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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Secretarial skills

The first secretaries were men because to be a secretary required a unique skill set best suited to the male of the species – detail orientated, thorough and a stiffly starched collar.

It is therefore with some trepidation that I attempt to assist the child that insists upon a writing style that he considers to be an accurate copy of how a robot would write, namely that each letter is formed on a underlying and invisible cube.

His industry in the morning is unfathomable to a bleary eyed parent. My only purpose is to pre-empt a meltdown of frustration that would wake the rest of the sleeping household.
“How you are spell ‘like’?” Instead of saying the letters verbally, I write them on my trusty wipe board.
“How you are spell ‘sumpfing?’” We continue in this mode, until he has a small paragraph. The brave fingers of the tactile defensive child, attempt to fold the paper. He whips his index finger away on completion to blow frantically on the tip, scorched. He turns it to me, to touch my numb lips so that I can gesture a kiss better.

“Where we are live?” I sing him our address to it’s familiar but irritating tune, softly because we are not supposed to "sing our vital statistics" any more. [link] By now his wrist and hand are beginning to tremour with the effort and strain involved. He fumbles with tape, careful to avoid the serrated edge. He exhales, a sigh of exhaustion, the satisfaction of ‘done.’ He spins off the chair and scampers upstairs on his tippy toes, to his bedroom. I follow.

I watch him insert his missive into the mailbox that he has made for his sister, close to the one that he has made for his brother.

I’d like to say that his timing is off. Now that he is less non-verbal, this would seem like overkill. This style of communication would have been infinitely more helpful a couple of years ago when words were a bit thin on the ground. In the future, he may be able to generalize such skills, but I doubt if his social skills will be up to the challenge of "office politics."

There again , maybe that’s part of the “corkscrew” effect, when skills become embedded, connect to each other and manifest themselves in triumphs of progress?

A rose by any other name…beware of train spotters

I run in from the garden covered with muck and compost, undermined by a "caffeine" shortfall. I operate at half speed, due to an "unusually slow" start to the day. I’m careful to hide the secateurs now that tools and cutting tools are no longer categorized as instruments of torture and death. I make a quick head count as the supervisor is otherwise occupied with the computer. My daughter lounges on the sofa with a how to draw book from the library, but she’s careful to note the page count on the school calendar so that she’ll be eligible for a prize in her class. It would appear that the ‘electronics’ cupboard has been pillaged. Both boys are ‘wired’ to their Gameboy and Ninendo games. I go to remonstrate with the supervisor, “how come you’re working at the weekend dear?”
“I’m not.” I wait for further details as his hands hover over the computer keyboard and his eyes are glued to the screen. Nothing is forthcoming. I prompt, “looks like work to me?” A pause.
“Oh! No I’m just er well…..” This is code for ‘you wouldn’t understand.’
“I’m listening. Explain it to me?”
“Well I’m reprogramming the train.”
“The train set in the garden?”
“Yes.” I wait as the screen lures his eyes back as he watches a programme download, the seconds ticking away.

“How is it going?”
“O.k. Still have a few faults to iron out.”
“How will the reprogramming affect it?”
“Oh, it will do lots of cool things!”
“Cool?” Such a dreadful meaningless word.
“Such as?”
“Well it will go forwards and then backwards and then forwards a little bit…….” he trails off, as do I.
“I think I’ll go and water the garden then in that case.”
He calls after me, “all your tulips standing to attention then, nice and straight!” I do refuse to acknowledge this statement.

Ursaphobia- Whatever next? Addendum

Here are a few more, in case we don't have enough to worry about already?

Achluophobia - Fear of darkness.

Aphenphosmphobia - Fear of being touched.

Bathmophobia - Fear of stairs or steep slopes.

Catagelophobia - Fear of being ridiculed.

Dystychiphobia - Fear of accidents.

Ephebiphobia - Fear of teenagers.

Gynophobia - Fear of women.

Iatrophobia - Fear of doctors.

Mageirocophobia - Fear of cooking.

Pteromerhanophobia - Fear of flying.

Scolionophobia - Fear of school.

Venustraphobia - Fear of beautiful women.

10 Common Phobias

  • The fear of spiders.
  • The fear of snakes.
  • The fear of heights.
  • The fear of situations in which escape is difficult.
  • The fear of dogs.
  • The fear of thunder and lightening.
  • The fear of injections.
  • The fear of social situations.
  • The fear of flying.
  • The fear of germs or dirt.
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    The Little Red Hen – spatial awareness issues

    There is frost on the rooftops but the temperatures are due to rise to the mid 70’s. The house creaks and groans, as wooden joists contract during the night and expand with the morning sunshine. House habits alter. The window that was a snug fit, [translation = stuck] now has a draught. The plugged gutter that overflowed like a waterfall, now has a nest. The door that scrapped, now rattles.

    I am even more twitchy than usual. [translation = grumpy] It is rare for an old person, such as myself, to have new experiences. There is only so much daily paranoia that I can deal with. Now I have to endure the surprise of a tooth, occasionally touching a tooth. As enamel contacts enamel, I feel as if I have been struck by a cattle prod. How do people live like this? My nerves jangle with the anticipation of the next tweak, as the elastic bands on my braces twang. Suddenly the option of dentures seems infinitely more attractive. I never thought that any of my teeth would ever touch each other. Now that they are on the cusp of meeting, I wish to revoke the invitation.

    I return to the task at hand. How exactly is one supposed to dress in such weather, or more importantly, how is a mother supposed to dress temperature sensitive children? Senior has decided that the solution to this particular problem is to wear his shorts in the middle of his legs. [translation = half mast] At his age and design, his arms and hands are just the right length to hold the waistband of his shorts, at the level of his groin. In this way, the top of the shorts meets the leg seam of his underwear and the bottom of the shorts nearly meet the top of his socks. Perfect!

    He has yet to connect this choice with his inability to walk very far without falling over. I swear that if I hear, ‘clunk’ / “oopsie!” one more time this morning, I shall go completely batty. He will go around all day with his hands clasped to his crotch and his batman underpants exposed at the back!

