. . . I've been told that I write novels for email messages. Perhaps this is the way to go. I'll try to make each entry, or Gemstone, a "precious" one. On mediocre days, all I might be able to produce is a "semi-precious" entry. In any case, an entry might be a "neat" Gemstone--something that is uniquely mine.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Educate Yourself About Autism Before You Make Snap Judgements

People really need to educate themselves on the characteristics of autism, especially if they are a vice principal of a school. 

Yes, my son has dyed his hair red. Yes, my son "talks to himself". Yes, my son isolates himself from others. Yes, my son does not look you in the eye, especially if he does not know you. 

No, this does not mean that my son dyed his hair red because he heard about the Aurora, CO shooter who dyed his hair the same exact color red as the Joker's and went to a movie theater to shoot up the attendees of "Batman: The Dark Night". No, this does not mean that my son has turned schizophrenic and hears "voices" in his head and is answering to them. No, this does not mean that my son is contemplating any deviant behavior by withdrawing from the general population of high school students. 

My son is "stimming", a very common characteristic of autistic children. His form of stimming involves an internal movie in his head that he has memorized and he verbalizes each scene, word by word, often acting out what he has seen. And about the hair color? He started with blue, being his favorite color, but then moved on to green, orange, and now red. Colors based on his mood or even just the season (green at St. Patrick's, orange at Halloween). Who knows why he chose red, but it sure wasn't because of the Joker in the Batman movie (by the way, he's never even seen that movie nor has heard of the Aurora movie theater shooting).

So when we got called by the school psychologist to come in for a meeting regarding the above (and regarding yesterday's post as well), we were quite concerned. Luckily, the psychologist has known my son and has been his case worker since he was 2 1/2 and in the special preschool for developmentally delayed kids here. She told us of the vice principal's concerns, clearly embarrassed over having to share them with us and very apologetic. She stood up for my son and totally explained  to the VP how he is a gentle, innocent, and naive soul who has no malicious intent with regards to planning a form of school violence. We thanked her for standing up for our son and for reassuring us that she is on our side (and gently encouraged us to gently encourage our son to choose his next hair color with discretion).

But a day later. You know what? I'm pissed. How dare that VP jump to snap judgements over a 15 year old boy just because of his hair color and behaviors. My son! My sweet, loving, funny, and brilliant son who happens to be on the autistic spectrum. Please, people, especially if you are school personnel, please educate yourself about autism before you make such snap judgements.

Thank you.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lowering That Bar Again

I've mentioned this before a while ago in a previous post......you know when you have a baby and you can see his/her future a certain way for them....you set your bar high and have all these expectations for them....college graduate, marriage, family, great job....then you find out he has a disability. You have to lower that bar a little bit and revamp your expectations. Maybe he won't be a doctor or scientist, and may not get that PhD. But he'll still do fine, right? Then a few more years go by and test scores indicate he doesn't have as high of an IQ as a typical child and you get a diagnosis: autism.  So you lower the bar again; lower your expectations. How many times can you lower that bar? Lower your expectations? So you hope for high school graduation, maybe some vocational school or general degree in college, and a good job--hope for marriage and grandkids someday. Year after year you come to the conclusions that none of your hopes and dreams for your child can ever come true. It breaks your heart each time you have to lower that bar. Now it is to the point where the child will graduate, but will no longer be in the academic classes that lead toward a college path. Now the best thing you can hope for is the career path. Forget Algebra, forget Trigonometry. Forget three years of the typical sciences of physics, chemistry, and biology. Put in their place "functional" math and "general" science. And the words that are hard to hear, "Basic Living Skills." The bar gets lowered. Now all to hope for is your child being as independent as possible. To live on his own and take care of himself with help, if needed. Maybe he'll never be the kindergarten teacher that he always wanted to be, but now will only be a classroom assistant. And forget about him being a veterinarian, but maybe he can clean cages at the local shelter. And if all else fails, maybe he can bag groceries at the local supermarket. And forget about those grandkids. But on the bright side, maybe he will be less anxious and stressed out, most definitely happier with regard to school work. But once he finds out that he's in the "remedial" classes, he'll get really upset and I don't know what I'll do if that happens. I don't want to disappoint my child and shatter his dreams. How do I help him to reach his full potential and be incredibly happy in life?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Four Corners Monument

Four Corners Monument
To complete our southwestern spring break we took the back way home so that we could visit the Four Corners Monument. Of course, Four Corners is the only place where the four states of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado meet. The monument is on the Navajo Nation and is in the middle of absolute nowhere.

