Idelle Kursman

When Children with Autism Become Adults

 

                                                                               Photo by Nathan Anderson

The Autism Population is increasing and the children are becoming adults. They need work and programs.

In my novel True Mercy, one of the main characters is Adam Hitchens, a young man with autism who does simple, repetitive clerical tasks at a local business. He has a place to go every day and is proud to hold a job. I recently read the article “500,000 Teens with ASD are Headed to Adulthood. Where will They Work?” By Suzanne Garofalo. It appeared in the Houston Chronicle and was reprinted in the disabilityscoop (https://www.disabilityscoop.com/2018/11/16/500000-teens-asd-work/25736/. The article contains many examples of young adults on the autism spectrum who have been able to find satisfying employment and now feel productive and have a sense of purpose. Many employers are realizing it is well worth their while to train and keep these employees, finding many of them to be dedicated and hardworking. Garofalo writes that “Research shows job activities that encourage independence to reduce symptoms and increase daily living skills.” Some businesses even qualify for a tax write-off for participating in programs to employ these individuals. While this is certainly encouraging and a reason to celebrate, Garofalo also points out that “nearly half of 25-year-olds with the disorder have never held a paying job, according to Autism Speaks.” All people by nature need a schedule, a program with activities, or work in order to thrive. Parents are finding that as their special needs children get older, it becomes harder to find programs and resources. Many programs have waiting lists.

It is my hope that more opportunities for this population increase throughout the country. With the rate of autism now 1 in every 59 births in the United States, “It is a population that’s exploding but finds few opportunities.”

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Pittsburgh

It is difficult to think and write about anything other than the shooting in the Pittsburgh synagogue. Whereas only a few years ago, we had to worry about violence from foreign countries, now the main concern is violence committed by our own citizens. The massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue is a tipping point for me personally because I know so many people in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh. All over the world, people go to houses of worship on their Sabbath to find peace, inspiration, and community; it is one of the last places one would expect a deranged individual to shoot people. I am certain I won’t be the only one who will be preoccupied with this massacre the next time I attend a house of worship.

Theories abound as to why there is an escalation of violence in the United States.  I have no ready answers or solutions but want to instead eulogize the people that we lost in the shooting.

Cecil and David Rosenthal, aged 59 and 54, were brothers that lived near the synagogue and often helped out during the services and other activities in the building. Both had intellectual disabilities and were described as inseparable. Chris Schopf, vice president of residential supports for ACHIEVA, an agency that provides support for individuals with disabilities in Pennsylvania, said this about the Rosenthal brothers, “Most of all, they were kind, good people with a strong faith and respect for everyone around.”

Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, aged 66, was a doctor. People recalled when others were afraid of treating people with HIV, Dr. Rabinowitz would hold their hands without gloves. Always ready to help others, he ran out immediately when he heard gunshots. Family and patients describe him as loving, kind, and compassionate.

Richard Gottfried, 65, was a dentist and active in the congregation. He worked at the Squirrel Hill Medical Center with his wife, who is also a dentist. They were well-known for taking refugees and immigrants as patients.

Sylvan and Bernice Simon, aged 86 and 84, were married in the Tree of Life synagogue in 1956. They were a close couple who were often seen holding hands. People recalled them as being kind to everyone.

Irwin Younger, 69, was a small business owner and a kids’ baseball coach. He prayed and volunteered regularly at the synagogue. Irwin was always anxious to make newcomers feel welcomed.

Melvin Wax, 88, was a retired accountant. He always arrived early for services and often led the congregation in the prayers.

Rose Mallinger, 97, was active in the Tree of Life synagogue for six decades. She attended services every weekend and people recalled her humor and intelligence. She was warm and loving and never complained about anything.

Daniel Stein, 71, was retired and attended the synagogue every Saturday. A nephew described him as a great guy with a dry sense of humor.

Joyce Feinberg, 75, was a retired research specialist at the University of Pittsburgh.  Her late husband Stephen taught statistics at nearby Carnegie Mellon University. Joyce and her husband would welcome his students into their home.

These eleven people attending synagogue services had no connection with the gunman. As in all these acts of violence, we lose innocent people senselessly.

When will it stop?

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy, a thriller that covers the issues of autism and the human trafficking crisis. 

Note: From now until November 24th, True Mercy is on sale at Smashwords for only 99 cents! Log onto https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/747954 and enter the coupon code EA37K.

 

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Double-Edged Sword of Modern Technology in Vietnam–Increased Connectivity and Human Trafficking

 

I recently came across a very disturbing article in last month’s The Independent Voice.  Vietnam is a developing country in Southeast Asia and its people are anxious to connect with the world using the latest technology.  Studies indicate approximately 68% of the Vietnamese have smartphones and an even higher percentage have internet access.  So while it is still often difficult for those located in rural areas to obtain running drinking water, technological use is widespread. However, internet use is unfortunately far ahead of safety awareness. Nowhere is this more alarmingly apparent than the growing problem of organized groups of young men sending friend requests to young girls on Facebook in an effort to trick them into forced marriages.

These men act as agents to lure young girls living in villages close to the Vietnamese-Chinese border. Why? Because in China men greatly outnumber women, and there are Chinese men so desperate to find women to marry that they solicit the services of these unscrupulous profiteers. These agents often travel to a well-known trading post on the border to sell young girls. Since Facebook is banned in China, Chinese clients are using “WeChat, Weibo, and Viber” as dating apps to purchase kidnapped brides.

