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Dubuque, Iowa, United States
I'm a woman obsessed with cats. In this blog, I channel my absent Siamese cat named Angel. She lives with my family in this blog, 3 teenagers, a 4 year old boy and a 15 month old little girl. Life is complicated here. We twitter often, but be prepared for teenage interruptions as well as baby moments... Hope you find it interesting here....

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Read "A Friend Like Henry"!

A Friend Like Henry (a book about how a dog named Henry helped an autistic boy immensely)

Got to post this article for myself mainly...

The Asperger's Teen

Most experts do a great job of presenting the problems children with Asperger Syndrome face during their adolescent years. Yet they offer few solutions.

This is a two-part article. Part 1 presents problems. Part 2 gives suggestions that have worked for parents of teens with Asperger Syndrome. Click here for Part 2 - Solutions

Problems Teens With Asperger Syndrome Often Face

Diane Kennedy, in her 2002 book The ADHD Autism Connection, writes that the years from twelve to seventeen are "the saddest and most difficult time" for people with Asperger Syndrome. This is not true of every teen with Asperger Syndrome. Some do extremely well. Their indifference to what others think makes them indifferent to the intense peer pressure of adolescence. They can flourish within their specialty, and become accomplished musicians, historians, mathematicians, etc.

Yet, as Kennedy observes, Aspie teens typically become more isolated socially during a period when they crave friendships and inclusion more than ever. In the cruel world of middle and high school, Aspies often face rejection, isolation and bullying.

Meanwhile, school becomes more demanding in a period when they have to compete for college placements. Issues of sexuality and a desire for independence from parents create even more problems.

Social Isolation.In the teenage world where everyone feels insecure, teens that appear different are voted off the island. Aspies often have odd mannerisms. One teen talks in a loud unmodulated voice, avoids eye contact, interrupts others, violates their physical space, and steers the conversation to her favorite odd topic. Another appears willful, selfish and aloof, mostly because he is unable to share his thoughts and feelings with others. Isolated and alone, many Aspies are too anxious to initiate social contact.

Many Aspie teens are stiff and rule-oriented and act like little adults, which is a deadly trait in any teenage popularity contest. Friendship and all its nuances of reciprocity can be exhausting for an Aspie, even though she wants it more than anything else. One girl ended a close friendship with this note: "Your expectations exhaust me. The phone calls, the girl talks, all your feelings...it's just too much for me. I can't take it anymore."

Inability to "Be a Teen." An Aspie typically does not care about teen fads and clothing styles -- concerns that obsess everyone else in their peer group. Aspies may neglect their hygiene and wear the same haircut for years. Boys forget to shave; girls don't comb their hair or follow fashion.

Some Aspies remain stuck in a grammar school clothes and hobbies such as unicorns and Legos, instead of moving into adolescent concerns like MySpace and dating. Aspie boys often have no motor coordination. This leaves them out of high school sports, typically an essential area of male bonding and friendship.

Sexual Issues. Aspie teens are not privy to street knowledge of sex and dating behaviors that other teens pick up naturally. This leaves them naive and clueless about sex. Boys can become obsessed with Internet pornography and masturbation. They can be overly forward with a girl who is merely being kind, and then later face charges of stalking her. An Aspie teen may have a fully developed female body and no understanding of flirtation and non-verbal sexual cues, making her susceptible to harassment and even date rape.

Criminal Activity. Pain, loneliness and despair can lead to problems with drugs, sex and alcohol. In their overwhelming need to fit in and make friends, some Aspies fall into the wrong high school crowds. Teens who abuse substances will use the Aspie's naivety to get him to buy or carry drugs and liquor for their group.

If cornered by a police officer, an Aspie usually does not have the skill to answer the officer's questions appropriately. For example, if the officer says, "Do you know how fast you were driving?" an Aspie may reply bluntly, "Yes," and thus appears to be a smart-aleck.

School Failures. Many Aspies with their average to above average IQs can sail through grammar school, and yet hit academic problems in middle and high school. They now have to deal with four to six teachers, instead of just one. The likelihood that at least one teacher will be indifferent or even hostile toward making special accommodations is certain. The Aspie student now has to face a series of classroom environments with different classmates, odors, distractions and noise levels, and sets of expectations.

