A Boy and His Dog, Both with Disabilities, Share Their Boundless Love

Back in 2015, my younger daughter told me about a book she was reading and with which she became entranced. It’s about two misfits, a little boy and a huge dog. Both have physical disabilities. And as each is endowed with a great heart and heaping dose of empathy, they understood each other perfectly. As I love both animals and children with disabilities, I had to buy a copy and read it. I am very glad I did.

 

Haatchi and Little B

Book reviewed: Wendy Holden, Haatchi & Little B (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2014). ISSN 1250063183

He remembered the deafening roar of the train as it rumbled over him. Left for dead, an abandoned dog whimpered in the chilly night air. Fortunately, a kind-hearted rail supervisor spotted him and alerted the local animal welfare authorities. A series of veterinarians, nurses, animal shelter personnel, and animal advocates did everything they could to restore normalcy in his life. Everyone who met this dog was taken in by his large amber eyes, which belied his gentle nature. They did all they could for this unusual dog, but they could not save one of his hind legs and tail, making walking and communicating a major challenge for him. Now the problem was who would adopt a three-legged dog, an Anatolian shepherd, a breed most people associate with aggressiveness; even as a puppy, he was a very large dog. Those who met him knew he was a gentle giant. At one of the sanctuaries, the staff realized how loyal this dog was. They thought of a much-loved canine folk hero in Japan, an Akita named Hatchiko, who waited for his owner at a train station, even many years after he passed. They decided on an Anglicized variant, Haatchi. Little did they then realize that the name would suit him perfectly.

Will Howkins has a son, Owen, a boy with a very rare genetic neuromuscular disorder. The one dog he had was sweet-natured, but it was not in his nature to cuddle. Will and Kim, Owen’s mother, had divorced; Will was the boy’s primary care taker. Several years, later, Will met Colleen on line; like Will, Colleen loved dogs. One day, while browsing the Internet, Colleen was smitten by the face of an Anatolian shepherd staring back at her with enormous almond eyes. When the couple visited the dog in person, their feelings of love were even stronger. But how would Owen, Colleen’s “Little Buddy,” or “Little B,” react to a dog so much larger than he. They would have to give it a try. Little B was very shy and withdrawn, but when he and Haatchi met, they were in love; Owen became much more lively and outgoing. Soon, the story of the little boy and large dog spread, millions of people having viewed their account on Facebook. This is the book behind the story.

Haatchi and Owen had adapted to their disabilities, overcoming a great deal of painful surgery. The two inspired each other with their determination and positive outlook. Throughout the book, each experienced many more setbacks and challenges. In fact, the “happily ever after” is the astonishing positivity of all members of the family. Nobody knows the long-term future of either Owen or Haatchi; for now, however, both are extraordinarily grateful for what they have. That is the story of the family with the boy and his dog, who inspire each other—and will inspire anyone who takes the time to absorb this very enjoyable and highly readable true story.

Looking Back on a Month of Autism Awareness… and Appreciation

World Autism Awareness Day

Central to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is “respect for the inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons… and full and effective participation and inclusion in society” (Article 3). This concept is reflected in this year’s theme for World Autism Awareness Day, “Toward Autonomy and Self-Determination“.

 

On March 31, 2017, the U.N. held a conference on multiple aspects of autism, which included the following:

In the U.S. and throughout the world, the rate of autism is high, affecting children and adults of all socioeconomic and ethnic groups. According to the U.N., “Appropriate support, accommodation, and acceptance of this neurological condition allow those on the spectrum to enjoy equal opportunity, and full and effective participation in society.”

In opening the conference, Cristina Gallach, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said “We come together to renew our commitment to raising awareness of the rights of persons with autism – to equal opportunity and full participation in society, on an equal basis, with other citizens. To achieve this inclusive society that we aspire to, we must… ensure that the fundamental rights enshrined in the CRPD are respected.” This is a right that has been recognized since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was declared in 1948.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres could not be present, but he prepared a statement, which was read aloud: “On this World Autism Awareness Day, let us play a part in changing attitudes toward persons with autism and in recognizing their rights as citizens who, like everyone else, are entitled to claim those rights and make decisions for their lives in accordance with their own will and preferences. Let us also renew our promise engraved in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to leave no one behind, and ensure that all people can contribute as active members to a peaceful and prosperous society.”

The keynote speaker, Simon Baron-Cohen, Director, Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge, was gave an overview of the autism spectrum.

In regard to the “commitment to leave no one behind,” Jackie Pilgrim, a noted disability advocate spoke about dignity. In her work with NAMI Durham she spoke of her organization’s new 8-hour course for police and first-responders to replace the inadequate 1.5 hour course used previously, one for which they have shown “passion” to learn.

