Saturday, September 29, 2007

Autism again

I just received CSBA's weekly email update with a link to a draft report of the California Legislative Blue Ribbon Commission on Autism.

Here are some startling facts, just FYI.

Throughout the report, they refer to ASD, which stands for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Classified in the DSM IV, they include "traditional" autism (Kanner's), Asperger's Syndrome (AS), and the ever helpful "Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified" or PDD-NOS. No one quite knows what causes ASD, but some combination of genetic and environmental causes is assumed. No one knows what is causing the increases statewide and nationwide.

This report calls the rates of increase of ASD diagnoses a public health crisis. "ASD are more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes, and pediatric AIDS combined." (p. 7) (I can't quite tell, but I think that's a statewide quote.)

From 2001 to 2007, the California K-12 public school enrollment increase was 3.9 percent. (p. 9)

From 2001 to 2007 "the number of children with ASD in California’s special education system increased 183 percent, representing an average increase of more than 4,000 children each year." (p. 9) The report says there are no signs that this increase is lessening.

86 % of children with ASD are educated in the Public Schools in 05-06 (p. 44), and it costs three to four times as much money to educate an ASD child as it does an general ed child, legal fees caused by litigation excluded. (p. 45) (Summary: 8K to 11K in 04-05 dollars for a GenEd child, 30K to educate a child in house and 40K to educate a child sent to a non-public school at District expense.)

In 2002, ASD children made up 50% "of the high cost special education school-age population." (p. 45)

When a case goes to litigation regarding provision of legally adequate services, the costs are huge:
... the California Association of Suburban School Districts reported that in 2003-04 the Las Virgenes Unified School District spent almost $900,000 in legal fees, mostly for a single ASD-related case that went to litigation. In 2004-05 the Long Beach Unified School District spent over $205,000 in legal fees for 13 cases of which nine cases involved students with ASD. The Ojai Unified School District in Ventura County, a small district with 40 students with ASD, spent $400,000 in 2004-05 on ASD-related legal costs. (p. 52)

And finally:

As a whole, across California’s public education system there is a significant and serious lack of specialized training on ASD. There is a critical need to expand in-service and preservice training on ASD and to ensure that such training is comprehensive and addresses the behavioral and social skills needs of children with ASD in addition to their cognitive development. Many families told the Commission that teachers and other school staff are especially ill-equipped to address children’s behavioral and social skills problems. The need for teachers and other personnel qualified to educate children with ASD will only grow as more of these children enter and progress through the educational system. (p. 46)

The commission calls upon the Governor to declare the entire ASD issue as a Public Health Crisis and devote more money and energies to coordinating a state-wide plan to address the gaps and inadequacies in the system. In the meantime, the report demonstrates that it is a true and documented statewide pattern that more and more ASD disabled children are coming into the system, and that they are very expensive to educate. The report also shows that teachers in the public school system are incredibly ill-prepared to deal with ASD children.

Well, damn. I could have told them THAT!

At least there's some data there that demonstrates that it's not just anecdotal.

Monday, September 24, 2007

My Eyes!

For the past few days we've been playing around with monitors. Gah!

Nothing seems to be the right fit. And I've changed the aspect ratio and the resolution and the DPI so many times now that I can't remember what I used to think looked right. Right now everything looks squished, but before the color balance was off.

Don't read this Neo, but I think the solution is to just strip this one down, turn it over to the munchkins, and see about getting Neo her own set-up so that her art can be a) not distorted and b) the right color.

In other news, I'm going to bed angry and waking up angry. During the day there's about a twenty minute period when I'm in the shower where all seems right with the world. And then there are those days when I don't shower. Look out.

I don't think I'm a very pleasant person to be around right now, which is hard on the kids.

Also in other news, Halloween is coming up. Saul has decided to be Zorro. My corruption of minors is complete! Ha Ha!

Friday, September 21, 2007

One day soon

my children will stop fighting.

Then I will indulge in a full twelve hours of sleep, a stiff drink, and maybe 24 hours after the moment when the fighting ceases, I will regain my sanity.

Apropos of my wish to regain my sanity, I'm sending this message out into the blogosphere where it may fall upon receptive ears: STOP CALLING ME TO COMPLAIN. STOP CALLING ME. STOP. I CANNOT TAKE ANYMORE COMPLAINING.