    Spouse rests a hand on my arm, “don’t worry, when the mercury rises, so will the shorts!” he beams. Clearly I have failed in the ‘neutral face’ department. My clenched teeth might be excused, but obviously the rest of my face has given me away. I blink because at 5:30 I read "Kevin's posting," on his site via "the autism hub," and the word ‘mercury’ blinds me temporarily.

    Of course! It weather will warm up and he’ll pull his trousers up.

    I am still guilt ridden from a bad decision at 5:45 a.m. Mother Nature hates me. Which to do? Give the obsessive compulsive perfectionist a sheet of pristine paper so that he can draw, or insist that he colour on the back of a used piece of paper, break down his resistance and get the regulation/modulation thing going?

    I am also miffed about his school book, 'Love you forever.' He sat on my lap at 6 in the morning to read. What did my hyperlexic son glean from this tender tale of parental love? That the periods [translation = full stops] were diamond shaped not round, ergo, he will never read it again as it is too painful on the eyes.

    I hear the ear splitting scream that indicates Junior has had a near death experience of the sensory kind. Spouse and I both move as one towards the sound of the rain dancer. As time has past we can both determine what sort of banshee wailing ails him.

    He is outside the ‘hated’ bathroom at a safe distance, arms flailing, legs engaged in the fastest type of Irish dancing on the planet.
    “Dah door! Dah door! Dah door!” he yells. His arm drops from the elbow, rigid like a train signal to help us understand that he means the ‘door,’ a helpful gesture that is not unappreciated. We adult people, his parents, both look at the door. This is a door that always swings back open, flush with the wall. It may be bad architecture, but it’s good for the children, as it prevents them from being accidentally imprisoned and ensures that an escape route is always available. The door is ajar, only slightly open. Otherwise, it appears perfectly normal. Spouse checks the other side because he is of a thorough disposition. He shakes his head towards me, silently, but his son doesn’t miss this non-verbal cue and utters another agonizing burst ‘Ahgggg!’

    No-one is fully dressed. It is a school day. All is not well. More words percolate out of him as his body becomes less frantic; “dah world is upside down or I am dah stoopid one!” Well that’s a great start, something to work on. Spouse raises his eye brows, an indication that his engineering brain is on the matter, trying to connect this particular door with junior’s statement. I wait for him to snap out the answer: Spouse, the one armed bandit! Crank the lever and wait for the read out. He has two pertinent facts to connect. Junior’s rain-dance subsides. He waits. His waiting permit expires.
    “I am a fay LEE Yur!” he wails, as his parents struggle to interpret his message and assist him.
    “Oooo I wonder?” mutters the father of the child.
    “What!” I snap through clenched teeth.
    “I was just wondering if this has to do with what we were talking about?”
    “What did you talk to him about?”
    “Er…..well, we were sort of talking about magnetism……”
    “Yes,” I prompt, in what I hope is an encouraging tone.
    Junior interrupts, although he appears to be having a conversation with himself: “I will be stuck on dah ceiling!”
    “I fear he may have extrapolated!”
    “Give me the basic facts,” I demand, as I mentally snap the strap.
    Junior interrupts, “I will be dah upside down one!”
    “So we got onto the subject of the world, gravitation pull, the solar system……just general stuff……..the way you do……” I resist the urge to beat him over the head and scream ‘spit it out man!’
    Junior interrupts, “I am boink my head! I will be owie!”
    “Well we only got through half of magnetic pole switching when we were interrupted, you know how the toilet vortex spirals in the opposite direction if you’re in Australia…..I think maybe I left him with a slight mis-understanding.”
    “You do huh!”
    Junior interrupts, “I don’t wanna be in dah Australia, I wanna be in San Jose, but not dah wrong way round!”
    “Well something important came up and we didn’t really finish our conversation.”
    Junior interrupts, “I want everyfink be dah same. No change gravity!”
    “So, to summarize, correct me if I’m wrong, you covered those subjects partially, and now, because the door is swinging in the wrong direction, he has made the mental leap that this is due to magnetic pole switching, therefore he is in the equivalent of Australia and somehow or other, he believes that gravity should go in reverse and he’s about to hit his head on the ceiling, his very super sensitive head? Am I right so far?”
    “In a nutshell, I think.”
    “Right then! Take your son, any visual cues and props that you need and put him straight!” [translation = correct the science, fill in the gaps, eliminate potential phobia emergence and get him dressed, preferably within the next six and a half minutes]

    Friday, March 30, 2007

    Love you forever – book review by autistic person

    Surely it is a harmless enough title for a 6 year old to read? He brought it home from school, although he did not actively choose it. He sits on my lap at 6 in the morning, before anyone else is up. The contents, the story, is a tender one. He reads the refrain in his robot voice, no doubt, just to gladden a mother’s heart…..

    ‘I’ll love you forever,
    I’ll like you for always,
    As long as I’m living,
    My baby you’ll be.’

    It’s on nearly every page. The child grows up, bigger and bigger, but the mother still rocks him in her arms and whispers the lullaby. As he reads the rest of the book, his appropriate expression and emphasis, indicates comprehension, although he omits all the ‘he, she’s and its’ as they are superfluous, not because he is incapable. He squalks at the illustrations, irritated by the sketch lines.

    In the final pages the parent and child role is reversed, as the mother is elderly and sits on her now adult son’s lap. That is too much for junior to accept, the sheer lunacy of the thing makes him hurl the book, scowling.

    He pauses, jumps up and retrieves the book for further study and review. His eyes flick up to mine to ask, “he is autistic?” This is a word he has never said.
    “How do you mean?”
    “Dah man is growed up autistic?” This is the devilment of a speech delay for an inadequate parent.
    “Why do you think the man is autistic?”
    “Coz when he is lickle dere are cuddles, now he is dah big one,... dah man, his mum is squishing him.” [translation = deep proprioceptive input]

    Thursday, March 29, 2007

    The Problem of Pica

    For a faster loading version of this site visit here:- Whitterer On Autism

    Many of us are familiar with the phenomenon of pregnant women attempting to eat coal, but more commonly, parents first experience a variation on this theme, when their baby becomes mobile. The small person, appears to be an eating machine, whizzing about with their new found freedom only to stuff their mouths with all kinds of inappropriate items. Their infectious delight at this pastime is matched by their parent's trauma. Suddenly, the true meaning of something commonly referred to as 'a choking hazard,' makes perfect sense.

