I have moved over to WhittereronAutism.com. Please follow the link to find me there. Hope to see you after the jump! :)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Superflex – is this a good program for my child?

by Stephanie Madrigal and Michelle Garcia Winner
Comic Book by Stephanie Madrigal/Illustrated by Kelly Knopp

Superflex is a behavioral program that addresses some of the behavioral and psychological issues that our children struggle with on a daily basis. There could be a number of different ways of explaining this program. The authors describe it as follows:-

Superflex®: A Superhero Social Thinking Curriculum provides educators, parents and therapists fun and motivating ways to teach students with Asperger Syndrome, high-functioning autism, ADHD and other diagnosed and undiagnosed social difficulties how to build social thinking skills. Superflex combines a book, comic book and CD to create a curriculum that develops in each student's brain their own superheroic thinking processes that can overcome the challenges in different social situations that arrive across the school and home day.

Most of us can identify a number of behaviors that are commonplace amongst our children, which may be broadly identified as inflexible and can often become major hurdles to address on a daily basis. They are often the cause of a great deal of unhappiness and angst. Rigid behavioral responses can be a significant barrier to living a full and enjoyable life. Due to copyright issues I won’t reproduce or explain the main role of the different characters involved in Superflex and the rogues who attack him, the Unthinkables, but once they have been mastered [over many weeks if not months] then it is entirely possible to invent characters who more exactly match other situations, more finely tailored to our own children.

Around here it’s a question of recognizing our own intolerance of some issues. To take a handy example we could tackle the matter of hygiene – my unwashed, filthy hands and revolting personal habits, do not spread germs nor make you ill, but you are oblivious to your own runny nose which will surely kill me. If we can both learn to recognize how our respective behaviors affect each other, then that’s progress - we need that recognition. That’s part of the flexible thinking approach. Then we move on to look for strategies to alleviate the situation.

Another [local] example would be how you cannot stand the smell of bananas, my favorite snack, but I will retch at the stench of Jif, peanut butter, your favorite snack. You need to understand that I will die, now, if I can’t banana. I don’t care how much you want to eat peanut better – it’s disgusting. Bit of an impasse really since we live in the same house and eat together in the same room. The solution is simple – you go and live somewhere else and eat your disgusting food out of my sensory range. Pity your solution is the same for me. We need a different tactic. I recognize my own feelings and someone might point out that your feelings are an exact match. It’s a startling realization. Then, it’s only a few small steps to think up different ways of dealing with the problem and finding a compromise. From that point, it’s then much easier to extrapolate from that one situation to extend it to other similar situations, especially when they are successful experiences. Unlikely as it may seem, flexibility and tolerance can be learned.

Your children may not be ready for this yet, just as mine weren’t in earlier years, but it’s always a good idea to look ahead.  You can buy it at Amazon.http://www.amazon.com/Superflex-Superhero-Social-Thinking-Curriculum/dp/0979292247/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1284309692&sr=8-1

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mother’s and millstones

Hurtling along at 65 mph in the car on holiday:-

“Is it…?”
“Is what dear?”
“It is…unusual?”
“Is what unusual?”
“It is ….unusual dirt behind your ears?”
“Yes it is. Most people have a shower every day and scrub behind their ears. Especially if they live in a hot country like California.”
“That’s a lie.”
“California is not a country it’s a State.”
“How true.”


Later, when we’ve trucked back home after a quiet and productive afternoon.

“My! That’s very sophisticated.”
“I am made it with my Legos.”
“I can see. It’s taken you a long time to make that articulated lorry. Very patient. Well done.”
“What it is?”
“What is what dear?”
“Dah word that you are saying of?”
“Articulated. Sorry, I meant…”
“Dah other word?”
“Yes. It is being your English word isn’t it.”
“Sorry I forgot. I meant truck – honestly.”

Summer holidays give us time for other pursuits:-

Scaredy Blob's Adventures on U-Tube

All this technology makes my head hurt but I can't allow such triflings to stifle their creativity.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Holiday love and the preface

A speech delay can be a curious thing, for both the speaker and the listener. Around here, for the longest time, my youngest son has prefaced most of his remarks with the warm up phrase –‘I am be.’ It’s the verbal equivalent of ‘um, er, well, actually.’ It’s a kind of precursor we’ve learned to live with, hardly notice. Just when we think it’s disappeared, it pops back.

After many tortuous years, our annual holiday to England, becomes easier. We have finally reached the point where my country of birth is not longer ridiculed, mocked and loathed – or at least somewhat less so. They have been won over by a few of the finer features of British life, some resurrected from the mists of time for purely artificial purposes. Archaic practices such as ‘afternoon tea,’ are welcomed. Without the actual tea, it’s a winner. A box of indulgent shop bought cakes and other nefarious dalliances. No more hand-made, wafer thin cut slices of cucumber, pre-soaked in wine vinegar with the lightest dusting of white ground peppercorns and crust-less bread, cut into triangles. I know I’m beat, primarily due to their fake, but very realistic, vomit noises – gems before minors. But we’ve made progress in other areas:-