This is not simply directed at my mother, mind you, although I could do without the daily phone calls from her to give me updates on the parrot whose beak fell off. (Yes. You read that correctly. Its beak fell off. -- Splat -- She's handfeeding it and hoping that it will grow back. Ummmm. Considered euthanasia, my dear? Because, umm, not meaning to be mean and all that, but, eh, did you just say that its Beak fell OFF? Quick! Someone ring Monty Python!)

It's not just my mother, it's everyone else who calls these days. I've got 17 messages on my phone right now and they all want to just bitch at me for something or other.

I want to go out to a cabin in the woods, tuck a cat on my lap, turn off the phone and drink myself into oblivion.

Until then, can you kids stop fighting? Now?

Eat healthy, get lead poisoning!

When trying to encourage Healthy Eating Habits amongst California's lower income families, it would be helpful if the promotional giveaways were not contaminated with lead.

This story was all over the radio yesterday evening.

For those who don't feel like clicking over, the California Department of Public Health gave out canvas lunchboxes to low income families at various farmer's markets over the summer. Turns out they were manufactured in China and contain lead. Ooops.

Since lead poisoning has almost kinda sorta been associated with an increased incidence of urban violence, and we know that it causes mental deficits and other lovely symptoms such as lethargy and nausea, I think it's great that CDPH handed these babies out.

In other public health news, our city's cable TV information station is STILL running a DANGER screen, which stays up for a minute or more warning you about West Nile Virus. OK, boys and girls, I get it. West Nile is bad. I get it. I'll get rid of those mosquitoes, I promise. But in the meantime, can you please post when the next Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Committee will be meeting? Please?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

So sorry, not my problem

I just came back from the Muffins for Moms event at the Middle School. (There's another one in the Spring called Donuts for Dads. I hereby propose that we combine the two as Pastries for Parents and get rid of the redundancy.)

Was talking to a friend whom I haven't seen in years while I was trying to get to know a father seated across the table. My friend kept butting into my conversation with the dad, much to my annoyance. (Neo and dad's daughter are becoming fast friends and I want to know him better.) What was her issue? When will the District fully support Marching Band programs?

My quick answer, "Never."

My longer answer, "We have an excellent marching band program, but it's expensive. Last year the District covered some more costs within the Band program, but only those which relate to activities during the school day or within District boundaries."

"But the parents are killing themselves fundraising for this. We have the trip to Hawaii, the transportation to different competitions, the entrance fees for competitions, the uniforms, the instruments; it's really expensive."

"Hun, you're not hearing me. I think it's great that you go to Hawaii, but you're going to have to fundraise for that. I'm not taking money away from the rest of the kids so that sixty kids can fly to Hawaii. The kids should be playing on good quality instruments, but I'm not buying more because the bell on the Sousaphone got dinged. I'm not paying for entrance fees for competitions -- that's a decision for the Band Boosters to make."

"But these kids are so talented! We do so much work for the Boosters. We haven't taken a family vacation in three years. My daughter was in drumline last year, and that was crazy. An hour practice before school, practice every weekend, three practices after school, and only two performances. All of the practices were mandatory."

"Uh huh. But see, you made the decision that it was too much for your daughter. As a District, I don't think it's appropriate to support a program that's that intense. All kids should be able to participate in some level of the drums or drumline. Neo would still be in band if it weren't for the fact that it takes up her only two electives in school, requires practices before school, and has practices every Saturday. She loved fifth grade band, but they only practiced two days after school per week, and those practices weren't mandatory. We just took on the entire cost of the Elementary band program, except for yearly sheet music, which the parents are happy to support. AND Elementary band takes everyone in, whether or not they've ever played an instrument."

"Yeah, I know. Middle School band is a lot of work."

"It's not the work, it's the time and the fact that it interferes with learning. What if you need help with Math and want to go to a Math club? You can't go because you'll get dinged for missing Band practice. That's ridiculous."

"Yes, it is."

"So the District considers Band to be educational during the school day. But after school it's a different program, and we're not supporting a program that interferes with learning."

