Gabrielle M. Abbate: It’s okay if your child ‘hates’ you

News & Press

Gabrielle M. Abbate: It’s okay if your child ‘hates’ you

Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Source: Providence Journal


Rhode Island is a state with some of the world’s greatest parents — parents who have the confidence to understand they don’t need to be the “cool” parent, who don’t need to be their child’s best friend. We have parents who do the right thing every day, even on days when their children tell them they “hate” them.

And to those parents who have no clue? It’s okay if your child “hates” you. Good parents know two things: Their child really doesn’t hate them but is simply trying to manipulate them; and when they are temporarily hated it is because they did something to protect their child.

We’re tired of apologies. We’re frustrated with parents who host parties and then serve alcohol and drugs to their children’s friends when they don’t even know if that friend is a diabetic, is taking an anti-depressant or has a medical condition that could be life-threatening when mixed with alcohol.

How is it that these parents and adults disregard their moral responsibility and even the financial liability of creating a dangerous environment that may eventually ripple out onto our streets as drunk and drugged driving fatalities, alcohol poisoning, drug overdoses and other serious injuries? Their unreasonable fear of alienating their children and doing the right things leads them to do very dangerous things.

In the end, they rarely win. No one does.

Few parents would let their child participate in a sport without protective gear. Yet these same parents offer them brain-altering substances. They fail to appreciate the reality of addiction. Talk to most addicts and many can tell you the exact moment in their teens when they took their first drink. Today their story is one of addiction or struggling recovery.

Many in our society are trying to get guns out of the hands of young people, to keep them safe and out of harm’s way. We lock up guns in our homes, but we seldom lock up alcohol. We invest billions of dollars in our educational system but lack the common sense to keep young people safe for learning with well-developed brains. We applaud parents who hide poisons, plug up electrical sockets and put safety gates in front of staircases to protect young children. But how does it happen that we become so overly confident with their safety at age 12 to 18 that we deliberately introduce them to dangerous substances and dangerous environments?

These questions beg a more fundamental one: When should a parent or a community abdicate the safety of a child? When the child is 5? 10? 15? Yes, children want to become independent of their parents. They want us to step away. That’s the natural order, something they should desire. But their choices are not always in their best interest. Whether they are 3 or 16, we owe our children protection and safety. It is their right to receive them and believe that they have them.

There are fundamental things parents can do to help eradicate this growing problem:

  • Just as teens face peer pressure to drink, some parents feel pressured to serve teens illegally. Responsible parents should serve as support systems for those who are incapable of resisting the urge to succumb to their children’s desires.
  • Recognize that “controlling” your children’s consumption of alcohol or drugs is a fallacy; you are setting your children on a road to substance abuse.
  • Understand that when you don’t protect children, you may face stiff sentences, damage to your personal and professional reputation and hefty fines. As bad as those consequences may be, even worse is someone’s dying or being seriously injured because of your irresponsibility.
  • Know that Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other prevention and treatment organizations are resources to help you understand what is at stake, and arm you with the strength to make better, more responsible decisions.
  • Parents can get professional help — counseling — to help them cope with the pressure of raising teens who claim to “hate” them.

British blogger David Bly once said: “Your children will become what you are; so be what you want them to be.”

This commentary piece isn’t filled with statistics that support why we need to remain vigilant. The Internet is filled with credible research. We encourage parents to look at the numbers and look in the eyes of any child and solemnly pledge to protect him or her.

Gabrielle M. Abbate is executive director of the Rhode Island chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Original article


MADD won’t accept $5,000 donation from mother charged in social-host case/ Poll

News & Press

MADD won’t accept $5,000 donation from mother charged in social-host case/ Poll

Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Source: Providence Journal

WARWICK, R.I. — The North Kingstown police reached a deal Tuesday to drop a charge that a local mother violated the state’s social-host law by allowing teenagers to drink at her daughter’s 16th birthday party in exchange for her contributing $5,000 to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

But MADD, whose mission is to stop drunken driving and prevent underage drinking, wants nothing to do with the money, according to Gabrielle Abbate, executive director of MADD in Rhode Island. The organization will not accept the contribution.

“The sentence sends the wrong message about the dangers of providing alcohol to those who are underage,” Abbate said. The law needs to be enforced to its full extent and should apply to everyone regardless of their financial situation, she said.

