Mostly Straight, Most of The Time

April 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Entertainment, News

By Ritch Savin-Williams and Kenneth Cohen
heterosexual men that are always gay
Photo courtesy of Greg Clements 

‘I’m not sure there’s a name for what I am,’ says Dillon, a college hockey player. Welcome to the world of the mostly straights.

Dillon, a college varsity hockey goalie, is an eager volunteer for our interview. In fact, he so loves telling his story that he stays beyond the 90 minutes he believes it will take, and offers to come back for the chance to talk some more. When we reschedule, he’s thrilled, and shakes my hand and thanks me four times in the process of leaving.

Besides being remarkably polite, Dillon is talkative, self-aware, and reflective, with an engaging smile and an at-ease quality. Nothing he says feels rehearsed. It’s as if each topic brings forth another triumph, as if he’s discovering his life as he reflects on the questions.

When eventually asked about his sexuality, Dillon isn’t fazed. Though he wants to “fuck lots of girls” before graduation, he’s not entirely heterosexual. “I’m not sure there’s a name for what I am,” he says. He wants this process, this interview, to help him figure it out.

♦♦♦

By his own admission, Dillon says he resides in the “Sexual Netherlands” (his words), a place that exists between heterosexuality and bisexuality. In previous generations, such individuals might have been described as “straight but not narrow,” “bending a little,” and “heteroflexible.”

Dillon is part of a growing trend of young men who are secure in their heterosexuality and yet remain aware of their potential to experience far more—sexual attractions, sexual interactions, crushes, and, ocassionally romantic relationships with other guys. Dillon lives these contradictions—seemingly hetero guys who now reject that label, sexual description, and identity.

And he is not alone. National surveys in the U.S. and Canada show that 3 to 4 percent of male teenagers, when given the choice to select a term that best describes their sexual feelings, desires, and behaviors, opt not for heterosexual, bisexual, or gay, but for “mostly” or “predominantly” heterosexual.

An even higher percentage of post-high-school young-adult men in the U.S. and in a handful of other countries (including New Zealand and Norway) make the same choice. There are now more young men who feel they are “mostly straight” than who say they are bisexual or gay.

To the uninitiated, “mostly straight” is a paradox. These young men fracture the heterosexual agenda—or do we call it a lifestyle? If a guy is not exclusively into girls, he can’t be totally straight. Aren’t you supposed to pick a side?

If a guy is not straight, not bisexual, and not gay—and yet still falls in love and gets an erection—what the hell is he?

It’s a common misconception that the “mostly straight” phenomenon is nothing more than an adolescent foray into sexual experimentation, possibly due to excessive hormones and sexual confusion.

Sizable numbers of young men maintain their “mostly straight” status—not just as adolescents or college students, but as adults. Of the 160 guys we interviewed for a study in 2008 and 2009, nearly one in eight reported same-sex attractions, fantasies, and crushes. The majority had these feelings since high school; a few others developed them more recently. And in a national sample of young men whose average age was 22, the “mostly straight” proportion increased when they completed the same survey six years later.

These men aren’t bisexuals in disguise. They’re not closeted gay men seeking the privileges afforded to heterosexuals in society. They’re not simply tired of sex with women. With the words “mostly straight,” they’re describing a unique sexual identity, their complete romantic self.

♦♦♦

Among the “mostly straights” we surveyed, a few subtypes stood out.

First is the guy whose progressive political leanings lead him to feel constrained by traditional heterosexuality and masculinity, an outdated and unnecessary burden. “I might have been gay if I’d been raised differently,” one said. “Aren’t we all born bisexual and culture pushes us one way or another?” He challenges homophobic customs and assumptions. One such young man sings in a gay chorus; another marches in pride parades as an ally; a third intends to “come out” as mostly straight in the military to test the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. He wants to know, how gay does one have to be to count?

Second is the guy who finds guys physically attractive. One interviewee pleaded, “I mean, come on, tell me some guys aren’t hot!” If he finds himself staring at men in the gym, on the sports field, around the neighborhood, and in DetailsInstinct, and Vman, then how can he say to himself that he is totally straight? He notices guys in the buff and who are buff, visually appealing, and pleasurable to be around. He wonders if he only desires the toned body, stylistic appearance, and athletic facility—and not the sexuality.

A third guy may admit that he’s a little sexually attracted to guys. It may not be his top priority, but he’ll acknowledge that men occasionally pop up in his masturbatory fantasies. He doesn’t expect to have sex with a man, but he isn’t ruling it out; he has a willingness to experiment. He’s into sexual pleasure without strings, without meaning. Anything is possible, given the right circumstances with the right person. (Well, almost anything: most interviewees drew the line at actual male-male intercourse.)

A fourth guy is a guy like Dillon: he grants that he’s not totally straight, and that his feelings for guys are more than just sexual—they’re romantic. He can imagine experiencing emotional, intimate relationships with other young men. It just seems natural. He’s into cuddling without the pressure of sex, and he could spend countless hours with “special buddies.” He’s been infatuated with best friends, teammates, and videogame partners.