    So, what is pica? Here are a couple of options;

    pica /pi·ca/ (pi´kah) [L.] compulsive eating of nonnutritive substances, such as ice, dirt, flaking paint, clay, hair, or laundry starch.
    Dorland's Medical Dictionary for Health Consumers. © 2007 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.
    pi·ca (pk)
    An abnormal craving or appetite for nonfood substances, such as dirt, paint, or clay.

    The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary, 2nd Edition Copyright © 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

    I can't say that I find either particularly compelling.

    Percentages. How many people have a problem with PICA? It depends upon who you ‘count’ and whether it is a ‘problem’ for them, or the people they keep company with.
    Maybe as many as "30% of autistic children."

    There are reports of people attempting to eat metal, string and hair, amongst many other things. The last two stand out in particular, not because of the boys, but because of my girls. Earlier research, whilst I was in my usual state of panic, determined that a tiny minority of the population are hair twiddlers. An even tinier sub group are hair nibblers. Why should one worry about hair nibbling, apart from the pica implications? Because hair, unlikely as it may seem, is abrasive to teeth. It’s a bit like gnawing on a Rhino horn, which for current purposes of course, is composed of compressed hair. Nibble your hair and have a big dental bill! There’s even a name for it! "Trichophagia." How many more OCD and orally defensive people can one family encompass?

    I have a sudden flash of my sister, mid nibble, 'rabbiting' as my father referred to the habit. I think of all the nail biters in my family, not this generation but the last one, or the one before that come to think of it! One huge fat nibbling gene, no wonder we all have such bad teeth! Dentures for everyone, that's the answer, along with buzz cuts.

    Do my children have some of these issues or something closely related? Well that’s what I thought, that’s why I started to check it out all over again, brush up on my research, determine the pertinent facts, because of what I saw. It was only later, the next day that I do the right thing. The right thing? And what might that be? I ask him, of course.

    I ask him as he cavorts on the wretched cat scratcher.
    “Why are you eating the catnip dear?” He continues to cavort, wordless, with little green flecks around his mouth and stuck to his hair. I wait and count to 15, as he’s about 15 at the moment. I picked this moment because he is happy and when he is happy he is often more willing to communicate with words. He and the cat continue to play.
    “Do you like the taste?” I count again as the two of them chase his imaginary tail. The cat is frantic. So is the boy. I am distracted by the plants, the house plants which have been systematically chewed by two cats. If it wasn’t for the cats, I wouldn’t be in this position in the first place. It's all their fault really. If they would just control their house plant abuse tendencies, then I wouldn't have had to smother the cat scratcher with catnip, then I would never have known that my son likes to eat catnip.

    I remind myself that catnip [translation = cat mint] is really just a herb, almost a culinary herb perhaps?

    I remind myself of a couple of other things. Firstly, they when he talks to the cats or any other animals his "speech delay falls away." Secondly, that when he is 'being' a cat, he will not speak, because cats don't. Very occasionally, I can persuade him, [or is it just luck?] to talk for the cat, be the cat's translator. I am so glad that the school psychologist is not around to witness my chat with the cat.

    "Hey Unis! What are you doing?" I ask as I stroke his furry back until he meows.
    "What's that? I wish I understood cat." He sparks, my son does that is, to tell me, "Unis! He is very happy today." Let's not get bogged down the the spelling thing, or the sex thing, just accept that Unis is a wrongly spelled version of Unice, which of course is a girl's name.
    "Why are you happy Unis?"
    "BEcause he loves catnip. It makes him all......crazy."
    "SO you two are just enjoying a snack together, like pals?"
    "Yes, we're just foolin around wiv each other."
    "Does he like the taste of catnip?"
    "Kinda, but not really, at least, I don't like to eat it, I'm just playin along wiv him coz we're friends."

    Moral = to ensure maximum productivity, make sure you are worrying about the right things.

    "Pica resources"

    Wednesday, March 28, 2007

    Executive function! Where is it when you need it?

    So it's first thing in the morning and you need to get the children ready for school. Why should this be so incredibly difficult? Short of getting everyone up at four in the morning, how are you ever going to get them ready on time? Dress them in their school uniform when they go to bed the night before perhaps?

    How often do you need to issue a simple verbal instruction? Dare we count? How often do we count? Do you count? Do you count and curse under your breath? How many children do you have, as that might affect the outcome? Do any of them have any kind of disability that might affect the result? What kind of disability? Is the disability relevant to their ability to follow through?

    Lets take a couple of small examples, such as ‘put your socks and shoes on,’ or in the alternative, ‘clean your teeth and brush your hair.’ Pretty simple language, you’d have to be a complete idiot not to understand either or those right? There again, maybe you just have a bad child, a disobedient / no respect for elders and betters kind of a child? Let's ignore the fact that both are two step instructions and the complications they induce.

    Perhaps you just have a day dreamer, the kind that just can’t stay on task and are easily distracted? Could be that they’re just sleepy, got out of the wrong side of the bed or they’re not early birds but night owls?

    How do you get this kind of rabble to pay heed? I should ‘wake up and smell the…..tea!’ but they’re American and still small. Very well, we’re in America so perhaps I should crack the whip and yell “ya hoo!’ and well I might, but first I’ll have to become competent with my lasso to round them up in the first place. Lets face it, I’m failing fast around here.