"But it's expensive and the parents are killing themselves fundraising."

"But that's your choice. You are choosing to enter competitions to buy expensive uniforms and to go to Hawaii."

"Well, Hawaii's different."

"But you brought it up as something you have to fundraise for."

"Yeah, but when is the District going to support Band?"

AAAAGGGGHHH!! Circular argument! AAAGGGHH!

Personally, I hate marching band. Hate it. I love seeing marching bands in parades, don't get me wrong. But WHY aren't kids learning symphonic music? Where are the violinists? The cellists? I know we have some of those in this town. Why can't they be supported? Why is it ONLY marching band instruments and Sousa music? Limited much?

These are the sorts of conversations that a) frustrate the hell out of me and b) make me glad that I'm stepping down from the board.

Now ask me about Special Ed in the District. THAT I should stay on the Board for.

(There's a movement afoot, run by the teacher who lost her mind at the beginning of the year, to oust our Director of Special Ed. The one who advocates that disabled kids should be in the General Ed classroom, where the law mandates they be placed. If we didn't have the Director of Special Ed that we do, my son would have been placed in a County program filled with violent and sexually abused/abusive kids a long time ago. As it is, he's struggling, but he's staying in Gen Ed class as much as he can.)

(Did I ever post about the teacher who threatened the Director at the start of school? Why, yes I did. Yeah, this wacko is the one who wants all the parents to sit in a room to compare notes about services. She's also the one who found out about the details of one of Saul's IEPs and then requested the same program for her son. Snooping through confidential information is Not Allowed, yah big twit. In case you're interested, here's the info on that story from the end of last year. It's the same teacher. Wacko.)

A teacher at his school asked his case worker if her child could go to a summer camp and if the District would pay for it. The case worker sort of looked at her sideways and said, "That's an issue for an IEP." Then the teacher asked, "Is SAUL going to this camp, and is the District paying for it?"

The case manager replied that she was not going to discuss any other child's accommodations and that if the teacher were making a request, then it would have to go through an IEP. Then she called the Director of Special Services and asked for advice. The Director said, "School's over. Get your stuff packed and get the hell out of there."

(As a note here, the camp that my son's going to IS part of an IEP, but it's for patients of a psychologist. You have to be a patient to attend. And yes, I requested it..... It took a grand total of three days for ... confidentiality to be breached.)

This is where I start wondering if maybe a review of her employment is a good idea. But I think pushing for it while I'm on the Board is cheap. But I do think that I should advocate for better muffins for the Middle School. Those sucked. But Neo and I had a good time complaining about them.

I should have taken a picture. There was one which was brownish tan, perhaps masquerading as a Banana muffin? But when you broke it open, it was BRIGHT PINK inside. Ummmm. Ew.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Thanks for the memories....

My mother. Mmmm hm. Mommy. She's making me a little nuts these days, but that's not too unusual.

I've written before about how she tends to send ME flowers on Valentines Day so that I will call her to thank her, which in turn gives her the opportunity to remind me that I missed celebrating her first date with my Dad, which happened on Valentines Day. She always seems surprised that I didn't send her a card for the anniversary of her first date. We dance that one every year. Sometimes we dance one about celebrating her birthday in September.

Today I got an email from her entitled, "Moi."

It contained two pictures of my mother looking stiff and uncomfortable, standing in her front lawn. Her bright lips are pursed, her eyes are squinting against the sun, her back is slightly hunched, and her fingers have been caught in mid-twitch. I used to hate holding her hand as a kid, because her fingers would tap, twitch, tippy, tap the entire time. It always felt as if she were just about to pull her hand away. And here they are, twitching in the photograph, ring finger and thumb touching the palm.

And what did the email say?

Here are two pics of me while I am still 68--I turn 69 next Thursday. Love, Mom

Subtle. Real subtle.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Toe the line

Is it toe the line or tow the line? I've seen that question go around the net a few times. I lean on the side of TOE the line, as in step right up to the line with your toe upon it and get ready to start running.

Emails are a great source for these annoying idioms people get Wrong. I have a colleague who peppers his emails with these little bon mots and usually gets them wrong. Enh! Buzzer! Makes you look, uh, not so witty, you know? I wish he would just stop, but on the other hand, I've started my own collection of his malapropisms.

