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What can be achieved by some that have Autism. Gives many hope..

Monday, June 03, 2013

This is a post by Michael, Daniel’s father. Daniel is a 17 year old who has severe Autism. Daniel has, over the past year, taken and completed 6 Coursera courses. Their journey warmed our hearts and we asked Michael to share it with the Coursera community. We hope you enjoy Daniel’s story as much as we have.

It is impossible to overstate the benefit and happiness that Coursera has brought to our son Daniel and our family.

Five years ago (next month) our severely autistic son Daniel had a major breakthrough. Then twelve years old, with a using vocabulary of thirty or forty words (though we knew he understood far more) he suddenly learned to answer questions by picking the answers out, one letter at a time, on a letterboard. Within a couple of weeks, Daniel could use the thousands of words he had heard but could not speak.

The teacher who created this breakthrough, Soma Mukhopadhyay, also taught us how to read to Daniel: read him a sentence, stop, ask him a comprehension question, get his answer on the letter board, go on to the next sentence, ask another question…

Reading one sentence at a time makes for slow going, so to make it worthwhile for both of us I started reading Danny A Midsummer Nights Dream which is delightful at that pace. Daniel had great difficulty with reading that went too fast, but once I went slowly enough it didn’t seem to matter how difficult the content was! Soon my “comprehension” questions went beyond “what’s happening” and became about rhyme, symbolism, metaphor and dramatic structure. It didn’t matter to Daniel: as long as he was answering questions, he was following the story, and the tougher the questions the more he loved it. By the end of the seven months it took us to finish the play, Dan had become an expert close reader, a skill which would enable him to take Al Filreis’ Modern & Contemporary American Poetry class, the Coursera class that changed his life again four years later.

By the time someone sent me Daphne Koller’s TED talk and we discovered Coursera, we were well into the groove of teaching Dan at home. Dan loved learning and kept steering us towards subjects where he would be asked to compare ideas because connecting different pieces of information into knowlege made him feel, as he spelled to us, “less autistic.” Dan is eager to go to school, but is unable to sit still quietly in a classroom, and unable to communicate abstract thought except by letterboard. Even more limiting, he is dependent on an adult to bring him to the task, keep him working on it, and hold his hand while he spells. Coursera seemed like a possible bridge between home schooling and what Dan called “going to a real school,” but it turned out to be much more.

In September of 2012 there were not yet many humanities courses on Coursera (remember Dan wants to be made to compare ideas, so the humanities are better for that than many hard science classes) so I helped him sign up for two courses from University of Pennsylvania: Al Filreis’ Modern Poetry, known to its legions of worldwide fans as ModPo, and Peter Struck’s Greek and Roman Mythology.

Dan received many shocks and rose to many occasions. The biggest shock was having to keep up. It had taken us months to read our first Shakespeare play and now I had two weeks to read Dan The Odyssey. Until Coursera, my wife Meredith and I had been so thrilled that Dan could understand literature that we gave him as much time as he needed. Coursera ended that luxury with a bang. True, the online lecture format made it easy for me to stop the video and ask Dan questions, and we could repeat things he didn’t get the first time, but basically Dan had to keep up. And he wanted to keep up and that was a tremendous growth experience. He discovered that he could understand the Odyssey with only two or three comprehension questions per book and keep up the relentless pace of a college course, studying whether he was in the mood or not (special ed can be very forgving. Dan loved having an objective standard he had to keep up with).

Then there were the quizzes. After the first one or two we stopped reading the questions aloud and started dragging his finger across the question on screen. He would then respond by tapping the answer on the screen. Dan can’t use a mouse but we quickly discovered that if we got the quiz on an iPad the touchscreen enabled him to read and answer the questions on his own. Once or twice he realized that he could make a case for more than one of the offered quiz answers being right and he discovered the phenomenon of second-guessing the professor. The in-lecture quizzes are always easy for him becase they are like the stopping to ask a comprehension question, which he knows so well.