“Tell me one new thing that you like about England?”
“I am be love dah pink meringues.”
“Great! Anything else?”
“England respects lions.”
“Oh the joys of Longleat Safari Park!” But that’s the thing about a speech delay—we bimble along the usual pathways, only to be pounced on and decimated by one perfect sentence. Frosting, glitter and sprinkles on an otherwise quite ordinary existence.
“And? Can you think of anything else? A third?”
“I am be love dah chutz.”
“Chutz? What’s a chutz? I don’t think I remember anything called a chutz?”
“They be chutz are wooden things.”
“What kind of a wooden thing?”
“Large… no small wooden things with painted.”
“Hmm. Give me another clue?”
“They are be big enough for a body to be inside.”
“A box. A coffin? Do you mean coffin? No you can’t mean that. I’d remember if we’d seen a coffin. Another clue please.”
“Sigh…No. Dey are be on the sand.”
“Shell? Rock?”
“No. No.”
“I give up.”
“It is be…for peoples.”
“Ice-cream cones, hampers, coolers?”
“No. No. No. It is be…for peoples who are be on dah beach.”
“A wooden…spade? Deck chair? Parasol? Windbreak?”
“No. No. No. No. Dey are be in dah wooden thing with paint.”
“People in wooden painted things on the beach?”
“Yes… you sayed they were be for peoples to be out of the rains.”
“I did? The rains? Ooo, you mean beach huts.”

Clearly my diction needs brushing up.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Visualization Skills

How much longer does it take the average sized, larger dog, to pass safely through a door [which closes automatically] with his tail intact, than a narrower tailless small human?

It's so easy to count to four.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Independence Day[s]

“Can we are have Margaritas today?”
“Um. I don’t think I’ve ever made one.”
“You are make dem?”
“I can try. We’ll look it up on the web and make virgin ones.”
“Only one?”
“No several. Maybe alcoholic ones for us grown ups and non-alcoholic or virgin ones for you youngsters. Can’t be that difficult.”
“There are being two kinds of Margaritas?”
“I think there are lots of different kinds but they’re not really my kind of a thing.”
“But you are like them?”
“What’s not to like? Are they traditional for Americans on Independence Day?”
“Where did you learn that? I’d have thought they were more Mexican than American?”
“No dats Mexican Hats.”
“I don’t think anyone will be wearing a Mexican Hat in the street parade.”
“You are not being wearing a Mexican Hat.”
“No I’m not going to be wearing a Mexican Hat.”
“No! Nobody is wearing a Mexican Hat.”
“It’s o.k. I’m not arguing with you. I’m agreeing with you. You’re right no-one will be wearing a Mexican Hat.”
“I am not want to talk about Mexican Hats. I am want to be talking about margaritas.”
“I thought we’d already sorted out the margaritas?”
“No? What have we left out?”
“I’m gonna wear the Margaritas and the other people are gonna be wearing the two other colors.”
“What other colors? What do you mean ‘wear?’”
“I’m gonna decorate my hat with Margaritas coz they are being white. You’re gonna wear Mexican Hats coz they are being red and we need a blue flower too.”
“Ah! Marguerites! The flower, not the booze.”

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Very close

My children like many other people’s children, rarely, if ever, volunteer information about how their day went - it’s like pulling teeth, but every once in a while they go all verbal on me.

“D’ya know what mum?”
“What dear?”
“Today we had science.”
“Did you indeed. And what did you learn?”
“We learneded about the male body.”
“Ah. What did you learn about the male body?”
“Males are different from females.”
“How true.”
“We learneded how males differ from females.”
“How interesting. Maybe we should talk about this after dinner.”
“D’you know the biggest difference is being?”
But he’s on a roll.
“I do, like I said, later.”
He’s unstoppable.
“Females are different from males because they don’t have a bladder.”

Sunday, June 06, 2010


Driving home in the car, we parents talk over the chorus on the back seat – Goober Guy at 50 decibels times three – about how few people wear beards in the United States, or our part of the United States, very locally and quite recently, and whether or not this might differ from our old home, at a much older time, or not. Our findings are inconclusive.

After parking on the drive my daughter tells me that on my next birthday, she will be buying me a lifetime’s supply of earplugs, minus my current fifty years.

Which is when I hear the boys:-

“What is it, a bird?”
“Not a bird, they said beard.”
“What is a beard?”
“A beard is hair on your chin.”
“What’s hair under your nose being?”
“A moustache.”
“Like Mario?”
“Yes – but you can have both, a beard and a moustache, that’s called a combo.”
And the earplugs? Not a rush job.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Polishing our Enunciation

We bimble gently along in the car on our way home to a chorus of ‘I’m gonna tell it to your face,’ the current mantra, quite brain numbing.

My son calls from the back seat,
“What’s it mean?”
“You tell me, you’ve been singing it for seven minutes now.”
“No, the other?”
“The other what dear?”
“Robert Firmly.”
“Do you mean who is Robert Firmly? I don’t think I know anyone by that name. How did you meet him? School?”

I notice a great deal of friction coming from behind me as the car vibrates, and commuter traffic fills every inch of the road in all directions.

“No. I mean what does it mean, Robber Firmly?”
“Robber? Someone’s a thief?”

I ignore the shudders in the car and keep my eye on the police car as it cruises down the hard shoulder with the lights flashing and siren blaring.

