February 4, 2016

My Lovely Dandelion

I used to dream my son would be an athlete. Now I enjoy watching Tyler chase his own dreams to be a history teacher Love That Boy What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent’s Expectations by Ron Fournier or comedian. One thing I never considered my boy to be: a dandelion.

Not until I read a Forbes profile on a new acquaintance of mine, Thorkil Sonne, who uses the analogy to describe the brilliant uniqueness of autistic people – like his son and mine.

The next two paragraphs are from the profile:

“To most people, the dandelion is nothing more than an annoying weed – something to be rooted out of our lawns and flowerbeds. But what a lot of people don’t know is that, when cultivated, the dandelion is one of the most valuable and useful plants in nature. In many parts of the world, the dandelion is known for its nutritional, healing and medicinal properties. The value of a dandelion is very much dependent on our knowledge and perception of its value.”

“Most of us don’t want dandelions in our lawns – they don’t fit there. But if you place a dandelion plant in your kitchen garden, and cultivate it, it can turn out to be one of your most valuable plants. Dandelions are used to make beer, wine, salads, and natural medicines. Quite simply, if you choose to cultivate dandelions, you will reap their rewards. So, is a dandelion a weed or an herb? You decide. The same can be said for individuals with autism. The value of what you see depends on your level of understanding and accommodation.”

Please read the article to learn more about Thorkil’s efforts to link autistic people with employers who need the distinctive skill sets that come with autism (most employers don’t know what they’re missing): http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertszc… .

I met Thorkil last month at a gathering of fathers whose children attend Hill Top Preparatory Academy, a school outside Philadelphia for children with autism. I hope to help his project make connections in Washington.

Also consider his analogy: Autistic people aren’t broken; they contribute a special sauce to the human experience. Steve Silberman puts it this way in NeuroTribes: “[C]onditions like autism, dyslexia, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD-HD) should be regarded as naturally occurring cognitive variations with distinctive strengths that have contributed to the evolution of technology and culture, rather than mere check¬lists of deficits and dysfunctions.”

In other words, one person’s weed is another person’s flower.

November 16, 2015

Birdhouse to Our House

People are amazing. When the government can’t cut it, when the school won’t do it, when the medical community doesn’t heal it, we the people are doing some amazing things via social entrepreneurship.

Case in point: Ben Chutz.

I talked to Ben today about Birdhouse, a web-based tool he created to help parents keep track of what it takes to raise an autistic child. “You know what it’s like,” Ben said. “The only thing harder than keeping track of all this is explaining it to your child’s doctor.”

For years, Dani Gillman kept records and notes about her autistic daughter, Brodie, in a three-ring binder. The single mother from outside Detroit also ran a popular blog about the challenges of raising Brodie, but her system was clunky and the binder too easily lost. In 2011, when Brodie was 11 years old, she started dating Ben, a tech-savvy businessman who fell in love with Dani and Brodie. He soon hated the paper-based system.

“I knew,” he told me, “there had to be a better way.”

He developed and evolved an electronic organizing tool that will soon be adapted to parents raising children with all sorts of special needs. According to the site, “Birdhouse gives you the tools to organize meds, supplements, and therapies, and easily keep track of things like food, behaviors, moods, sleeping habits, and more all in one safe, secure, and searchable place.”

I plan to write more about Chutz – and much more about people like him – in the coming months. Please keep an eye on this space.

Just had to share this now.