Intense and purposes.

No. No. No. It doesn't make sense, you idjut. Here's a general rule for writing, if the phrase makes no sense, then you have it wrong. For all Intents and Purposes. I have an intention to go do something, and there is a Purpose to my actions or my decision. I'm not being "intense", I have an intention. Spell checker is not your friend.

Could care less

Well, I'm sure you could care less, but I could NOT care less. If you could care less, then you obviously care a little bit. If you couldn't care less, then you do not give a whit about the subject at hand. Spell check is not your friend.


I don't care a whit about your larger plans, as you are fast proving yourself to be inane. Whit, with an aitch, is a word. Wit, as in joyful clever use of language, is also a word. Whit means a tiny amount, a speck, a drop. Don't fling those two around together in sentences. Spell check is not your friend.

To the manor borne (so wrong in SO many ways!)

Oh, this one sent me right over the edge. First, to be borne usually means to be carried, although archaic spelling sometimes uses that spelling to refer to childbirth. But hey, you're writing in 2007, right? So spell it like you mean it. The original phrase is "to the manner born", as in, I was born to a certain social class and there is a way of carrying myself or speaking, which demonstrates that status. That's the meaning of "manner". If I happen to have been born as a working class bloke, but soon I toddle about wearing tweed and sporting a certain accent, then I carry myself as if I were "to the manner born." No one can tell.

OK, but then this ever so clever fellow working for the BBC started a sitcom oh so cleverly entitled, "To the Manor Born." Cute! Love this show. Excellent. It's about a Manor, an estate! Love the witty (not whitty) Brits. But my ever so dim friend thinks that this spelling is the real one. Oy.

First, .... Secondly, .... Third of all, ....

Picky, picky, Suisan. If you have a list, you are supposed to use the same construct for the beginning sentence of each part of the list. (Although I do think that Firstly sounds dreadful). It's OK to use "[blank] of all" at the end so signify that it's the end of the list, but it's so much easier to turn "Secondly" into "Second" and resolve the stupidity.

Proof is in the pudding

No. It's not. Sorry, but it's hard for puddings, whether steamed or stirred, to generate logical proofs of anything. Brain capacity is minimal. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating." Shortening that aphorism changes its meaning. So don't bother.

Free Reign

This one's all over the place. If I'm riding a horse, and I don't particularly care where he's going, maybe we're just strolling along the side of the lane, then I "give him his head." I give him slack in the reins so that there is no tension between my hand and the bit. The reins drop down on his neck in a slack curve. This is called "walking on a free rein." A rein is that strappy thing on a bridle (NOT bridal) that goes from the bit to the hands. A reign is a period of time that someone has a crown on his head. I don't know what a free reign is -- on that doesn't charge taxes or end with a beheading? Say it with me folks, "Spell check is not your friend."

Mute point

It's a moot point at this juncture to point out that you should stop trying to fancify your language to impress me. Stop. Please. (A moot point usually means that there's no point in talking about it anymore. I don't know what a mute point is.) Spell check is ....

Epigram for Aphorism (although now I'm just being snotty and looking for this guy to screw up.)

An Aphorism is a witty, pithy phrase. An Epigram is a poem. The last email you sent to me, a paragraph of which I've quoted below, sent me into such a tizzy that I had to write this screed. Please stop writing in your highfalutin manner. It's giving me heart trouble.

I know that you have expressed an interest in stepping off our committee, but I need to ask you to reconsider. There is a role for the school board here, and we have a duty to the community to provide watchful oversite, especially for the young children. I've heard that the rest of the Board has agreed to cease sending a representative, so perhaps this is a mute point. We do good work on the CAP, and I hope that your worthy experiences here have not proven the epigram true: A committee is a group of the unwilling, picked from the unfit to do the unnecessary. Should I address the Board on this matter?

Oh really, please don't. It will just make my ears explode. That's messy for the secretaries, you know? Oh look, he misused oversite too. What is an oversite? An overpass perhaps? (It's overSIGHT, you idjut.)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

New for Fall

My daughter, Neo, has always disliked shopping in the junior section. Skimpy spaghetti straps, plunging necklines, skinny low-rise jeans, and lots of gathering and ruching in odd places.