All four guys have one thing in common: unlike their totally straight brothers, they’re not averse to sexual or romantic feelings, encounters, or relationships with other males.

♦♦♦

It’s unlikely that mostly straight youth are limited to just four types. As additional young men recognize and reveal their sexual breadth, they assist all of us to understand previously unrecognized sexual and romantic possibilities. How many of us have these feelings and are clamoring to “come out” as mostly straight?

Indeed, throughout his life, Dillon has had boy chums, boy crushes, and boy infatuations with teammates and best friends. He makes lingering, intense, frequent references to his core group of high-school buddies and to the male companionship he habitually seeks. He readily hugs and even cuddles with male friends while watching a movie and eating popcorn, especially if they are “on the same wavelength.”

Dillon could see himself meeting a guy and together developing a “partnership.” They wouldn’t act on it sexually, but they’d be physically affectionate. Dillon imagines that their relationship would be difficult for others to understand. They’d think it was a gay relationship because of the time he and his partner spent together, the secrets they shared, and the knowing glances, nods, and code words they exchanged. This is the “homosexual thing” that most interests him.

Far more than we realize, young males wait to be released from their heterosexual straightjackets.

Dillon might just show us the way.

This article was originally published on The Good Men Project 

 – photo courtesy Greg Clements 

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Can A Bully Change and Can We Forgive Them?

April 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Family

By Lisa Keating

bully

Early this week, I challenged another writer, Tony Posnanski, on his notion that bullies are weak-minded and unable to change. “Bullies are weak-minded people. Kid bullies have weak-minded parents who were bullies once as well. They prey on those who have a weakness — or a visible one.”

I reread Tony’s article six times to make sure I was reading it correctly. If this is true, then I would be a weak-minded parent and my son, Morgan, would be a weak-minded nine year old bully. Our fates predetermined with no possibility for change, awareness or emotional growth. Through that perspective, I would still be bullying my little brother or anyone else I deemed inferior or weak.

Growing up, I degraded, dominated, humiliated, and shamed my baby brother non-stop. We fought constantly. Our mom had no idea how to make it stop or fix it, she wasn’t taught skills to help us. Based on Tony’s theory, does that mean my mom was weak-minded because her daughter was a mean big sister? Or was she a single mom, working full-time, with an ex-husband that abandoned his kids and responsibilities, barely keeping it together one day at a time? My point being, accusing an entire group of kids and adults to the fate of being weak-minded blocks any possible progress in conversation and action.

I commend Tony for defending Grayson Bruce, and by proxy Morgan, and removing gender barriers for kids. Girls are allowed to cross gender lines without comment or questioning, thanks to the feminist movement. I myself played in the dirt, collected bugs, wore over-alls, played baseball, and climbed trees as a child. The feminist movement gave me permission to be both feminine and masculine. And to Tony’s greater point, it’s time boys are given the same permission.

What I cannot accept is that people can’t or won’t change. In the past ten years, this country has been flipped upside down in the fight for marriage equality.  Awareness and acceptance continues to sky rocket. By the time Morgan is an adult this will be old news in the same way interracial marriage was for my generation and segregation was for the generation before me. Culture and climate changed at grassroots levels. Brave and courageous people stood up, spoke out and demanded something better. We are in the middle of a movement for equality not just for adults but for kids, too.

Morgan has confronted numerous kids, with the help of teachers, who were harassing him because of what he wore to school, hair, shoes, accessories, activities and interests. Through the power of a conversation, what seemed different, weird or wrong became understandable and even relatable to other students. The kids I work with have made profound changes in how they treat one another, have better skills to recognize and read body language and have taken responsibility for the climate and culture of their school. So don’t tell me a bully can’t change.

Morgan was appalled by this concept and said, “That’s wrong. By saying “kid bullies are weak-minded” the author is being a bully. What if the bully is struggling? Maybe they’re having a hard time at home.” Might I add this is coming from a nine year old?

The greatest lesson on forgiveness and empathy I learned was from Azim Khamisa, whose entire life changed due to a random act of gun violence. On January 21, 1995, Azim’s son Tariq, a 20-year old college student, was killed at point-blank range by a young 14-year old named Tony Hicks. Tony, hanging with other gang members, who had lured “the pizza man” to a false address intending to rob him of two pizzas. Tariq refused to hand over the pizzas, and was shot and killed before he could drive away from his attackers. Instead of subscribing to the idea of Tony being weak-minded, Azim recognized that he was a victim like his son, Tariq. As a result, Mr. Khamisa, along with Tony’s grandfather, Plex Felix, began The Tariq Khamisa Foundation. On their path to healing, they found forgiveness together.

I had the fortune of seeing Azim Bardo speak at a seminar two years ago. Listening to Mr. Khamisa recount the death of Tariq brought me to tears. He said, “Given the blessings of forgiveness, I reached the conclusion that there were victims at both ends of the gun.”

Could I ever forgive someone for killing Morgan? How would I ever recover from such a loss? Would I have the courage? As a mother, working with the kids who have harassed, bullied and intimidated Morgan has been a challenge and tests my commitment to creating future allies and leaders. Let alone to do it with the same depths as Mr. Khamisa.

