Editor's note: The following guest column was submitted by Ashley Fisher from the Bloomington Area Arts Council in response to criticisms leveled by local artists in The Bloomington Alternative and other local media.
Fallout from the past
The new (Bloomington Area Arts Council) Board's 10-month story starts with the realization at the beginning of 2009 that the organization was failing -- again. Sensing this, both Ashley Fisher and Rob Hanrahan, who had recently joined the BAAC -- Fisher as a new Board member in October 2008 and Hanrahan November 2008 as a fundraising consultant -- took up the challenge as President of the Board of Trustees and Executive Director respectively in March 2009 to address the long-term sustainability of the arts council, despite its weakened state at that time. Both believed that the organization could be transformed -- and still do.
BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Two days before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its newest data on U.S. autism rates, author David Kirby consented to a two-hour, videotaped interview in his street-level brownstone apartment in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. The government, the former New York Times reporter said, always drops its worst news late on Fridays, assuming the attention-addled mainstream media will forget it by Monday, when people actually pay some attention.
While the release of new autism data on the Friday before Christmas would normally trigger nervous anticipation in the whirlwind of Washington spin, this year's holiday news dump was anticlimactic. The CDC had revealed the gist of its autism findings in October, after a study in the journal Pediatrics said its incidence had reached 1 in every 91 children.
To inoculate the public against the 65 percent increase the Pediatrics study represented over the CDC's last estimate of 1 autistic child in every 150 born in 1994, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius herself intervened the day it came out. In a hastily arranged conference call with the autism community, Sebelius announced that preliminary numbers in the third in a series of CDC studies show the ratio was 1 in 100 for kids born in 1996.
On a bench outside the First United Methodist Church, John Hammond, 52, sits clutching a black lighter and a slowly burning cigarette. Across the street, people mingle at the bus stop, their hands shoved into pockets, their faces downturned against the cutting November wind. An empty Styrofoam cup drifts down the sidewalk, colliding with the skittering leaves left over from fall.
The sound of buses makes the otherwise quiet street sound monstrous. Groans of engines and the screech of brakes echo against the stone face of the church. Women in business suits pass by, walking quickly and avoiding eye contact. Men in shaggy coats nod and say hello.
Hammond's bright blue eyes see it all from below the brim of his red and white baseball cap. "I worked all my life," he says. "My background is psychology and business management from IU, with 25 years' management experience. You wouldn't expect to find somebody like me down here. But it can happen to anybody."
Editor's note: This story is the third in a series on autism and the Southwest Indiana environment.
MOUNT VERNON, IND. - When she discusses her autistic clients, Marcella Piper-Terry almost always speaks in reverential and laudatory tones. "They're just absolutely gorgeous children," she says of kids with Asperger's Disorder, such as her 15-year-old daughter Rachel. "Great big eyes, long eyelashes -- amazing, beautiful children. And very smart, very creative and extremely sensitive. Extremely sensitive."
Only when a two-hour interview in her Posey County, Ind., home turns to the notion that children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) cannot be treated does Terry's demeanor assume an edge.
"That is not true," she says. "It's unacceptable to write these kids off because standard medical practice says there is no medical treatment for autism."
It's not every day that the U.S. secretary of defense comes to Bloomington to address the new graduates and receive an honorary doctorate. Local peace activists saw this event, which took place at 9 a.m. on Dec. 19 at Assembly Hall, as a call to action.
On the cold, snowy Saturday morning, 22 people with signs stood, conversing quietly, across from the south entrance to Assembly Hall as people arrived to observe a commencement ceremony that featured Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Gates served as secretary of defense under President George W. Bush and continues in that role today under President Barack Obama. He was the director of the CIA from 1991 to 1993. Before that, from 1986 to 1989, he was the deputy director of the CIA.
BLOOMINGTON, IND. - Data from local school and federal public health officials suggest that children in Monroe County, Ind., are diagnosed with autism at nearly double the epidemic rate that afflicts the nation.
On Dec. 18, 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new report that put the incidence of autism in the United States at 1 in 110 for children born in 1996, or 0.9 percent of the population. A survey, sponsored by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration and published in the journal Pediatrics in October, showed 1 in 91 children between the ages of 3 and 17 had autism.
According to figures submitted by the Monroe County Community School Corp. (MCCSC) to state and federal governments last year, one in every 60 students, or 1.7 percent, had an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis in December 2008.
MOUNT VERNON, IND. - Listening to Marcella Piper-Terry detail her journey from artist to autism researcher is like any conversation with someone whose life has been touched by the pervasive developmental disorder. It sometimes takes the breath away.
Her family life has been impacted by loved ones diagnosed with multiple disorders and conditions: autism spectrum, bipolar, attention-deficit hyperactive, obsessive compulsive, pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric associated with Streptococcus and depression. And through it all, she has become more self-aware.
"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," she says in her spacious, hardwood-floor dining room a half mile or so north of the Mount Vernon Middle School. "I can definitely see a lot of Asperger's tendencies in myself." Her voice slows. "I don't do clubs. I don't do social events. I would rather be reading and researching than having a dinner party or being part of that kind of stuff."
Fourteen people braved the cold Friday night to hold a candlelight vigil at the Monroe County Courthouse Square to demonstrate their concern about global climate change and the meeting about it now taking place in Copenhagen, where world government officials are meeting to craft a treaty that will ameliorate the worst effects of climate change.
The vigil was a follow-up to the worldwide demonstrations on Oct. 24 in support of a critical goal, reducing the world's CO2 emissions to 350 parts per million from the current 390 parts per million.
"We're asking the world's leaders to follow the science," said Michael Beczkiewicz.
Hunger, homelessness and pestilence stalk the land. We are not talking here about Afghanistan, the Gaza Strip, Iraq or Pakistan. The territory in question is distant from the occupied, war-ravaged regions of the world where cruise missiles and ordnance have turned once proud cities into rubble and devastated the economic infrastructure of nations and where the wretched of the earth, the living dead, the maimed or injured survivors of aerial bombardment and ground battles -- orphans, bereaved parents, wives, husbands and other victims of violence -- crowd in their millions or are herded into refugee camps.
This country situated thousands of miles from the theater of war in West, Central and South Asia is none other the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the world.
On a cold and rainy Dec. 2, while the Senate in Washington was slogging along debating health reform, a remnant troupe of public-option-supporting Organizing for America stalwarts stood outside the corporate headquarters of WellPoint, Inc. in the center of downtown Indianapolis. Minutes before their demonstration started, three single payer activists slipped in and out of the WellPoint office dropping off a shareholder resolution for next May's annual meeting.
WellPoint, also known as Anthem or Blue Cross, is the perverted spawn of what was once a charitable venture known as Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Indiana. From the '40s up into the '90s Blue Cross of Indiana was like all the other Blues around the country, non-profit with a charitable mission. Its board of directors included physicians, hospital administrators and labor and community leaders, and it existed to serve the needs of patients.