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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Perfect Pancakes

My children do not eat eggs, amongst many other things, even though only one of them is neophobic. They love the shape of eggs, holding eggs, playing with eggs, buying with eggs but not actually eating them. Whilst their diet is appalling it is just one of the many campaigns that we’re working on. Each child has a narrow diet and has very little overlap with the preferences of their siblings. Separate meals for each individual person with their own set of quibbles can be a challenge for the chef. So a couple of years back when junior entertained the possibility of eating pancakes for breakfast we considered this step to be a major breakthrough. At last we had found one meal where they would all eat the same thing as each other.

As usual, I was not content with this development and started tinkering with the ingredients. Changing the recipe of something that they already eat, is also a recipe for disaster but I forged ahead regardless. The goal? Egg consumption by stealth. Weeks of careful tinkering eventually produced two pancakes per child, one egg per pancake. Result each child ‘eats’ two eggs per week. Cost? One gallon of syrup per pancake consumed, not an idea ratio but another little something that we can tinker with. When I recall the delicate lacey crepes that my mother created I am tempted to hide in my own oven, but needs must where the devil drives.

Hence at their current ages of 9 seven and a half, and 6, after years of meticulous devotion my children consume pancakes with the consistency of India rubber. They’d double as Frisbees if one were so inclined. Not so much a culinary tour de force as reinforced tyre material.

As side issue, which is the one I wanted to discuss was the ‘perfection’ aspect of the pancake in question, not it’s consistency, but it’s shape. A perfect pancake in this household is round. Not only is it round, it is perfectly round. In fairness I only need to make one in three, is perfectly round and ensure that junior is the recipient of my efforts, if I wish him to participate in the eating extravaganza. It’s a very simple formula for success; if it is round he will eat it, if it is not round he won’t and no amount of syrup will persuade him otherwise. Even if you hold out and represent the irregular pancake at snack time, lunch time, next snack time and supper time, be assured that this is a battle that you, or rather ‘I’, am not going to win. I have no idea what perils of consumption worry him so inordinately on this matter, but he will not be budged.

However, during my temporary check out period following surgery, my domestic duties have been severely curtailed. Spouse, the original pancake make of some 15 years experience entered the fray and took up the griddle. Whilst I would like to say that they all cheered him on in his efforts, this would be less than truthful. I had the pleasure of witnessing the presentation of the first tear shaped pancake. The noise that cracked open from his lungs assured the neighbour that he had just been slain to the floor with a stake through his heart. Fortunately he was speechless with shock, so outraged at the concept of non roundness. Even when the screaming subsided he was only capable of half sentences:
“what? / it can’t be / no / never / not elipse / aghhh.” On reflection spouse and I concurred that a non round shape might have been an option if the pancake had been a recognizable and familiar shape. A preferred shape might even have brought additional rewards, but a trapezoid on a early Sunday morning didn’t enter our thought processes, well it doesn’t often, does it?

The other two chomp away oblivious to his angst and make unhelpful comments;
“Hey it looks like a tear and he’s crying!”
“Mine is like a , like a …er. …..it is shaped like a squidgey moon!”
“Actually, it looks like an egg too!” Everyone turns to look at junior’s plate. Everyone mutters in agreement, it does sort of look like a pointy egg. Junior allows his eyes to sweep over his own plate, whereupon he sputters in awe, “it is! It is like an egg! I love it, eggs are my favourite!”

No Compass

Now do feel free to stop me at any time when you’ve had enough, as I do have a tendency to go a little off track on occasions. I won’t be in the least bit offended as I’m well versed in social blunders of this kind. When I first meet someone new, I have a inclination not to mention children, mine or anyone else’s. Do I behave in this manner because I am ashamed? You’d be justified in that opinion, but you would be way off. Unlikely as it may seem, seeing as how I am a Brit, on the contrary, I like to think that I am being considerate to that person. Unless you, the listener, have unusually enhanced social skills, then if someone that you meet, such as me, tells you that they have a couple of autistic kids in tow, that might prove to be a little bit of a stumper. What is the appropriate etiquette when receiving such a piece of information?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that whatever the person says, they at least, feel that it was wrong.