We gave up a few years ago and struck out for the Misses section. Her wardrobe now is mostly straight leg jeans (almost boot cut) or Dockers twill pants, solid color T-shirts with maybe a satin ribbon around the neckline, and the occasional striped or ribbed sweater. She has wonderfully thick wavy dark brown hair. Lots of it, and she usually coils it up into a loose bun with a plastic clip or scrunchy. When it's down it's cut in layers and falls to her shoulders.

Friday she came home and asked if she could go to one particular store in the mall to buy black fingerless gloves. Mind you, this is a kid who Never asks to go shopping for Anything. We don't do trips to the mall unless it's 100 degrees and we're trying to beat the heat.

"Sure. I'll buy you gloves. Fingerless? Do they have lace?"

"No. Not lace. But they're stretchy and there's a pattern and I want them in solid black."

"OK. How do you know this store has them?"

"Asked a friend."

I did point out to her that fingerless gloves weren't really going to go with the Lands' End look she's sporting now. "Yeah, I know. I kinda want to go Goth."

Well, it's hardly a surprise -- she's been into a wide range of music for a while now, along with Japanese techno. So I said, "Emo? Or Goth."

"Not Emo! Those guys are weird. Goth."

"Wait. To me Goth is long black dresses, torn lace, black lipstick, black eyeliner, boots, trenchcoats, and a thing about vampires. But the vampire thing is kinda over the top. Is that Goth?"

"NO! Goth is torn T-shirts, black leggings, short plaid skirt, vest or droopy hoodie, black boots, fingerless gloves, black leather jewelry, and colored hair. No spikes in the hair, but Chelsea has spikes on her boots."

"OK. That's not Goth to me. That sounds Emo to me, or maybe just rocker."

So we decided that we're calling it rocker, although it's still Goth in school. (Emos are the ones at school who wear their hair in spikes, pin their clothes together with saftey pins, wear lots of chains on their pants, and cut themselves. That sounds "punk" to me, but I'm elderly.) My only concern is that she wants to pull off this change this weekend. She has two outfits from Hot Topic -- I predict a lot of laundry in my future as she cycles through those two and only those two for the next week or so.

And just so I'm clear. I couldn't be happier. I love that she's trying to find her people and her thang. She asked what she was allowed to do. (Watch me fall off my chair.) So I told her no nose piercing and no white eyeliner. I hate white eyeliner. Hate. It. She sorta shyly asked about hair color and then she fell off her chair when I said that hair color doesn't bother me at all. I'll even help her streak a color into it if she wants. I used to streak dark pink into mine (without bleaching, so it looked more like a weird highlight more than anything else). We did agree that dying all your hair black does do odd things to your face, and she's said that she wouldn't ever die all of her hair, because she likes it too much the way it is.

I am a *little* concerned about what the reaction of her comrades is going to be as she studs, dyes, and tears herself a new identity, but we'll weather that storm too.

So to recap. She's going from this:

To this:

Hee. Very excited for her.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Bad Joo Joo

When you're talking on the phone to an important official, who then puts you on hold to check a reference, and the entire phone system collapses, it is appropriate to take that personally?

No, probably not. But it does cause some chuckling.

Someone called me back on their cell to say that all the phones throughout the office now showed my name and home number, blinking that I was on hold, alternating with the warning message: "Major Alarm"

Hee hee. That'll teach them to put me on hold, you think?

8:59 pm Edited to add: Just got word that it's going to cost 60K to fix the system and keep it running for the year. Then it will all need to be replaced for a huge as of yet undetermined cost. Some days I'm soooooo glad to be stepping down. And I still think it's funny. Major Alarm. Ha!

Sunday, September 02, 2007


At what point does the drama in real life go so completely over the top that it ceases being believable? Am I living in a novel?

I think I'm at that point. If I were reading the blog, I'd no longer believe it. Do I attract this crap? (unlikely, but possible in a "woo-woo" psychological sense) Do I focus on it to the exclusion of all else? (Perhaps)

The gooiest topping on the sundae of my so-called-life is that I'm sorta involved with a phone threat which was made against the District. A teacher lost her mind the Friday before school started, called the District, and threatened violence. She wasn't in the classroom, it was after school hours, etc. She was acting as an "upset parent." (Note here: I have been really upset in the past, but I have NEVER threatened anyone. Ever.)