    Now I would be the first to admit that I hate jargon, as well as all that psychobabble, but sometimes, if one can grasp the meaning, it can work as a kind of short-hand, that helps focus a parent’s addled brain. In this particular instance, for current purposes only, we can think of executive function as the ability to
    A] formulate plans
    B] take action on those plans
    C] delay action when need be
    D] operate on multiple levels
    E] integrate all of the above and move between them

    So that’s why short hand can be a good idea. [Ref 1] The concept of "ideation" may be more palatable.

    So why exactly am I torturing you with all this guff? Well, if you’re like me, you don’t have the time to research complex subjects written in technical language. Additionally, whilst originally I did research everything I could find on the subject of autism, my knowledge has always been a bit spotty. Also, what was of crisis level relevance a while back, can sometimes wane, before it rears up again to bite you when you least expect it. Lastly, I need to remind myself of the basics that are so all encompassing.

    There is nothing like watching your child put a second set of clothes on over the first set, his brother's set, that he's already put on like a corset, to remind you of quite what you're dealing with. Or there is the child that puts his underwear on over the trousers, when he's not pretending to be a superhero.

    I should add that a claim of "executive dysfunction," should not be used as an excuse for being grumpy, as "abfh"
    so elegantly describes.

    To finish, let me give you another tiny example. After listening to the instruction ‘put on your socks and shoes,’ a few seconds later, he remarked “my hole! It has a sock!” He said this to his father, not the ether. He held up the offending sock at the same time that he spoke, to help reference his audience. He recognized that it was a sub standard sock and chose to communicate this information verbally, rather than having a meltdown, or alternatively, cared sufficiently to mention it at all. When he used the words that he did, he had them the wrong way around, but he used words like ‘my’ and ‘it,’ which he usually skips completely. He didn’t yell, nor mutter sotto voce, attempt to repeat it louder and or give up and have a meltdown.

    Yes, I know it’s really tiny in the great scheme of things, but there are so many teeny tiny little bits and bobs for him to keep together at the same time, it's not surprising if the odd chunk remains out of his grasp! But with a smidge of understanding from a parent, minuscule miracles can drown you every day.

    It would appear that a "significant" percentage of parents of autistic children, have similar difficulties! So maybe we need to therapize ourselves first?

    [Ref 1] Helping a Child with Nonverbal Learning Disorder or Aspergers Syndrome by Kathryn Stewart, Ph.D.

    I read this book a few years back because of the ‘non-verbal’ tag because no-one was chatting very much around here.

    Broadcast family secrets with a loudhailer

    O.k. so maybe "‘secret’" is a bit of an exaggeration, but all the same, you’d think these kids would keep a lid on it! Are their social skills so dodgy that they’re unaware that you just ‘don’t do’ that kind of a thing? Yes, a rhetorical question of course, but it still pulls you up short when it happens again.

    I adopt the composed demeanour of a woman in control. My stiff upper lip may be numb but my teeth are chain linked into rigidity. It has the effect of making me feel fully corseted. I glide to the first class room to await junior. I glide so as to avoid any vibrations that might inadvertently make my head rattle. I come to a dignified halt and pause just as one of his Aides emerges from the class room in a hurry. “Are you o.k.?” she asks with genuine concern, “you look ……kindof funny?” Great and I thought my disguise was working so well! I flap a hand towards my mouth and part my lips for her, “eeeooow!” she grimaces, “no wonder, that does look nasty. Don’t worry you don’t have to talk.” She scampers off, leaving me to be mobbed by the escaping children. I hunker down for Junior as he hops skips towards me with his hands fluttering over his head and ears, as they try to work out which is in greater need of protection from the blustery wind? He peers into my dark glasses, “can I see dem?” I make an open hand gesture, which he correctly interprets as ‘see what?’
    “Yur teef stoopid!” I oblige. He turns on his heel and rushes back to his teacher to scream at her.
    “Mr. K! Mrs. K! Mrs.K!” he bellows at 50 decibels. He inserts his body between his teacher and the other child that she is currently attending to. He is now even more difficult to ignore as he pogos before her with the palms of his hands clamped to his ears, ruffled by the wind, over-stimulated by the crowd, over stretched at the end of a long school day. She rests a hand on each of his shoulders to calm him and let him know that he now has her undivided attention. He blasts her face with his announcement “my Mum is still broken. Her mowf is not workin. No talkin today!” he roars. A ripple eddies through the crowd, as a sea of faces orientate themselves towards us.

    “Good job!” she exclaims. “That means you’re gonna have to use your good words and your listening ears to help mom, huh!”
    I love her!
    This is why it’s so important to make sure that the irritating little phrases you use at home, are the same as the irritating little phrases that they use at school.

    My older son comes galloping down the incline to join us. He drops his back pack after a few yards, his fingers grasp handfuls of trouser leg as they slowly give way to gravity and inadequate elastic. On arrival he attempts to brake but careens into me muttering ‘sorry, sorry’ in a little loop of breathiness. He adopts a pose, the one of the skier on the slope, legs together, knees bent, ready to push off. His arms extend forwards to either side of my body, rigid as a robot. He leans forward, face off to the right, as he doesn’t want to be suffocatingly close. His head knocks against my sternum woodpecker style, a little jack hammer of pent up but restrained emotion. I’m so glad that he’s happy to see me! “We bowf do dah not talkin today,” he says, the more non-verbal one. Clearly he heard every word of his brother’s performance, even though he was more than 100 yards away outside his own classroom.

    Mind you, he was downwind I suppose.

    Tuesday, March 27, 2007

    An uptight Hannibal

    Uptight. See Ref 1 below.

    More than 8 weeks after surgery I return from yet another inconvenient appointment at the surgeon. The anterior open bite is still there. One tooth touches another, but that’s it; progress nil. As I leave his office, I tap him on the arm with my non-verbal question. "Oh! How many days?" he responds to my waggling digits, "probably 3 to 5 days, then you'll be able to eat again. It's o.k. to hate me for that long," he smiles showing off his own immaculate set of gnashers. I attempt a snarl but think better of it. I calculate, as I nip through the exit door to the car; the most pretigious, experienced, specialist, maxillofacial surgeon on the planet has determined 3 - 5 days, so I double it and add 1.