Under a plea agreement reached before Judge Frank J. Cenerini in Kent County District Court, the police agreed on Tuesday to dismiss misdemeanor charges against Jayne Donegan accusing her of violating the social-host law by allowing underage drinking at her 251 Wilbert Way home and of assaulting a police officer.

In addition, Donegan entered a not guilty filing to a charge that she obstructed a police officer who responded to her home. A not guilty filing means the charge will be dismissed if Donegan is not arrested in the coming year.

Donegan’s lawyer, William P. Devereaux, said his client learned from the experience, namely how fast word spread about the party, spurring uninvited, older guests who drove cars to descend on her home. Her daughter’s invited guests did not have their drivers’ licenses, he said.

“It was a situation where there was never any evidence that she procured alcohol or allowed alcohol to be consumed in her house,” Devereaux said. “She has not admitted to anything.”

Reached Tuesday night, Devereaux said that Cenerini mandated the plea agreement.

If MADD chooses to reject the money, “that’s entirely up to them. The contribution was made in good faith by Ms. Donegan.”

He said he would meet with the town prosecutor about other possible recipients.

The police went to Donegan’s house Jan. 25 after they received a complaint about teens drinking alcohol and running through the neighborhood and urinating in people’s yards, according to a police report.

When the first officer arrived, he saw a “swarm of kids” running from the house and spoke with a boy and a girl outside who admitted that they had been drinking, the police report said.

The police report states that Donegan initially refused to let police in, saying that she was an attorney who knew her rights and that they did not have a search warrant. Donegan’s LinkedIn page lists her job as Textron’s senior associate general counsel.

The police said they advised her that they had reason to believe that there was underage drinking on the property and that they also needed to check on the well-being of juveniles.

The police said that while Donegan was calling 911 to have the officer removed from her house, he checked the basement where there was loud music, black lights, glow sticks and bottles of alcohol scattered about, as well as a “beer pong table” for the drinking game. The police say that two minors were taken to a hospital for intoxication and that another minor received a summons for marijuana possession.

Officials have said that the party, which was reportedly a 16th birthday party for Donegan’s daughter, was attended almost exclusively by East Greenwich teenagers.

North Kingstown Police Chief Thomas Mulligan said Tuesday that he believed the disposition was appropriate given that Donegan had a clean record prior to the incident. Donegan did not get preferential treatment, he said.

Mulligan was not aware of MADD’s position and could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Those accused of violating the social-host law face a misdemeanor charge. First offenders who plead no contest or are convicted face $350 to $1,000 in fines, up to six months in prison, or both.

Original article

SpeakYourMind Pioneers Communication Tool for Those with Brain Injuries

News & Press

SpeakYourMind Pioneers Communication Tool for Those with Brain Injuries

Monday, January 06, 2014
Source: Providence Journal

Dan Bacher of Speak Your Mind sets up a monitor display for Cathy Hutchinson, of East Taunton, Mass., that will allow her to communicate with others by typing out words and sentences. Here they work through the program installed on the tablet that allows Cathy to type words with the movement of her head. Dan holds the old model Cathy was using. The new tablet and software he just installed on Cathy's chair is much more economical.

PROVIDENCE — Dan Bacher has an easy, gentle manner as he intently watches Cathy Hutchinson’s head and eye movements for the subtle responses she offers as they communicate.

He has driven to the East Taunton, Mass., group home where Hutchinson lives to attach a new Windows computer tablet to her wheelchair and show her the software he and a team have developed for her. Since Hutchinson suffered a brain stem stroke in 1996 that left her body nearly motionless — but her mind alert — she has lived with a condition known as “locked-in syndrome.” For her, communicating is difficult and time-consuming, but she persists.

Bacher launched the nonprofit, SpeakYourMind Foundation Inc., last January to create better, less expensive communication tools for Hutchinson and people with degenerative neurological diseases.

He began SpeakYourMind while working as a research engineer at BrainGate, the collaboration between Brown University and a number of renowned academic institutions that has pioneered an experimental brain implant. The BrainGate team helps people with severe paralysis interact with computers and regain some movement.