Aspies with their distractibility and difficulty organizing materials face similar academic problems as students with Attention Deficit Disorder. A high school term paper or a science fair project becomes impossible to manage because no one has taught the Aspie how to break it up into a series of small steps. Even though the academic stress on an Aspie teen can be overwhelming, school administrators may be reluctant to enroll him in special education at this late point in his educational career.

Depression and Acting Out. The teenage years are more emotional for everyone. Yet the hormonal changes of adolescence coupled with the problems outlined above might mean that an Aspie teen becomes emotionally overwhelmed. Childish tantrums reappear. Boys often act up by physically attacking a teacher or peer. They may experience "melt down" at home after another day filled with harassment, bullying, pressure to conform, and rejection. Suicide and drug addiction become real concerns, as the teen now has access to cars, drugs and alcohol.

The "saddest and most difficult time" can overwhelm not only the Aspie teen, but also his family.

Click here for Part 2 - Solutions

2. How Parents Can Help Teens With Asperger Syndrome

Parents of teens with Asperger Syndrome face many problems that others parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their Aspie how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, and so much left to do." They face issues such as vocational training, teaching independent living, and providing lifetime financial support for their child, if necessary. Meanwhile, their immature Aspie is often indifferent or even hostile to these concerns.

Once an Aspie enters the teen years, his parents have to use reasoning and negotiation, instead of providing direction. Like all teenagers, he is harder to control and less likely to listen to his parents. He may be tired of parents nagging him to look people in their eyes, brush his teeth, and wake up in time for school. He may hate school because he is dealing with social ostracism or academic failure there. Here is how thirteen-year-old Luke Jackson, author of Freaks, Geeks and Asperger, wrote about being an Asperger teen:
"Are you listening to me?' 'Look at me when I am talking to you.' AS kids, how familiar are those words? Don't they just make you groan? (And that's putting it politely!) ...When I look someone straight in the eye... the feeling is so uncomfortable that I cannot really describe it. First of all I feel as if their eyes are burning me and I really feel as if I am looking into the face of an alien."
Here are some ways that other parents of teens with Asperger Syndrome deal with common issues.

School. If the pressure on your child to conform is too great, if she faces constant harassment and rejection, if your principal and teaching staff do not cooperate with you, it may be time to find another school. The teen years are often when many parents decide it is in their child"s best interest to enter special education or a therapeutic boarding school. In a boarding school, professionals guide your child academically and socially on a twenty-four hour basis. They do not allow boys to isolate themselves with video games: everyone has to participate in social activities. A counseling staff helps with college placements.

If you decide to work within a public school system, you may have to hire a lawyer to get needed services. Your child should have an Individual Education Plan and accommodations for the learning disabled. This may mean placement in small classes, tutors, and special arrangements for gym and lunchtime. He should receive extra time for college board examinations.

Teach your child to find a "safe place" at school where he can share emotions with a trusted professional. The safe place may be the offices of school nurse, guidance counselor, or psychologist.

Social Life. When she was little, you could arrange play dates for her. Now you have to teach her how to initiate contact with others. Teach her how to leave phone messages and arrange details of social contacts such as transportation. Encourage her to join high school clubs like chess or drama. It is not necessary to tell her peers that she has Asperger Syndrome: let her do that herself.

Many teens with Asperger Syndrome are enjoying each other's company through Internet chatrooms, forums and message boards.

Appearance. Because of their sensitivity to textures, Aspies often wear the same clothes day in and day out. This is unacceptable in middle or high school. One idea that has worked for some parents is to find a teen of the same age and sex as yours, and then enlist that person help you choose clothes that will enable your child to blend in with other teens. Insist that your teen practices good hygiene every day.

Sex. You absolutely have to teach your teen with Asperger Syndrome about sex. You will not be able to "talk around" the issue: you will have to be specific and detailed about safe sex, and teach your child to tell you about inappropriate touching by others. Your child may need remedial "sex education". For example, a girl needs to understand she is too old to sit on laps or give hugs to strangers. A boy might have to learn to close toilet stall doors and masturbate only in private.