    As I stagger inside and reach for the wipe board, spouse and the children are all there to greet me.
    “How did you get on?” I frown in return.
    “How come you were so long?” I fumble for a dry erase pen.
    “Are you in pain?” Small people bounce around in the frenzy before bed.
    “What are you looking for?” I continue to scrabble until I have the means to communicate and write; ‘5 days of this or all is lost!’

    What he actually said was that there was a small window of opportunity within which to make the teeth move, otherwise……he didn’t finish his sentence, thankfully.

    “Let’s see then!” I part my lips to reveal enough elastic bands to source a small rubber plantation, “Blimey you look like Hannibal Lecter!” he gasps. Three small people peer and cover their mouths in unison. [rats to the theory of mind!]
    “Shall I get you some pain killers?”
    How exactly am I supposed to insert a tiny pill through this net I wonder?
    “Dat is not nice!”
    “It certainly isn’t,” spouse concurs.
    “No! You are not nice!”
    “Me?” he queries.
    “Yes, you are dah bad one to say mummy is ‘horrible.’”
    “Oh, I didn’t say ‘horrible’ I said ‘Hannibal.’”
    “Hannibal is a nice word? It is dah opposite of ‘horrible’?”
    “Not exactly.”
    “Wot den?”
    “Well there was Hannibal the Barbarian, but I didn’t mean him, not for your mother. This particular "Hannibal," is the name of a man in a famous film.”
    “Mummy is a man now?”
    “No, she looks like the man in the film.”
    “Wot man? Wot film it is.”
    “Well, it’s about this bad man who likes to….”
    I clip him on the head with the wipe board. [translation = for several reasons, not that I ever agree with the principle of "corporal punishment."]

    Ref 1 select whichever you deem most appropriate
    uptight, a. SECOND EDITION 1989
    colloq. and slang (orig. U.S.).

    [UP- 3.]
    1. a. Of a person: in a state of nervous tension or anxiety; inhibited, worried, ‘on edge’; angry, ‘worked up’ (about something). 
 Quot. 1934 is an isolated early example.
    1934 J. M. CAIN Postman always rings Twice xvi. 190 I'm getting up tight now, and I've been thinking about Cora. Do you think she knows I didn't do it? 1966 Sunday Times (Colour Suppl.) 13 Feb. 35/4 Up tight, tense. 1968 Mad LXXVII. 30 ‘Uptight’ means, like, a bad scene. It's when you're hung up, or wigged out, or you can't make it. We all get ‘uptight’ once in a while. 1969 C. YOUNG Todd Dossier 38 He looked worried. Really worried. As the kids say, he was up-tight. 1973 E. CALDWELL Annette (1974) VI. ii. 137 I'd guess you'd gotten so uptight from being denied motherhood that you were ready to leave home. 1975 D. LODGE Changing Places ii. 83 You're feeling all cold and uptight and wishing you hadn't come. 1977 M. EDELMAN Political Lang. v. 90 To the uptight policeman everyone is a potential offender. 1981 P. P. READ Villa Golitsyn II. iv. 112, I was afraid you might be a little uptight about that sort of thing.
    b. fig. Characteristically formal in manner or style; correct, strait-laced.
    1969 Manch. Guardian Weekly 28 Aug. 18 Who would have thought that an uptight institution like the august Oxford University Press would have done a thing like this? Here is a..spirited and spiritous piece of autobiography..served up as a book. 1970 E. M. BRECHER Sex Researchers ix. 253 They tended to swing in the same socially corrrect, formal, ‘up-tight’ style they followed in their other activities. 1976 Chatelaine (Montreal) Jan. 73/3 In the morning, the apartment looked curiously uptight to Meredith.
    2. In approbation: that reaches the desired standard; excellent, fine.
    1962 Down Beat Aug. 20/2 Jazz Gene Ammons Up Tight! 1966 [see OUT-OF-SIGHT adj. phr. (n.) 2]. 1969 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 31 May 11/7 Disc jockeys..talk in a kind of sub-English..as in ‘All right baby sock-it-to-me it's allright uptight yeah.’
    3. Short or out of money; ‘broke’.
    1967 Time 6 Jan. 18/3 ‘Up tight’ can mean anxious, emotionally involved or broke. 1968 Esquire Apr. 160/3 The expression ‘uptight’, which meant being in financial straits, appeared on the soul scene in the general vicinity of 1953.
    Hence uptightness.
    1969 FABIAN & BYRNE Groupie vi. 46 The paranoia and savage uptightness which comes from three such guys living on top of each other and attempting to lead very together type lives while being stoned most of the time. 1974 A. LASKI Night Music 95 It hadn't made him any looser..that rigid uptightness was still in him. 1976 New Yorker 8 Mar. 57/3 In [The Entertainer]..Archie contrasted the uptightness of the British who don't make ‘a fuss’ with a fat black woman he once heard in America who sang ‘her heart out to the whole world’.

    Monday, March 26, 2007

    Early Days 6 - It’s all relative

    [From way back when]
    Junior son and I have arrived early at school to pick up his brother from his Special Education Day Class, now that he is in First Grade. We're early because it allows him to adjust to the 'new surroundings,' even though it's been a few weeks now. It helps to be first because then additional people arrive gradually. We need to avoid the deluge of a crowd. Another mother and her child are also waiting outside the same door. We join her on the bench and I smile. It’s reciprocated.

    I make sure that junior is on the far side of the bench, as far away from her and her son as is physically possible. My son doesn’t look at the other mother, nor her child. He might notice if it was a baby, but toddlers are in the same category as dogs and cats, small creatures that are unpredictable and need to be avoided. He starts to count the holes in the bench; it is a matrix of blue circles. His nose is two inches away from the bench, the holes and his fingers. He can touch it because it is smooth, not hot nor cold, because of the shade on a sunny day. Our awareness of tactile defensiveness and sensory integration grows. I've learned to appreciate these things as we cope with complicated matters like temperature. He counts in a whisper but explodes with “Barnacles!’ when he realizes that he’ll need to start at the beginning again, because he’s not following a mapped path of holes.