“Where did you see this…er…Robber Firmly?” I ask as another wave of shudders rock the car and an ambulance takes the same route as the police car before it.

“I don’t know,” he says.
“O.k. – try me again.” A fire truck comes bowling along to make up the threesome as the doors seem to judder and I notice the rear view mirror quivers.
“Rabbit Firmly.”
“It’s no good. I haven’t got a clue. Try again.”

After a hefty sigh because his patience is wearing thin, as well it might, he gives it one more shot, “Rubbit Firmly,” he articulates with great clarity and just enough volume. I check back over my shoulder, just a quick peek to see him holding a Bakugan ball- a toy - in one hand while the other whizzes back and forth in a blur.

“What are you doing to that ball?”
“I’m rubbin it so the secret code will be revealed.”
“Ah! So you’re rubbing it firmly. Of course.”
“I know rubbin but I don’t know firmly.”
“Well that’s easily explained,” I sigh with relief, “firm is like hard.”

I wonder how it is that he can know ‘reveal,’ whilst ‘firmly,’ remains a mystery, because splinter skills are fascinating? The traffic begins to disperse, we pick up speed, commuters funnel on through and we glide off at the next exit.

He leans forward and grabs my chair, either side, “I’m gonna tell it to your face” he says, to the back of my head, “Good job Mom – you got there in the end.”

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Multiplying factors

I step out into the kitchen– my skills in the gentle art of persuasion begin flag – I need a deep breath before starting the other three double digit multiplication sums. I estimate that if it’s taken us one hour to complete six questions, it will probably take another five and a half life times, squared, to finish the last three.

My daughter peeks out at me from a curtain of hair, ear-buds firmly in place, so she yells in a friendly manner, “Wouldya like me to finish him off for you?”
“I mean…shall I help him with the last ones?”
“Would you dear?”
I can’t disguise the leaking pleading in my voice to my twelve year old.
“Sure. You make supper I’m starvin. And I am so sick of salad.”

What a deal.

What a break.

My savior, and dinner’s salvation.

Time to cook.

I beat about the kitchen but I can’t help but earwig as she takes charge, loudly, as her approach differs markedly from my own – it’s amazingly effective as she tells him how it is.

“Stop shoutin 4 x 7 over an over again! You know it alrighty. You know them all already. Y’just need to shut up and listen to yur brain.”

They sit on the sofa together; she - relaxed with soft open limbs – he - knotted like a pretzel, eyes squeezed shut, teeth bared, laboring to lay an egg, willing the answers to come. It’s agonizing, and that’s just the watching.

I stop watching and annihilate the potatoes.

I listen as her voice takes on a maniacal tone, “Just imagine that each answer is a tiny little chick and if you get the answer wrong…… the chick DIES!”

I drop the potato masher and dash into the family room, aghast, as my son tumbles off the sofa to writhe on the carpet. I open my mouth to speak and notice that he’s chortling, tears of silent laughter. I look to my daughter – “It’s o.k. Mom – it’s his favorite quote from the Simpsons.”

Multiplication 0-12 Flash Cards

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Drug side effects

I park the walking wounded on the sofa and hand her a tablet because the icy-hot has failed to relieve her stiff neck as she lies on the sofa with a mircro-waved heat pad draped around her shoulders.  I return to supper preparations for the starving millions and homework help for the tardy one. 

Her younger brother, the only free agent, is always sympathetic to those with physical impairments, so he pipes up.

 “Why is she?” as he pirouettes in the kitchen, because constant frenetic movement is an aid to speech production.
“Slept in a draught I suspect.”
“It gave her wind?” he asks, as he throws himself onto one counter and then bounces off the next, pin ball style.
“Um… no but it was a bit windy in the cabin so that’s probably why her neck hurts now.”
“Why she has it?” he says, pogoing the entire length of the kitchen, first forwards then backwards.
I try and think of other ways of packaging the essential elements of the message – sleep in draught, neck exposed to the cold, camping cabin chilly - but I’m struggling… “Er… she..the muscle…”
“No.  Why she burps a lot?” he adds in time with his full-body jumping-jacks.
“I don’t think she does much, not by comparison to you two at any rate.”
“But the pill?” he continues, spin to the right, stop, spin to the left, stop.
“The pill is for pain.”
“They don’t make you burp a lot?” he says swinging his head down between his parted legs to speak to me upside down, his hair brushing the floor like an upside down cuckoo from his clock.
“She doesn’t have indigestion she has a pain in the neck.”  The emphasis is purely accidental.
“Oh.”  He stops abruptly, as if I stole his key.  Clearly my tone is too sharp and windy with irritation.
“But it says,” he bleats as he peers at the jar, “Oopsie. Oh no it doesn’t,” he whispers.  “Never mind!” he yells at fifty decibels charging from the room.

But I catch him mid dash, “it doesn’t what?”
“I thought it said ‘I burp often,’” but now I see it doesn’t.”
I turn the label around, run my eye over it again, “Hmm…yes, I can see how you might mis-read Ibuprofen.”

Sunday, May 02, 2010

How are you doing today?

Tricky concepts

A question of balance.....

and a visual clue and a reminder

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Some of us will occasionally admit to a grain or two of OCD, but for some people, sometimes, it can be paralyzing.

