30 days.

According to several theories it takes anywhere from 21 to 30 days to break a bad habit. As of October 28, 2016 30 days had passed since I last had a drink of Coke, Pepsi, or any other similar type of soda. I have also been avoiding sugar and carbs as much as possible.

Instead, I’ve been drinking water, iced tea, and fruit juices with an occasional tea or coffee. The results have been tangible: most significantly, I have no desire to drink it any more, which is a huge leap forward to improved health, especially since I previously drank 4 to 10 cans of it a day! I am much less tired, not as hungry, feel less bloated, and my state of mind is much improved overall.

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My experience is common; according to the website Medical Daily:

The evidence speaks for itself: Your health will drastically improve once you begin replacing your daily Coke or Mountain Dew with water. Pretty much every organ will benefit from quitting soda

The article further explains the health benefits of not drinking soda to your heart, brain, teeth, bladder, bones, kidneys, and reproductive organs. It also explains the positive impact removing soda from your diet has on weight loss, type 2 diabetes, and chronic disorders like heart disease. I see this as a positive step

Also included in the article are the results of a study published in the American Journal of Public Health which found people who drink a lot of soda also have shorter telomeres in their immune cells — this means their risk of dying younger was increased.

Telomeres are protective DNA units that are situated at the ends of chromosomes, and the shorter they get, the more a person ages and is at risk for disease and death. So cutting out that good-for-nothing sugary drink from your life will seemingly only offer you good things, by lengthening your telomeres as well as your life span, and improve your overall health.

Additional benefits of giving up soda are explained in a Yahoo! article titled 7 Amazing Things that Happen to Your Body When You Give Up Soda,” as listed below:

  1.  You’ll be less hungry.
  2. You’ll look younger.
  3. You’ll lose more weight.
  4. You’ll get sick less often.
  5. You’ll reduce hidden fats.
  6. You’ll stop bones from breaking.
  7. You’ll have more energy.

Notably, my main motivation for discontinuing drinking soda were some troubling blood work results related to my type 2 diabetes. I had been taking my medication, but had neglected my health overall. Something finally clicked and I am taking control of my health with the input and assistance from a top quality Aster medical clinic here in Dubai.

You’d think I would have embraced this change sooner, as I’ve been dealing with diabetes since my diagnosis on February 7, 2012, but I can sometimes be slow to change and stubborn to admit the errors of my ways.

Maybe I have finally resolved to evolve?

Have you met TED?

Founded in 1984 TED is an annual conference of ideas intended to unite leading thinkers and doers from the worlds of technology, entertainment and design. During each conference speakers share their thoughts in 18 minutes sessions. For those not part of the limited in-person audience, TED has made videos of more than 1,900 talks available online.

The collection of presentations is nothing short of infectious. And I mean that literally: at the February 2009 conference in Long Beach, CA Bill Gates released a jar of mosquitoes, emphasizing that people in developed countries are not concerned enough with the impact of malaria in the developing world.

Sir Ken Robinson speaks about creativity and education at the February 2006 TED Talk.Another talk of particular interest to me as an educator and lifelong learner was given by Sir Ken Robinson at the February 2006 conference in Monterey, CA.

Robinson — who earned a PhD for research into drama and theatre in education — is a British creativity expert who challenges the way we educate ourselves.

Recognizing that formal education is unequally focused on linear, quantitative subjects, Robinson proposes a radical re-imagining of our school system that more effectively cultivates creativity and acknowledges multiple types of intelligence.

I can relate to this as I’ve always been one to “think different” (as the famous Apple advertising slogan once encouraged us to do). Specifically, I test poorly on standardized tests: my brain just isn’t wired that way. This is a significant concern as I draw closer to applying for PhD programs.

I need to find an effective and, given my present circumstance, outrageously affordable way to elevate my GRE scores to ensure my application is viewed competitively by admissions committees. (Perhaps at a later date I will discuss my thoughts on the highly questionable financial stranglehold ETS — Educational Testing Service — has on the high education process).

I personally enjoyed the video a great deal — it reminded me of my teaching philosophy which is anchored in the idea of generative learning. The “tipping point” that motivated me to post this blog was that shortly after watching it I logged into my WordPress.com account and read that the system now supports embedding TED videos.  Serendipity!

I couldn’t resist the urge to share this video. Although the talk occurred more than three years ago the ideas seem timeless and more relevant than ever. My two favorite lines from Robinson’s talk are:

“We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather we get educated out of it.”

“Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”

Truer words were never spoken!  Additionally, I also found these comments particularly insightful — especially since they reflect my views on education and seem to validate my desire for an interdisciplinary doctoral program:

“We know three things about intelligence:

One, it’s diverse, we think about the world in all the ways we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement.

Secondly, intelligence is dynamic. If you look at the interactions of a human brain, as we heard yesterday from a number of presentations, intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The brain isn’t divided into compartments. In fact, creativity, which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value, more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things…

And the third thing about intelligence is, it’s distinct.”