Barry Prizant, author of the landmark book Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism, summarized his philosophy:

Uniquely Human

  • De-pathologize autistic behavior (e.g., echolalia, stimming). It’s the way we deal with stress and self-regulate. They should not be repressed or otherwise “managed.”
  • Autism is not a tragedy, it can become one
  • Self-determination begins in early childhood. Children at an early age
  • Let’s look at ourselves.

In other words, “autistic behaviors are human behaviors.”  This landmark book will be covered in the next post on this blog.

Added Micheal John Carley. The best way to help is to examine ourselves and change the way we view people with autism.

An autism research and education organization, Autism Speaks, initiated the worldwide Light It Up Blue, campaign in its effort to raise autism awareness.  Among many in the autism community, both advocates and self-advocates, Autism Speaks is highly controversial, because that organization is seeking a cure, whereas many people prefer to see autism as simply another way of being: “different, not broken.”

 

National Autism Awareness Month

autism_ribbonThat ribbon made of multicolored puzzle pieces has become one the most recognizable symbols of autism in the world.  The various colors reflect the many “faces” of autism, a condition often referred to as the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) because no two people with autism are alike.  (The cognitive abilities of people with ASD range from “nonverbal” to intellectually brilliant.)  The ribbon symbolizes solidarity and hope of a happy, fulfilling life for people with autism.  The puzzle pieces remind us that the condition and the people with it are still very much a mystery.

Autism Awareness Month first came to be some 25 years ago, when the Autism Society of America undertook an effort to promote autism awareness.  The primary objective was to “promote … inclusion and self-determination for all, and assure that each person with autism  is provided the opportunity to achieve the highest quality of life.”

 

Three short films that treat autism awareness and appreciation are worth noting:

  •  “Talking in Pictures.”  This documentary dispels myths and stereotypes… at least as they apply to everyone with autism. “It’s not that we’re doing it wrong, it’s not that we’re autistic enough to fit in with the world’s idea of autism, it’s that the world’s idea of autism isn’t big enough to fit us all in!”
  • “Make it Stop.” This is a brand-new awareness video to foster understanding of people with autism.
  • “Perfectly Normal,” is a film about Jordan, a man with Asperger’s, who discusses his everyday life, of which the New York Times publicized an important excerpt.

 

Appreciating Autism with Julia

Appreciating Autism with Julia

Julia, the new Muppet with autism autistic on Sesame Street autism awareness appreciation

Sesame Street in October 2015 introduced Julia, a Muppet with autism in one of their storybooks. On Monday, April 10, Julia mad her screen debut!

 

Sunny days have become sunnier at Sesame Street with a new kid on the block, a vivacious girl with bright red hair and large, expressive green eyes. Meet Julia. And she happens to have autism. Announced October 2015Julia made her debut on the beloved children’s show Monday, April 10, as part of Autism Awareness Month. In a video to introduce the character, Julia’s friend Abby Cadabby explains, “lots of kids have autism.” And “that means their brains just work a little differently,” she continues.  As the Amazing Song proclaims, this effort by Sesame Street is to promote not just autism awareness, but autism acceptance and appreciation.

(CBS News made the announcement on Sunday, April 2; the following day, Julia was introduced in Congress.  Incidentally, Power Rangers introduced Billy, a blue character with autism.)

 

A Basis on Research and Experience

Noteworthy is that the people who create and enact the show themselves have experience with autism. Frank Campagna, the writer of the respected blog “Autism Daddy” is one of the video producers at Children’s Television Workshop. In his blog, he discusses how, after the birth of his severely autistic son, he sought to bring awareness and acceptance of the condition on the show.  And bringing Julia to life is puppeteer Stacey Gordon, an advocate and a parent of a boy with autism.

A researcher at Virginia Tech, herself a mom of a boy with autism, praises the way Julia doesn’t just talk about autism, but shows her young audience how autism is another way of thinking and being, providing the tools for them to interact with their autistic peers.

 

Resources for Parents

“Sesame Street and Autism” offers a variety of resources for parents, including the following:  Storybook image of Julia, a Sesame Street Muppet with autism

 

Sunny Day
Sweepin’ the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet

Can you tell me how to get,
How to get to Sesame Street

Come and play
Everything’s A-OK
Friendly neighbors there
That’s where we meet….

Revisited: What Do We Tell the Children – and Immigrants (as Well as Refugees)

Playful boy in the expansive courtyard of the Great Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, Syria

Photo by James Gordon, Los Angeles, California, USA: “Playful boy in the expansive courtyard of the Great Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, Syria” Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. This mosque, the fourth holiest place in Islam, is now in ruins.

