Toynbee Tile “Stickman”

As a Philly native the so-called Toyn­bee Tiles crept up so slowly in the built space that they blended in with the nat­ural city streetscape and I missed Res­ur­rect Dead, the 2011 doc­u­men­tary of the mys­tery. It’s in my watch­ing queue. In the mean­time I’m going to start pho­tograph­ing any I see. Here’s the fig­ure the Inter­net has dubbed Stick­man in the inter­sec­tion of 13th and Arch in Philadelphia.  

You go to a book club for one book, learn of a dozen more…

Jane-JacobsI’m just com­ing back from a book club (adult con­ver­sa­tion? But… but… I’m a par­ent… Really?). The topic was Jane Jacob’s 1961 clas­sic, The Death and Life of Great Amer­i­can Cities. The six of us gath­ered in a Collingswood, N.J., cof­fee shop were all city design geeks and I could barely keep up with the ideas and books that had influ­enced every­one. Here is a very incom­plete list:

Update: And also, from Genevieve’s list:

  • Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Dou­glas Adams, for its absur­dist humor around the bureau­cra­cies of planning
  • Green Metrop­o­lis. David Owen,
  • What’s Up With That: Build­ing Big­ger Roads Actu­ally Makes Traf­fic Worse,” an arti­cle by Adam Mann in Wired on the phe­nom­e­non of induced demand.
  • Vision Zero Initiative
  • The Pine Bar­rens. John McPhee, the clas­sic which I brought up.
  • The Power Bro­ker. Robert Caro.
  • The Ecol­ogy of Com­merce. Paul Hawken
  • Orga­niz­ing in the South Bronx. Jim Rooney
  • Re: race: Dal­ton Conley’s Being Black, Liv­ing in the Red and When Work Dis­ap­pears by William Julius Wilson.
  • Re: bicy­cles: Urban Bik­ers’ Tricks & Tips. Dave Glowacz

Excuse me for the next six months while I read. :)

Unlikely collaborators

When Fran­cis real­ized that Theo’s board game based on our home town didn’t include gas sta­tions, he added them in. Fran­cis also moved the incor­rectly located bicy­cle shop. Theo was briefly mad when he saw these unau­tho­rized changes but when he real­ized the cor­rec­tions were improve­ments he made Fran­cis his offi­cial fact checker.

Autism, anxiety, and bullies

A pub­lic ser­vice announce­ment from my wife Julie ear­lier this evening:

Autis­tic peo­ple feel anx­i­ety just like all of us. How­ever they may cope dif­fer­ently. For neu­rotyp­i­cals, if the anx­i­ety is a result of some­one taunt­ing or being some­how rude or abra­sive or annoy­ing, we know to walk away. But in my expe­ri­ence with my spec­trum kids, they don’t under­stand why peo­ple are mean, and they’ll freak out or just keep com­ing back for more. They don’t nec­es­sar­ily get that it’s best to leave some peo­ple alone and walk away. It takes many such lessons to “get it” because their minds work dif­fer­ently. They go from the spe­cific to the gen­eral, not the gen­eral to the spe­cific, as Tem­ple Grandin points out. They are easy tar­gets for bul­lies. #TheMoreYouKnowAboutAutism

Elmer Swim Club: the heartbreak of autism parents

Fran­cis at his favorite place in the world: the top of the Elmer high dive

I was ambushed while leav­ing the Elmer Swim Club today by a guy I’ve never met who told me never to return, then told me he’s a vice pres­i­dent of the gov­ern­ing asso­ci­a­tion, and then told me he had papers inside to back him up. Although it was meant to look like an acci­den­tal run-in as we were walk­ing out, it was clear it was staged with the man­ager on duty.

The prob­lem is the behav­ior of our soon-to-be 10 yo Fran­cis. He is dif­fi­cult. He gets over­whelmed eas­ily and doesn’t respond well to threats by author­ity fig­ures. We know. He’s autis­tic. We deal with it every day. There’s no excus­ing his behav­ior some­times. But there’s also no miss­ing that he’s a deeply sweet human who has trou­bles relat­ing and is mak­ing heroic strides toward learn­ing his emo­tions. We dri­ven the extra dis­tance to this swim club for years because it’s been a place that has accepted us.