Then there were the online essays to write and peer-review. Although Dan doesn’t yet read for pleasure on his own he learned to read the 500-800 -word essays of his classmates, and this young man for whom writing a couple of sentences on the letterboard had been a big deal began to be able to write and construct an argument in logical order. As a peer reviewer he experienced the anguish of hating a badly written essay but not wanting to give a failing grade. He glowed with pride when his peers gave him high marks, and suffered the one time he got a less-than-passing grade from his peers (he did well enough on the other essays that he still passed the course). When it occurred to him that he could write an essay about Frank O’Hara in the style of a Frank O’Hara poem he was filled with pride and he waited in suspense to see whether his peers would like it (they did).

The Coursera Honor Code made a big impression on him. One day I winced at one of Dan’s quiz choices and he spelled out “I see now that answer two is correct, but leave it wrong because that was my choice.”

Dan has now earned six certificates and has learned from dipping into several other courses as well. It’s a great introduction to college learning. It is something new in the world for an undergraduate —especially a seventeen year old autistic one— to be able to study Ancient Greek literature from very different points of view at Penn, Wesleyan and the University of Virginia. This whole world is new to him: standards, peers, comradeship and competition. And with his induction into this world came something that would surprise some critics of MOOCs: Daniel experienced a dramatic decrease in his sense of isolation. There are emails and forum posts and people who accept Dan despite (or ignoring) his autism. But there are also in-the-flesh encounters stemming initially from Al Filreis’ commitment to openness and his invitation to his students to drop by Kelly Writers House at Penn. We took Dan there and Al spent time with him, and the TAs, familiar from the video lectures, were friendly and accepting and Dan began to get a sense that there might be a community he could be part of some day that had nothing to do with autism. Emboldened by meeting Professor Filreis, Danny asked me to write to Peter Struck and he met us too. We have hopes of meeting all Dan’s professors — and one is in Jerusalem and several are in Edinburgh! Some of the 49 Courserians who are Danny’s Facebook friends will probably become non-virtual friends in time.

He even had a moment of stardom. We took him to the ModPo final webcast at Penn, and at one point one of the TAs asked members of the audience to pick two words that encapsulated their ModPo experience. Dan’s were “not impossible” and under Al Filreis’ gentle urging he managed to say those words aloud to however many hundreds of people were watching around the world. Someone made a forum topic out if it and for 72 hours “Not impossible” was the top thread on the ModPo forum as people wrote in from all over saying that Dan had inspired them and that “not impossible” was going to be their new watchword. Can you imagine what it does for a person like Daniel to feel useful?

I hope you all found this interesting as I did.....

  
  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

ONEMORX 6/4/2013 1:31AM

    emoticon for sharing this inspiring story! I agree with WendyJM4...it should be everyone's motto. It is my new motto! emoticon

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DEE797 6/3/2013 10:23AM

    Thanks for sharing this with us. It gives me hope that maybe my ds can do something similar.

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GEORGIAK25 6/3/2013 7:42AM

    Maybe Wendy it should be our motto. I know I shall try to ado[t it. Hope you are feeling ok with your health.

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WENDYJM4 6/3/2013 7:37AM

    thank you for sharing and so inspiring. "Not impossible" should be everyone's motto.

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GEORGIAK25 6/3/2013 7:05AM

    Yes Susie you are right. Thank God we all persevered with our children. For the greater good and for their greater good.
So glad your daughter lives a happy and contented life.

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SUSIEPH1 6/3/2013 6:27AM

    How enlightening .. I have a daughter Helen .. She is 49 this year and I told when she was 12 that she needed to be admitted to a institution that catered for slow learner s and intellectually disabled.
She had Menengitis when she was 10 years old it affected her learning process .
I decided to home school her and teach her to cook and keep house ..
She married at 20 but being unable to have children (she also had Turners Syndrome)
He marriage broke up 13 years later.
Helen now lives on her own ,drives her car, looks after herself and me sometimes Lol
She has a meaningful life ..
Goodness knows what would have happened to her,if I had listened to her doctors. emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon


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GEORGIAK25 6/3/2013 5:26AM

    Yes Anna you are right. I am sharing this for my lovely friends with children who have autism. It is an inspiration to us all. Good luck with your studies.

