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Monday, 10 June 2019

The Arithmetic of Autism

The story of the autistic high priestess of global climate protest marries two of the tin gods of our age.

But where would Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg fit into the fictional ** ‘School Daze’ series created by clinician Dr Sharon Mitchell? Would she have a walk-on part, for example, in Autism Talks and Talks or does she deserve a story devoted to her alone?

As I dipped into the early chapters of Dr Mitchell’s five inter-connected novels featuring different aspects of autism, I mused on how the vast majority of children in previous eras ever reached well balanced adulthood; indeed what proportion of history’s greatest achieving personalities would now be diagnosed as ‘autistic’?

After all, the very name of the condition was coined only in 1908 while Austrian paediatrician and Nazi eugenicist, Hans Asperger identified the milder form named after him barely 75 years ago. It is said, moreover, that Dr Asperger suffered from the eponymous syndrome and that his work became generally recognised posthumously during the 1980s.

I find this disconcerting as I do the US national child autism rates cited by the Autism Speaks website that claimed twice in a report published in April 2018 that first, there was a “15 percent increase in prevalence nationally: to 1 in 59 children, from 1 in 68 two years previous” and then “* Nationally, 1 in 59 children had a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by age 8 in 2014, a 15 percent increase over 2012”.

Try as I may, I am unable to make the figures match. Both my hand-held and onscreen calculators insist that 1 in 59 = 1.69% and 1 in 68 = 1.47%, equating to a rise of only 0.22%. Is this simply about my poor arithmetic and general incompetence as a statistician?

Further, Dr Mitchell enjoys a wide social media presence but her personal website provides casual visitors with links that offer no information and details for some of her work for which I found no further reference. But there is surely a good explanation for these apparent omissions.

Here I must declare a personal interest for two reasons.
First, I’ve heard a first-hand account of living with a severely autistic child into adulthood and so am aware that the indescribably painful parental duties and responsibilities are life-long.

Second, although I am advised that the illnesses are unrelated, I want to conclude with mention of a novel whose focus is on ‘social anxiety disorder’.

This is an even more recently identified mental health problem that has been tackled twice by my acquaintance, ** Miriam Drori.

First came a nonfiction work, Social Anxiety Revealed and then some weeks ago, Drori published Cultivating a Fuji, a story whose part flash-back plot and whimsical anti-hero makes it a quirky but entertaining gentle comedy of long forgotten British office manners that must have played out more strongly in the author’s imagination than it ever has in reality.

Never mind! Like me, she is a British expat with her feet planted firmly in Israel while her writerly sights focus strongly back on Blighty.

What follows are Miriam’s thoughts about social anxiety versus low spectrum autism as expressed in answer to my questions during an online conversation:

“ … from what I understand, there’s a big difference between social anxiety and autism. People with autism have difficulty understanding other people’s thoughts and emotions. People with social anxiety are all too aware of what other people are feeling and are blocked by those thoughts. Often they will exaggerate them, but other times they’re spot on.

“I know the symptoms of both can be similar, but I think they derive from opposite tendencies.
“I think social anxiety is a mixture of nature and nurture. I think only certain people are born with the potential for it, and of those most won’t catch it because they won’t have experiences that trigger it. It generally begins in adolescence, but can start earlier or later.

“There’s a Hebrew book: איך הביישן למד, which claims (my translation): ‘Women suffer from social anxiety more than men, at the rate of 3:2, as with other anxiety disorders. It’s interesting that more men than women seek treatment for social anxiety. It’s possible that social norms inform this difference. Society is more forgiving of women who, for example, struggle in business, don’t advance to managerial positions or are seen to have less self-esteem. Society also seems to tolerate more shyness from women in the area of courtship or romantic relations in general than it does from men who, in most societies, are expected to be more active in forming a romantic relationship’. I haven’t seen the claim that more men seek treatment from other countries and wonder if that’s an Israeli thing”.
** The Kindle edition of the Autism Box Set: Books 1 - 5 of the School Daze Series is available from Amazon @ $7.99. It is also produced in paperback and large print formats.

** Social Anxiety Revealed and Cultivating a Fuji  are both available from Amazon in Kindle @ $2.99.

© Natalie Wood (10 June 2019)

Saturday, 18 May 2019

The Long and Short of Eternity

Longevity: Should We Prolong Human Life by 30 Years? is, as its clumsy title implies, a novel that falls between two stools.

Does author, Rolf Margenau, wish to examine the complexities and pitfalls of extending life by medical artifice or does he aim at entertaining us with a black comedic thrills’n’spills murder mystery where the villains are all given increasingly impossible sticky ends?