Peo­ple at Elmer—well most of them—haven’t dis­missed Fran­cis as our prob­lem, but have come together as an extended fam­ily to work through hard times to help mold him. He’s made friends and we’ve made friends. The swim club’s motto is that it’s the place “Where Every­one is Fam­ily” and we found this was the rare case where a cheesy tag line cap­tured some­thing real. Fam­ily. You don’t just throw up your hands when some­one in the fam­ily is dif­fi­cult and gets dis­re­spect­ful when they get socially overwhelmed.

The VP was a control-your-kids kind of guy, clearly unaware of the chal­lenges of rais­ing an autis­tic kid—and clearly unwill­ing to use this park­ing lot moment as a learn­ing oppor­tu­nity. I tried to stay human with him and explain why this par­tic­u­lar com­mu­nity was so spe­cial. The swim coaches always cheered our kids on despite always com­ing in dead last—not only that, but even put Fran­cis in relay races! There have always been lots of extra eyes watch­ing him and will­ing to redi­rect him when he started melt­ing down. Most of the time he needs a drink, a snack, or some quiet sen­sory time. To be in a com­mu­nity that under­stood this is beyond mirac­u­lous for autism fam­i­lies. The worst thing is to start to scream or threaten, which unfor­tu­nately is some people’s default. Some author­ity fig­ures know how to earn Francis’s trust; oth­ers just make things worse over and over again. At Elmer the lat­ter finally won out.

We first started com­ing to this pool for swim lessons in 2009. After six years becom­ing more involved in this deeply wel­com­ing com­mu­nity, I had started to allow myself to think we had found a home. I’d day­dream of the day when Fran­cis would be 18, grad­u­at­ing from the swim team and peo­ple would give him an extra rous­ing cheer when his name was called at the end-of-season ban­quet. We’d all tell sto­ries with tears in our eyes of just how far he had come from that 9yo who couldn’t con­trol his emo­tions. And we were at the point where I imag­ined this as a cen­tral iden­tity for the family–the place where his older brother would sneak his first kiss on the overnight cam­pout, or where his younger sib­lings would take their first coura­geous jumps off the high dive.

Julie’s mak­ing calls but I’m not hold­ing my breath. What hap­pened is an breath­tak­ingly overt vio­la­tion of the club association’s bylaws. But would we even feel safe return­ing? Fran­cis is eas­ily manip­u­lated. It only takes a few hard­ened hearts at the top who believe autism is a par­ent­ing issue—or who just don’t care to do the extra work to accom­mo­date a dif­fi­cult child.

For­tu­nately for us, for a while we had a place that was spe­cial. The Elmer Swim Club and Elmer Swim Team will always have a spe­cial place in our hearts. Our thanks to all the won­der­ful peo­ple there. Here’s some memories:

Update: Our post shed­ding light on the Elmer Swim Club’s trustee mis­be­hav­ior and the board’s vio­la­tion of its own bylaws has now had over 1800 Face­book inter­ac­tions (shares, likes, com­ments) and the blog post itself has been read 9,970 times. Terms like “autism elmer pool” are trend­ing on our incom­ing Google searches and the post looks like it will be a per­ma­nent top-five search result for the pool. Although our fam­ily will never set foot in its waters again, our absence will be a remain a pres­ence. Dis­cus­sions over what hap­pened will con­tinue for years.

I share these stats to encour­age peo­ple to talk about mis­be­hav­ior in the pub­lic sphere. It doesn’t help civil soci­ety to bury con­flict in the tones of hushed gos­sip. Just as we as par­ents work every day to help our autis­tic son make bet­ter deci­sions, all of us can insist that our com­mu­nity orga­ni­za­tions fol­low best prac­tices in self-governance and abide by their own rules. Bylaws mat­ter. Park­ing lot civil­ity mat­ter. Kids should be held respon­si­ble for their actions. So should trustees.