On a lighter note, I noticed that parents such as myself, long for their non-verbal children to speak - when or if they eventually do, I still don't understand them.


I find wads of sticky tape balled up and stuck to the wooden jam of the pocket door - nasty lethal finger choppers.

I seek out the culprit.

"Why is their sticky tape all over the door dear?"
"S'not sticky tape. It's Scotch tape."
"Right. So why is there Scotch tape all over the door?"
"S'not all over the door, s'jus a small ball."
"Right...So...why is it there? Were you trying to lock the door?"
"It's very important to tell the truth you know. The reason I don't allow locked doors is...because of...er...um...earthquakes, right?"
"So why?"
"To stop my ears."
"Stop your ears from what?"
"From the door jam bang."


Although sometimes, I think he's teasing me.

"Yes dear?"
"All the peoples in dis program are ....calm.....mediums."
"Are they? What is a calm medium?"
"Um...try again?"
"I know...they're all Canadians!"
"Canadians? Are you sure?"
"Er...no... they're all...?"

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Science Camp and Social Stories

I'm told it's a fifth grade rite of passage, but I can think of many other descriptions. Last year I remember "reading" about it and thinking, never in a month of Sundays.. and now it's nearly here.

Now it's nearly here, although we've been preparing for over a month, the levels of anxiety are palpable.

To list the deficits would be demeaning and fail to encompass the magnitude of the challenge.

There are lots of parents with young autistic children who are struggling to learn basic skills: dressing, toileting, feeding, talking. They're not thinking about Science Camp - why would they? I certainly never did. I was a miserable skeptic before they arrived - it's genetic. Such things as science camp seemed completely unobtainable, barely struggling through the average 24 hour day. We had more social stories, step by step guides and numbered sequences than I can count, some tailor made, others from the school, all designed to address the dreadful deficits.

They cover the practical -

How to tie your shoes, [a vast improvement on 'where to hide your shoes.']

They tackle the subtle -

How to be a good friend.

We also have a vast number of fringe topics -

Words - why they work
Clothes - why we need them
Food - the ultimate life insurance
CPR for the under 5's [to ward off fear of imminent death and empower]
International flights are not necessarily fatal
Big Ben - what to do about bullies
Field trips are in the category of 'fun'
Traffic, a survival guide
Recess and other alternative forms of torture
Bubbles, what is this thing called personal space?

But children grow, quite often in spite of us, making leaps and bounds we never envisaged. Inexperienced parents, like me, toss the old social stories aside once mastered, only to have the same issue re-appear, sooner, much later, or in a whole new format.

The practicalities loom large but it's important for me to remember that although some tasks are difficult to accomplish physically, there's an awful lot else going on inside his mind. A certain degree of stress and anxiety can motivate - too much and it's paralyzing.

So would a social story help with this situation? Yes and we have one, fully and comprehensively designed by his speech pathologist at school - quite brilliant - but is it enough? Sadly no.

So whether you have a non-verbal 2 year old [been there, done that] or a tantruming 5 year old [ ditto], or a OCD 7 year old [likewise] believe you me, Science Camp is coming, it's compulsory, there's no escape.

What to do?

Many parents have transformed themselves into cheerleaders of the 'you can do it' variety - no matter how ineptly. Over the last year in fifth grade, this attitude is mirrored by the school, of the 'step up to middle school' variety. We're all on the same book if not the same page - rise to the challenge, but fear and doubt lurk about. Our children are much more astute than they're credited - they can almost smell it and I'm sure there's something in my tone and body language that gives me away. I need something concrete as much for myself as for him and that's when I remember.

I remember the ever growing hoard of social stories, a box load of abandoned hurdles and pitfalls, each of which has been overcome. If we need proof he can do it, what better body of ever growing evidence could we have? A veritable treasure trove.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Barbara's Blog Carnival -Childhood Expressions

Which "childhood expression" to "pick" I wonder?

So I thought I'd change the focus from my typical topic to an atypical one.

The first comes from my elder daughter, back in the days when I was a single parent when everything was overwhelming. [hindsight really is a gift!]

Back then she was growing up much too fast just like many children of divorced parents. We read a great deal together, from the board books, baby books, picture books, onwards and upwards to independence. I had never liked 'baby talk' and so I used the same words and style of language that I do with everyone else. She had a great vocabulary as is so often the case when children are surrounded by adults: my parents, my siblings, my friends.

The details are hazy, so many years later but I remember that feeling of cozy harmony, the intimacy between parent and child when a family consists of only two units. If a parent is solely responsible for a single child a devotion develops such that communication is instinctive, words are hardly necessary - a separate world of understanding.

Madonna and child - perfection.

Maybe it was bedtime, perhaps we were at the beach, or playing hang-man? Yes! Hangman, all those years ago...

"That can't be right dear?"
"It is."
"I think you've left the 'h' out by mistake."
"It doesn't have an 'h'."
"Weren't you trying to spell Bahamas?"
"Bahamas? No, it's bajamas."
"What's bajamas?"
"Bajamas... you know... you wear them when you go to bed at night."

Now if we'd lived in America then, no such confusion would have arisen, that's why we stick to PJ's now.