And so, without further adeiu, here is Sir Ken Robinson (you can also watch it on the TED website and follow along with an interactive transcript):

Hopefully you found this talk as encouraging as I did. You can also read a transcript of Robinson’s entire talk. Additionally, earlier this year Robinson published a new book, “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything,” which presents a deep look at human creativity and education.

I invite you to explore some of the videos on the TED website or to visit the organization’s “TEDTalks” YouTube channel. I don’t think 18 minutes of your day could be better spent!

Last Wednesday, April 2, 2008 marked the first annual “World Autism Awareness Day.” The day was created by the General Assembly of the United Nations which voted in November 2007 to establish the annual event date as an opportunity for Member States to raise awareness about children with autism.  Various events and lectures were planned around the globe and CNN scheduled all-day coverage about autism. April is also National Autism Awareness Month.

Autism Awareness RibbonWhat is autism? According to the Autism Society of America, “Autism is a brain development disorder that impairs social interaction and communication, and causes restricted and repetitive behavior, all starting before a child is three years old. Both children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities.”

Autism is one of five disorders considered a Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), a category of neurological disorders characterized by “severe and pervasive impairment in several areas of development.”

These disorders include: Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD), Rett’s Disorder, PDD-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Each disorder has specific diagnostic criteria which been outlined in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR).

Diagnosed in an estimated 1 in 150 children, autism is the most common Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and the numbers are on the rise. It is estimated that as many as 1.5 million Americans have some form of autism.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education and other governmental agencies indicates that autism is growing at an alarming rate of 10-17 percent per year — and the Autism Society of America estimates that 4 million Americans could be diagnosed in the next decade.

Below are some additional facts about autism, courtesy of Autism Speaks, an advocacy group:

Basic Facts

  • 1 in 150 children is diagnosed with autism
  • 1 in 94 boys is on the autism spectrum
  • 67 children are diagnosed per day
  • A new case is diagnosed almost every 20 minutes
  • More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes & cancer combined
  • Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.
  • Autism costs the nation over $90 billion per year, a figure expected to double in the next decade
  • Autism receives less than 5% of the research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases
  • Boys are four times more likely than girls to have autism
  • There is no medical detection or cure for autism

Incidence vs. Private Funding

  • Leukemia: Affects 1 in 25,000 / Funding: $310 million
  • Muscular Dystrophy: Affects 1 in 20,000 / Funding: $175 million
  • Pediatric AIDS: Affects 1 in 8,000 / Funding: $394 million
  • Juvenile Diabetes: Affects 1 in 500 / Funding: $130 million
  • Autism: Affects 1 in 150 / Funding: $15 million

National Institutes of Health Funds Allocation

  • Total 2005 NIH budget: $29 billion
  • $100 million goes towards autism research
  • This represents 0.3% of total NIH funding

Autism has clearly become the polio of our time and something must be done to reverse its progress. If we don’t act now and dedicate more research dollars to finding a cure and treatment, while also finding a way to convince the health insurance industry to cover the costs associated with treatment we run the risk of losing an expontentially increasing percentage of this generation’s children to autism.

The impact of autism on families is extensive. Emotionally, it can be draining. Mentally it can be consuming. Physically it can be exhausting. Financially, it can be devastating. In addition to the divorce rates of parents with autistic children being higher than the average, many families of children with autism struggle to avert bankruptcy.

It’s no wonder, the costs involved are daunting: from the early intervention and treatment services (which only a handful of states cover) to the lost income from one parent in a two-parent household who must stay home with the affected child while services are provided, autism affects an entire family, not just the individual overcoming it.

Raising a child is stressful enough — raising a child with autism is beyond compare. That is not to say that raising a child with autism is totally unlike raising a “neurotypical” child, it just puts things within a different framework.

I speak from personal experience: my older son, Jacob, who will turn five this September, was diagnosed with autism just before his third birthday.  We have come a long way since then, but still have far to go. He is now speaking contextually, exhibiting emotion and is full of boundless energy. Some days are full of joy while others are full of challenges parents of children without autism truly cannot comprehend.

Fortunately Jacob is on the higher functioning end of the spectrum and has many skills that a typical child near his age has (though developmentally he is not functioning at a level consistent with his chronological age). He is a sweet and smart little boy with a curiosity about the world and great potential to do wonderful things with his life.

We are grateful for the services he has received and credit them with a great deal of his progress so far. However, we have also had to aggressively advocate on his behalf to ensure he continues to receive the services to which he is entitled.

Jacob currently receives his applied behavior analysis (ABA) services through the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) — a worldwide leader in the field founded by Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh. His Individualized Education Program (IEP) is coming up in a month and my wife and I are beginning to prepare for battle with the Saugus Union School District to ensure that he receives the most appropriate and beneficial services.

As a father, Jacob has taught me many lessons about life. but I know I have much more to learn. I now appreciate the small steps in life and applaud incremental improvement, however small, because it represents movement in the right direction. I admire his sweet and loving disposition and marvel at his unbridled joy and creativity. He is a wonderful little boy who has inspired me to become a better father and, frankly, a better person.

For additional information about autism, I encourage you to visit the following: