Ever been asked “What causes Asperger’s, anyway?” and found yourself fumbling for an answer. Well, finally some serious money is being thrown at finding the cause. President Barack Obama today awarded nearly $100 million in grants to the National Institutes of Health to research the genetic roots of autism and develop effective treatments. The goal: better ways to diagnose and screen for autism. “What we learn will hopefully lead to greater understanding, early interventions, more effective treatments and therapies to help these children live their lives and achieve their fullest potential, which is extraordinary,” the president said.
You can’t miss the signs that state and local elections are right around the corner. Advocates for people with disabilities are hoping to build on the trend that surfaced in the 2008 presidential election: Turnout soared, according to the American Association of People with Disabilities. An estimated 14.7 Americans with disabilities voted in that election, say researchers Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse of Rutgers University’s School of Management and Labor Relations. In some states, such as Virginia, students can now register to vote and declare their dorm room as their place of residency. Other places require that a permanent home address be designated. Wherever you live, now’s the time to obtain an absentee ballot if you won’t be present to vote on Election Day in your specified precinct.
Pop culture just can’t get enough of Asperger’s, it seems. Tomorrow, Hollywood will screen a recent clayography film, “Mary and Max,” from director Adam Elliot. The movie features the voices of voices of Toni Collette and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, as the lead characters; and Barry Humphries and Eric Bana. Character Max Horovitz is a 44-year-old Jewish man with Asperger’s who lives in New York City. His penpal Mary Dinkle is a 8-year-old girl in Australia. The animated movie isn’t scheduled for theatrical release but will be available Oct. 14 on many cable systems via Sundance Selects.
I came across some interesting statistics on college success for students with learning disabilities. About 11% of students entering college have learning disabilities but fewer than 1 in 4 of those students are still enrolled a year later. What happens? Check out the PowerPoint “Secondary Perspective on Transition” at LD Online. It makes clear that self-advocacy, self-identification and appropriate accommodations adjusted each semester are critical for college success and eventual graduation. Some of the latest research related to instructing students of all ages will be unveiled at the 31st annual international Council for Learning Disabilities conference this weekend in Dallas.
I’m an advocate of classroom learning but realize that online education offers benefits, too. Secondary schools are finding that out. And college admissions officials are grappling with how to assess online coursework. At the college level, online courses are now a staple. In fact, a recent government report gives high marks to online learning. Four benefits of online courses for students with Asperger’s or autism.
- Some subjects lend themselves to online learning because they are fact-based and can more easily take advantage of maps, databases and other tools available on a computer.
- Working alone is sometimes easier and less distracting than taking notes or taping lectures in a crowded classroom.
- Online learning allows time to focus on a subject versus taking a course that meets three times a week for 50-minute sessions.
- Interacting by email and messages can be easier for some students than dealing with professors and classmates face to face.
Surfer Clay Marzo chose the clash of waves over the college classroom. He doesn’t read, like computers or even watch much TV. But the 20-year-old, who has Asperger Syndrome, is one of the most creative surfers around, and he’s changing the sport for the better. Watch him do his wild wave thing in this YouTube trailer of the film “Just Add Water.” Whatever you choose to do in life, aim for excellence.
If you’re about to turn 23, check on your health insurance. In many states, you are no longer eligible for coverage through a parent once you reach the magic age of 23 — even if you’re a fulltime college student. A few farsighted states allow young adults to continue under their parent’s coverage past that age. Most don’t. And employers are extremely aggressive about bouncing out those dependents that they no longer are obligated to cover. Students often are able to continue to get health coverage through COBRA. Premiums for COBRA were temporarily cut by 35% under the federal stimulus plan, making coverage more affordable for most families. In most cases, going without insurance — even if you’re young and healthy — is a bad idea.
I admit it. I’m nervous about how TV will portray Asperger Syndrome through the character of Zev Glassenberg when “Amazing Race” kicks off at 8 p.m. ET Sunday on CBS. Every commercial and story about the new season of “Amazing Race” mentions Glassenberg, 26, an unemployed sports fan who lives in Sherman Oaks, California. You can follow him on both Facebook and Twitter. Zev and his racing buddy Justin Kanew even have their own website. But television’s entertainment programming has done a poor job of creating a realistic picture of Asperger’s. I literally cringed when “Boston Legal” introduced its Asperger character a few years ago. The fictional Jerry Espenson is a brilliant corporate attorney played by actor Christian Clemenson. Jerry walks awkwardly with his hands strangely arranged in front of his thighs. His closest pal, at one time, is a lifesize doll. He draws a knife on a colleague. Clemenson won an Emmy for the role in 2006. But the portrayal did much to give the world an inaccurate view of Asperger’s. Maybe this time will be different. “Amazing Race,” after all, bills itself as a reality show. Maybe this time entertainment TV will actually serve up a realistic look at Zev as he makes his way across eight countries in 21 days in a quest to win $1 million. “Race” did a good job last season with deaf contestant Luke Adams and his mom Margie. I’m hoping for a repeat with Zev and Justin.
Thousands of museums across the country are waiving their admission fees today only, Saturday, Sept. 26, when you present a free pass available at www.smithsonianmag.com/museumday. Just print out the pass and grab a bit of culture at no charge. As a friend of mine loves to say: “If it’s free, it’s for me.” And college students, like their parents, are always prowling for bargains.
Students with Asperger’s who have trouble reading social cues should definitely steer clear of alcohol on campus. Drinking beer, wine or liquor will only make ambiguous situations less clear. And the impaired judgment that accompanies alcohol use is just one more problem to be avoided. Sure, the temptation is great to turn to alcohol to relieve stressful situations, to fit in with the cool crowd, to be more at ease at parties and in other social situations. But the risks far outweigh any perceived possible benefits.