Because of Azim Khamisa, I look at bullying differently. There is pain at both ends of the spectrum. What kind of society are we going to be; one that condemns the aggressor with narrow absolutes and no path out, like Tony Posnanski suggests? Or do we tap into empathy and compassion? Clearly, what we are doing isn’t working. It’s time to take a new path; a path where kids like Tariq Khasima, Tony Hicks, Grayson Bruce, and Morgan Keating thrive.

Ghandi

 

To find out more about Lisa Keating, check out her website, My Purple Umbrella

Photo Credit: Thomas Ricker

 

 

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A Gay Dad’s Requiem for a Little Boy Named Zachary, Killed Because He Might Become Gay

April 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Rob Watson, Same Sex Parent

By Rob Watson

Zachary Dutro

When my sons were very little, about three years old, there were times when I would sit back and just marvel at them.  Here were these incredible little boys exploring and reacting to the world around them.  Since my sons are “almost twins”, only four months apart in age having been born to different drug addicted mothers, they experienced most things at the same developmental level.

Because each had his own individual personality, the reactions and interactions became unique and fascinating.  As they grew, they seemed to depart from things that were generically baby gestures, to behaviors that were characteristic of them themselves.  They were becoming their own people with personalities.

This was both exciting and daunting for a parent to observe.  On the one hand, it was the watch of time and change interceding far too quickly, and at too great a rapid pace. On the other, it was the biggest thrill I could imagine:  seeing my two sons emerge and become who they would be.  I could not wait to meet and know, and love them.

I remember one morning when the boys were three years old, a cold Sunday, when I was orchestrating activities with them.  Jesse, for no apparent reason, came over, grabbed my face, pulled it toward him, and gave me a kiss on the cheek.  My partner happened to be snapping pictures and he caught the moment.  I look disheveled, and the lighting in the picture is bad, but to this day, it is my favorite photo of all time.

Jesse, the generously affectionate young man he was becoming, had emerged for his first moment from the blond little toddler.  Knowing who he is now, it was a thrill to see the glimpse of him then.  Watching my sons develop from babies into the men they will be is my greatest life’s honor.

Not all parents relate to this joy of children developing into themselves as I do, particularly when those parents are homophobic and the child’s emergence is indicating that he or she may be either gay or transgender.  In those cases, things can get very ugly, very fast.

The “American Family Association” founder James Dobson declared that starting as early as age five, children might show some sort of inclinations, and he prescribed parental actions to make the children change their instincts.

One such parent was Oregon mom, Jessica Dutro.  Her little boy Zachary was not reacting to things in as masculine a way as she expected.  She thought he would become gay.  “He walks like it and talks like it.  Ugh.” She wrote to boyfriend, Brian Canady, and she instructed Brian to “work on him”.  They both worked on Zachary.  Until Zachary was dead.

Jessica Dutro is an abusive woman.  Her behavior towards her other kids shows that fact.  The blend of homophobia with those abusive tendencies made her deadly.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a requiem to Fred Phelps, a man who personified hatred.  His life was a failure, and my final message to him was one of pity.  Today, I write a requiem to Zachary.  He was not hatred, he was sweet and energetic.  He was killed by hatred.  There is no pity in this message.  I am angry.

Dear Zachary,

Good bye.  We, the world, have failed you little one.  You came to us, bright and full of promise, and we left you in the hands of one who did not appreciate your brightness, and in fact, she sought to make you suffer for who she thought you might be.

I am sorry.   I did not cause the force that killed you, and in fact, I fight it daily.  You are dead, however, and for me, that means that I did not fight hard enough, not nearly hard enough.

You were killed by homophobia, my child.  It came through the hands of parents, through the very hands and arms that should have been there to grab you, and hold you and love you.  It was the force of homophobia that killed you however, not just those physical blows that delivered it.  While your parents embodied that hatred, it was not created by them, it had been given to them in many ways from the world around them.

I am sorry you were born in a world where too many voices tell you not to be you.  No one should have to fight for the right to be themselves, least of all, a four year old child.

I am sorry you were born into a world where so many feel that the ability to physically make a child is more important that the ability to love and nurture one.  Where people are writing court papers vilifying parents who do not physically procreate, they should be writing briefs condemning parents who do not love.  Birthing a child is merely bringing it to life.  Loving a child is truly giving it a reason to live.

I am sorry you were born into a world where people believe in misinterpreted Bible passages and tired dogmas.    They hold onto them only so they can rationalize hating something they don’t understand.  Something they see in you, even in your innocence.

I am sorry for all the beauty, magnificence, talent and life that you represented that is now gone.  I miss the adult you were to become: the father, the artist, or the hero. I mourn the children you did not get to raise and the better world you did not get to help build.

A man named Fred Phelps died a few weeks ago,  two years after you did.  He lived his life being hateful, trying to get people to be more homophobic.  He failed and his efforts made people not want to be like him.  Homophobia lost.  You lived your life being loving, and your efforts made two people hate you.  Homophobia still lost however, because I will never ever forget you.

