April is Autism Awareness Month

National Autism Awareness month concept with puzzle or jigsaw pattern on heart with autistic child’s hands supported by nursing family caregiver

The increasing rate of autism should be everyone’s concern, not just those who have a family member with the diagnosis. At the present rate, 1 in every 59 children is diagnosed with autism. There is a spectrum according to the severity: those on the high end of the spectrum are able to function independently while those on the lower end require constant care and supervision. Any child could receive the diagnosis regardless of socioeconomic class, color, or religion. Anyone who feels it is not “their problem” may one day be in for a big surprise—if that person does not have a child with autism, then a sibling’s child, a niece or nephew’s child, or a grandchild could have this developmental disorder. Therefore, autism should be everyone’s concern.

The following is a list of questions people may have. I will try to answer them as clearly and succinctly as possible.

Q. What is autism?                                                                                                      According to the website Autism Speaks (https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism), “Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication.” As every individual is unique, autism affects each person differently.

Q. What are some telltale signs of autism?                                                                                                                      Signs include

  • Repetitive behaviors like hand flapping, rocking, jumping
  • Inability to make eye contact
  • Speech difficulties
  • Repetition of words (echolalia)
  • Inability to participate in social interaction
  • Sensitivity to sounds, smells, and tastes
  • Trouble understanding the feelings of others
  • Agitation with schedule changes
  • Unusual mood patterns, sleep difficulties
  • Hyperactivity
  • Fixation on particular topics
  • Limited attention span

In my novel True Mercy, one of the main characters is an eighteen-year-old man with autism named Adam. I include many characteristics of autism in my portrayal of Adam like hand lapping, rocking, echolalia, sensitivity to smells, unusual mood patterns, and fixations on certain topics.

Q. When do signs of autism appear in children?

According to Autism Speaks, signs of autism may occur from the first few months of life to as late as 2 or 3 years old.

HelpGuide (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/autism-learning-disabilities/does-my-child-have-autism.htm/ ) has compiled a list of early signs of autism:

The baby or toddler doesn’t:

  • Make eye contact, such as looking at you when being fed or smiling when being smiled at
  • Respond to his or her name, or to the sound of a familiar voice
  • Follow objects visually or follow your gesture when you point things out
  • Point or wave goodbye, or use other gestures to communicate
  • Make noises to get your attention
  • Initiate or respond to cuddling or reach out to be picked up
  • Imitate your movements and facial expressions
  • Play with other people or share interest and enjoyment
  • Notice or care if you hurt yourself or experience discomfort

Q. What can parents do if they notice these signs?

If a parent notices their child has developmental delays, it is vital they seek the advice of their child’s pediatrician to find out if testing is needed. The earlier the diagnosis, the sooner the child can receive early intervention, which is critical for the child to make gains in their development. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the therapy that has proven to help children with autism make significant improvements.

Q. What are some resources to get help?

I gathered some resources but this list is by no means exhaustive.

Autism Bedforshire http://www.autismbedfordshire.net

Autism Speaks http://www.autismspeaks.org

Autism Society http://www.autism-society.org

Autism Web http://www.autismweb.com

Autism Hwy http://www.autismhwy.com

HelpGuide  https://www.helpguide.org/home-pages/autism.htm

Addendum:

I had intended to conclude my blog post at his point, but when Amy Tobik of Autism Parenting Magazine (https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/supportive-states-raising-autism-child/?utm_source=Autism+Parenting+Magazine+Contributors&utm_campaign=71fe1ce660-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_06_18_01_56_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_782e0cc91d-71fe1ce660-96778409 ) sent me this article by Krystal Rogers-Nelson, I couldn’t resist including it. She provided a list in the order of the most supportive states for raising a child with autism.