It’s time to revisit two themes: “What do we tell the children?” and “What do we teach the children?”  In other words, v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha, “Love your neighbor (or stranger) as yourself.”
vahavta-lreacha-kamocha
On Saturday, January 27, Trump issued his now-famous executive order banning residents of seven designated predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States. Noteworthy is the fact that the order contains the phrase “foreign terrorist” but not “refugees.” Among these foreign terrorists detained was a four-month-old infant in need of open-heart surgery, and a one-year-old with cancer. In fact, world wide, children, already among the most vulnerable, are suffering in disproportionate numbers.
What do we mean by “extreme vetting”? A Homeland Security official explains that refugees have been been vetted thoroughly all along.

Teaching and Supporting the Children

Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, offers a comprehensive guide for educators and school support staff in dealing with the many complex issues of immigrants and refugees. Says the report,
“Schools should be safe havens that embrace all students and families, regardless of citizenship and national origin, and that includes unaccompanied and refugee children. The 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe ruled that undocumented children have a constitutional right to receive a free public K–12 education, which provides the means to becoming a “self-reliant and self-sufficient participant in society,” the court wrote, and instills the “fundamental values necessary to the maintenance of a democratic political system.” However, today’s increased enforcement measures by the Department of Homeland Security and campaign promises made by the incoming administration threaten that right for thousands of undocumented youth and the 4.1 million U.S.-born children who live in mixed-status households with at least one parent or family member who is undocumented.”
The report offers facts about undocumented students, immigration raids, what school communities can do, and taking action beyond the classroom.
A companion piece, “What Do I Say to Students about Immigration Orders?” offers clear, honest tips for helping undocumented students and children of undocumented parents. This thoughtful essay offers ten additional steps of constructive action teachers and other adult role models can take.

Out Beyond the School

 On Wednesday, February 1, Trump cut a call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull short, refusing to honor America’s earlier pledge to take in 1,200 refugees. These are the refugees who had been relocated to the Papua New Guinea island of Nauru. The refugees consist mainly of families, many children among them. Witnesses – both the children themselves and the human rights group Amnesty International – describe the conditions there as inhumane.
Meanwhile, Samantha Bee had to put aside her humor in her scathing segment that night. Then, again, so was Trevor Noah, using the same c-bomb.

Forces of Good(ness) in the Twitterverse

 Bana Alabed, thankfully safe, had a poignant question for the president, seeking his empathy. Bana is the brave little Syrian girl who has been using Twitter to alert the world of the plight of these children, now political pawns subject to the political whims of egomaniac adults.
bana-02
The video can be found here. Please follow her! Bana’s mother, Fatemah, has also set up a Twitter account. Mother and daughter preach love, peace, and understanding. These are the message we need so much more of.

After the Super Bowl

Here’s the full, uncut version of the famous advertisement by 84 Lumber. It’s beautiful!

From Light to Darkness to Light: A Time for Hope

By sheer coincidence, the Torah portion (parsha) reading for Shabbat following the inauguration is Shemot, the first five chapters of the book of Exodus. Anyone who has taken part in a Passover Seder will be familiar with much of the meaning of Exodus. The story is one of darkness, followed by redemption and light, ending on a note of faith in great things to come.

 

Turning Curses into Blessings

In the aftermath of what must be the most depressing and nasty election campaigns in U.S. history, capped by a very dark inaugural address, the story of Exodus gives hope. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in December 2015 wrote an inspirational commentary on this very parsha, “Turning Curses into Blessings.” He remarks on how the book of Genesis ends on “almost a serene note.” Then there was a new Pharaoh, who set into motion oppression against the people of Israel. Then, continues Rabbi Sacks, “But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and the more they spread.” In other words, he says, “The worse things get, the stronger we become.”

david_roberts-israelitesleavingegypt_1828

“Departure of the Israelites,” by David Roberts, 1829 Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

womens_march_2017-01_12

Women’s March, by VOA Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The multitudes of the Israelites said they would not have any more of Pharaoh’s oppression and embarked on a great march. On Saturday, January 21, the day immediately after the inauguration of President Trump, people across the nation and around the world declared they would not stand for the erosion of civil rights his rhetoric and views represent. The story of the protests, like the book of Exodus, offers much reason to hope, for us in the present and, more important, our children in the future.

The book of Exodus tells of suffering under an oppressive tyrant. For the Israelites, things get worse before they get better. However, in the end, they – with divine intervention – rid themselves of Pharaoh.