    The other mother’s son beams hugely at me with large smiling eyes, heavily lashed. He’s still in nappies [translation = diapers.] We mothers start to chat, as we have a good 15 minutes to wait. She tells me about her family, husband and two boys. She’s very open. I know now that her child is not in the class room behind us but in a different, mainstream class. She tells me what a trial the little one is, so energetic “you wouldn’t believe!” she sighs. I would.

    Junior’s body starts to push against mine. I know that my bottom is covering the holes that he wants to count. He’s not going to ask me to move, he’s just going to shove my weight out of his path; his 45 lbs is going to move my adult bulk by will power alone. I tap him on the shoulder to get his attention. He keeps pushing, oblivious and absorbed. When I don’t budge, he eventually snaps "wot?” with a "tone of irritation." Many autistic children respond, if at all, inappropriately, or out of proportion. Eventually he glances up at my huge immovable form with annoyance, his face scowls. I catch his eyes but before I can speak he realizes that he’s lost count again “Fish paste!” he bellows hurling himself on the ground, beating it with his fists, kicking up the dust [ translation = dirt.] He wears long sleeves and long trousers in the baking 80 degree heat. He realizes that the bare flesh of his exposed hands, has come in contact with something that he would rather not have contact with. Immediately he is on his tippy toe feet, flapping his arms and rain dancing to shake off the debris. I make brushing gestures over him, being careful to avoid the head area. His head and shoulders are especially sensitive and strictly off limits. He slumps, crestfallen and chin fallen. His eyes fall on the bench and he flops on it to start counting again. This kind of persistence and determination, often form a mesmerizing form of "perseveration," which is calming.

    The woman next to me smiles, kindly “he’s a funny little guy!” I pause and glance at her, trying to gauge if it’s worth it. It would seem that I will see her often.
    “Actually he’s autistic.”
    “Autistic, he’s in a special education class, Pre-K. So is his brother, that’s who we’re waiting for, he’s in Mrs. K’s class.”
    “He doesn’t look autistic?”
    I don’t say anything. We both watch him counting holes; 203, 204,205. He will be five years old in a few months. Her son keeps interrupting, wanting her attention; Watch me! Watch me! Play with me! Play with me!

    The loud haler starts crackling, warming up ready for the siren. I move swiftly to the other side of him ready to pounce. The end of the school day is announced. It is very loud, with lots of static. I check whether he is about to meltdown and cover his ears or whether he’s disengaged from the whole world, solely intent on his task. It could go either way, but I’m ready to grab him if he goes hurtling off ears covered, to run blindly towards the traffic; 237, 238, 239. What is the American sporting game where you have to catch the ball just in time? Ah yes! Cricket.

    “You’d never know, would you?”

    I would now.

    Sunday, March 25, 2007

    A warning to world’s women

    Beware! Mother’s Day is coming. [already gone, in Europe where Mothering Sunday is linked to the liturgical calendar]

    Kindly women warn their significant others that the day approaches. Martyrs, prefer to remain silent and moan a lot, quietly with breathy sighs. Now you may be the parent of an autistic child, a mother or father perhaps? If you are, you may feel that such warnings have no relevance for you. Whilst you may well be correct and I certainly felt that I was a member of that contingent, last year, I found myself in the relevant group unexpectedly. In fact it is because Mother's Day is still 7 weeks away, the second Sunday in May, that forewarned is fore armed. Some people with fine motor challenges and other complications, need far longer to get their act together.

    Last year, I was aware that many of the words I used failed to penetrate. I also failed to appreciate that many of the words that I thought were merely afloat in the ether, had penetrated. The trouble is that you can’t pick and choose which ones lodge and take root.

    When your significant other is reminded that ‘the day’ is approaching, he may start to consider what, if anything, might be an appropriate gift or treat for you, the mother of his children. He might, if truly desperate, and most of them are, consult the offspring. For some reason, most autistic children appear to communicate far more effectively with one parent rather than the other. The one parent, often appears to be their father.

    The father can extract information from an autistic child that completely escapes the mother, though why this should true, requires further research. But we warned, your children, autistic or otherwise, will recall the most remote and obscure words that you have uttered during their period of life on this earth to date, to delight and bewilder you.

    Ergo, when the great day arrives, you need to scour your memory bank, mine for details and have instant accurate recall . That way when you are presented with home made picture of a rainbow, a home made rag for the purpose of cleaning your glasses and a flower picked from your very own garden, then you will know that you are a very lucky woman indeed.

    A curious child, who is not named George

    I come across one of these beings during a play-date. He has the lingo. He has the looks. Sleek, slim, sharp. A lean, mean, ragamuffin type. A heart breaker in the making. The language of a 13 year old – a tween. All the patter, right tone, correct demeanour, the angle of his chin, the tilt of his face, the tension in his body, the strut and attitude, all perfect. He is an exact replica by design or default. [translation = what some people refer to as high functioning autism and or Asperger Syndrome] He has skills and agility of an athlete – always a highly prized quality this side of the pond. His eye contact is electric, a rare beast indeed. I have never been stared down by an 8 and a half year old.

    I transport this child, my own three, and two other play date victims, to our home via the car. My children do not transition well and particularly loathe the car. I must have been completely barmey to think that I could pull this off! [translation = daft as a brush] This poor benighted child suffers surround sound screaming during the 7 minute journey home. Not only is he on sensory overload after a punishing day at school, now this 'only child' experiences a baptism of fire in a multi sibling home. [translation = plus the two other players.]

    On arrival, there is a mass exodus, two typically developing girls and four autistic boys. [translation = one over optimistic adult]

    I now need eyes in the back of my head as well as every room in the house simultaneously. I watch the one with the light switch obsession, as he flicks it on and off, temporarily confounded, due to the dimmer function. I don't interfere with his perseveration as it seems as good as any other coping mechanism to settle in to new surroundings.

