MPAA gave the film an R rating.  The movie was one vote away from getting a PG-13, but got the more restrictive R rating instead for language.   This might make screening it to younger kids troublesome.  (Of course, a movie with acceptable language but tons of violence will almost always get a PG-13.)

Now the film-makers have a Sophie’s choice.  Their first option would be to mute or bleep some of the bad language.  This might get them the PG-13, but at the cost of glossing over some of the ugliness of bullying (something that is important to show to people).  Their second option is to petition the MPAA to change their ruling.  They’ve lost their appeals so far, but a petition has been circulating which, as of this writing, has nearly 180,000 signatures.  Finally, they could release it unrated, but then theater owners would treat it like an NC-17 movie and ban it entirely from their theaters.

I will definitely keep an eye on what happens.  Hopefully, the MPAA will relent and give the film a PG-13 rating.  Either way, B and I will go see this movie in the theater.

In other news, a few schools got together to film an anti-bullying video to post to YouTube.  The video featured many students dancing to Lady Gaga’s "Born This Way."  Sounds like a nice sentiment, right?  Not to a parents group.  They complained that the video wouldn’t reduce bullying, isn’t accepting of overweight kids/anorexic kids/kids who can’t dance, and that the music is offensive to most religions as well as to atheists.

I posted a detailed rebuttal over on Google+.  In short, I respect what these kids (and teachers) have done.  I think that the parents group is, at best, nit-picking.  Any efforts to spread the anti-bullying message help.  Kids need to be taught early on that 1) they are perfectly ok just the way they are; they don’t need to change to suit someone else’s view of "normal", 2) other people are perfectly ok the way they are and shouldn’t be expected to change to suit your view of "normal", and 3) people who are different from you should be treated with the same respect you show to people who are similar to you.

My Aloha Friday question for today is: Do you plan on seeing "Bully" in the theatres?

Also, while you’re at it, please head on over and sign the petition.

P.S. If you haven’t already, try out my Twitter applications: FollowerHQ and Rout.

Thanks to Kailani at An Island Life for starting this fun for Friday. Please be sure to head over to her blog to say hello and sign the linky there if you are participating.

Aloha Friday by Kailani at An Island Life

Aloha #128

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