Drugs and Alcohol. Alcoholic drinks or drugs often react adversely with your child's prescriptions, so you have to teach your child about these dangers. Since most Aspies are very rule-oriented, try emphasizing that drugs and alcohol are illegal.

Driving. Most Aspies can learn to drive, but their process may take longer because of their poor motor coordination. Once they learn a set of rules, they are likely to follow them to the letter - a trait that helps in driving. However, Aspies may have trouble dealing with unexpected situations on the road. Have your child carry a cell phone and give him a printed card that explains Asperger Syndrome. Teach him to give the card to a police officer and phone you in a crisis.

Summer and Part-Time Jobs. Most of these jobs --movie usher, fast food worker, store clerk, etc -- involve interaction with the public. This means they are not always a good fit for a teen with Asperger Syndrome. Some Aspies can find work in their field of special interest, or in jobs that have little interpersonal interaction. Other teens have spent joyful summers at camps designed for teens like them.

Life After High School. If your teen is college-bound, you have to prepare her for the experience. You can plan a trip to the campus, and show her where to buy books, where the health services are, and so forth. Teach her how to handle everyday problems such as "Where do you buy deodorant?" "What if you oversleep and miss a class?"

As you prepare your teen for the workforce, keep in mind that people with Asperger Syndrome often do not understand office politics. They have problems with the basics, such as handling criticism, controlling emotions, showing up on time, and working with the public. This does not mean they cannot hold down a job. Once they master certain aspects of employment, Aspies are often able to work at high levels as accountants, research scientists, computer programmers, and so forth.

Bashe, Patricia and Barbara Kirby. The Oasis Guide to Asperger Syndrome. New York: Crown Publishers, 2005.

Kennedy, Diane. ADHD Autism Connection. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2002.

Myles, Brenda and Jack Southwick. Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing, 1999.

Powers, Michael. Children with Autism. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House, 2000.

Sohn, Alan and Cathy Grayson. Parenting Your Asperger Child. New York: Perigee Books, 2005.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Haitian Vodou and Death

My Grandma died last night. I have been trying to learn about and embrace Haitian Vodun as I find it to be a beautiful way of life. I found this article and copied the part that I wanted (about death and the afterlife) so I could contemplate on it. Maybe you'll also learn something.

Rituals, Behaviors, and Practices Associated with Death and Dying 

Haitians who adhere to Vodou do not consider death to be the end of life. They do believe in an afterlife. Followers of Vodoun believe that each person has a soul that has both a gros bon ange (large soul or universal life force), and a ti bon ange (little soul or the individual soul or essence.)

When one dies, the soul essence hovers near the corpse for seven to nine days. During this period, the ti bon ange is vulnerable and can be captured and made into a "spiritual zombie" by a sorcerer. Provided the soul is not captured, the priest or priestess performs a ritual called Nine Night* to sever the soul from the body so the soul may live in the dark waters for a year and a day. If this is not done, the ti bon ange may wander the earth and bring misfortune on others.

After a year and a day, relatives of the deceased perform the Rite of Reclamation** to raise the deceased person’s soul essence and put it in a clay jar known as a govi. The belief that each person’s life experiences can be passed on to the family or community compels Haitians to implore the spirit of the decease to temporarily possess a family member, priest (houngan), or priestess (mambo) to impart any final words of wisdom.

The clay jar may be placed in the houngan’s or mambo’s temple where the family may come to feed the spirit and treat it like a divine being. At other times, the houngan burns the jar in a ritual called boule zen. This releases the spirit to the land of the dead, where it should properly reside. Another way to elevate the ti-bon-ange is to break the jar and drop the pieces at a crossroad.

