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I am now a karate student.

This happened mostly by accident. We've been looking for a sport to help our son improve his coordination and body tone. This turned out to be rather challenging because the social intricacies of most team sports are stressful for him.

Karate, it turns out, is exactly his thing. Watching his free trial lesson, I could see why. There is an exact position for each part of the body to be in at each moment. No one moves without the trainer's command. There is no roughhousing; only concentration and the knowledge that each motion you learn has a clear, practical application in combat.

In computer science terms, soccer is analog. Karate is digital.

Anyway, so one karate lesson, and my son was in love. If you've raised an autistic child, you know how rare a match like that is. At this point, there was practically no mountain I wouldn't climb and no price I wouldn't pay to get this little boy and his chosen sport together.

Enter Mr. Brown Belt. He came around at the end of the lesson and politely but firmly informed us that spectators aren't allowed at the beginning levels of karate; it makes the kids too nervous.

Well, dang it. That was a problem on two levels. First, because Alex hadn't been to enough classes to feel secure without me, and second, because I didn't want to risk a meltdown without a familiar adult somewhere nearby.

Solution: I am now a participant in the class.

Mother/child training, it turns out, is permitted. So here I am, learning a martial art. It's pretty fun, actually. A lot like dance, if you leave out that whole learning-to-kill-people-with-your-bare-hands thing.

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Fundraising Complete!


I'm pleased to report that Movement earned $94.88 during its first two weeks of release, not bad for a highly-priced short story that's available for free online. I transfered the money to the National Foundation for Autism Research last night.

Many, many thanks to everyone who bought a copy of Movement or blogged about the NFAR fundraiser.

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In Which I Breathe a Huge Sigh of Relief

In a state very nearly resembling panic, I contacted NFAR yesterday requesting confirmation that it was ok to use their name for this charity promotion. The executive director kindly replied that it was. So we are clear to continue fundraising.

For those who don't know, Movement is now live, and I am donating its December income to support families affected by autism.

Five sales came in overnight, which works out to about $10 of donation money. I am pleased. If sales continue at that rate through December 31, we will have earned more than my initial donation to NFAR. I'm hoping to send them several hundred dollars in January. If we can scrape together a couple thousand, I will die of joy.

Many thanks to those who have already blogged, tweeted, and reviewed Movement. Also thanks to those who have made a purchase.

For those who are desperately tempted to buy the ebook but aren't convinced it's worth the money: all I can say is that I have received at least ten messages from readers telling me how much they enjoyed it. No other story I've written has received more than two. I think those numbers speak for themselves.

What Autism Looks Like on Alex

For years, I thought Alex was impervious to pain. He'd get hit by a stray soccer ball or bonked by an errant shovel without so much as flinching; he'd just go right back to whatever he'd been doing. I wondered, sometimes, whether his insensitivity towards other children was based in his own experience: if a klonk on the head didn't bug him, why should he imagine it would bug someone else?

Then about a year ago we were tossing a basketball back and forth and I asked "Am I throwing too hard?" To my surprise, Alex said "Yes."

It was one of those gestalt moments where the puzzle pieces line up in your head and you suddenly realize that nothing is the way you had imagined it to be.

"Then you should say 'Ow'" I said. "That way, I'll know it's too hard, and I'll throw softer next time."

Alex said "Oh," and we continued playing. In the weeks that followed, I noticed him using his new 'Ow' in social situations, usually after several seconds of careful thought. And for the first time, I saw him responding appropriately when other children said 'Ow'.

I could have whacked myself on the head for all those years I thought he was impervious. He didn't like tough games, he just didn't have an instinctive method for communicating that to anyone else. Poor kid was getting klonked too hard all the time.

These days Alex uses 'Ow!' and 'Hey!' like a natural. Sometimes it's hard for me to remember they're acquired skills. He also shows immediate sensitivity to other children's use of 'Ow'.

('Hey!' is a bit harder. He often doesn't realize that a forcefully uttered 'Hey!' by a child he's playing with might be related to whatever he just did.)

What Autism Looks Like

When we first told Alex's kindergarten teacher, nearly two years ago, that we suspected he was on the autistic spectrum, her answer was: "I just don't see it."

She had a brother with high-functioning autism who, for years, never spoke a word outside the intimate confines of his family. She mentally lined up her conception of autism against my energetic, vocal, assertive son and found little correspondance.

When Alex's Sunday School teacher brought me a picture of his class and called it "a rare picture" of Alex, I didn't understand at first what he meant. After some thought, I realized the teacher found the picture unusual because Alex was smiling. He had never seen Alex smile. Alex found structured social situations stressful. He was, at that time, either aggressive or withdrawn while at Church.

