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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Why do I have to? By Lauri Leventhal-Belfer, illustrated by Luisa Montaini-Klovdahl

"This" is ‘a "book" for children who find themselves frustrated by everyday rules.’ This is probably all you need to know about this publication, as well as the fact that it is a great, practical and resourceful read.

However, you may wish to know a little more before you make a "purchase." First of all I would note that this book is written for children who ‘have difficulty coping with the hassles of everyday life.’ The words ‘autism’ and ‘Asperger’ are nowhere to be found, but we all know what we’re talking about.

Generally speaking, I currently avoid books about "Asperger" Syndrome because whilst they may be useful in the future, for the time being, we exist on another inch of the "spectrum."

However, I have a great number of "friends" with Asperger children. I am sympathetic to the very different challenges that they and their children experience, a different page in the very same tome.

I never read the blurb on the back of a book, as I wish to avoid bias and make up my own mind. However, the introduction is compulsory for me. This lets me know if it is worthwhile turning to the next page. Here, the author sets the tone for the adult reader. Quite often it can be just one line that hits the nail on the head:- ‘often these children are not as interested in the answers as much as they are in winning more time to do a desired activity or support for their position.’ The introduction is peppered with nuggets of wisdom and practical guidance:-
- each story ends with a positive statement affirming the benefit of a more adaptive coping style
- one of the biggest challenges in working with these children is getting the strategies that may work in one setting to generalize……
-will not be automatic……rather it will take a great deal of work and practice before a child is able to integrate spontaneously…..without external support.
-keeping track of the times that your child experiences success as well as …..roadblocks
- collaborate with teachers
- motivation
This tells me that the author knows what she is talking about which in turn convinces me to read on. Most importantly of all, the author emphasizes the importance of choosing only one campaign to work on at a time.

This book could also be called ‘transitions, how to get through them?’ Not as catchy but some of us with youngsters who are non-verbal or face different life challenges, know just how traumatic so many of these transitions can be for our children.

The book is divided into three sections:-
Rules that may be frustrating at home
Rules that may be frustrating about friends
Rules that may be frustrating about school
Yes, this is your child’s life, and every single one of the ‘whys’ pertains to most of our children, I’ve checked.
For instance:-
-‘why do I have to say ‘hello’ with words?’
-‘why do I have to let other kids play a game the ‘wrong’ way?’
- ‘why do I have to go the bathroom when I don’t need to?’
I hope these questions also have resonance for you too? If not, please correct me.

Still not convinced?

After each story, [they’re short,] there are several points or strategies suggested to help both child and parent. The suggestions are practical. Interestingly, they cover the categories that are most useful to my family, such as self calming, the sensory element[s], distracters, alternative outlets for frustration, self talk and sensory/bio feedback. Don’t worry, none of those words appear in the book because the writer is far too canny to scare off those people would could most benefit from her words, including me!

So what about the non-verbal child who never asks ‘why?’ Could this really help a non-verbal child, especially if they don’t sign? Who can say? I would say, or rather suggest, that even if a child does not say the word ‘why?’ those questions are still percolating around inside. They also experience the same frustrations with the rules imposed upon them by adults. Frequently autistic children understand many more words [receptive language] than they are able to articulate. [expressive language]

Lastly, just in case there are still any doubting Thomas’, each story finishes with this question, “do you have any other ideas about what may help you……?” This provides the perfect invitation for the child and parent to work collaboratively. In my limited experience, all too often, my children, when given the opportunity, can come up with their very own solutions to a problem. Then, I have the problem. All I have to do is wrap my head around their alternative, try very hard to compromise and accept that quite often the answer is staring me in the face.

Need one last practical example?

Fair enough. What do I do about my boys and their friends, or more particularly their male friends? When they meet for a play date or say their good byes, they skip the words part and demonstrate their friendship with close physical contact. This is heartwarming to witness in toddlers and young people, but as young people grow larger, society is less accepting, cold hearted and full of disapprobation. At this early stage, I do not particularly wish to curb this behaviour. I would prefer to encourage it, but my sons are more likely to be accepted in society at large, if they can make small adaptations. What kind of adaptation? A formal hand shake isn’t going to let them express what they need to express, but it is socially acceptable. What else? Follow the suggestion; ask the boys themselves. Their solution? ‘A boy hug,’ which looks like a bear hug, lots of hearty, male testosterone bonding. Not my ideal, nor first choice, but it works, and that’s all that really matters.

You may wish to consider "buying" your copy from "Amazon" or straight from "Jessica Kingsley Publishers."

Alternatively, if anyone is interested in a scribbled on version, I'm happy to offer up my own copy, maybe a February giveaway?

Cheers dears

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