I pray that your short life is held up as the horrible cost of the homophobic mindset.  That mindset is not an opinion.  It is not a right to religious beliefs.  It is a deep and ever present danger that kills the innocent.  I pray that your life robs homophobia of its glory and helps shame it into non-existence.

Nothing will replace the life we lost in you.  You were our child and we allowed our world to inspire your fate.  You deserved so much better.

With you in our hearts, little man, I promise you, we will do so much better.  We will shut this intolerance, this indecency down even harder.  We can’t give you back your life, but through your memory, we can take back our own lives and this world.

We have the power to make this world one of love, fairness and peace.  You have reminded us why we need to do that for all the future little boys and little girls just like you. We owe it to them.  We owed it to you.  We will not fail again.

 

To listen to a podcast where the author delivers the requiem, please go to: http://outinsantacruz.com/firefox-cookies-and-zachary/

 

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Spotlight Series: Henry and Joel

Spotlight Campaign The Next Family

TNF: Tell me about your family.

Henry: Our Son is nearly 2 ½ , he is the light of my life and just the sweetest, goofiest little person I know. Our Family consists of our boy Ben, my Husband Joel and I. Joel and I met in 2005 and were legally wed in Boston, October 10, 2009. I still remember when the Reverend that married us said “May their family tree be fruitful,” we had only discussed having children casually although we both loved the idea of being Dads. It would not be until later in 2010 when they stopped enforcing the Gay adoption ban in our then home of Florida that we really began to pursue Parenthood. We initially thought that adopting through our state made the most sense for us, neither of us felt that using a surrogate was that important. Our feelings were that there were already babies in need of homes, we did not feel the need to create a new life. Joel and I were part of the first openly Gay and Lesbian group going through the process of becoming Foster Parents in our county. It was our hope to adopt via Foster Care but that did not work out for us. We were blessed with two incredible placements, two beautiful babies but they were both reunited with their biological families. Somewhere during our Fostering journey we were privately introduced to a young lady that was 5 months pregnant with a boy. She wanted to give the baby up for adoption and after a few meetings decided that we were the perfect couple. The process was difficult, the climate for Same Gendered adoptions was/is not the warmest in Florida but we had an incredible law team in our corner and shortly after Ben’s October, 2011 birth we became the first Same Sex couple to jointly adopt a baby in Broward County Florida. When the Judge said that we had now paved the way for other families like ours to be created I nearly burst with happiness. That was a perfect day.

 TNF: How did you meet your husband?

Henry: I met my Husband at work, I broke the cardinal rule of  “no fraternizing” and honestly it was the best bad thing I have ever done. We moved in together pretty quickly, rather organically. We kind of just woke up one day and said, “wow, when did all this happen?” One day just magically turned into the next and we are now heading towards 9 years together.

TNF: Do you feel different from other families? If so, how so?

Henry: This is an interesting question, we are quite conservative and traditional in values. We do not live in a very “Gay” area. The majority of our friends are actually either heterosexual or Lesbian so all in all we are quite a regular family. Having said that we are still a two dad family and although we have never faced obvious discrimination, we are still highly visible in our community and often approached with curiosity, albeit it lovingly it still plays as a constant reminder that we are indeed different.

 TNF:  Is it tough being a gay couple where you in Durham?  Do you feel accepted?

Henry: We feel extremely accepted here in Durham NC. We live in a pretty cool blue bubble in an otherwise red state. We are actively involved in LGBTQ parenting groups here so our Son see’s lots of different types of families. I am also working with some wonderful people who are hoping to finally open a LGBTQ Community Center here in my town. My function will be to hopefully oversee the parenting programs, offering resources and help to the parents in our community. I will also offer guidance for those wanting to become parents either via Fostering, Adoption or Surrogacy. We will also offer a place where children of LGBTQ parents can gather, find fellowship and thrive. When Ben was born I created DADsquared, it was initially meant to be a place where Gay Dads could gather and help one another, It has grown into one of the largest on-line communities for same gendered families and those hoping to grow their families. I hope that much of what I have learned with DADsquared along with my training as a life Coach can translate into my role with the Durham Community Center.

TNF: What has having a family meant to you?

Henry: There really are no words. I grew up wondering If I could ever be a happy, self-loving, well-adjusted Gay man. I never dreamt that in my life time I would see doors opening that would not only help me marry the man of my dreams, but to also be able to experience the honor of being called Daddy. It’s quite something. My Mother passed away in 2004, she never met Joel and never got to see me this happy. I know that as Ben was making his way through the heavens to join us she got the chance to hold him and kiss him, I know he met his Abuela somewhere out there and that gives me great joy and peace.

 TNF: Tell us a bit about your site and why you created it?