The original marker was erected in 1912 and was a simple cement pad, but now it is a whole circle of granite rock and brass. State flags surround the monument as well as four descriptions on when state lines were surveyed. It really is a nice monument and was a lot of fun to photograph ourselves on it.

Now you may have heard in recent years that the Monument is incorrectly placed by about 2.5 miles. That turned out not to be the case and was just an issue of interpreting survey lines of latitude and longitude from back in the days of drawing them (1860s). It turns out that the Monument is placed where it is supposed to be so no worries. 

Since the monument is on the Navajo Nation, vendors occupy all four “sides” of the monument in small cubbies with their beautiful jewelry and souvenirs. Be polite and browse--maybe even buy something.

On the way home we passed Shiprock, NM. Shiprock is a volcanic plug that has been exposed by the erosion of sedimentary layers to expose the hard volcanic rock. The highway was about 20 miles north of the formation that stood out in the middle of nowhere. The sacred formation figures prominently in Navajo Nation mythology as a giant bird that carried the Navajo from the cold northlands to the warm Four Corners region. 

Canyonlands National Park: The Needles

View Across the Way with Wooden Shoe Arch on the Right

Wooden Shoe Arch
A second district within the Canyonlands National Park is the Needles that forms the southeast corner. It is named for the colorful spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that dominate the area. 
View of the Needles from Afar

We only had time to walk the Pothole Point Trail, unable to hike the longer trails to view the Needles close up (a disappointment). Those trails are at least 5 miles round trip and since we stopped on the way home from Moab, just didn’t have the time (or inkling) to hike to the Needles. But the Pothole Point Trail was a nice short hike among some really great sandstone layers that formed 250 million years ago.


Me Among the Sandstone Layers
Along the trail (and also at Island in the Sky and Arches) We saw a lot of biological soil crust. Cairns mark the walking trails so that you stay off of this delicate life form. This crust consists of cyanobacteria (the most basic of life forms) but also lichens, mosses, green algae, fungi, and bacteria. It forms the foundation of high desert plant life.
Biological Soil Crust
Maybe next time we visit we will stay at the quiet campground and go on some of the long hikes to see the Needles up close.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky

Shafer Canyon Overlook
Canyonlands National Park near Moab, UT is divided into different districts. The first district that we visited was Island in the Sky. The whole park is an example of the effects of millions of years of erosion on rock layers deposited nearly 300 million years ago. This area of southeast Utah was flooded by tropical oceans, criscrossed by rivers, covered by mudflats, and buried by desert sand. Layer upon layer of sedimentary rock were deposited.

About 15 million years ago the sea level sedimentary layers were flat. Movements in the earth’s crust caused the whole area to rise; today the average elevation is over 5,000 feet above sea level. This uplifted area is part of the Colorado Plateau and has been eroded from the Colorado and Green Rivers that cut into the plateau and formed the 2,000 feet deep canyons seen today.
Mesa Arch

The Island in the Sky mesa rests on sheer sandstone cliffs over 1,000 feet above the surrounding land. There are pullouts with spectacular views along the scenic drive through the district including overlooks at Shafer Canyon Overlook, Grand View Point, and Buck Canyon Overlook. There are several trails that criss cross the park but we only walked on the shorter ones: Mesa Arch Trail and the Upheaval Dome Overlook Trails, and only hiking 2.5 miles today.

Upheaval Dome Second Overlook

Grand View Point