A few decades prior to this exchange, I had my own mishap with my mother, along quite similar lines. Being the dunce of the family I progressed from comic books, to Enid Blyton, to Agatha Christie and I've been stuck in 'whodunnit' mode ever since. On one particularly balmy summer's day, [in England!] I was lying on the grass at my mother's feet, devotional dog that I was, as I read the latest blood curling thriller some 45 years after it was first written. My mother sat in a deck chair, knitting, as only mother's can, as she fought with a particularly complicated lacy pattern, which involved a great deal of counting and under breath cursing. Yards of fine yarn were testament to the unraveling of mistakes.

"Mum?" [I was then English]
"Can you tell me what this word means? I see it on nearly every page."
"What is it?"
"Determinded? I've never heard of it."
"Can't you guess from the context?"
"Read me a sentence."
"Hermione Herringbone was determinded to defeat her tormentors."
"Are you sure it isn't...Spell it for me."
"Really? How odd. Here, pass it over, let me take a peek, hmm, lets see...'Daphne Dalrymple was ...' that's not 'determinded' that's 'determined.'"

What can I say? It's genetic.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

One of the most useful PEC's of all Time

Picture Exchange Cards, flash cards and social stories - I tend to use these terms interchangeably - the format isn't important, it's the underlying message, without the need for words which is key.

Time is an abstract concept for youngsters. It may take a while to master it completely. Meanwhile, the practical day to day, passage of time, may prove problematical. As adults, we often forget that time passes very, very, very slowly for children.

Hence, if you are designing a social story for your child to encompass a new event, outing or pursuit, it's as well to prepare in advance and include quite a few 'time' PEC's to help our children manage the unexpected.

The unexpected may come in many forms -

- waiting while everyone gets out of the car if you're in a group
- any preparatory activity by the parent such as locking the car, gathering belongings, setting up a push chair, fumbling for change to pay the meter
- a 'delay' while you pay the entrance fee

It's basically anything that isn't the 'on task' activity which means there is/are delay[s] or waiting involved.

As with all 'new' campaigns, timing is critical. Explain how it works first, in advance, many times, then pick an occasion when you can guarantee success, when you're absolutely certain they will wait for a very short time, no more than a few minutes so they can experience success and relief = times up, no more waiting. This means that short of an earthquake or other natural disaster, their waiting time will be minimal.

We experienced considerable success when we later paired 'the waiting period' with a stop watch, the kind you can hang around your neck. Minutes of waiting could be exchanged for extra minutes at a preferred activity, later.

But be careful how you adopt this with some children, those children who exhibit obsessive traits, as this approach can swiftly morph into a strait jacket for the parent - but that was just my mistake.

Before I knew it, a symbiotic relationship developed - a run of bad luck for the me: no cash for the cafe latte, the credit card that won't swipe, an error in the pin number, ditto with the duplicate, scrabbling for coins amongst the dust bunnies under the seats, the coffee spill which gums up the automatic window function, the refusal to be transported in a car like a wind tunnel, lengthy minutes squandered, static, as I explained the need to get back on track, a waste of breath, words and energy........time racks up pretty quickly.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Most commonly mis-spelled word, Friend

Spelling is one skill that's often overlooked, especially if a child can read and understand the meaning of the words that he reads. Spelling that word correctly is quite another matter and may be complicated by poor writing skills, memory retention and the ability to do more than one thing at a time e.g. remember the word, the order of the letters, aural processing and the many steps of writing.

Overall, spelling can be a painful trial, a weekly dreaded nightmare where doom and failure are guaranteed. However, if you happen to have a visual learner, quite often you can take the list of words and fiddle with it until it's a better match to the child.

Sometimes simply adding color can help patterns pop that weren't immediately obvious.

Or Linking letters so that they stay in the right place.


Many children already know how to spell 'ear' and 'hear' so use it.

Ask your child what time is 'early'? for them. Curiously, they each differ and make no reference to any event such as breakfast or bedtime. There seems to be no differentiation between night and day, but they're adamant about their particular time being early - wonder if it will be the same for you?

Then just tailor the time to fit your child.


Many children can remember how to spell 'tea' without too many difficulty. If so, you can use this visual to tie it in with so many of the vagaries of the English language.

A few steps to help along the road to success.

1. Show them the picture.
2. Describe the different parts and note the colors [use your child's favorites]
Check you're using the same language 'ring/fence/oval/corral.'
3. Ask them to touch the different letters with a finger or point with a pencil if digit/ paper challenged.
4. Afterwards ask them to shut their eyes and describe the scene again and ask them to visualize each bit - they can peek to check.
5. Ask them to spell the word out loud - allow them to 'cheat' and peek if necessary.
6. Repeat as necessary.

Cannot - those double 'n's can be a right pain.

Isn't - Is not

Don't let those tricky contractions fool you, just visualize them shrinking into a tadpole.

One of the most commonly misspelled words is the word friend. How many of us have been assaulted by 'fiends?' How can we best remember how to spell it correctly, and not just for the test?

For us it's easy [or soon will be - I hope]

Name for favorite food?

Yes, that's right, chips, otherwise known as fried potatoes.

Are you familiar with different types of potatoes?

Of course.

How about the "Nadine."