Now I am sympathetic to their plight and that is why I keep mum. [translation = don’t let on] As it turns out, after all this time, it doesn’t really matter what the reply is, as I’ve heard most of them, some of them many times and I can honestly say that I am not in the least bit offended any more. I feel sorry for you, the receiver of the information, because hearing this piece of information makes you feel uncomfortable.

It’s a tricky one though, if I leave it too long before I mention it to you then it can be even more of an unpleasant or disconcerting surprise.
I know that you’re just dying to know what the most common reply is? Well, sorry to disappoint, but generally the one that happens most often is an ‘oh!’ and a combination of a shifty eyes and a weak smile, followed by either a lengthy pause or a rapid change of subject.

But this isn’t really my area of expertise, seeing as how I hale from yonder small island, where ‘body language’ merely refers to rude hand gestures and there are no such things as social skills, merely rules, a hierarchy and a sense of decorum at all times. Now if my autistic children were hoping for a leg up [translation = advantage] in the realms of social interaction, then they basically drew the short straw. Since I’m out here, in Jolly Old California, rather than back there, at least I have the advantage of understanding the not so subtle messages that I exude. The tight face, stiff upper lip, brow frown and rigid shoulders, tell every one to keep their distance without me having to utter a single syllable. My diction may be first rate, my enunciation second to none, but that won’t get me very far with an autistic child because my facial expression doesn’t match my message. If you have a face like a poker, you are wasting your time trying to communicate with them. You need an animated face, a cheerleader’s movements, an Italian’s hand gestures and a tone of voice that is arresting. Without these tools you are wasting your time, you won’t even get their attention let alone permit a message to transmit.

Yes, when dealing with an autistic child, whilst it pains me more than you can ever know to admit it, two particularly loathsome American terms come to mind; ‘in your face’ and ‘on your case,’ because ‘would you mind awfully’ and ‘ when you have a mo’ just don’t cut it. Fortunately, learning to be a ‘citizen’ out here has conferred far more benefits upon me than the mere permission to work.

Early days 2

Whilst I fasted as a youngster at boarding school and I’m aware that there are people on the planet who choose to follow unusual diets, I didn’t really think it was possible to live for weeks on a liquid diet. This is probably because I’ve never had reason to consider such matters prior to my present predicament after jaw surgery. Although I have very particular food preferences myself, I had my doubts about what could be the minimum number of ‘foods’ that would sustain existence without terminal boredom setting in. In the Western world of abundance, it’s hard to think of existing on a diet of only rice or potatoes, but a considerable percentage of the world’s population are in exactly that position and not by choice.

For me it emphasizes that light bulb moment when you realize that something is severely amiss. This occurred when junior was approaching three and senior was in the process of being diagnosed. [translation = a diagnoses generally takes a considerable amount of time for all the evaluations, assessments and observations to be completed prior to the written report.]

We were making our weekly trip to a restaurant in the hope of civilizing and socializing our children. I had just managed to squeeze the little one into the tiny highchair and strap him in without breaking both his legs. [translation = commercial high chairs are designed for babies, not a taller than average three year old] I started feeding him single goldfish at intervals just far enough apart to make the bagful last until we had completed our order with the server. As soon as she left, I whipped out three baby jars of sweet potatoes to feed him. Once they had been consumed, I would move on to surreptitious raisins, his third ‘food.’ His last 'food,' milk, would tide us over before we paid the bill and ran away. The four ‘foods’ status was established.