Henry: As I said above, when Ben was first born we felt a bit alone, we did not have many similar families around us and I just wanted to see others like us. It began with the Facebook page and grew into the actual Website.  We have so many wonderful members that share their experiences and resources with each other. We have an awesome group of Pro’s that we work with like great Attorneys, Doctors and Adoption Agencies that have literally helped us help others create families, how amazing is that? We have also helped bring families together, we help people locate other families around them that they did not know existed. When I get photos sent to me of a new baby or of two families that have met because of DADsquared with smiling faces looking back at me because “Johnny has two dads just like me,” I literally at times burst into tears. Sometimes in life we ask ourselves, “what is my purpose in life?” “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Well luckily because of my involvement with DADsquared, my family and my Coaching practice, I no longer ask myself those questions.

Spotlight Series The Next Family

two dads

gay dads

 

Thank you Henry and Joel for sharing your story with us.  What  a beautiful family!  We love Dadsquared!  

 

 

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COLAGE- For People with LGBTQ Parents

April 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Same Sex Parent

By Brandy Black

COLAGE

TNF: What is Colage?

Robin: COLAGE is a national organization that unites people with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer parents into a network of peers and supports them as they nurture and empower each other to be skilled, self-confident, and just leaders in our collective communities.

TNF: What is your role there?

Robin: I am the National Program Director so I oversee and develop our programming, work directly as a mentor to people with LGBTQ parents and provide support for LGBTQ families.

TNF: Do you have LGBTQ parents?

Robin: Yes! I was born into an LGBQ family I have two moms (one is bisexual and one is a lesbian) who both wanted to have children and found my donor dad through the gay and lesbian community. Both my moms birthed a child (me and my brother) with the same donor dad who was part of our lives growing up. My dad’s partner has also been in my life since I was 5 so we call him my bonus dad. In COLAGE we call that a, “bothie,” when you have both moms and dads. I also am bisexual and plan on being a parent myself so my children will also be part of this community!

TNF: What inspired you to be involved?

Robin: I grew up in rural northern New Mexico extremely isolated from other LGBTQ families. I was born in the 80′s and my family was quite closeted for safety and because of the nature of the times. I grew up ashamed, scared, alone yet also with a fierce sense of pride. I always knew I was missing something, a place where I was understood, supported and loved for all of who I was. When I was in my early 20′s I decided to write a book about my experience because I didn’t know of any resources at the time. In my research I found COLAGE and my long lost family.

TNF: What are some key initiatives of Colage?

Robin: COLAGE’s three main initiatives are to unite people who have LGBTQ parents, provide programming and resources that foster community building, and to provide training and leadership opportunities for youth to become advocates. We have an extensive collection of resources for parents and COLAGErs on our website, online communities, 15 community groups across the country as well as national programming for youth to receive more in depth leadership training.

TNF: What age is appropriate to introduce your kids to Colage?

Robin: Traditionally, our programming starts around the 3rd grade level, partly because this is when we have seen other resources for LGBTQ families drop off, and also because this is a time when youth really needing to be able to talk about their families and see that they are not alone. We do think it is valuable to provide COLAGE spaces for people of all ages and work with parents who have younger children to utilize our resources and do community organizing to support their family.

TNF: Do you have any events coming up that our readers could attend in LA, New York or any other markets?

Robin: Yes! Our national team will be in LA April 12th providing a full day of programming for youth ages 6-18, a parent cafe, as well as a public panel of COLAGErs, and events for adult COLAGErs. For more information and to purchase tickets, check out our Eventbrite listing. We also have active chapters in both LA and New York that hold events year round. Both of those communities can be reached by emailing losangeles@colage.org or newyorkcity@colage.org

TNF: Do you have any tips for LGBT parents or parents-to-be?

Robin: Find community, be open, listen to your child (we all have different experiences with our families), and realize that your child has an identity connected to yours and that is a wonderful and challenging thing at times. When we are connected to other people who have families like ours, we are able to see that our difference is our strength and become empowered individuals with a unique and blessed experience to offer the world.

COLAGE

COLAGE

COLAGE

 

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Autism Awareness Month: Child Autism and Behavioral Coach

April 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Family

Imagine Blocks

To kick off Autism Awareness Month, we look to autism and behavioral coach Rebecca McKee, who started The 13th Child Autism & Behavioral Coaching, Inc.  McKee has worked with both children and adults and provides tips on detecting autism in your child, what to do if your child has autism, and the support and resources available.

TNF: How long have you been a child autism and behavioral coach?

Rebecca: I started my company, The 13th Child Autism & Behavioral Coaching, Inc., three years ago; although, I have been working in the field of Special Education/Behavior Analysis for approximately fifteen years.  I started my career as a Special Education teacher working in public schools with students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as well as a behavioral therapist in home programs.

 TNF: What inspired you to go into this line of work?

Rebecca: Hmm…I believe it was fate. In my undergrad program, Communicative Disorders, a professor had us watch videos on discreet trials run with children with ASD. She made a point to tell us that we should pay attention because we would definitely be working with this population of children.  Like many people with ASD, the children in the videos were quite physically aggressive.  I remember making a mental note that “I will never choose to work with those children…”  Lo and behold, I am applying to graduate schools, and a school in New York was persistent and recruited me to join their very new autism program.  They conveyed how I would always have job security (as sad as that is) with a degree specializing in autism.  I agreed…one of the professors in one of my classes was an elderly man – probably around 80 years old.  He knew autism like the back of his hand – he had us read a book that completely created a desire in me to begin to understand the mystery of people with ASD, and help them navigate our world.