Take your favorite food and insert a potato, a Nadine Potato.

How can you tell if you've inserted your potato in the right spot?

The N of the Nadine should match the END of the word, right after the FRI.

Do not substitute a real Nadine for a potato.

Not everyone can be a Spelling Bee star, nor do they necessarily want to, but this way our children get to experience success in a tricky area, without too much pain.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Eggbert - the Slightly Cracked Egg by Tom Ross and Rex Barron

This beautifully illustrated tale is timely for young and old alike.

Eggbert lives in the fridge where he entertains his fruit and veg pals with portraits and painting, expertly executed until one sad day, someone notices that Eggbert has a crack in his shell - he is punished with banishment.

Eggbert tries to disguise himself elsewhere as he camouflages himself with paint so that he can blend in with many different surroundings. Each disguise fails but he continues to try until one day he makes a remarkable discovery.

Seasonal greetings to all my imperfect pals.

Available "here" and at your local library.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sensual olfactory assault

It’s a recurring theme. I’m oblivious early in the morning, still dressed in my robe, as we are, just for a change, behind schedule.

Wednesday’s the half way mark of the week, and therefore attractive to some, because it’s also a half day. The weather forecast predicts coldness and some of us, even thin-blooded Californians, are more susceptible than many.

My son looks through the window to see movement of trees and quivers with wide eyes. His pale, exposed, little, shell-like ears seem to shrivel as his palms cup them for protection from the buffeting wind.

What a pity his new jacket lacks a hood.

As he leaves to go and curl up on the third stair I wonder how on earth we’ll be able to transport him from house to bus, a distance of fifteen yards with several metres of 40 kph blustering winds?

It’s not an easy calculation.

I remember the hat from England, a Plymouth Argyle Football Club supporters’ knit cap. It’s green - the wrong color, but it does sport an icon of a soccer ball and a cat in mid leap. Since felines of all descriptions find favor lately, I decide to give it a go.

I grab a Sharpie in the kitchen and write his name inside. Within seconds I’m through the kitchen, past the dining room, round the sitting room, the hall and two steps up to entice him. I can’t hear the bus engine through the closed window, yet, but it’s on the way, very shortly. I play teasing temptress as I lean over him before ramming it on his head, with my hands pressing the fabric against his ears, capturing the warmth.

“Wot is dat smell!” he asks - more of a statement than a question. I find it hard to recall my itinerary with any degree of exactitude. I examine the options over a period of more than two hours; vat of espresso, unwashed after a hot night, Dial dish wash soap, 409 - killer the germs - solution, new Clorox toilet block, trash bag contents and recycling today, hand soap, laundry soap, as it’s best to start early, mouth wash to neutralize coffee before kiss, is there some kind of preservative in the pristinely new hat?

All in all, it’s a veritable nightmare of toxic waste - a cocktail of chemical smells - but which one would predominate……
“I think perhaps….its...?”
“I always love dah smell of Sharpies Mom!”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

You can lead a horse to water

I enjoy every second of my twelve-minute lie in and then dash downstairs at 6:12 a.m. – chaos.

Start calculations – need to arrive at 11 and it’s a 38-minute drive - allow an hour in case of stops, emergencies, getting lost time and Saturday traffic. 5 to 60 minutes for breakfast and clear up. 30 to 90 minutes for dressing to include, socks, shoes and teeth cleaning. 10 to 25 minutes toileting, jackets and entering car with seat belts buckled. Equals 3 hours and 55 minutes – loads of time and time to spare.

It was a definite possibility three months ago so I jumped at the chance – we prepared just in case. Horses are just like dogs, but bigger. Every time they sat on Thatcher, I’d trigger a meltdown, deliberately – ‘look at you! If you can ride a dog a horse will be easy!’

They’ve conquered ‘fear of dogs,’ and they’ll conquer ‘fear of horses.’

Both the boys have left their warm jackets at school for the weekend – normally this wouldn’t be a problem, seeing as how we rarely venture far from home, and when we do, it’s more likely to be around mid-day when the chill has burned off – today we head out to the wilds of Monterey where they have weather and mud.

Dig out second, old pair of shoes for them both, select favorite snacks as bribes, drinks, check first aid kit, and pack all possibly emergency supplies in the hope of successfully surviving as solo parent during an hour's drive. Grab camera at the last minute – if there is one single moment of joy I shall capture it for the record.

Watch a woman outside on the road running for her life, otherwise known as jogging - if I could get someone to watch the children, I would do likewise.

We were offered two places at the therapeutic riding center a couple of years ago – the boys weren’t ready. We were offered places again last year - just before the budget cuts. So here we are, third time lucky, possibly.

In the car we try to listen to a CD of Horrid Henry – ‘The Hike’ - written by Francesca Simon and read by Miranda Richardson,* over the din of the boys who scream in the back. I allow my daughter a reprieve, up in the front passenger seat now that she’s only an inch shorter than me. I keep an eye on her - self wrapped, clamped tight and hunched, as she turns her face towards me, “Horrid Henry wouldn’t last five seconds in our household!” Although the boys give every impression of oblivion, they both manage to chime in perfectly, every time the story reader says ‘Stop it Henry! Don’t be horrid!’ My daughter rolls her eyes with exasperation.