The three main factors considered for these rankings include:

  1. State laws requiring insurance coverage of ABA therapy (points were weighted based on age limit, coverage limit, and types of insurers required to provide services)
  2. If a state is part of the ADDM Network (Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, which estimates the number of children living with autism and other developmental disabilities in various places in the United States).
  3. Grants available to individuals and families in the specified state
Rank State Age Limit? Coverage Limit? ABA Therapy Requirement for ALL Insurers in State ADDM Network Grants Available
1 California No No** Yes No Yes*
2 Massachusetts No No Yes No Yes*
3 Indiana No No Yes No Yes
4 Colorado No No Yes Yes No
5 Vermont 21 No** Yes No Yes*
6 Maryland 19 No Yes Yes Yes*
7 New Jersey 21 No No Yes Yes*
8 Washington No No Yes No No
9 New Hampshire 21 Varies based on age No No Yes*
10 New York No $45K Yes No Yes*
11 Oregon No*** No No No No
12 Connecticut 15 No No No Yes*
13 Maine 21 $36K Yes No Yes*
14 Pennsylvania 21 $36K Yes No Yes*
15 Mississippi 8 No Yes No No
16 North Dakota 21 No No No No
17 Ohio 21 No No No No
18 DC No limited to cost of similar therapy No No Yes
19 Wisconsin 9 $50K No Yes Yes*
20 Delaware 21 $36K Yes No Yes
21 Arkansas 18 $50K Yes Yes No
22 Minnesota 18 No No No No
23 Nebraska 20 No No No No
24 Utah 10 No No No No
25 Wyoming 20 No No No No
26 Illinois 21 $44,877 Yes No No
27 Florida No $36K, $200K lifetime Yes No No
28 Georgia 6 $30K No Yes Yes
29 Rhode Island 15 $32K No No Yes*
30 South Carolina 16 $50K Yes No No
31 Virginia 10 $35K No No Yes*
32 Kentucky 21 $50K No No No
33 Kansas 12 limits based on hours Yes No No
34 Michigan 18 varies based on age Yes No No
35 Oklahoma 9 $25K Yes No No
36 South Dakota 18 varies based on age Yes No No
37 Texas 9 varies based on insurance plan Yes No No
38 Alaska 21 varies based on insurance plan No No No
39 Iowa 21 $36K No No No
40 Louisiana 21 $36K No No No
41 Arizona 16 varies based on age No Yes No
42 Missouri 18 $40K No Yes No
43 Nevada 18 $72K No No No
44 North Carolina 18 $40K No Yes No
45 Tennessee 12 varies based on insurance plan No Yes No
46 Alabama 9 $36K No No No
47 Hawaii 13 $25K No No No
48 Montana 18 varies based on age No No No
49 West Virginia 18 $30K No No No
50 New Mexico 19 $36K, $200K lifetime No No No
51 Idaho n/a n/a No Law Requirement No No

Multiple grants available for this state.
**Can’t exceed the cost of treatment allowed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
***Must start treatment before age 9.

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy, a thriller designed to bring awareness to two issues: families coping with a loved one with autism and the human trafficking crisis. True Mercy is for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IngramSpark, and Smashwords.

Need help with blog content? Please contact me through my website, www.idellekursman.com.

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Meet Writer/Editor Ben Wolf

I am so excited to write about this year’s Write Stuff Writers Conference that I attended on March 21-23. The Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group (https://greaterlehighvalleywritersgroup.wildapricot.org/) organizes it every year and this was my fifth year going. As always, I learned a lot and enjoyed it immensely. Everyone was so warm and welcoming that I felt I was reuniting with life-long friends.

Author/Editor Ben Wolf was this year’s keynote speaker. He has written and edited over 100 published works. Ben is the founder of Splickety Publishing Group, a magazine that publishes flash fiction. He has written novels and a children’s book. In 2015 he won the Cascade Award (https://oregonchristianwriters.org/2015-cascade-contest-winners/) for his novel, Blood for Blood, and his children’s book, I’d Punch a Lion in His Eye for You, was a Cascade Award winner in 2016 (https://oregonchristianwriters.org/cascade-award-winners-2016/). His concentration is primarily in speculative fiction.

Ben is 33 years old. When I arrived at the conference to find him as the keynote speaker, my first thought was, “How could someone so young teach the attendees, most older than he is, about writing?”

But it turned out he could. He actually taught us quite a lot.

The following are a few pieces of advice from his talk on “The Three Pillars of Storytelling: Your Novel’s High Concept.” He referenced his information from the book Fiction Writing for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson.  In some of the bulleted points, I will be quoting directly from a few of Ben Wolf’s PowerPoint slides.

