Sunday, October 30, 2011

The lebelinoz family went to a party!

Every once in a while, one of our friends might actually forget how painful it is to have two autistic kids at a house party.  It's happened again today.  Let's check the old LeBel-party scoreboard…

Number of drinks spilled:  zero

Number of broken
  • glasses:  zero
  • picture frames: zero
  • family heirlooms:  zero
  • bones:  zero

Number of times the hostess told Mr LeBel to
  • stop his children from [fill in blank] ______________:  zero
  • keep his hands to himself:  zero
  • keep his "eyes up here, mister":  zero
  • leave immediately:  zero
  • never come back:  zero
  • "get stuffed", "f*ck off" or equivalent:  one (lesson learned :  insulting a British woman's gardening ability is akin to insulting the cooking ability of a woman from any other culture)

Number of people staring at the kids until they were either bitch-slapped or told the kids are autistic:  one

Number of actual slaps delivered:
  • LeBel to others:  zero
  • Others to LeBel:  zero
  • LeBel to LeBel:  zero
  • Total slaps:  zero

Number of suicide attempts by:
  • cutting:  zero
  • poison:  zero
  • drowning:  zero
  • electrocution:  zero
  • running into traffic:  zero
  • jumping off a balcony:  one
    • How many floors:  four, technically, but he would have landed on the downstair's neighbour's balcony one floor down.

Which proportion of the suicide attempts were successful?  0%

Number of party-stopping shrieks:
  • by LeBel:  one
  • by others:  zero

Number of meals successfully eaten (max one per person):
  • by LeBel adults:  two
  • by LeBel children:  zero

Number of minutes endured until the children became unbearable and it was time to leave:  100 minutes

The final score, therefore, is acceptable.  Not bad.  The shriek cost us dearly, but may have saved us the huge penalty score for a successful suicide attempt.  Maybe next time, we'll prepare the kids with a few social stories and possibly even manage to cram a hotdog into one of the children... Then again, maybe next time Mrs LeBel will actually slap a pompous mom with normal kids and a staring problem!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Epidemic? What epidemic?

A study shows the rate of autism among adults is about the same as children, except most adults don't know about it:
University of Leicester researchers present further evidence from first ever general population survey of autism in adulthood (…)  There was no evidence of an 'autism epidemic' of marked increase in people with the condition.  [Dr Traolach Brugha, Professor of Psychiatry at the University] says "Overall our findings suggest that prevalence is neither rising nor falling significantly over time".

This is a bit of a fly in the ointment for anyone who asks the question:  "What is causing this recent explosion of cases of autism?"  Answer:  There is no explosion.  Diagnosis got better.  Instead of dismissing autistic children as "eccentric" (at one end of the spectrum) or "mentally retarded" (at the other end of the spectrum), the medical community got better at pinpointing the exact problem, and parents and teachers are more likely to give the diagnosed the help they need.

The article goes on to note that most of those diagnosed, being at the higher-functioning end of the spectrum, weren't even aware that they were autistic.  This lends credit to my own theory that, due to misdiagnoses, higher functioning autistic people tend to suffer more than the lower functioning ones (a fate, I'm glad to said, probably happens a lot less often in the 21st century).

There are still lots of questions around this mysterious thing called autism.  As an example, a recently released University of California study suggests children conceived in winter had a significantly higher risk of being diagnosed with autism than those conceived in summer:  To which I say:  "What the ****?  It's a seasonal thing?"

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Television reviews

I can't help but notice a prevalence of autism on television.  Don't believe me?  Think Big Bang Theory, The Middle, The IT crowd and Parenthood.  The first three are light-hearted sitcoms:  they don't specifically mention autism, but two (arguably three) of the characters are clearly on the spectrum.  As I've already reviewed books and blogs about autism (apologies to those favourite bloggers who I only found after I wrote the blog reviews:  I will make an updated version), it only makes sense for me to do television, too, because I spend a lot of time watching TV and I have a strange, almost savant-like ability to remember everything I've ever seen on it (I wish I could bring that skill to the office to help me remember more important things).