“Whadif they won’t talk when we get there?”
“Lets just hope they have their ‘listening ears.’”
“Whadif they say something unfortunate?”
“I don’t suppose it will be anything they’ve not heard before, or a variation on a theme.”
She pushes herself back into the headrest and shuts her eyes.
“I don’t know whichis worse, when they scream or sing that darned song.”
“MANAMANA" is definitely trying, but at least they’re happy.”
“I jus can’t work out how they ever heard it?”
“Neither can I. It’s ancient. From the sixties, I remember my brother, your uncle, singing it.”
“I can still see it. The singer was this dark character.”
“Brown, and very hairy.”
“He was a muppet.”
“Not that kind of a muppet, a real Muppet.”
“What the heck is a muppet Mom?”
“I keep forgetting how young you are. Bit like Sesame Street puppets. I’ll show you later when we get home. Don’t suppose you’ve heard of Kermit the Frog either? Miss Piggy?”
“Never mind.”
“Whadda we gonna do if they make a spectacle of themselves?”
“If they can’t make a spectacle of themselves at therapeutic riding stables for differently abled children, where can they?” I beam.
She giggles and flutters her eye-lids – wicked.

Arrive at the stables, late, with two screaming children - doesn’t give the best impression of our family. Vomit noises emanate from my youngest – farm fresh air doesn’t suit everyone, “dat is a worserer smell dan my bruvver!” He falls out of the car, wraps his arms around his skinny rib cage, and tippy toes off like a top, in the general direction of the office. His older brother staggers in the same direction, hunched like an ancient, as if every limb drags half a hundred-weight of potatoes. The pre-teen looks on, aghast, but is quickly distracted by more interesting eye candy - horses.

One whole hour of introductory, orientation.

We drive back home - the boys are out cold in the back, mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted.

“That was funny,” she giggles.
“When he said to the lady that the horses had x-ray vision and shot laser beams at him.”
“She didn’t bat an eye-lid though did she!”

I ponder.

I think of the many, many hours my daughter has endured in waiting rooms as her brothers were tortured by every conceivable variety of therapy known to mankind, while she would salivate at the window, hoping for the chance to share a few moments occupied with similar activities. She’s been short changed for far too long, just like all the other children in the Siblings book I read last week.

“So when we go next week they’ll be there for a whole four hours. Would you like to stay and watch, or shall we go and do something else, together?”
“You don’t have to stay with them?”
“Apparently not. In fact they’ll probably do better without me.”
“Four hours?”
“Well, probably 3 if we drive half an hour to somewhere and leave half an hour before to get back on time.”
“What’ll we do?”
“What would you like to do? Your treat.”
“Um…a whole three hours? I don’t know.”
“What do your friends usually do on a Saturday morning?”
“Oh. Really? Sounds great. Lego Store?”
“Not without the boys – wouldn’t be fair – wouldn’t feel right.”

I drive a few more miles in silence as I watch her brain whir, from the corner of my eye. I try to think what I did, more than a decade ago? I have no recall whatsoever. Whatever it was, it’s clearly unremarkable.

“I don’t think there’s anything I wanna buy. Anyway, I owe you three weeks pocket money.”
“You do?”
“Yeah. Remember? I bought a pair of Heelies. You subbed me coz I didn’t have enough.”
“Oh. Right. What else would you like to do then?”
“The beach looked nice.”
“It did. Would you like to play on the beach?”
“Maybe. We could pack a blanket. Sit down and be quiet.”
“We could.”

It strikes me that if I sit down, static, I’m highly likely to pass out – I could win an award for sleeping if I ever had the opportunity.

“Could we take a picnic too..…with real food?”
“No Goldfish crackers.”
“Oh go on! You like them really.”
“Spose…..I’ll take an alarm if you like?” she offers.
“An alarm?”
“In case we both fall asleep.”

p.s. I do not endorse this as being either beneficial or curative, be that cat, dog, tortoise, horse, fish or dolphin therapy, although this does appear to be an exceptionally progressive program. ‘Beneficial,’ is more than enough. Anything else is a bonus. There is the remote possibility of a little enjoyment if we’re lucky. Failing that, in any event, at the very least we shall have spent a quantity of time outside the house, otherwise referred to as the ‘cell,’ and expanded our horizons by an inch or centimetre.

* Highly recommended to improve aural processing, [and fun] but don’t blame me if your children acquire an English accent.

A bonus for the digital and tactile challenged person.

Never look a gift horse in the mouth!

Liam Knows what to do when Kids Act Snitty, by Jane Whelen Banks

This is a small, short book for children, with an important preface for the adults in their lives.

I have had this book in my possession for a considerable period of time. While it's unwise to over analyze, I've been in two minds about the Liam series, for a number of different reasons. Jane Whelan Banks attacks the main stumbling blocks for many of our children - the mystifying world of social skills. In fact, I would describe this as a social story, a entertaining teaching tool.

I know a great many children, on and off the spectrum, who think and behave very similarly to Liam. Jane captures the dichotomy - Liam values his performance talents, which others do not, while other people value different skills, which Liam doesn't value at all.