I ask because as I read this latest addition to the author’s series featuring gung-ho retired lawyer Wylie Cypher, along came several real news stories that tell us the truth.
When it comes to duplicitous medical practice, for example, the alleged history of blood testing company founder Elizabeth Holmes takes some beating.

But of even greater interest are first, the experience of octogenarian Irish woman Eileen Macken who met her birth mother after a 62-year search only days before the latter’s 104th birthday.

Then,  as I read the end of Margenau’s ‘fable‘ came the first bulletins announcing the death of great US novelist, Herman Wouk who had kept writing until his very end - aged 103.

So if Margenau and his fans want to discover the secret to longevity they may do worse than read about it here!

** Longevity: Should We Prolong Human Life by 30 Years? is available on Amazon @ $2.99 (Kindle) and $11.83 (Paperback).

© Natalie Wood (18 May 2019)

Friday, 17 May 2019

Pallywood Terror, Racket and Corruption

“What is the source of the abject poverty, misery and hopelessness in Gaza and the PA-ruled territories? Is Israel to blame? Or is there more – much more – than meets the eye?

“When you hear about Gaza, it’s usually about the protests against the Israeli “occupation.” But you rarely hear about the repression of the people by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which is the reason for the poverty and wretchedness of the Gaza residents.

“Is it possible that over the decades, the most powerful Hamas and PA leaders have preferred that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict not be resolved? Do they benefit from the situation on the ground? Do they actually care about the Palestinian people?

“What is it really like in Hamas-ruled Gaza and the PA-administered territories? Watch and be amazed by the truth!”

These are the words of a writer for UWI, not mine. Shabbat shalom to Jewish readers and wishing everyone a great weekend.

© Natalie Wood (17 May 2019)

Sunday, 5 May 2019

"Boom Bang-A-Bang" Returns!


Exactly 50 years since its first release, the  Eurovision Song Contest winner, Boom Bang-A-Bang is set to be the favourite of the 2019 contest being hosted by Israel in Tel Aviv.

An unnamed spokesman for Islamic Jihad told this blog:

“We are thrilled that the 1969 favourite was included on a blacklist of banned songs issued by the BBC during the 1991 Gulf War.

“Now we have decided to make it the anthem for our current unprovoked assault on innocent Israeli citizens  in our outrageously wicked attempt to derail the contest due to start on Tuesday 14 May. We even intend ‘persuading’ Madonna to sing it on Saturday night 18 May instead of ‘’Like a Prayer’.

"At the time of giving this interview we have already killed four Israelis. So remember: “Trust in God but keep your powder dry".
© Natalie Wood (05 May 2019)

Friday, 3 May 2019

Warren Lee –a Writer’s Tribute

As the vibrant but small Anglo community of Karmiel, Galilee continues to shrink with the passing of many senior members, I want to pay tribute to fellow independent writer, Warren Sanford Lee, who enjoyed a very active recent return to Israel although in his late eighties.

A warm, often funny companion and a great writerly colleague, US-born Lee made important contributions at both Karmiel Writers Group meetings and sessions of the western Galilee branch of the Voices Israel poetry society in Nahariya.

During this time, Lee published a lengthy novel, Shoot for the Moon whose storyline opens in Lancashire, U.K. and for which he sought some guidance from my husband and me. Indeed, Brian Fink’s contribution is mentioned among other authorial acknowledgements.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Lee graduated from Brooklyn College before a three-year stint in the US Army took him to Korea as a translator with the Army Security Agency (ASA) – its then signals intelligence branch.

While at college Lee had enjoyed some experience as a sports writer with the New York Times and a later move to Pennsylvania saw him commissioned to write the lyrics to a cantata, The Song of the Stones, which was performed at the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) convention. Later, he penned three plays, poetry and short stories. 

Lee also enjoyed some local celebrity while living in western North Carolina when he wrote of the people in the region through a popular newspaper column, Connections.

Warren Sanford Lee leaves a devoted wife, Carolyn Levant-Lee who helped him with much of his work in later life. His first wife, Marcia and their three children all predeceased him.

© Natalie Wood (03 May 2019)

Monday, 22 April 2019

Mary Berry, Queen of ... Seder!

Mary Berry, Queen of ... Seder!: I bet even Britain’s ’ Mary, Queen of Cakes ’ will be surprised to learn she’s become the star attraction of Jewish social media thre...

Friday, 12 April 2019

PerfectlyWritePoetry: Seaside Pastiche

PerfectlyWritePoetry: Seaside Pastiche: This piece was prompted by a multi-site visit to the northern Israeli coastal resort of Nahariya arranged by the Nefesh B’Nefesh immigration...