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GOANNA2 6/3/2013 5:19AM

    I had tears in my eyes as I read the article - especially
the ending. "Not impossible'" be our motto Georgia.
If he can do it, so can we. My course starts today, so I'm
raring to go. Here's to many more adventures with Coursera.
Thanks for sharing. Daniel is an inspiration to us all.
How wonderful hat he got to meet the pfoessors as well. emoticon

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Middleaged menopausal maniac

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Not that I am alone in this but just wish to share.

These aren’t hot flashes. They are power surges.

I have been experiencing hot flushes far too regularly of late and yesterday at work I was a boiling pot of heat. Looking for my makeshift cardboard fan and it was missing. What to do now?

The girls I work with frantically searched for another as they know how hot I get.

They move away from me and go "Here she goes again" "There she blows" All in good humour.

Hugging my husband at times and he pushes me away and says "Oh my I really felt the heat that time."

Wasn't menstrual pain, childbirth, mammograms and pap smears enough? Now we have to suffer hot sweats and the need to change our clothes more than once a day?

Some days they only make an appearance once. Other days they seem to have the need to drive me insane.

Oh the joys of being a woman!!!

Happy days Indeed!!!

  
  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

KRISANNEDRA 4/5/2013 2:37AM

    An icecube in a baggy, wrapped in a hankie, strategically placed between the "girls" helps.

The only time I'm bothered anymore is if I happen to eat meat that has been treated with hormones in some way. I buy meat tagged that it's not treated with them when possible. I also have issues with soy so avoid it.

Cooler days ahead dear friend!

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JSTBKOZ 3/25/2013 4:11PM

    Oh my god! How well said.

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RDEE22 3/25/2013 7:37AM

    One good thing about being more mature is the "tropical moments" as my husband used to call them are no longer around. It does get better!!!!!! it is not just a dream. emoticon

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PHEBESS 3/24/2013 3:18AM

    Yeah, I totally understand - when I started dripping sweat on my students' drawing paper, I finally went to my dr and got on soy-based HRT! What a difference that made (although there are still the few random hot spots).

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WENDYJM4 3/24/2013 3:02AM

    been there, done that so I can relate to what you are talking about. Just think all the one that are laughing at you now will go through this. LOL. Hang in there.
emoticon m

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GOANNA2 3/24/2013 1:25AM

    Been there done that! these days i am just sweating
from the heat and humidity. I hope you get through
the rest of your menopause with less 'power surges'.
Tell Barry that this too shall pass. Joys of womanhood.
emoticon

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PCOH051610 3/23/2013 7:30PM

    I'm just starting to see the signs of menopause setting in. I guess it's called perimenopause? I've found my face is really flushing and my cycle is getting weird....oh joy. Also, unrelated, I'm sure but my eyesight is changing to the point where I'm noticing it. Oh, we'll I will be 47 in less than a month and my mom went through it all at age 35!

emoticon

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SUSIEPH1 3/23/2013 6:40PM

    Thank goodness that is all,behind me now.
You can get help if you need it .
Thank you so much Georgia. For all your support of Colin .
He is home and slept well last night .. He is in a lot of pain .. But cheerful enough . Hi op is scheduled for the 11th April . Our youngest daughter will be here soon to spend time with us and be here for the op,.. Hugs my friend. Love Susie xx emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

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ARTJAC 3/23/2013 5:50PM

    HANG IN THERE emoticon

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IT-IS-WHATITIS 3/23/2013 5:12PM

    Thanks for sharing! Completed that chapter in life last year. It was a rough chapter! Hang in there, it will get better!
emoticon

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Christmas Greetings

Friday, December 21, 2012

What a busy year it has been.

Never enough hours in each day. That in itself is a good thing. Being busy is the best way to be.

Many changes this year and we won't go into them. But each one has been a learning curve.

Most of all I want to thank each and everyone of you for your support during the lows and for sharing the highs with me.

My Spark family is the BEST!!!!

Merry Christmas to you all and for those who do not celebrate blessings over the holidays.

I am grateful for so many things every day and pray 2013 is a fabulous and successful year for you all.