TNF: I’m sure you may hear this one a lot: what are some signs of ASD that parents might look for in their children?

Rebecca: Most families hear about the lack of language, lack of eye contact, and poor social skills.  That can be vague…some specific signs are the following:

1.  Your toddler does not point – they hand lead.  This appears as when a toddler wants something out of reach, they will not point.  Instead they will place their hand on top of an adult’s hand, pick up the adult’s hand and place it directly on top of the object that they want.

2.  Your child does not smile upon command – for example, you are taking a picture and you say “smile” – it is difficult for them to follow that command (maybe they smile during other times but not under command).

3.  Your child speaks/attempts social interaction with others, but only about very highly preferred interests – for example, everyone is sitting at a table talking about something exciting for all – an upcoming birthday for Grandmom.  Your child appears completely disinterested and unaware of the conversation.  But all of a sudden someone mentions the phrase “take the train to Grandmom’s” and your child takes that opportunity to “lecture” to the group about trains.  Trains are a huge interest of this individual.  “Lecturing” appears as not having a give and take conversation – the person may stand up to talk and begin verbalizing about a certain topic without taking a breath and then they sit down.

4.  An excellent memory – especially visual memory – they remember such details about certain events that make others say, “that is so amazing” – they may even memorize routines and phrases people use – and they expect the exact same things to occur during a future event.

5.  They mimic language from videos; it is difficult for them to naturally pick up language.  These individuals may watch a show or commercial – hear a character say something – the person with ASD generalizes that verbal utterance to real life.

TNF: Do you specialize in only children?

Rebecca:  I am certified to work with infants to adults.

TNF: What are some tips you have for parents with a child with ASD?

Rebecca: 

1.  Be consistent with social rules – if the rule is that screaming during teeth brushing means no TV before bed and calmness during teeth brushing means TV before bed then make a visual rule about that in the bathroom and stick to it.

2.  Learn how to work with your child with ASD at home on socio-behavioral weaknesses – just as you work with your other children on homework or how to dribble a basketball, these individuals need to practice controlling their behaviors and building up their social skills – choose a day and time that is stress-free for you at home (maybe Sunday morning) and contrive (make up) a social situation that you know your child struggles with and positively practice the right way to act (for example, your child cries everytime the doorbell rings – have them take turns with you practicing to ring the doorbell – make a game of it – have the cat sit outside the front door and then ring the doorbell – work on them opening the door and then you are standing on the other side holding up a small present for them – reward them for dealing with with doorbell in a pro-social manner).

3.  Reinforce, Reinforce, Reinforce your child when they are behaving in a pro-social manner - make it a point to use your words to reinforce more than to critique or correct.

 TNF: What are some of the common misconceptions about ASD?

Rebecca: Some people feel that people with ASD don’t experience feelings the way we do, such as embarrassment or depression or sadness or love.  They do.  How they express it or their lack of expression is what is different.  They may not cry or express themselves if they fall into a depression, but they may lose interest in their favorite activities, begin to make noises more, become compulsive about certain objects or actions.  Also, people with ASD are hysterically funny!

TNF: Would you advise a child with ASD be put in a public school?

Rebecca: The term free and appropriate public education is what we always have to keep in mind here, particularly that word “appropriate”.  Each case must be analyzed on an individual basis.  There are pros and cons to public schools for children with ASD, as well as pros and cons to center-based schools.  The pros in public schools may be:  having access to other children who talk, learning how to act during an assembly or fire drill, walking down the hallway in a line, knowing how to use a water fountain..etc. etc. (too many to count).  The cons would be: lack of time to spend fine-tuning much needed skills, and possibly staff not understanding how to work with someone with ASD.  The pros of a center-based school is that your child will learn and master the skills they need to learn for life: shoe tying, toileting, using a fork, etc. etc. – the cons would be lack of exposure to the “real world” and lack of typically developing peers.

TNF: How could you help a family who has a child with ASD?

Rebecca: My company offers Friendship Clubs for teenagers with Autism Spectrum Disorder Level 1 (formerly Asperger’s Syndrome).  The goal of these is to make friends with others who have similar interests and personalities.  My company can help a family learn how to replace unwanted behaviors into pro-social ones.  I can teach a person with ASD how to develop hobbies in order to build upon leisure skills.  Academic support is available to people with ASD, as well.  Trainings, workshops, and lectures are available to schools, homes, and vocational sites.  It is also important for me to teach others how to have the person with ASD enjoy a healthy lifestyle.  This includes eating right, exercising, meditating  - and other proactive ways of building a positive outlook for life.

TNF: Do you have any special stories from coaching children with autism?