I fed him with a spoon because he was incapable of feeding himself. I was busy shoveling into the permanently open mouth when a father and two young boys sat next at the next table and quietly ordered their own food. Both of his boys were sitting on chairs, they chatted animatedly although I couldn’t hear their conversation because of the din that my little crowd were making. As I saw the other three year old sink his teeth into a hot dog that he held between his own two little hands, it dawned on me that I was existing on a different planet to the rest of humanity.
I looked at spouse, harried and harangued. I looked at my daughter, sniveling because her brother kept collapsing on her like a deflated balloon. I looked at my oldest son, still incapable of holding any kind of utensils with a diet nearly as narrow as his little brother’s. I looked at junior, wearing a baby bib that barely did up at the back of his neck and knew that I needed my own head examined.

As I had completed all the paperwork for senior I couldn’t ignore that where he scored +10 on a question, his brother would score a -10. Each additional fact had piled up, not exact opposites but as near as made no odds. I looked at his arms and legs poking out from his clothes that were too small and label-less, worn smooth and threadbare since this was the third child. I saw his toes curling around the edge of his Spring sandals now that we were in December because they were the only pair that I could ‘force’ him to wear when footwear couldn’t be avoided. My eyes were drawn to his cupid bow mouth, soft with permanently parted lips, without a functioning muscle for support.

I was tempted to crawl under the table and weep then and there. Instead we went home. I phoned the expert and made an appointment to start the second assessment before the ink was dry on the first.

Handy hint [possibly] number 2

It may be that you have the kind of autistic child that objects strongly to ‘outside.’ If you don’t, just skip this and go and find something more relevant.

If you are truly unfortunate ‘outside’ also includes the garden. [translation = yard] If you find that attempting to take your child outside results in a serious case of the heebie jeebies, then you may also find that you and your child [ren] are trapped within the four walls of your home.

It is probably a good idea to try and find out what exactly is the true nature of their objection to ‘outside.’ This can be tricky if your child is also non-verbal. Some of it may be sensory in the realms of weather, temperature, the degree of light intensity and so on. This list is more or less endless, but again, difficult to pin down if language is not forthcoming. If you’re happy for your house to remain your prison, all well and good, but even the more reclusive parent will find that on occasion, it is necessary to leave the house, if only for a few basic essentials such as food.

With that in mind, it is probably best to tackle the issue before it festers and becomes ingrained, the only other alternative being, that you will eventually leave your house in a six foot wooden coffin.

Now it may be that you are out numbered, one parent versus two children determined to remain troglodytes. You may be able to fool a friend into assisting you with this task, but failing that option, it may only be possible to deal with one child at a time. This is especially difficult, as it probably means that one child will be inside unsupervised, whilst you ‘deal’ with the other one outside. If this is the case place the inside child near a glass window or door with whatever the current obsession is. Whilst it is painful to admit that you are allowing one child to perseverate [push the ladder up on the fire engine, push the ladder down on the fire engine] for 20 minutes, this has to be balanced against the benefit of acclimatizing the other child to the ‘outside.’ Try and ignore the fact that the inside child is oblivious to the screaming agony of the outside child, as this is just a distracter to the parent. But I digress.

What can you do outside that might make being outside less agonizing or possibly more attractive? This depends entirely upon what you have to work with, as each child’s unique make up will determine the outcome. For one of my children this meant lugging out Thomas the tank engine and his numerous cohorts into the garden and seleotaping them to the fence at sight level for a four and a half year old. Whilst I’d like to describe this as a treasure hunt with those pleasant connotations, the reality was more of a screaming rescue mission on his part. Clearly, this kind of ‘game’ requires setting up in advance and it’s essential that the trains should be easily removable for those with poor fine motor skills. Ear plugs may be beneficial for the parent also.

For the other one, I found that the alphabet, shapes and numbers painted on the fence, paths, plant pots and other bits and bobs was a much better fit.
If you can make this a daily ‘exercise’ eventually you may be rewarded by the ability to have both children rescuing their respective preferences at the same time, therefore reducing the parental stress of leaving a child unsupervised in the house.
With luck, much, much later, they may begin to enjoy the experience. Perhaps, much, much later, it might become ‘fun.’

I think most things have the potential to become ‘fun’ when they are no longer ‘new.’

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