Bacher, 29, still works at BrainGate part-time, but he’s focusing most of his efforts these days on developing SpeakYourMind. He’s collaborating with Brown students, who’ve helped him determine how to take the nonprofit to the next level.

“He’s a unique individual. … He relates to academics and the medical community and the patients and the students,” says Brendan McNally, associate director at Brown’s Business Entrepreneurship and Organizations program, who has connected those students with Bacher. “He’s exceptional. He’s got some of those God-given skills and qualities.”

Bacher said Providence is the ideal place to locate SpeakYourMind because it has the right mix of resources.

The Brown University Institute for Brain Science, for example, is conducting groundbreaking research with BrainGate. Engineering students from Brown and the University of Rhode Island are equipped to solve real-world problems. And, Bacher says, the Rhode Island School of Design offers an “amazing addition” to the world of assistive medical technology, which hasn’t relied much on design until now.

Plus, Bacher praises the local startup scene, including groups such as the Founders League and Betaspring, as well as the social-enterprise movement that’s working to develop nonprofit and for-profit entities seeking to solve world problems.

BrainGate drew Bacher to Rhode Island in 2009. After he earned a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh, he was working toward a Ph.D. there conducting research with monkeys to create technology that interfaces with the brain. But he abandoned that Ph.D. program for the opportunity to conduct research with people, instead, at BrainGate.

Dr. Leigh Hochberg — one of the BrainGate doctors, Bacher’s boss at Brown and a member of the SpeakYourMind board of directors — says he sees “great synergy” between BrainGate and SpeakYourMind. Like Bacher, Hochberg has seen the limitations of systems designed to help people communicate.

Regardless of whether people involved with BrainGate have been using inexpensive or expensive devices, Hochberg says nearly everyone expresses frustration that the equipment hasn’t worked, is unreliable, takes weeks to get fixed or doesn’t get repaired at all.

“They were more often in the closet, stacked up with other technologies that had failed, than actually being used,” Hochberg said. “And while that might be OK for a toaster, it’s not OK if it’s somebody’s primary method for communication.”

Both Hochberg and Bacher met Cathy Hutchinson through BrainGate, where she was one of the first participants in their clinical trials.

A computer chip implanted in her brain allowed her to move a robotic arm by thinking about doing so, pick up a coffee, move it toward her lips and sip the drink through a straw. Yet she struggled with her existing communications technology.

Watching her, Bacher says, is how the idea for SpeakYourMind was born.

He began crafting low-cost alternatives. He posted on Internet forums, seeking volunteers to help alter software to meet the needs of individuals. People responded and gave their time to help those in need.

At Hutchinson’s house on a recent morning, it took a few minutes for her to communicate her strongest need to Bacher. Finally, an email she had sent earlier arrived in his inbox: Could he contact the company that built her $10,000 communications device and ask them to fix it?

Of course, he told her, but instead, he was ready to remove that old computer from her wheelchair and give her the Windows tablet — which cost $800 — and teach her how the new communications software would work.

Relying on the tablet’s built-in camera to observe her ever-so-slight head movements, Hutchinson began using a “radial keyboard” that displays letters in groupings, like those on a telephone dial pad. As Hutchinson’s head moves, the computer’s cursor selects letter groups, and algorithms work to offer all the possible words she might be spelling out. Hutchinson then selects the correct word, sometimes before “typing” all the letters, so she can write her thoughts with the computer and communicate with someone in the room or via email.

It doesn’t work perfectly yet, but Bacher showed her how it functions, gave her time to practice, and took note of what worked and what didn’t.

“It’s still a little sensitive, huh?” Bacher asked as he watched her attempt to select letters. “You like it?”

Hutchinson, 60, welcomed The Providence Journal into her home to watch Bacher work with her. But she answered questions before the visit, in a short email she composed with her old communications software, a task that took 45 minutes.

“I’m excited about the future of sym,” she wrote, using an acronym for Bacher’s nonprofit. “I have faith in sym and I’m very optimistic about the help it will bring to so many.”

Bacher tells Hutchinson how much he likes the sticker she displays on her wheelchair: “My legs don’t work, but my brain does.”

View the original Providence Journal article.

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When you come to the edge of the light you know and are about to step off into the darkness, faith is knowing one of two things will happen… there will be something solid to stand on, or you will learn to fly