    I find that two of the boys 'like' outside, which is unfortunate as I have two 'hot house, never go outside under any circumstances,' versions. One collects ants for the lizard, whilst my son observes through the glass door. He shouts warnings to him, "don be hurted by dah bees! It is Spring! Dere are bees in dah gardin!" I delighted that he is so concerned for his chum's welfare. The child bearing gifts of ants, has an immediately recognisable style of speech. The tone, pitch and prosody are a dead give away; "how old is the lizard? [in minutes] "What type of lizard is he?" [although sex is arbitrary and irrelevant] He doesn't ask what the lizard's name is. I can't decide whether to kiss him or the lizard? ["Gecky"]

    Clothes appear to be optional, which would probably be o.k. as we are familiar with the naked tactile defensive side of autism, but a rogue, typically developing girl, who only has sisters, probably should avoid such trauma. I do not wish to deal with the fall out - "Yes mom, I had a great time playing with four naked boys..........!" I feel my brain over heating.

    He is long limbed, chiseled, stark and autistic. A chameleon, and a blender. The effect is perfection. You would never know, unless you knew.

    Noise, unexpected or predictable, but unfamiliar, is a deficit. The hands flutter like birds, but he’s been taught to correct that ‘fault.’ The chronological demeanour of a teen, the developmental age of 5, maybe 6 year old. He’s as sharp as a tack, as delicate as a soufflĂ©. As hard as a drug dealer, the kind that cuddles rabbits. He is both centuries older and light years younger than any of my children.

    His appreciation of right and wrong, rules and the force of restrain, is impeccable. He is verbal, erudite. He corrects my children with the authority of the police, and the compassion on a monk. He is kind, concise and patient with inferiors.

    The manners of a diplomat, the speed of a fire cracker. He is scared of cats, but warms to a lizard.

    I hate the word ‘awe’ as is it over-used, devalued, almost worthless. But I look at this ‘child/adult’ and breath deeply.

    I am uncertain who I am more fearful for, the world at large or this precious individual.

    Anyone, anyone at all, who has the powers of persuasion, to get my indoor, passion flower son, out into the garden, is certain to have an impact in a manner that we can only dream of, decidedly sweet dreams.

    Saturday, March 24, 2007

    Early Days 5 - Do not be downcast

    A few years back, Junior repeated his school year in his special education class. [translation = retained?] The Pre-K teacher was a speech pathologist by profession and had more than 30 years experience with little chaps and chapesses of my son’s ilk. Tiny modest benchmarks were recorded on his IEP chart. Whilst there was a little tick here and there, other elements seemed to have vanished. Carefully acquired skills had slipped from our grasp. For me, his new achievements were over-shadowed by the thought of the ones that we seemed to have carelessly mislaid somewhere.

    I think I was in the ‘generalization’ phase. In case you are unfamiliar with this term, for current purposes, it means that when a child learns a new skill, such as tolerating sand at the beach, in theory, they should also tolerate sand in other situations, such as school, a sand pit in the garden, a washing up bowl full of sand and preferred toys etc. If the tolerance of sand, remains solely at the beach, then he has ‘failed’ to generalize. It felt like a double whammie, not only did he suffer from "tactile defensiveness," but any progress we theoretically made, remained strictly in the geographical location where he first acquired it. He also has a parent whirlizting away on yet another campaign.

    At that time, junior’s failure to generalize just about anything, was a cause of deep frustration for me. He learned to eat bananas, but only at home, that is to say, not in the car, not in the garden, [of course] not at school nor the park. I believe I read “Green Eggs and Ham,” until I was the same colour as the eggs, and every bit as cheesed off as that rotting food stuff.

    He would hunker down on his favourite, [translation = only chair] whilst I forked slices of banana into his open baby bird mouth. He would not ‘bite’ into the banana and shock his teeth. His hands could not tolerate touching the banana with the skin and the idea of contact with a naked banana would send him into an apopleptic fit. He would not chew the banana but swallowed the lumps whole, as his mastication abilities were as feeble as my own. “No fork, no eat,” were his watch words.

    It takes a long time for fork a whole banana into a three and a half year old, three times a day. The time factor features heavily if you are also obliged to spoon feed the five year old his different dinner, at the same time. The combination of the tactile/oral defensive small one, and the sequencing/ co-ordination/fine and gross motor challenged older one, resulted in an ambidextrous mother with very dirty clothes. But "neophobic" was yet to be part of my vocabulary.

    His teacher, in her professional capacity, was a remarkably conservative woman for an American. Other parents complained about her enigmatic aura. I am rarely intimidated by other people, mainly because of my inability to recognize or admit to their superiority. As a result, I tend to just plough ahead regardless, as I have discovered that life is just far too short, to be messing about with too many niceties. As she finished off her assessment of his progress, I launched in with my size tens, to quiz her about the losses. Where were they? Where had they gone and why?

    Miss E removed he spectacles and pinched the bridge of her nose, as she composed herself. I awaited enlightenment from this stalwart of the teaching profession, universally admired by all her colleagues. She told me, that in her view, children, especially our children, developed in their own unique way. It was her observation, over the years, that growth and progress could be viewed like a corkscrew at a angle - the child seems to be on the up, learning new things, blossoming, happier. Then, for some unaccountable reason, they seemed to spiral down again, slipping over the curve in the corkscrew. She suggested, that when they're in the 'dip,' curling around loop, they are really re-grouping their skills, filing them away, making them secure, a consolidation if you will, until they emerge and rise up the curve again, ready for the next cycle.

    I don't know if it's true, certainly not very scientific, but it's a visual that helps me. Not everything has to be ‘true’ to be ‘helpful,’ does it?

    I hope this isn't too irritating. I think I would find it irritating, but I find a lot of things annoying. My pal, "Jerry Grasso," suggested it, so we'll blame him instead, or at least I will. If you have not visited this blog before, do not be disorientated by the photograph of the lovely, smiling blond woman. That is not Jerry, as he is the dad, but he's still a jolly good egg.