The Big Bang Theory

In a sitcom about nerds, Sheldon is a theoretical physicist who obsesses over his daily routine.  He can never be swayed whenever his mind is made up.  Examples:
  • In one episode, the gang take an 8-hour train ride from LA to San Francisco instead of a 1-hour flight because Sheldon is obsessed with trains.  As explained by another character:  "Three of us wanted to fly and Sheldon wanted to take the train, so we're taking the train."
  • He talks out his toddlerhood potty training routine while he's peeing, ending with "Shake twice for Texas".
  • He never sways from his schedule of when to eat certain foods:  Upon learning that his roommate's girlfriend had made waffles for breakfast on a Tuesday, when waffles are reserved for Saturdays and Tuesdays are meant to be oatmeal days, he says:  "I must admit, they do smell good."  Pauses.  "Too bad it's oatmeal day."  Dumps them into the trash can.
  • He could never learn to drive.  Several situations revolve around him convincing people to drive him somewhere.  There is a whole episode dedicated to him attempting to learn how to drive, and he's hopeless:  he doesn't get it in the end.

Favourite line:
  • [upon being told he's impossible]  I can't be impossible because I exist.  I think what you meant to say is:  "You're improbable"

Here's Sheldon's answer to Rock, Paper, Scissors:

The show never explicitly states that Sheldon has Asperger's, but it's so obvious to me that he does.

The IT crowd

Another sitcom about nerds, this one about the IT staff at a British company (though it's never clear throughout the show what the company does exactly).  The Asperger's suspect in this episode is called Morris Moss.  If you've never seen the show, here is a sample of Moss's symptoms:

For all the off-the-wall Asperger-type  behaviour, I don't think Moss is autistic.  He occasionally shows an understanding of human emotions and can choose to make connections with people.  Here, Moss uses a website called to pretend he's interested in soccer and make new friends:

This lands him in hot water when he actually gets dragged along to a soccer match:

Autistic or not (I'll let you decide), what I like about this show is the implication that all his strange quirks are a part of Moss which he embraces:  he wouldn't be happy any other way.  A bit like my boys:  I can't imagine them any other way.

I also like the implication that Moss's neo-autistic behaviour is just another one of the many crazy personality types.  Everyone in the show is nuts!

The Middle

This is a show about a family with three children who don't quite live up to their parents' expectations.  The oldest is a football hero who is forever embarassed and annoyed by his parents' mere existence.  The second oldest, while much more respectful and loving of her parents, has never succeeded in anything in her life.  And the third child is Brick:

The show takes everything that's funny about Aspergers and rolls it into the one character.  No tantrums or speech therapies or massive meltdowns.  Just weirdness and obsessions and an innocence that comes from not comprehending the concepts of making friends, empathy or lying.  Pretty much what one would expect from seeing an autistic child in a funny, light-hearted show.


This soap opera about an extended family has a character named Max, a boy who is diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome early in the series.

Okay, I'll admit it:  I never watch the show.  And the bits I do catch (my wife watches it while I'm reading blogs on my lappy on the other side of the room) seem to have no connection to real life.  Like the scene where the parents are told the therapies will be expensive:  "I don't care!  We'll spare no expense."  Or the scene where they find a great school but learn the waiting list is years long:  the parents get the boy into the school straight away by showing up, meeting the principal and acting cute and annoying.  Or any scene which implies the parents can forget all their autism-related problems when they're alone in the bedroom.

Oh well.  They are trying to make a successful show, after all.  If they made the autism too real, it wouldn't be popular, watchable television.  What I find interesting, however, is that the creators have snuck in a family of minor characters with their own autistic kid:  people who the main characters have befriended through their common bond of living with autism.  The father has autistic traits (he's obsessed with those funny, low-riding bikes and he talks about them constantly), the son likes to roll around in the grass like an animal, the mother is a bit nutty…  My wife gets all worked up when she sees this family because she thinks the characters are all stereotypes, and she hates the way the main characters look down their noses at this other family, as if to say "Oh my God, I hope we don't turn into them".  I think the other family is a more realistic portrayal of a family with an autistic child.

But I won't say more on the topic because, like I'd said, I've hardly watched it.  I would love to hear your opinions on the matter, though.