The ultimate purpose of death rituals in the Vodoun culture is to send the gros-bon-ange to Ginen, the cosmic community of ancestral spirits, where it will be worshipped by family members as a loa itself. Once the final ritual is done, the spirit is free to abide among the rocks and trees until rebirth. Sixteen incarnations later, spirits merge into the cosmic energy.
Here are some other common behaviors associated with death in the Haitian culture:

When death is impending, the entire family will gather, pray, cry, and use religious medallions or other spiritual artifacts. Relatives and friends expend considerable effort to be present when death is near.
Haitians prefer to die at home, but the hospital is also an acceptable choice.
The moment of death is marked by ritual wailing among family members, friends, and neighbors.
When a person dies, the oldest family member makes all the arrangements and notifies the family. The body is kept until the entire family can gather.
The last bath is usually given by a family member.
Funerals are important social events and involve several days of social interaction, including feasting and the consumption of rum.
Family members come from far away to sleep at the house, and friends and neighbors congregate in the yard.
Burial monuments and other mortuary rituals are often costly and elaborate. People are increasingly reluctant to be buried underground. They prefer to be interred above ground in an elaborate multi-chambered tomb that may cost more than the house in which the individual lived while alive.
Since the body is thought to be necessary for resurrection, organ donation and cremation are not allowed. Autopsy is allowed only if the death occurred as a result of wrong doing or to confirm that the body is actually dead and not a zombie.
Like many Western Christian religions that use a figurative sacrifice to symbolize the consumption of flesh and blood, some Vodoun ceremonies include a literal sacrifice in which chickens, goats, doves, pigeons, and turtles are sacrificed to celebrate births, marriages, and deaths.

Vodou Beliefs about Afterlife

Practitioners of Vodou assume that the souls of all the deceased go to an abode beneath the waters. Concepts of reward and punishment in the afterlife are alien to Vodou.

In Vodou, the soul continues to live on earth and may be used in magic or it may be incarnated in a member of the dead person's family.

Communion with a god or goddess occurs in the context of possession. The gods sometimes work through a govi, and sometimes take over a living person. This activity is referred to as "mounting a horse" during which the person loses consciousness and the body becomes temporarily possessed by a loa. A special priest (houngan) or priestess (mambo) assists both in summoning the divinities and in helping them to leave at the termination of the possession.

The gros-bon-ange returns to the high solar regions from which its cosmic energy was first drawn; there, it joins the other loa and becomes a loa itself.


Each group of worshipers is independent and there is no central organization, religious leader, or set of dogmatic beliefs. Rituals and ceremonies vary depending upon family traditions, regional differences, and exposure to the practices of other cultures such as Catholicism, which is the official religion of Haiti.

Some Haitians believe that the dead live in close proximity to the loa, in a place called "Under the Water." Others hold that the dead have no special place after death.
Burial ceremonies vary according to local tradition and the status of the person. Some families do not express grief aloud until most of the deceased's possessions have been removed from the home. Persons who are knowledgeable in the funeral customs wash, dress, and place the body in a coffin. Mourners wear white clothing which represents death. A priest may be summoned to conduct the burial service. The burial usually takes place within 24 hours.


Westerners, or so-called logical people, might find Vodoun a strange and exotic mixture of spells, possessions, and rituals. Like any other religion, its purpose is to comfort people by giving them a common bond. Vodoun meshes surprisingly well with Catholicism, the official religion of Haiti. With a supreme being, saint-like spirits, belief in the afterlife and invisible spirits, along with the protection of patron saints, Voodoo isn't that different from traditional religions.

