Thunderhead – A tribute to RUSH

I’ve been a fan of the Canadian rock trio Rush for many years, since high school, so when my brother called me up a couple of weeks ago and asked if I wanted to go check out a local Rush tribute band I immediately agreed. I’m glad I did.

Thunderhead logoThe band, Thunderhead, played at the House of Rock in South (St. Louis) County on a Friday night (9 Feb). We got there early to make sure we had a place to sit (and set down our beers!), and good thing. As show time approached the place filled up quickly.

Like Rush, Thunderhead is a three-man band: George Whitlow on bass, keyboards, and vocals, Corey Nelson on guitars, and Mike Ramsey on percussion (you can’t simply call it “drums” when you are talking about Rush!). And I have to say, these guys ROCKED. (Well worth the 5 buck cover.)

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the show, as I had never seen a “tribute band” perform. I had in mind the “cover bands” that travel the club circuit, playing a collection of covers from various bands, genres, etc. The music is usually good, but very rarely do the bands seem to make a whole-hearted effort to re-create the sound of the original. (Not saying that’s bad, I love a good cover band.)

A ‘tribute band,’ on the other hand, has as its goal a faithful reproduction of most, if not all, aspects of a bands music and performance. In that, Thunderhead succeeded.

One of the things that became immediately obvious when they started playing was that this wasn’t just a bunch of guys that got together on the weekends to play some music. I can only imagine how much time they put into 1) learning the music as individuals, 2) learning the songs as a group, 3) staging the performance (lights, sound, etc), and 4) rehearsal of the whole package.

With the exception of some vocal problems George had (a cold exacerbated, no doubt, by the thick smoke in the club), their performance was right on. As much as I’ve always enjoyed Neil Peart’s lyrics, it is Rush’s musicality that I most love. The extended guitar solos in songs, the mandatory (and brilliantly executed) drum solo, and the group jams that are Rush’s instrumentals were great. My personal favorite – the jazzy, funky, and rocking La Villa Strangiato.

If you live in the St. Louis area, keep an eye on their tour page for upcoming dates. If you are a fan of Rush, you owe it to yourself to check these guys out.

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What is your language?

Everyone has their own path to follow through life. Easy to say, somewhat harder to believe because most of our daily experiences involve others who live incredibly similar lives to ours. This sometimes gets in the way of us realizing that there are differences in this world, and that the path that we’ve chosen for ourselves – or that has been thrust upon us – may not be the best path for everyone.

Earlier this week, Dr. Sanjay Gupta from CNN blogged about his recent introduction to and conversation with Amanda Baggs, a 26-year old autistic woman who gets around in a wheel-chair and communicates through a text-to-voice device. In his words, Amanda “opened his eyes about the world of autism.”

Amanda is obviously a smart woman who is fully aware of her diagnosis of low-functioning autism, and quite frankly mocks it. She told me that because she doesn’t communicate with conventional spoken word, she is written off, discarded and thought of as mentally retarded. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A far cry from how autistics, especially “low-functioning” autistics, are typically portrayed in the media. (Compare, for instance, to this portrayal on ABC’s PrimeTime earlier this week.)

Just as technology allows her to communicate through the voice synthesizer (on which she can type over 100 words per minute), technology – in the form of YouTube – has allowed her to be heard by a much wider audience. In fact, it was her video “In My Language” that caught the eye of CNN. Amanda’s description of the video:

The first part is in my “native language,” and then the second part provides a translation, or at least an explanation. This is not a look-at-the-autie gawking freakshow as much as it is a statement about what gets considered thought, intelligence, personhood, language, and communication, and what does not.

I encourage you to take about 10 minutes and view Amanda’s video. If you are already somewhat familiar with autism, this will help you understand even more. If you are not familiar with autism at all, this is a good start in understanding that you really can’t judge a book by its cover.

– – — — —–
Amanda was also featured this week on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360.

I’ve also written a bit about this on my autism blog in 29 Marbles – Why don’t more people understand this yet?

“In My Language”: The video that caught CNN’s eye

The spark that caught CNN’s eye about Amanda Baggs (see my last post if you don’t know what I’m talking about) was her video “In My Language” posted on YouTube. While it is easy enough to just go to YouTube to watch it, I would like to share it here as well.

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Why don't more people understand this yet?

One of the dangers of being too close to a topic like autism and autism awareness is that you sometimes forget that not everyone has caught up with you in their perception of that issue. Even people you think should know better by now.

An example that recently struck me was how many people still don’t realize that “low-functioning” autistics can be very intelligent.

In her new book Strange Son, author Portia Iverson describes her initial reaction to the idea of an intelligent “low-functioning” autistic:

“There’s a boy I think you should know about,” Francesca Happe began, gesturing for me to sit down. “His name is Tito.” The renowned psychologist from England, whose specialty was autism, continued: “He’s eleven years old and he lives in India. He’s quite autistic, but he can read and write and he’s very intelligent.”

She smiled at me and paused before going on, as if to gauge my reaction.

“Tito is a wonderful poet as well,” she continued. “He’s even published a book, an autobiography with some of his poetry in it.”

“And he’s autistic?” I asked in disbelief, thinking I must have misunderstood.

“Yes, he is definitely autistic. … There is only one Tito in this world, and no one else like him. He is his own disorder,” she replied with certainty.

I knew that no one had ever heard of such a severely autistic person being able to write and communicate independently. But wasn’t there even a remote chance that there could be others who looked and acted just like Tito but couldn’t communicate? At the very least, couldn’t Tito provide an extraordinary window into the most severe kind of autism?