That photograph, and the conversation with Alex's Kindergarten teacher, made me realize that other people's experience with my son is nothing like my own. More specifically, other people's expectations about my son were different from my own.

Our therapist in Frankfurt perhaps said it best. She said because of media, because of our experiences and our conversations with others, we all have a mental image of how an autist "ought to behave". We're so sure we know what autism looks like that we either can't see the autism at all or we concentrate so hard on the autism that we can't see the kid anymore.

They're just kids, folks. Some of them talk, some of them don't. Many of them are anxious, especially in unfamiliar situations. Many of them are angry, because they're stuck growing up in a world where none of the rules make any sense. Many of them are scared, because they know they're doing things wrong and they can't figure out how to make it right again.

But in the end, they're all still just kids, and they need the same things every child needs: love, understanding, someone who trusts them to grow up in their own way and find their own path, and who's willing to help them take the first steps.

What does autism look like? I don't know. It's like a coat that changes shape depending on who wears it. It's like a wind that blows different trees into different shapes. Sometimes it's easy to spot.

Sometimes it's not.

Magic Phrases

Around our house, you have to be very careful how you say things. Our oldest son has a preliminary diagnosis on the autistic spectrum. He communicates wonderfully, but every once in a while we stumble over phrasings that just don't compute. (This is true of every person, I suppose, to a varying degree.)

As an example: Asking him to throw balls more softly or play games less roughly seldom had any effect. Asking him to throw or play more slowly worked wonderfully. He'd slow down the physical muscle movements, resulting in a softer throw and gentler play. Similarly, asking him to speak more quietly seldom works. He says, "Ok," willingly enough, but then continues speaking at full volume. However, if I ask him to reduce the amount of air he's using when he speaks, his volume drops immediately.

This focus on the physical mechanics of an action, rather than on the subjective effect of an action on nearby people, seems to be fundamental to his thought process. I wish I could figure out a mechanics-based way to help him understand personal space. He tends to find the shortest path from point A to point B and bonk shoulders with everyone he passes on the way.

Where to find free kids' games online

I've spent the last few weeks scrounging around the internet appeasing my pixel-hungry children. Figured some other folks out there might appreciate the list.

Knowledgeadventure.com -- A nice suite of classic games, plus some innovative new ones.

Tux Paint -- Open Source graphics program for children. Includes a rubber stamp tool that lets them populate their picture with ducks, astronauts, and so forth.

Barbie.com -- The games are dorky and poorly implemented, but they're PINK! With princesses! And sparkly tiaras! (My four-year-old spends a lot of time here.)

Tetris.com -- Various instantiations of tetris.

MyFreeFarm.com -- Um. This one shows up in German on my computer. I presume that it's just picking up on my regional and language options, though.

Lemmings -- The original Lemmings remade as a browser game. Lags a bit, but plenty of fun.

World of Goo Demo -- Watch out. The demo is so fun you might find yourself paying money for the full game.

JumpStart.com -- I hate the way the video on the front page starts playing without you doing anything, but the game itself is quite good. It's a virtual amusement park with snowmen, scuba diving, an adventurer training camp, and various other things that kids find cool.

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nancyfulda
nancyfulda

Publications

Nancy Fulda -- Hugo and Nebula Nominee

Web Site | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Google+






That Undiscovered Country
Jim Baen Memorial
Award Winner


paperback | kindle | nook | PDF | Other





Movement
2011 Nebula Nominee

Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, March 2011

paperback | kindle | nook | smashwords





The Breath of Heaven
Stories from Distant Worlds

paperback | kindle | nook | smashwords






In the Halls of the Sky-Palace
Jim Baen's Universe, June 2009

kindle | nook | smashwords





Backlash (novelette)
Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, 2010

kindle | nook | smashwords





The Man Who
Murdered Himself

Phobos Award Winner

kindle | nook | smashwords





Dead Men Don't Cry:
11 Stories by Nancy Fulda


Paperback | kindle | nook | smashwords | DRM-free






Nothing This Fun Could be Good for You (article)
Available at:
Clarkesworld Magazine





Like Rain From Silver Skies
Available at:
Basement Stories





Knowing Neither Kin Nor Foe
Available at:
Beneath Ceaseless Skies


Nancy Fulda is a 2012 Hugo and Nebula Nominee, a Phobos Award winner and a Vera Hinckley Mayhew Award recipient. She is the first (and so far only) female recipient of the Jim Baen Memorial Award. Her fiction has appeared in a number of professional venues.

Nancy Fulda is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com

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