  • The Goal of Every Story is to deliver a powerful emotional experience.
  • Every story must do at least one of the following: educate, entertain, or persuade.
  1. ) Entertain-writers are required to do research to make sure they are meeting their readers’ expectations, particularly in that genre (e.g. In romance: some combination of love, lust, and conflict).
  2. ) Educate-writers must think of what they want their readers to learn along the way.

3.) Persuade-in the case of “issue” fiction, they must decide what topics they want to change or influence readers’ minds about.

  • There are 5 pillars of writing fiction

1.) Construct a believable setting

2.) Create interesting character

3.) Create a strong plot

4.) Develop a meaningful theme

5.) Do all of it with style

In this blog post, I am going to concentrate on the second pillar-interesting characters.  Ben used examples from the movie Star Wars. For those unfamiliar with the plot, Trance (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076759/plotsummary), a plot author, summed it up as follows: “Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a Wookiee and two droids to save the galaxy from the Empire’s world-destroying battle station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the mysterious Darth Vader.”

  • The best way to hook a reader is with a compelling character. How does a writer achieve this? By knowing their character’s backstory.

1.) Who are they?

2.) Where did they come from?

3.) What happened that shaped who they are today?

4.) What does the character want?

5.) What is their motivation?

The writer must know the following about each character in their story

  1. ) Values-Those things a character holds most strongly to be true. Nothing is more important than. . .  Writers must convey values through action and behavior and make sure their character’s values have potential for conflict.

As an example, Darth Vader’s values were that nothing is more important than power and his son, Luke Skywalker.

2.) Ambition-The one abstract thing your character wants the most in life.  Give each character one ambition per story. What does your character want to gain? Some examples are wealth, power, peace, destruction, healing, and success.

Luke Skywalker’s ambition was to be a hero.

Story Goals-The one concrete thing your character wants in the story. The character must believe this will help him/her achieve or get closer to achieving their ambition. The more specific the writer can be about the character’s story goals, the better. It is essential the reader believes the story goal matters, the character has a chance to achieve their goal, and there is a chance the character may fail.

3.) Han Solo’s story goal was to obtain the money he needed to pay off the bounty on his life from Jabba the Hutt, a powerful gangster in the galaxy who had great influence in both the criminal and political underworld.

Finally, as demonstrated from Trance’s plot summary stated earlier, the author must formulate

  • A simple, one-sentence idea that describes the main conflict of the book.

Ben has spoken at over 40 writers’ conferences to date. I highly recommend any writer striving to improve their craft sign up and listen to his advice. He may be a youngster, but he gives many valuable pointers to writers of all genres.

Authors interested in getting help with their stories can reach out to Ben through his website, www.benwolf.com/editing-services. He offers coaching and editing services and has helped many authors bring their works to publication.

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy, a thriller designed to bring awareness to two issues: families coping with a loved one with autism and the human trafficking crisis. True Mercy is for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IngramSpark, and Smashwords.

Need help with blog content? Please contact me through my website, www.idellekursman.com.

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Human Trafficking Crisis in India

I spent an evening at my local Dining for Women, a global organization of women dedicated to empowering women in the developing world.  I socialized with some delightful, like-minded women and then we watched a video about the human trafficking crisis in India and the inspiring work Her Future Coalition is doing for rescued women and girls.

Prostitution is legal in India but human trafficking is not. Government statistics show that every eight minutes, a child goes missing in India.  A human trafficking report in 2016 by the U.S. State Department wrote that India serves as a source, destination, and transit country for men, women and children victimized by slave labor and sex trafficking. Another study completed in 2018 wrote that the number of victims brought to India from Nepal rose by a staggering 500% between 2013 and 2017.

Why is human trafficking so prevalent in this region? There are a number of factors:

  • Men come to the region to work in the commercial cities, so girls and women are kidnapped from poor families to satisfy the demand for commercial sex.
  • The poorer the family, the greater the chance one of their daughters will be sold, particularly in the Northeastern region of India. Sadly, some families are so desperate they are even willing to sell their own daughters.
  • Believing their children will receive education and jobs, parents are tricked into sending their children to these agents.
  • Girls and women are trafficked for forced marriages because there is a shortage of available females due to female infanticide.
  • An estimated 11.7 million people work for debt labor. When families are short on cash, they sell their sons and daughters to obtain money. Often these children don’t get paid for years.