Friday, April 1, 2011

It could have been us

A four-year-old boy was fatally struck by a car just outside my house last week.  He ran out onto the street against a red light while his mother and him were collecting his older sister from school on Friday afternoon.  Anne heard the screeching tyres and somebody scream.  An off-duty fire fighter managed to resuscitate the boy, but he died early Saturday morning at Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital.

The child's name was Bram.  At his funeral, his mother—who immigrated here from Germany—spoke about Bram's bubbly personality and about his love of trains.  Because she has three other children, she bravely continued her life as per usual.  She even took her surviving children to the school's fête (=annual carnival fundraiser) two days after the funeral.

Bram was one of those kids who was always fearlessly running ahead of his family, and his mother struggled to keep him near her.  Just like Gaston was, at that age.  Just like Rémi can be when he has his over-the-top tantrums.

I've been thinking about all the near misses Gaston and Rémi have had over the years.  Of all the times one of the boys ran out onto a street when there just happened to be no cars speeding by.  I try to push such things to the back of my mind, but an incident like this brings it right back to the front, and I've found myself imagining what could have happened in this or that situation.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Chew

My boys, like many autistic kids, are always sticking things in their mouths.  On more than one occasion, I caught Gaston (seven years old) chewing on a tyre from a Lego set as if it were a piece of gum.  The real trouble-maker, however, is Rémi (age six).

Rémi is always mouthing stuff.  He's put teeth marks in all our nice wooden furniture.  He's chewed the paint of the window handles in his room.  He's bitten Anne (my wife) and me several times, as though sinking his teeth into our shoulders enhances the warm, fuzzy feeling of a tight hug from a parent.  I can't let him use an iPod anymore because he's already chewed up several ear buds.  His latest thing is chewing on the collar of his shirt.  On more then one occasion, he's picked up 24 hour bugs which nobody else in the family has caught;  I suspect he's made himself sick drinking dirty rainwater from the garden.

In short, Rémi is always biting, licking or chewing something.  It's a problem, and we need to fix it.  As with all these behavioural (and seemingly insurmountable) problems, we discussed it with his teachers at Western Autistic School, and they had a number of solutions as though they'd dealt with the problem a thousand times before.

My favourite solution is the chew.  This was given to Rémi by the occupational therapist, as part of a new "oral motor program".  It's essentially an indestructible tube of silicon which makes a satisfying squeaking noise when chewed.    The teachers offer it to him before lunch and play times, he chews it for a few minutes and then he gives it to an adult.  Similarly, whenever they catch him chewing on his shirt, they offer him a few minutes with the chew and he hands it back when he's done.  I've seen him use it at home:  it seems to me that his brain turns off completely while he's chewing, he gets bored after a few seconds, and he moves on.

The theory is to satisfy his primal need to chew stuff.  He still seems to prefer chewing on our wooden furniture and remote controls, though.

Oral motor programs must be commonplace.  If you google "chewlery", you'll find dozens of online shops catering to disabled children, selling (ugly) jewelry which is specially designed to be worn by children and chewed on.

These programs might not work straight away, but I think Rémi will eventually learn that chewing on some things is okay and other things is not.  We just need to gradually change his preferences.

Maybe we'll even get our hands on some of that god awful chewlery.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Real Estate Rant

In Melbourne (indeed, in most of Australia), property has traditionally been sold through auctions.  House auctions were rare when I lived in Canada, but they've been common in Australia in all my eleven years here.  They helped fuel a boom:  property values have always gone up since I moved here, and I reckon it's partly due to some bidding wars happening almost as soon as a good property hits the market.

The boom continued through the global financial crisis which saw house prices crash in the United States and the United Kingdom, with Melbourne house prices growing quickly though 2009 and the first half of 2010.  Things started slowing down halfway through last year.  More and more auctions occurred without any bidders present.    Or there were bidders, but the auction was passed in:  meaning the highest bid wasn't high enough to satisfy the seller.  The seller has a minimum number called a reserve, which needs to be surpassed at auction to avoid passing in.

My one and only experience with auctions is with the house which I am currently renting in Kensington.  The owners have decided to sell, and I was dying of curiosity to see the result.  So I came along to the Saturday afternoon auction.

Fortunately, one of my friends who has way more auction experiences than me was there.  He talked me through it.  The first thing he said was that he was surprised how few people there were.  Successful auctions have nearly one hundred people present.  This one had barely twenty people, and I recognised most of them as neighbours with a passing curiosity for either real estate in general or this house in particular.