Fortunately, charities like Pacific Links Foundation are working hard to combat human trafficking by doing what they can to prevent this criminal activity as well as provide support and resources for survivors. Written on the Pacific Links Foundation website are these frightening statistics:

  • Human trafficking is a growing $150 billion a year business, enslaving over 40 million women, children, and men in forced sexual and forced labor exploitation.
  • The chance of being enslaved in the Asia Pacific region is twice as high compared to developed countries.
  • Vietnam is a source country for cross-border sex and labor trafficking.*

Human trafficking in this region is only getting worse. Advocates insist more safeguards for internet users in developing countries must be put into place on par with users in the developed world in order to combat trafficking. Please check out their website at https://www.pacificlinks.org to learn more.

*Information taken from http://www.pacificlinks.org/counter-trafficking

Interested in reading a novel about the international human trafficking crisis? Check out True Mercy. Available on Amazon, IngramSpark, and Smashwords. True Mercy would make a perfect holiday gift for friends and family—designed to provide an engaging read as well as to inform the public on the evils of human trafficking.

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Austin, Minnesota: An Autism-Friendly Town

 

The Famous Hormel Historic Home

In my novel True Mercy, Bruce often had to worry about his son Adam’s behavior in social settings. But if the story took place in Austin, Minnesota, he would have had much less to worry about. That’s because Austin is an autism-friendly town. Ten years ago, the community used their resources to educate local business owners about autism and train them to be aware of these customers’ needs. The town even has a community autism resource specialist. Therefore, Austin’s residents are probably more aware than most about the signs of autism that my story’s character Adam displayed: intense fixation on specific topics, unusual body movements like hands flapping, echolalia (word repetition), and meltdowns caused by feeling overwhelmed.

So how did the small town of Austin make itself autism-friendly? Just go in the Hormel Historic Home, a nonprofit museum dedicated to all things Spam, the canned meat that has been produced by Hormel Foods there for 81 years. Mary Barinka works there. She once worked as a Hormel marketing executive and is now the town’s autism resource specialist as well as a museum employee. Barinka has a sixteen-year-old daughter with autism. Along with working at the museum, she handles questions and requests from parents that can range from how to give a presentation to new business owners and their employees on becoming autism-friendly, where to find a good speech therapist, and how to help a local community college launch a special autism program.

You may wonder what business owners must do to make their establishments autism-friendly. Often individuals with autism react negatively to overstimulation, so these changes can include dimming the store’s lights, lowering the music volume, and training employees to speak slowly and in short phrases, and to be prepared to have more patience than usual.

The program began when retired Hormel executive and family friend Gary Ray asked Barinka if her then six-year-old daughter was able to participate in summer camp. Barinka told him she and her husband would like her to attend camp but it was not possible because they would need the camp to understand their daughter’s special needs and they would have to hire a helper. Ray and his wife then offered a donation for Barinka to start a camp. She jumped on it. The Ray’s have since donated over $100,000 to fund more programs such as a monthly respite night with children’s activities to give parents and caregivers a break, a peer program at the high school where student volunteers to spend time with another high schooler with autism one-on-one, day camps, and of course, the museum.

Hearing about the town’s programs, new families have moved in. Barinka also gets calls for advice from other towns who would like to set up their own autism-friendly programs.

Perhaps someday I will be able to visit Austin, Minnesota. I am sure my fictional character Adam and real-life individuals with autism would thrive in this town.

Information for this post came from The Washington Post article “The town that gave the world Spam is proud to be ‘autism-friendly’ by Amy Ellis Nutt.

True Mercy can be purchased on Amazon, IngramSpark, and Smashwords.

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Pachinko: A Potential Modern Masterpiece Falls Short

 

 

When I began reading Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, I initially thought this was the best book I have read so far this year. I had planned on writing a stellar book review. A National Book Award finalist, it tells the story of an impoverished sixteen-year-old girl named Sunja in 1930’s Korea. Sunja has a relationship with Hansu, a wealthy, powerful, older businessman who frequents her region. Sunja naively believes Hansu will marry her. Only when she gets pregnant and reveals she is carrying his child does she find out he is a married man who lives in Japan. Hansu, who has three daughters with his wife, wants Sunja to be his wife when he travels to Korea.  Knowing this is not honorable, Sunja rejects his offer for a much easier life and stays with her mother while they struggle to make ends meet. Soon, she meets Isak, a Korean missionary on his way to Japan to help build a church. Isak is willing to marry her and does not even question who fathered her child. He selflessly wants to give the unborn child a name. They move to Japan where Sunja gives birth to a son.

Unlike the first half of the book where the reader encounters characters living lives of quiet nobility, the second half is filled with vengeful and sexually depraved characters who wreak havoc. The writing is polished and author Lee offers beautiful imagery in her descriptions (“The sea was bluer than she had remembered, and the long, thin clouds seemed paler—everything seemed more vibrant with him here.”). But unfortunately, the characters go from Biblical in majesty to wreaking sensationalized tragedies. Lee spends too much time on the challenges of minor characters and transforms a few from kind and friendly to malicious in a single scene. The emphasis becomes Japanese racism of Koreans, depriving them of good careers and citizenship, despite their families having lived in Japan for generations. Lee never clearly explains what pachinko is, but I gather it is a gambling casino, one of the few jobs Koreans can work and make a decent living in Japan. By the end, the beauty of the story and its characters are lost and all the reader is left to contemplate is Japanese bigotry and foreign powers taking control of Korea itself, splitting the nation in half. Koreans in Japan no longer have their homes in Korea and those from the North who return end up starving to death. Thus, most have no choice but to endure the ongoing discrimination in Japan. An unsatisfying read after a remarkable beginning.

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