Unfortunately, many times after girls are rescued, they are rejected by their families and treated as outcasts once they find out they were forced into prostitution.

The situation is bleak but there are people willing to donate time and money to help them.  Organizations in India like Her Future Coalition work hard to rescue these women and girls, providing them shelter and job training so they have the tools to lead lives of independence and freedom. Her Future Coalition works with local agencies to construct shelters for rescued girls, where they are can stay for a long term and be safe and supported.  The shelters provide food, clothing, medical attention, and counseling. Since the majority of those rescued have very little education, Her Future Coalition sponsors educational programs leading to job placement.  The film showed examples of the most popular fields: nursing, jewelry-making, bee-keeping, and accounting. To date, over 700 survivors have benefitted from their educational programs. Human trafficking is a horrendous crime, but there are dedicated individuals working to combat it. The more the better.

Readers interested in finding out more information or donating to the Her Future can go to https://www.herfuturecoalition.org.

Women who want to find out about their local Dining for Women can go to https://diningforwomen.org.

References

Giri, Avinash, (2019, January 3). What’s wrong with India’s Efforts to Check Human Trafficking? [Blog post], Retrieved from https://thediplomat.com/2019/whats-wrong -with-indias-efforts-to-check-human-trafficking/

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Book Review: Not of This Fold—A Mystery that also takes a Critical Look at the Mormon Church

A Mormon Mystery

Not of This Fold immediately draws the reader in through the engaging personality of Linda Wallheim, a Mormon bishop’s wife and an amateur sleuth. Since this is the fourth installment of Linda Wallheim mysteries, readers know that she figures out who the murderer is at about the same time as the police. In this book, she has a sleuthing partner, Gwen Ferris. Gwen is also married to a Mormon bishop but is having a spiritual crisis due to the Mormon stance on a variety of issues.

                Gwen and her husband are unable to have children, which is a heartbreaking situation for any couple. But it is compounded because, as Linda describes it, the church tells women “We were told so often that raising children was the most important thing we can do with our lives, that mothering was an eternal role, and even when we were resurrected and living in the celestial kingdom, we’d be silently serving our spirit children, . . . ” (p. 18). Gwen has other issues with Mormonism: the church’s attitude toward immigrants from Hispanic countries, the prohibition of same-sex marriages, and the male domination of church leadership. Gwen has quit her high-paying job and plans to enter the police academy to make a difference, but her complaints are leading to marital strife as she contemplates leaving the church.

                Since Linda is a grandmother and Gwen is in her twenties, Linda looks at her as the daughter she never had and guides her while they investigate who killed Gabriela Gonzalez, a Mexican immigrant with three young children. Gwen works in the Spanish ward and had befriended Gabriela, so she wants to see justice done. She and Linda do a lot of traveling and interviewing of potential suspects, which draws the ire of the police, who insist they are interfering with the investigation.  

                I could relate to Linda because she is a real person and not a stereotypical Mormon bishop’s wife with a perfect life. This is her second marriage, one of her five sons left the church and another is gay, and she is also questioning the church’s rulings and practices. The story leads me to believe that Mormon author Mette Ivie Harrison is voicing her own inner conflicts with the church.

                I felt the character Gwen Ferris was too one-dimensional. She kept repeating the same slogans throughout the story: Mormons look down on brown-skinned people, Mormons refuse to give women leadership positions, and the church must change with the times. It becomes obvious she is taking out her own unhappiness and unfulfillment on religion.

                Overall, Not of This Fold is a fast, enjoyable read. It certainly makes the reader think about the Mormon’s traditional positions when society is challenging traditional beliefs. In fact, I think the social issues often put the mystery story itself in the background. I also noted missing words in the text. This I do not blame on the author, but rather it is the proofreader’s responsibility. Other than that, I find this story riveting because it has such a unique twist. But those looking for a mystery that solely concentrates on the whodunnit may not appreciate Harrison’s work.

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