The police were called, the police filed a report, the report was sent to the papers, and now it's all over the local news. Excellent. And the Board has to decide how to reprimand this person.

Back story is that we, our family, have made the request repeatedly that the aide who assaulted Saul not be in any contact with him at any time. That woman works as an aide for the son of a teacher, or at least she worked with him last year. Aides get their assignments on the Friday before school starts. These two boys are in the same classroom (idiotic decision there, folks), so the District reassigned the aide. Teacher/mother lost her mind, et cetera, et cetera. Resolution was that her son was to be moved out of that class and keep his aide.

First day of school, nothing's changed, and I get asked to allow them to place the aide with the other boy. They tell me they never hired a replacement. Certainly no one told me about the threat, the conflict on Friday, nor the proposed resolution.

By the end of the week, my son's no longer in class because of anxiety and this is hitting the papers. And the internet (the anonymous slam site loves this one).

Sigh. Could I have predicted this? Why, yes I could. In fact I did predict that he couldn't tolerate her LAST YEAR IN THE IEP! Ugh!

At least I do know that a lot of teachers are royally ticked off at her for behaving so poorly.

So that's the gooey part, which will eventually drip right off the top of the sundae and be mopped up. Here's the perfect cherry topping. Ready?

My mother needs me to come visit her in Boston for a week in October because she needs me to put her shoes on for her.

Uh huh. Let that sink in a sec.

I need more children to pick up after, I do. And I LOVE putting on shoes. It makes my day.

She had knee replacement surgery a few weeks ago (which she also wanted me to fly in for. Uhh. Start of School?), and her recovery has been not so great. She's on so many different medications as it is (something like 12?) that the pain meds weren't really hitting. Finally they put her on a round of broad spectrum antibiotics and sent her home with all sorts of new and wonderful pain meds.

So she's feeling fine, but can't bend over to put on shoes. So I should go visit while my Dad's in Australia for a week. To put on her shoes. Uh, no. Sorry. Why not call upon your excellent son who lives only a few minutes from you? Hmmm?

I quite seriously am not a happy camper these days. If it's not one thing, it's another. Perhaps the worst part is I keep getting suggestions from friends who say, "You need to do something for yourself" and then are completely unable to watch my kids when I point out that I'd like to, but I have this other responsibility. I've given up on this particular conversation. Now when someone starts it with me, I break in with, "On what day would you be able to watch the kids for me? Because that sounds like a great idea." If I were in a better mood, it would be humorous to watch them scurry away as fast as they do. My favorite excuse I got this week was this one:

"What are you doing this weekend?"

"Watching the kids. Maybe fighting traffic to go into San Francisco to the Asian Art Museum, even though the bridge is shut down."

"Where's your husband going to be?"

"Selling meat."

"Well, you shouldn't be alone on a holiday weekend."

"Alone? I've got the kids. Unless you want to come over or watch them for a while."

"Oh no. I'm going to Tahoe."

"Uh huh."

"But we should talk."


"I can't call you this weekend because the cell phone reception's bad up there. But you need some friends around you right now. People you can talk to."

Oh, the love and support is just flowing off of you in waves, my dear. Really.

So, I guess I just vent here instead. Aren't you pleased?

Recent good things:

Dear Butcher laughed his high pitched squeaky out-of-control laugh when I told him about the shoe-trip to Boston. That's always fun.

We had another grass fire, but we didn't have to evacuate.

I fixed some *really* important details on District paperwork to allow us to (GASP!) follow the law when it comes to enrollment. So maybe future families won't get the nasty third degree from uninformed District secretaries. Humph.

I toured some schools and made their principals happy. Principals are so cute-- they love showing off the schools. ("And here's the hallway! And here's the playground! Did you want to seem some classes? OK, Boys and Girls, This is a Very Important Person in our district! Say Hi, Boys and Girls.") So cute, and it makes the principals so happy, but it's truly a dog and pony show. Does make you smile and feel loved though, that's for sure.