I utilized about 20 different sites to gather my information, but I’ve only listed the most credible sources in the list below. Most of these have similar information and contain very few contradictions to one another. The sites that I feel are most credible are the ones published by government or medical organizations and those that cite the sources used for their research.
http://ow.ly/v1wq This site has a long list of sources cited. Haitians had actually commented on the article claiming its accuracy and thanking the author for posting such an informative piece.
http://ow.ly/v1wE Boston Medical site was funded by a grant from The Ford Foundation. The information is provided as a research resource, and does not represent promotion or medical endorsement on the part of either the Boston Healing Landscape Project , the Boston University School of Medicine, or The Ford Foundation.
http://www.near-death.com/religion.html#rel15 Had a huge resource of information about the beliefs of different cultures regarding death, dying, and afterlife.
http://www.religioustolerance.org/Vodou.htm provides a list of 12 Internet resources used to compile the information and had links to more resources.
Cultural Competency, Haitian Immigrants, and Rural Sussex County, Delaware at http://tinyurl.com/ygnp73d is published to help address the challenges of providing health care to differing cultures.
http://whisperingwood.homestead.com/Voudon.html This site repeated much of what I found on other sites, but it gave insight to which I could verify information due to my current knowledge of Paganism.
http://www.widdershins.org/vol2iss2/l9605.htm this site gave a list of resources used.
For more information, you might enjoy reading the complete book More Than Meets the Eye True Stories about Death, Dying, and Afterlife. Purchase on Amazon.com

Nine-Nights is a funerary tradition practiced in the Caribbean (primarily Jamaica and Guyana). It is an extended wake that lasts for several days, with roots in African tradition. During this time, friends and family come together to the home of the deceased. They share their condolences and memories while singing hymns and eating food together. In the old days, the nights were calm and reserved for the most part - but that tradition has changed with the times. Today, these gatherings resemble parties much more than they resemble wakes (though this is not true for all “nine-nights”).
Nine-Nights are no longer a time to mourn but a time to celebrate since the loved one is no longer suffering in life. When friends come they do not come with just condolences they come with food, drink and music; this is after all a celebration. True to its name this celebration lasts nine nights and days with the ninth and final night being the night before the church service. On the ninth night the family prepares the food for all who come. As tradition has is on the ninth night it is believed that the spirit of the deceased passes through the party gathering food and saying goodbye before continuing on to its resting place. Out of all the nights this night is the most revered since it is the end of the celebration. Stories about the deceased and the fondest memories are shared, along with prayers. Games, such as Dominos, are played as well as singing hymns, which is also done on the other nights as well.
On the ninth night a table is set up under a tent with food for the loved one, though no one is allowed to eat from it before midnight because it is believed that this is the time that the spirit passes through. Along with the food are drinks, most often Jamaican rum with no less than 100 proof. The types of food on the table can vary from one celebration to the next, but typically fried fish and bammy are the main foods on the table. This time is very important to the family because it gives them time to celebrate the life of their loved one and to be able to say their goodbyes.
Traditionally on the ninth night of the deceased's death their bed and mattress are turned up against the wall, in order to encourage the spirit (Jamaican patois "duppy") to leave the house and enter the grave.
 Retirer d’en bas d’leau: Reclaiming Ancestors: Haitian Vodou
In Haitian Vodou, Guinée is the ancestral home. The place of origin. The eternal dwelling of the lwa. Guinée is Africa. It is where the souls of the dead return to rest, the deep waters of the abyss. And it is the place from which the strength and blessings of the ancestors are repossessed for the benefit of their descendants in a ceremony known as retirer d’en bas d’leau. “A year and a day following the death of a person, the family undertakes to reclaim his soul from the waters of the abyss below the earth and to lodge it in a govi [a specially consecrated container] where it may henceforth be invoked and consulted in the event of illness or other difficulties and so may participate in all the decisions that normally unite the members of the family in counsel.”36 Anthropologist, initiate and scholar of Vodou Maya Deren describes the ritual, directed by a houngan (high priest) or manbo (high priestess) who shakes a consecrated rattle rhythmically, steadily, for a long time. Sometimes insistently, sometimes with a gentle, ringing murmur, the ritual leader uses the instrument and her voice to call les invisibles, the family dead, to the surface of the water.
This ceremony, in which the spirits of the deceased are coaxed with song back into active participation in the lives of their living family members, is a way of insuring that the blessings and help of ancestors are acknowledged and available to their kin. The spirits of the dead are asked to come and reside in special vessels where they can be kept close and cared for by their descendants. Once all the ceremonial rites have been completed, the reclaimed ancestors “are treated as tutelary spirits, a kind of minor loa, who look after their relations and who, in return for sacrifices offered them, attend to the prayers of kith and kin and respond to their appeals for advice or protection.”