Thursday, October 4, 2007

What is Down Syndrome?

Also known as trisomy 21, Down syndrome (or Down’s Syndrome in the UK and many countries) is the most common genetic cause of mild and moderate mental retardation.

March 21 is celebrated as World Down Syndrome Day. The reason that date was picked seems obvious to those familiar with the condition. Chromosomes come in pairs. Humans have 46 pairs of chromosomes in the genetic code that tells their bodies how to develop and function. But people with Down syndrome (DS) have a third chromosome on their 21st set of chromosomes. So to celebrate the genetic uniqueness of people with DS, Down Syndrome International has picked March 21st (the 21st day of the third month) as World Down Syndrome Day.

While the most common form of DS involves a genetic condition called trisomy 21, about 10 percent of DS cases are the results of other slightly different genetic conditions. DS genetics itself is a more technical discussion than can be dealt with here.

A number of physical traits are often observable in DS children at birth. Among them:
  • poor muscle tone
  • a unique facial shape that includes flat facial features and a small nose
  • epicanthic folds on the eyes
  • an almond shape to the eyes
  • abnormal ear shape
  • a large tongue
  • joints that extend beyond normal range
  • shortened than average limbs
  • a deep crease across the palm of the hand
  • extra space between the big toe and other toes

DS children and adults are at high risk for a number of medical conditions. Heart defects and problems related to the stomach and esophagus are not uncommon. Sleep apnea occurs often in those with Down syndrome. Difficulties in the lower digestive tract (including bowel obstructions) are also common, as are ear infections.

The cognitive functioning of children with DS varies greatly. One of the most controversial issues within the DS communities is the validity of the various tests used by school psychologists to measure cognitive functioning (the term "intelligence" tends to be avoided these days in the context of such tests). Because DS children tend to have reduced verbal skills, many parents and advocates do not feel such tests accurately measure the cognitive abilities of a DS child. That said, some adults with DS have pursued their education to the level of obtaining college degrees (admittedly usually with some level of accommodation for their disability) and the vast majority of DS children will learn to read, write, and perform basic math operations.

DS raises a number of educational issues. There is often a wide gap between the ability DS students have to understand ideas and their ability to express those ideas. Speech therapy is a common part of education for students with DS. Regular occupational therapy is also commonly used to help address delays in both fine and gross motor skills. The most controversial and emotional issue that has to be resolved in the educational environment is the extent to which a DS child is educated with non-disabled peers their own age. DS students usually experience delays in their emotional and social development and these delays lead to a wider and wider gap each year between the social abilities of a DS student and those of their same-aged peers. Whether it is called mainstreaming or inclusion, educating DS students in the general education classroom with their chronological peers has both advantages and disadvantages that must be weighed in each year's IEP meeting.

The quality of life for people with DS has improved tremendously in the last century. At the start of the Great Depression the average person with DS lived to be all of nine years old. Today individuals with DS often live into their 50's. And while life for a DS person a couple of generations ago often involved institutionalization and the isolation and loss of independence that comes with it, today individuals with DS often live happy, relatively independent lives that include marriage and a job. The 1996 film Duo pictured many of the challenges of life with DS today (and featured a leading actor with DS).

A few Down syndrome links:

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Blogging for Money: Step One

A friend of mine asked me recently how to get started in blogging for money.

You can think of blogging for money a couple of ways. On the one hand, I've never made a living at blogging. Over the last decade, some years I've made pocket change. Most years I've made about what I would have if I'd worked 25 hours a week flipping burgers for six or seven bucks an hour. One year I made about $20 thousand; that's a pretty good second job in my part of rural Appalachia. In fact, it's more than the median household income in some of the counties around here.

If you don't want to think about it in terms of yearly income, think of it like this. In the last ten years I've made between $75,000 and $80,000 off of a hobby - something I can do in my spare time at home. It's money I wouldn't have seen otherwise. And time is really the only expense I incurred...

Step one on the road to blogging for money is to start a personal blog. It shows potential employers that you CAN in fact blog. Creative Weblogging, for example, prefers 30 to 60 days blogging experience. Smorty pays bloggers to do adverts on their personal blog; but they require that your blog be up for 90 days before they'll consider you.

To start an free personal blog, go to Blogger Dot Com and apply for a blog. It's run by Google.

What do you blog about?

Blogging is like any kind of writing. You can sit and wait for enlightenment, for the same apple that hit Newton or Buddha to fall on your head. You won't write much. Or you can see writing in the same light as any task. Then you decide to do it, prepare to do it, and then (you guessed it) do it.

I keep a list of idea, start drafts, and eventually finish them. Screw inspiration: I make myself write.

I've blogged about places I've been:
Pigeon Forge
My In-laws

I've blogged about my daily routine:

I've blogged about professional issues:
Why Labels Matter

I've blogged about places to eat:
Carino's or Olive Garden

I've blogged about politics:
Could I vote for Hillary?
Naïve and Irresponsible...
The Reincarnation of Bobby Kennedy

I've blogged about phonemes:
I love Phonemes

I've blogged about blogging:
Why Blog?
Writing Online

I've blogged about my dog:
The New Dog

I've blogged about my culture and environment:

I've blogged about philosophy (and about what I've reading):
Pathagoras, Ben Franklin, and America
I've blogged about what I enjoy:

That's just a sample.

So, you start a blog. You keep a list of things you haven't written about yet. You write about them. Someday I'll write about how Hemingway treats women in his novels. And I'll compare Hemingway to Steinbeck on their use of time: For Whom the Bells Toll covers 3 days in 400 pages while East of Eden covers 40 years or so in 700 pages. In November I'll write about being an election worker.

Be Walt Whitman and write about experiences (I'm waiting for the first snowfall).

You get the idea...