640px-the_crossing_fo_the_red_sea

“Crossing the Red Sea,” by Nicholas Poussin

israels_escape_from_egypt

Israel’s Escape from Egypt (illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company)

 

Hardening One’s Heart

Pharaoh’s heart became harder with each passing plague set upon the Egyptians. During the initial plagues, Pharaoh had the opportunity to let the Israelites go. Eventually, however, God took away Pharaoh’s free will, hardening his heart for him.

tissot_moses_speaks_to_pharaoh

Jacques Joseph Tissot, Moses Speaks to Pharaoh (watercolor circa 1896–1902)

Because everyone is capable of redemption, Pharaoh had one last chance at the Sea of Reeds. With his heart ever hardened, he led his troops into the sea. I find myself asking what will happen to President Trump’s heart. Will his heart soften, or will he lead his followers into the salty depths?

 

Speaking for All People

In this parsha, Chapter 4 (verses 10 through 17), Moses tells God, “Please, O Lord, I hav never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translation). The text continues: “And the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives man speech? Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?'”

tissot_moses_and_aaron_speak_to_the_people

Jacques Joseph Tissot, Moses and Aaron Speak to the People (watercolor circa 1896–1902)

In other words, all people – despite their disability – are equal in God’s creation. His brother, Aaron, assists him with speaking, but eventually it is Moses who leads his people out of darkness to a land of milk and honey.

Thank You, President Obama

President_Barack_Obama.jpg

Calendars everywhere proclaim today, January 20, 2017, as Inauguration Day. As someone who is dedicated to advocating for children, as well as people with disabilities and other marginalized communities (e.g., African Americans, Latinos, immigrants, and LGBT people), for me today is a day to say good bye to a champion of these groups, to thank him and the First Family for all they have done. Barack Obama has been a man of action, a man of words and conviction, and a role model.

Clearly, Obama touched the lives of so many Americans who wrote to him. He took it upon himself to answer at least ten letters a day. Some of the letters were angry. Yet, Obama took the time to respond with hope and empathy.

Indeed, the First Family was “a master class in dignity and civility.” But “Did we learn what they taught?”  

Ellen DeGeneres, likewise a figure of humor and grace, gave an eight-year retrospective tribute to the president she said she loved as much as admired:

 

My “Obama moment”? There are so many, but his rendition of “Amazing Grace” at the AME Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, after the horrific hate crime shooting of the church’s pastor and congregants engaged in a Bible study will forever haunt me. As will Barack Obama’s tearful speech after the unspeakable shooting and murder of innocent children and their teachers in Newtown, Connecticut.

OK, that was many years after I read his two books, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance and The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. The year 2008 seemed like a time in which we, with the life-affirming optimism of the child, could dare to dream and hope.

Obama’s January 10 farewell speech was magic.

As was his letter of farewell, in which he said “And when the arc of progress seems slow, remember: America is not the project of any one person. The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We the People.’ ‘We shall overcome.’ Yes, we can.”

And one more time from his Obama Foundation, he and Michelle, thanked the nation.

His legacy was erased from the White House website as soon as Mr. Trump took the oath of office. Fortunately, it has been preserved in archives. And Barack Obama invites people to share their thoughts with him.

I no longer follow @POTUS on Twitter. It’s now @POTUS44. And @FLOTUS44. No longer @Whitehouse, but @ObamaWhiteHouse, White House Archived.

 

Barack Obama has reason to thank this great nation. However, I want to thank him and his wonderful family.

Yes, we can.

For that, President Obama, I am thankful.

Welcome Home: Hillary Speaks at CDF, Where She Began Her Work on Behalf of Children

On Wednesday, November 16, 2016, the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)  hosted its 26th Beat the Odds Celebration at the Newseum in Washington, DC.  CDF honored Children’s Defense Fund Alumna Hillary Rodham Clinton for her dedication and contributions to child advocacy and the Children’s Defense Fund throughout her remarkable career.

“The Children’s Defense Fund is honored to celebrate and recognize a life-long champion of children who never gives up and never stops working to change the odds for children. Never has there been a more urgent time for all of us to help bind our wounds and heal our divisions and work for a nation and world where all children are respected and protected and no child is left behind. We thank Hillary who has been a tireless voice for children from the Children’s Defense Fund’s beginning as a young staff attorney, then board member and board chair,” said Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Secretary Clinton spoke passionately about children and the scourge of childhood poverty.

– See more at: http://www.childrensdefense.org/newsroom/cdf-in-the-news/press-releases/2016/CDFCelebratesHillaryRodhamClinton.html#sthash.mtxugJdB.dpuf