Rebecca: There are so many!  People with ASD are so funny and fun to be around!  I am going to pick this one…it was with a boy in 5th grade who had gotten suspended from his public school.  He was suspended because he started to become frustrated in PE class and threw balls at the teachers’ heads and the other children.  When I saw him after the incident, we made a sequence of events on paper using drawings and simple sentences under each.  I made my story and he made his – then we compared. He didn’t understand that when the teacher said “everyone help put the balls away” that it didn’t just mean him.  (This is an example of how someone with ASD takes in information in an ego-centric manner.) To this boy it was a private conversation between the teacher and him.  He lost his temper when everyone else joined in on the cleaning up.  When I showed him my version of the event through my story book – he said “No way!  I didn’t even see that! Wow, I messed up that one…”  It was like a lightbulb went off – his reaction just showed me how cloudy the social world can appear to people with ASD.

 

Thank you, Rebecca, for kicking off Autism Awareness Month with The Next Family. To find out more about her Rebecca McKee’s coaching, please reference her website and contact information.This article has been sponsored by The 13th Child Autism & Behavioral Coaching Inc. 

Photo Credit: Melissa Flickr images

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Sally Field’s Open Letter About Her Son

March 31, 2014 by  
Filed under Celebrity, Entertainment

Academy Award winning actress Sally Field writes an open letter about her gay son after hearing about  the shocking “License to Discriminate” bills, which would make it legal to discriminate against a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) person on the grounds of “religious freedom,” have been appearing across the country. Here is the letter in full.

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The three things I’m most proud of in my life are my sons, Peter, Eli and Sam. They are kind, loving and productive people. Each with their own list of talents and accomplishments.Sam is my youngest son, by 18 years, and he’s gay.To that, I say:So what?Growing up, Sam wanted desperately to just be like his older brothers – athletic, rambunctious and even a little bit macho. He wanted to beat Eli at tennis, trounce Peter at computer football and learn everything about every basketball player on the court.But Sam was different. And his journey to allow himself to be what nature intended him to be was not an easy one. When I saw him struggling, I wanted to jump in. But his older brothers held me back. They told me I couldn’t travel that road for Sam. It was his to travel, not mine. I had to wait for him to own himself in his own time. I could make it easier only by standing visibly to the side, clearly loving him, always being there and always letting him know.

Finally, at 20, long after he beat his brothers at tennis and computer games and knew as much as anyone about basketball, Sam was able to stand up proudly and say, “I am a gay man.”

As his mother, I consider it one of the great privileges of my life to have been allowed to be a part of Sam’s journey and I’ve tried to be careful to never make his voice my voice, but with his approval, I’ve decided to get involved in the fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality by joining the Human Rights Campaign.

Sam knows that if he ever marries, he’ll have my full support. After all, I like to believe I raised him with the good sense to choose a great partner.But there are people out there – organizations and politicians, strangers who have never even met Sam – who would rather devote themselves to denying his happiness.Why would anyone want to prevent my son – or anyone’s son or daughter – from having basic legal safeguards like family medical leave, Social Security survivors benefits, or health insurance?It doesn’t make any sense – but it won’t change until people speak out.

I’m proud to stand with HRC to add my voice. Will you join me?Whether you are LGBT yourself, a parent or grandparent of an LGBT child, or just a great person with strong convictions about what’s fair and right, I hope I’ve convinced you to stand with HRC for equality. You’ll be glad you did!

Sincerely,
Sally Field
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Jumping in Puddles is a part of Fatherhood

March 31, 2014 by  
Filed under Family

Jumping in puddles

It happens at least once a week. I’ll be walking somewhere with Eloise, my five year-old, and I’ll see a puddle ahead. Immediately I know I have a decision to make: Can she jump in it? Sadly, my instinct is to nearly always find a reason to say No. ‘You’re in your school uniform.’ ‘We need to keep those clothes clean.’ ‘You haven’t got your wellies on.’ The list goes on.

The sheer joy I see on my girls’ faces when they get to jump up and down, unrestrained, in muddy puddles is beyond precious.

I know why this is. If she ends up wet and dirty, it’ll mean more work for me having to clean her up later. But other than when we’re on our way to school, there aren’t really many occasions when ending up soaked from a muddy puddle would be the end of the world.

So I’ve tried to lighten up on this front. On Sunday I took Eloise and Imogen—who’s nearly two—for a walk along a river with a friend before heading to a playground. Naively, I hadn’t anticipated the ground being as wet as it was and so neither of my girls had their wellies on.

When I saw all the mud and puddles, I tried at first to get them to avoid them, badgering them both to walk around them all. I quickly realized this was stupid, not to mention pointless. They were going to have so much more fun if I let them get on with it.

And so the puddle jumping commenced.

There’s something wonderful and freeing about not caring how dirty we get. I could see it in their faces. There wasn’t a single thought about everything needing to be washed later or getting cold from wearing damp clothes. They were simply reveling in the moment.

As adults, we rarely get to experience this. We’re always thinking about the consequences. This is mostly a good thing. But I’m wondering whether sometimes we need to learn from our kids, embrace the moment, and not care about what has to get cleaned or tidied later.