Hugs from me to you
emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

  
  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

JSTBKOZ 12/26/2012 8:30AM

    Georgia you are a treasure. I love your gift with words. May you receive at least half the the blessings you give.

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MUMSKI 12/23/2012 8:02AM

    emoticon Merry Christmas Georgia. Looking forward to 2013, let's hope it is a great year for all of us.

Hugs Lynn emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

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SUSIEPH1 12/21/2012 6:57PM

    Merry Christmas Georgia Love .. and thank you for all your support ..
If ever you need to unload, I am here for you xx
Much love Susie emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

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IONA72 12/21/2012 6:22PM

    I completely agree! Best wishes to you and yours too. emoticon

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WENDYJM4 12/21/2012 4:22PM

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours.
emoticon emoticon m emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

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GOANNA2 12/21/2012 4:14PM

    Blessings to you too cuz. Merry Christmas and may 2013 be the best year yet. emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

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Try to Understand.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

My husband found this poem online and it truly describes what he goes through on a daily basis with his depression. Thought I would share. It is actually a war poem .....

Try To Understand...

If he stays home alone,
And doesn't like to hear the phone.
If he won't answer the door,
'cause he doesn't want to see anyone any more.

Try to understand...

If nightime is something to dread,
And his sleep is restless and fleeting in bed.
If he quietly gets up in the night,
So as not to disturb your pleasant respite.

Try to understand...

If he becomes nervous and jumps around,
At unexpected movement or a sudden sound.
If he sits in a restaurant with his back to a wall,
Because he can't have anyone behind him at all.

Try to understand...

If he shows no fear and wouldn't turn if he could,
That part of him has gone that says you should.
If his anger seems quick and extreme,
He's only trying to control intense emotions unseen.

Try to understand...

If he seems emotionless and indifferent some day,
And perhaps he just says "Go away!"
If he becomes depressed and may seem unkind,
He is only trying to spare you the agony in his mind.

Try to understand...

If his mood changes and alters,
And he becomes unsure and often falters.
If he becomes sad and stares into space,
He has only gone to some other place.

Try to understand...Because he doesn't...





~Author Unknown~

  
  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

PCOH051610 1/6/2013 8:34PM

    Just reading this now! What a powerful poem and it does sum up depression pretty well. Thank you for sharing this

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DOODERQUEEN 10/31/2012 11:46AM

    Thank you for sharing Georgia. It does put some of these issues into perspective, but again, as others have said, you are one strong woman to keep carrying on when we know some days must be very hard indeed.

Always keeping you both in my heart.

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JSTBKOZ 10/31/2012 7:55AM

    Georgia I'm glad Barry was able to share with you and you with us. Now wee could use a poem to cover how you deal with it daily. The strength of your positive attitude amazes all that have the pleasure to know you.

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MUMSKI 10/29/2012 8:56AM

    Such a movi9ng poem!

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GOANNA2 10/29/2012 4:02AM

    Wonderful poem. Says it all for everyone who suffers
from the Black Dog. Prayers to both of you. emoticon

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DOWNPORT 10/29/2012 3:42AM

    The poem sums it all up - I found it very moving!

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WENDYJM4 10/28/2012 10:19PM

    this does make sense, Georgia. We all need to understand about depression but it is so hard unless you have been there. So hard for the love that loves them.
emoticon

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GEORGIAK25 10/28/2012 4:59PM

    Thank you for reading my blog.
Susie it is very hard and many times I take it very personally which makes me even sadder but last night after reading this it made so much sense and actually made me feel so much better about everything.

I shared as i am sure many people feel like this.

Hugs to all.

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SUSIEPH1 10/28/2012 4:53PM

    Hi Georgia,
Yes I can relate to that !.
I wish I could just switch off ..How do you cope?.
Hugs Susie emoticon emoticon emoticon

Comment edited on: 10/28/2012 4:53:39 PM

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BARBANNA 10/28/2012 4:51PM

    Wow that's deep! I'm trying to understand, sad!

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NESARIAN 10/28/2012 4:50PM

    Oh, my. This puts a new perspective. ...