The auction started.  "Can we start the bidding at $720,000?"  That sounded weird to me:  I knew they wanted $800,000 to $900,000 for this place (I was later told the reserve was $810,000).  Why would the auction start at such a ridiculously low price?

The auctioneer went on:  "The auction starts at $720,000.  Going up in increments of $10,000, the bidding starts at $720,000.  Any bids of $720,000?  How about $730,000?"  I must have missed something:  the price had already gone up and I didn't see or hear anyone bid.  "That's normal," says my friend.  "Nobody has bid yet."

The auctioneer goes on:  "$730,000?  Increments of $10k.  Does anybody want to bid $730k?  How about $740k?"  Now I know I've missed something, but my friend assures me a second time that nobody has bid.  The auctioneer pleads for $740,000, looks discouraged, goes inside (my home!) to discuss with the vendors, comes back after a few minutes and asks for $750,000!  After a few more pleads, he says the auction has passed in and thank you all very much everyone for coming.

Of course nobody bid!  A bid would have been like lifting up a big red flag with the word "sucker" on it.  A bid would have said "I want this place so badly that I'm willing to go through a bidding war when the place has just hit the market."  Any bid in the $700k - $800k range would have been greeted with "Oh, so you are interested enough to pay that sort of money for this place.  Let's see if we can bring you up to the even higher price which the owners really want."  And a negotiation process would have started.  I am sure auctions get great results for great houses, but they seem like a waste of time for crumbling little fixer-uppers like this one.

The funny part is that I suspect there were interested parties in the crowd.  Parties in a position to walk away from the deal, who figured they could sit tight and wait for the owner to sweat a bit.  When this house has been on the market for a while, an offer much lower than $810k will seem much sweeter to the sellers.

I never go to auctions:  I think they are a waste of time.  If there are bidders, they'll push the price up higher than it should be.  I bought a house in February 2011.  The same house had passed in at auction in November 2010, then stayed on the market for months (probably because the house's price was too high to begin with).  Unlike at an auction, I was in the driver's seat of the negotiation, and managed to get a bit of a bargain for it (by Melbourne standards).

Melbourne's crazy property market won't crash (at least, the chief economist where I work makes some pretty convincing arguments as to why it won't crash).  It will, however, slow down enough for people's salaries to catch up to it.  The fact that the buyers are fed up with these farcical auctions is definitely encouraging to those looking to buy.  Buyers who think they can barely afford a place of their own just need to be patient, look for fixer-uppers which have been on the market for a while and steer clear of auctions.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

L'oeil du tigre

Melbourne is full of people who want to impress my wife, Anne, with their French connections.  It might be because France is considered to be so posh and exotic over here, and they want to demonstrate they are also a little bit posh and well-travelled.  Or they've been putting France up on a pedestal and  they see Anne as their connection to this mythical Shangri-La full of great food, latin lovers and medieval chateaux.

Whatever the reason, there's always someone at a party pointing out the nice cheese to my wife.  Or people she's just met telling her about their one trip to France.  Or telling her about their French friends.  Or telling her about some French food they've cooked or tasted.

Once, while trying to book a music  therapist, the person at the other end of the line asked where Anne was from.  Upon learning Anne is French, she asked "Can I sing some French opera for you?"  Before Anne could answer, she was listening to very loud French singing through the phone.  When it was done, she gave a polite "That was very good", followed by a "How old are you?"  It was a grown woman at the other end of the line.

One day, our Local Sticky Beak (=nosy neighbour) was sitting at an outdoor café.  She stopped Anne, who was walking by.

Local Sticky Beak:  "Oh hello, I forget your name again" (note:  this is how every conversation with LSB starts)  "Oh, Anne, that's right.  I'd like to introduce you to my friend.  She has a very French name:  it's Adrienne."

Wife:  "That's true, that is a very French name, though not necessarily from my generation.  In fact, whenever people from my generation hear that name, the first thing they think of is Rocky One."  Then she screwed up her mouth to the right, curled her upper lip and gave her best "Yo Adrienne" Rocky impression.

LSB practically choked on her latté.