It’s very tempting to try to tame this non-caring in our kids. But I’m convinced it’s worth, sometimes at least, resisting that temptation. The sheer joy I see on my girls’ faces when they get to jump up and down, unrestrained, in muddy puddles is beyond precious. Why would I want to constantly deprive them of these moments?

Pretty much every time she see’s a puddle, Eloise gives me this delightful look that, without any words needing to be said, simply asks with such hope and anticipation: ‘Can I?’ And hard as it is sometimes, I’m trying to say Yes more and more. It’s good for her soul. And, who knows, maybe in becoming more relaxed about this, it’s good for mine too.

Maybe I still need to go further though. It’s one thing to give the OK to my girls getting dirty in muddy puddles, but what if I need to let go too? I know I’m meant to be respectable and grown up, but wouldn’t my girls love it if I joined in with them sometimes?

And that’s my new goal. Having decided to be more relaxed about my girls getting wet and dirty, I’m going to try and join in with them sometimes.

So, bring on the muddy puddles!

Photo: Flickr Scooter Lowrimore

This article came from Sam Radford on The Good Men Project 

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Maybe BPA Isn’t Bad For You?

March 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Healthy

By Rachel Sarnoff

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I am so confused about BPA. For years I trusted studies that linked the endocrine-disrupting substance—a chemical used to harden plastics like water bottles, as well as to coat cash register receipts and line aluminum cans—with obesity, anxiety and reproductive problems.

Recently, a new study concluded thatprenatal exposure to BPA—before and just after birth—was linked to liver cancer. But on the heels of that study came another from the FDA that puts my beliefs about BPA in question.

For years I trusted studies that linked BPA with obesity, anxiety and cancer. But a new FDA study puts my beliefs about BPA in question.

But before we get to that, let’s review the history: In 2012, the FDA announced a nation-wide ban on BPA in bottles and sippy cups. The following year, California placed the chemical on its Proposition 65 list, officially recognizing it as a reproductive hazard.

In 2013, the UN and WHO called hormone-disrupting chemicals like BPA a “global threat;” shortly thereafter the California EPA office announced that BPA would be added to the Prop 65 list of chemicals known to cause reproductive toxicity.

But the new FDA study, published in the journal Toxicological Sciences, may affect these decisions. Scientists exposed rats to BPA as many as 70,000 times what the average American is exposed to. And they found no change in body weight, reproductive organs or hormone levels—in fact, there were no biologically significant changes at all. When exposure was in the millions, then the scientists saw hormone-related changes.

Does this mean I’m going to start feeding my kids a lot of canned food? Absolutely not. Unlike these unfortunate animal study subjects, we don’t live in a vacuum. I know that BPA is just one of at least 200 hormone-disrupting chemicals that all Americans are exposed to daily, and this study does nothing to address my concern about how they interact within a person’s body.  As much as I can reduce our exposure to BPA—along with other toxic chemicals—I will.

When it comes to my children, I follow the Precautionary Principle, which states that, “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

Basically, I understand the FDA study in the context of the thousands of other studies I’ve read that raise red flags when it comes to BPA and health—especially for kids. I recommend these six easy steps to reduce BPA exposures.

What do you think? Does this FDA study change how you feel about BPA? What are you doing to reduce exposures? Please leave me a comment below. Thanks!

Photo Credit: Natural Grocers 

To read more from Rachel Sarnoff, check out her blog

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Mad for Martha

By Jillian Lauren

Martha Stewart Craft Book

I don’t usually do product reviews, but when the Martha Stewart people asked if I wanted to see a copy of the new kid craft book, it was too many of my favorite words in one sentence to turn down. For those of you who aren’t in on my darkest secrets, I love Martha Stewart, OK? I practically have a whole shelf of her entertaining books. I start anticipating the Halloween issue of her magazine in August. In line at the grocery store, I pass over all the gruesome Kardashian gossip and dive straight for her tips for a summer barbeque. I’m unlikely to take her investment advice, but when it comes to inventive ways to color Easter eggs, I defy you to challenge her.

I was not disappointed! Actually, the book surpassed my expectations. As much as I luuuuuv Martha, I was skeptical about a kid craft book, because sometimes she sets the bar a little high. I like to read her books but rarely follow through on the projects because for the normal humans among us, her suggestions can be over-complicated make you feel like a slacker about your messy house and the bread you didn’t make and the table centerpiece you didn’t craft and the chicken coop you didn’t build etc. Instead, I use her as sort of an organizing principle of bringing a joyful consciousness to domesticity. I like to imagine Martha to be a benevolent hearth-and-home deity who smiles down at me from above when I manage to go outside and pick a few figs off the tree and make a cake. Or when I feel inspired once in a while to put out the nice table linens for dinner just because.

These crafts, however, are not only inspiring but also surprisingly simple and adorable. Very do-able and fun! Check out their crafts for kids video collection to see some crafting in action. Above is a picture of T making the monster salt crystals- so cute! We’re doing snow globes next.

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If you would like to read more from Jillian Lauren, check out her blog.  You can also find her books on Amazon. 

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