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Our Holiday

Monday, October 08, 2012

I am back just in case you didn't know. Barry and I had (well I had) a good holiday.
As most of you know he suffers with severe depression brought on by a work related incident. He has not worked for almost 2 years and this holiday was also prescribed by his physicians.

He tried ever so hard to have a good time but daily he wanted to come home. I have to give him credit for lasting 4 of the 6 weeks we were meant to be away.

Only in the last week did he start to sort of enjoy himself.

I had made the decision early on that I was going onwards and forwards regardless. I was determined to fit in as much to my day as possible. He was very obliging and tried hard not to ruin my much needed break from work and routine.

His driving was amazing and I also got the opportunity to drive our beast of a car.

Just some of the places we visited - Airlie Beach, Cairns, Port Douglas, Atherton, Undara Lava Tubes, Georgetown, Karumba, Mt Isa, Mataranka, Katherine, Darwin, Alice Springs, Uluru, Boulia, Bedourie, Windorah, and Cunnamulla before returning home to Brisbane.

I saw the Katherine Gorge (alone) - amazing.
Saw crocodiles jump out of the river and snatch some food from a long rod.
Saw the amazing little Thorny Devils and more animals that I can mention.
I saw the most amazing country and discovered an even deeper appreciation for my fellow country dwellers. Harsh conditions, great distances, limited facilities to mention just a few.

The hospitality in most places was superb. The distances although huge and mostly monotonous also produced some amazing changes in scenery.

Drove through bushfires on both sides of the road, and saw road trains the lengths of like you would not believe.

All in all an amazing journey and I thnak God that I had the good fortune to experience it. I also admire my husbands persistence in trying not to ruin the holiday with his anxiety.

The best part of all though was that I did not gain any weight,

Thank you for reading my long blog. I shall try and put some more pictures on my page.

Love you all
Georgia

Ps we drove 12000 klms in 4 weeks Not bad!!!!

  
  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

PCOH051610 10/25/2012 9:19AM

    So sorry I missed this until now. As you know I live with clinical depression and my husband has situational depression. I am so glad you both took this road trip as you it sounds like it did both of you some good. Living with a loved one who has depression can be very, well, depressing, and it is so good you acknowledge that! emoticon

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MUMSKI 10/9/2012 5:16PM

    Wow! what an amazing vacation. Travelling around your own country, seeing such wonderful and different scenery must have been a blast. Good to hear that Barry was able to enjoy it with you. emoticon

Comment edited on: 10/9/2012 5:16:25 PM

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DOWNPORT 10/9/2012 8:47AM

    What a wonderful trip - and to see and do so many things must have been amazing. I am glad that Barry coped as well as he did and did his best to make your time away enjoyable. emoticon on not gaining weight! That was the icing on the cake! Hugs!

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JSTBKOZ 10/8/2012 9:53AM

    An amazing journey. How wonderful to be able to see your own country like that. I'm so glad Barry was able to manage as much as he did. The crowning glory received on the scale WOW!!!

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GOANNA2 10/8/2012 8:10AM

    What a trip you had. That's a lot of miles you covered.
Looking forward to seeing the photos. emoticon

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WENDYJM4 10/8/2012 5:17AM

    glad you had alovely holiday. Like Susie, I have been to many of these places many years ago. I know what you mean about the road trains, the first one you see is absolutely mind blowing. I would not like to drive one of these monsters. emoticon

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SUSIEPH1 10/8/2012 4:54AM

    Hi Georgia.
So glad you had such a amazing time ... We loved the outback and have traveled where you have been back in the 80s ..
Glad hubby did his best to enjoy..
The road trains are enormous, but we found them mostly very caring of our F100 and caravan ..
Colin being a Truckie himself would always give them the road .. then we wouldn't see them again ..
I guess the table lands and the trek up to the cape would be a lot easier these days.
Was just a track when we were traveling .
All that part of Australia is so interesting and so much history ...
Hugs Susie emoticon emoticon emoticon

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ARTJAC 10/8/2012 12:55AM

    emoticon emoticon emoticon

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CHIBIKARATE 10/8/2012 12:37AM

    Enjoy your week hugz emoticon emoticon

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