This exchange between Iverson and Happe occurred in Spring 1999 and serves as the starting point of the story that Iverson tells in her book. Not to spoil the ending, but by the end of her story (circa 2003), Iverson comes to the conclusion that to me today seems so obvious: Tito is not one-in-a-million, he is not “his own disorder.”

Fast forward several years to two days ago. From his blog, Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN describes a recent meeting he had with Amanda Baggs, author of the ballastexistenz blog:

Amanda is obviously a smart woman who is fully aware of her diagnosis of low-functioning autism, and quite frankly mocks it. She told me that because she doesn’t communicate with conventional spoken word, she is written off, discarded and thought of as mentally retarded. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I sat with her in her apartment, I couldn’t help but wonder how many more people like Amanda are out there, hidden, but reachable, if we just tried harder.

Trying harder starts with getting the word out. But how to go about it? I’m glad that Dr. Gupta has written about Amanda, and that Anderson Cooper had her on his show last night (I’ve not seen it yet). Too much of the coverage of autism is doom and gloom, maybe this will help to get the word out to a few more people.

But I have the feeling it is going to be a long, hard trail, because even those that should know better by now obviously don’t know yet. Dr. Gupta captures this problem well in his closing paragraph:

I am a neurosurgeon and Amanda Baggs opened my eyes about the world of autism.

– – — — —–
There is also a story about Amanda posted on CNN Health.
– – — — —–
Update: From Anderson Cooper’s website on CNN, it looks like he may have more with Amanda on tonight’s show (22 Feb 07).
– – — — —–

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Why don’t more people understand this yet?

One of the dangers of being too close to a topic like autism and autism awareness is that you sometimes forget that not everyone has caught up with you in their perception of that issue. Even people you think should know better by now.

An example that recently struck me was how many people still don’t realize that “low-functioning” autistics can be very intelligent.

In her new book Strange Son, author Portia Iverson describes her initial reaction to the idea of an intelligent “low-functioning” autistic:

“There’s a boy I think you should know about,” Francesca Happe began, gesturing for me to sit down. “His name is Tito.” The renowned psychologist from England, whose specialty was autism, continued: “He’s eleven years old and he lives in India. He’s quite autistic, but he can read and write and he’s very intelligent.”

She smiled at me and paused before going on, as if to gauge my reaction.

“Tito is a wonderful poet as well,” she continued. “He’s even published a book, an autobiography with some of his poetry in it.”

“And he’s autistic?” I asked in disbelief, thinking I must have misunderstood.

“Yes, he is definitely autistic. … There is only one Tito in this world, and no one else like him. He is his own disorder,” she replied with certainty.

I knew that no one had ever heard of such a severely autistic person being able to write and communicate independently. But wasn’t there even a remote chance that there could be others who looked and acted just like Tito but couldn’t communicate? At the very least, couldn’t Tito provide an extraordinary window into the most severe kind of autism?

This exchange between Iverson and Happe occurred in Spring 1999 and serves as the starting point of the story that Iverson tells in her book. Not to spoil the ending, but by the end of her story (circa 2003), Iverson comes to the conclusion that to me today seems so obvious: Tito is not one-in-a-million, he is not “his own disorder.”

Fast forward several years to two days ago. From his blog, Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN describes a recent meeting he had with Amanda Baggs, author of the ballastexistenz blog:

Amanda is obviously a smart woman who is fully aware of her diagnosis of low-functioning autism, and quite frankly mocks it. She told me that because she doesn’t communicate with conventional spoken word, she is written off, discarded and thought of as mentally retarded. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I sat with her in her apartment, I couldn’t help but wonder how many more people like Amanda are out there, hidden, but reachable, if we just tried harder.

Trying harder starts with getting the word out. But how to go about it? I’m glad that Dr. Gupta has written about Amanda, and that Anderson Cooper had her on his show last night (I’ve not seen it yet). Too much of the coverage of autism is doom and gloom, maybe this will help to get the word out to a few more people.

But I have the feeling it is going to be a long, hard trail, because even those that should know better by now obviously don’t know yet. Dr. Gupta captures this problem well in his closing paragraph:

I am a neurosurgeon and Amanda Baggs opened my eyes about the world of autism.

– – — — —–
There is also a story about Amanda posted on CNN Health.
– – — — —–
Update: From Anderson Cooper’s website on CNN, it looks like he may have more with Amanda on tonight’s show (22 Feb 07).
– – — — —–

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Diagnosis: Autism – nothing new on 60 minutes

A quick follow up to 29 Marbles: Autism on 60 Minutes – 18 Feb 07 . My first thoughts after watching the 60 Minutes piece Diagnosis: Autism on Sunday night was, “Wow, this was a non-event.”

Maybe it’s just me, and the fact that over the past year I’ve been soaking in just about every autism story, theory, etc and reading several autism related books, but the show didn’t seem to shed any new light on anything.

Of course, if I were the parent of a recently diagnosed child, or (gasp) the parent of a 6-12 month old who wasn’t responding when I called his name, it would have been a different story. But what exactly would I have learned?

Every child is unique

Yesterday, abfh wrote something that captures perfectly how I feel about being a parent – not just of an autistic son, but of both my kids (emphasis is mine):

Children are always different from their parents and from one another in a great many ways, and each child is uncharted territory. No one ever knows how well they can deal with parenting any child. It’s always a matter of gaining experience on the job, observing how the child grows and learns, and loving the child enough to let the natural process of growth take place, unconstrained by the parents’ needs and assumptions.

This has now found a place in my trusty notebook of things I want to have handy. If anyone asks me how I “deal” with parenting an autistic child, I’ll simply show them this.