    Friday, March 23, 2007

    Ignore the autistic child

    Spouse and I haven’t seen each other during waking hours for a considerable period of time. We decide to attempt an adult conversation. [translation = reciprocal exchange] We have many things to catch up, the meaning of life, amongst other things. We commence with ‘other things.’ The first ‘other thing’ for discussion is the problem of the window, the kitchen one. It lets in lots of light, but we’re in California which means that in March although the temperatures outside are in the balmy mid 70’s, within the confines of the window, the temperature tops 101. ‘ Would that we all had such problems!’ I hear you sneer, and well you might, but you see this house is a haven for plant life and plant life curls up it’s toes and dies pretty rapidly when the barometer creeps over 90.

    “Well why do you have to grow so many seeds anyway?” he starts unhelpfully. Junior continues to perseverate on the floor between us, at ‘tripping over’ distance. He stabs the floor boards with the green cocktail stick, his favourite colour of the week, or possibly month. [translation = maybe longer] Since it’s made of plastic, we anticipate minimal damage to either himself, or more importantly, the floorboards.

    “I grow seeds to save us money dear.”
    “How does filling the garden full of flowers that have to be watered, with very expensive water I might add, save us money? Exactly?” Junior mutters to himself as his imaginary letters fail to meet his exacting standards of precision, even though he can’t actually see them.
    “Good point! When are we going to fix the sprinkler system? When everything is already dead at this rate.”
    “By ‘we’ I assume you mean ‘me’?”
    “I didn’t say that.”
    “You didn’t have to.” I look at the top of my son's head, busy, absorbed.
    “Do you realise I could say 'chocolate pudding' fifty time now and he wouldn't even blink an eye." We both look at the top of his head, whilst his fingers scratch away. Otherwise he doesn't so much as flinch, oblivious.
    "Anyway. The window. How can we make it cooler in there?”
    “How about the fan, the old one in the garage?”
    “That will ruin my streamline look and anyway, then they’ll just all be in a hot desert wind, rather than a still desert.”
    Junior pokes me in the leg with his cocktail stick. I check to see if this was experimentation, an accident or a request for attention? I can’t tell, so I carry on the conversation without paying him any more heed. He’s quiet, don’t lets rock the boat.
    “I suppose. Do you keep the little side windows open?”
    “I do, but there just no air flow.” Three well timed little pricks to the calf attract my attention, “yes, dear?”
    “Pointy fings.”
    “Yes it is pointy. Pointy and chartreuse coloured.” Spouse changes position on the counter and peers upwards, “we could always put some shade up. I could tape some cardboard up there.”
    “Cardboard! Are you quiet mad? There again, that’s quite a good idea.”
    “Yes, we could have some of those lovely pull down canopies that they have on shop windows.”
    “You’re kidding right?”
    “No really, I think that’s a brilliant solution.”
    “Just for a few weeds,……er plants?”
    “No, not at all. It will add to the value of the house, a sound investment.” Junior stabs my little toe with the cocktail stick, “pointy plants!” Really, the child can be so irritating sometimes. I hunker down to attend to the annoyance. “What are you doing dear? It hurts my toe when you poke it like that.”
    “It does look rather like a chipolata,” my beloved spouse adds unnecessarily. Junior rolls back onto the floor to guffaw, “wiener!!!!!!!” I take advantage of the mutual hilarity between the males of the species, to drive the point home, “so I’ll give them a ring and make an appointment for them to come and measure up then.” It is a statement not a question, “that way we can fill the whole window with beautiful plants for the delight of everyone!”
    Junior regains his composure, climbs up on the counter, to where the top glass shelf is located. He is above our eye line. He takes his green cocktail stick and uses it as a visual aid for his aged parents to announce his own solution, “pointy fing, wiv prickles is being dah cactus that is growing in dah desert. Now I have my chocolate dessert?”

    Thursday, March 22, 2007

    The Basic principles of parenting

    You only need to know one. The one principle that all parents need to know and apply is ‘consistency.’ It’s better for the parent, it’s perfect for the child. If the child happens to be autistic, then woe betide the parent that quibbles with the undoubted soundness of this GOLDEN rule. The parent of the autistic child must apply the same consistent rules to that child several thousands of times, preferably in the same manner to avoid confusion. [most probably of the parent] Should you, the parent, be tempted to deviate from this course, then you only have yourself to blame when the whole house of cards comes crashing down upon your head. I know more than a few parents have difficulty with this first and most basic of steps, but it behoves us all to heed these words well. There can be no back sliding, no namby pamby, weak willed spineless parenting styles.

    I return home with renewed fortitude to conquer rather than tread water. I have envelops to push, campaigns to promote and the determination to follow through even if it kills me. Oh yes, there is nothing like a 7 minute emergency trip for milk at 7/11 [translation = almost the corner shop] to recharge a parent’s batteries.

    I step inside just in time to catch the youngest speech delayed one as he scampers out of the bathroom, naked. Yes, naked again due in part to "tactile defensiveness," which in turn, is part of the "sensory integration" issue, because few things are simple or straight forward any more. This is a task, that we seem to have been working on forever. Apart from the speech delay, and the use of language, for current purposes it is a three part 'problem': "sequencing," [going through the same steps in the right order] "ideation," [being able to visualise the end result] and of course, my friend and yours, "task completion," [getting to the end.]

    I hold him gently by the forearms, turn his body towards mine, find my cheerleader voice, pause, to ensure that I have his attention and say the same words that I have already said too many times to mention today, “clothes on dear!” He sighs as his body slumps, chin to chest, so that he is better able to gird his bare loins and growl. Suddenly his body snaps to attention, the soles of his feet stomp on the floor as he says, with rigid arms and spiked fingers, “ya know, you need to use dah different words! Dowz words are soooooo boring.” His chest pops out towards my chin, just enough to tip me over backwards onto my bottom. In this position I am better able to watch him depart, squealing, “run, run, run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me I’m the Gingerbread man!”

    It's a shame that we can't use the American equivalent, but of course it doesn't rhyme. Nevermind either version is probably a good quote for a neophobic.

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