Some will interpret Liam's behavior as acting up or showing off - he deserves to be ignored. Other people may see a child trying very hard to 'engage' with other children but who is rebuffed, repeatedly.

Jane concentrates upon demonstrating coping skills for Liam and children like him, as well as developing a logical explanation for the other childrens' behavior.

A few points to ponder.

Some readers object vehemently to the illustrations, essentially stick figures with splashes of color. There are several sound reasons for this approach: any child can identify with Liam. A long time ago, my children had difficulty identifying with a character who looked very different from them. Additionally complex and elaborate illustrations can distract from the message - picture books proliferate, there are many to choose from. Some children cannot bear to look at faces or pictures of faces or photographs - anything more than a line drawing is unacceptable.

Some readers may suggest they can draw better illustrations and make better social stories themselves - in which case, good for you. However, some people cannot draw, even stick figures. Other people may find there own beautifully illustrated and poignant home-made social stories are ignored by their own children as they do not have the same legitimacy as a published book.

I look forward to future publications as Liam and his family grow.

Rex - A mother, her autistic child, and the music that transformed their lives

You may wish to watch this "15 minutes" video first - that way I won't 'spoil' the book for you.

Did you watch it to the end? If you did take a deep breath and try not to rant about the bit about autistic people having no emotions. Pity Cathleen wasn't able to edit that bit out, but I imagine that 'personal control' and the 'media' are contradictions in terms.

It is an astounding achievement for a first time writer to produce a readable and engaging account of extraordinary lives.

Cathleen is a woman of faith and determination - would that we all had such fortitude. Parents of special needs children will relate to her journey and the struggles they endure, all the more so when Cathleen copes as a single parent.

I read about and understood some of her frustrations, as I cheered her on in the wings, as she dragged herself up the learning curve into a whole new world, one that's always been there, but not many of us noticed, until we found ourselves in the same place, quite by chance.

I had selfish reasons for reading this book after I watched the video. I'm sure we all admire the talents of savants but I wanted to understand the disconnect between extraordinary abilities and profound disabilities, some insight or clue. Cathleen describes Rex's trials with the everyday minutiae of life - shoe laces, buttons, snaps - and yet his fingers are alive on the keyboard. My very ordinary children have similar difficulties, but now they're older, their fingers can manipulate a computer keyboard or any other electronic gaming device, slot together tiny pieces of Lego with determination and creativity. Not the same thing, but sufficiently similar to drive a parent bonkers.

The turning point for me, was towards the end of the book. Rex was struggling at school and unable to learn braille due to his extreme tactile defensiveness. After a particularly difficult encounter with the school, she called an emergency IEP meeting to address her concerns. The tension during that meeting flew off the page, the emotion palpable, but she held it together and advocated for her son in a calm, logical and persuasive manner.

Whatever the future holds for Rex and Cathleen, I'm sure it is far brighter than she ever imagined.

You can buy a copy from "Thomas Nelson Publishers" and "here" or at "Amazon."

And a quick note to the publisher:-

For those of us who are lucky enough to be able to see and have the ability to read, I thought I'd mention a little detail:-

Maybe you didn't notice, but those little blocks of italics, with an important quote from the main script are very distracting - the eye hones in on it not matter how hard we try not to.

Also, as the text flows around the little boxes, it makes the pages turn into letters - in this instance 'S' and 'C' - just in case you hadn't noticed.

Each book should come with a couple of free thumb covers.

Hope you don't mind me mentioning it.

Get Out, Explore, and Have Fun!

Lisa Jo Rudy is like Switzerland - neutral.

Unaligned with any faction and without an agenda - a real breath of fresh air.

Sometimes you read the title of a book and cringe inside - 'great concept but how exactly am I supposed to do that?' Lisa Jo fails to give me a glib reply - no, 'how to fix it quick' response, which is precisely why this book is readable, helpful and practical.

Lisa Jo gives us an in-depth and well considered approach to help us change how we think about some of the difficulties we face when it comes to 'getting out and about.' Her 'no nonsense' approach is refreshing and I particularly warmed to the underlying philosophy - yes all autistic children need education and some need therapy, but not to the exclusion of everything else that life has to offer.

So far so good, but how would this book help?

This is where trouble begins. Lisa Jo's son Tom, is one speck on the spectrum, my two sons are different specks, and I expect yours are too. How can book address all these different individuals? We're back to the same stumbling block - the spectrum.

Personally, I have a deep dislike of experts with a 'holier than thou' attitude who hand out edicts from on high for us mere mortals to execute - but don't worry, we are in safe hands.

How can I get my children 'out and about' at their present stage of development? Currently, we're still tackling the basics, eating, dressing, toileting, hand-washing. Although we have 'speech' more frequently, it often abandons us at times of stress. When are they stressed? Every time we go 'out and about.'

So rather than project and guess how it might help you, instead I'll tell you how it has helped me.

Firstly, because I've been busy and out of touch with the real world, Lisa Jo's book made me realize how much attitudes have changed towards children with disabilities How much more accommodating different institutions have become and how to 'exploit' this to benefit my own children.

I particularly liked her check lists, tips and pertinent questions to ask. I'm often tongue tied and or distracted by herding children, so a list of relevant questions that elicit accurate information will put me in a much better position to decide if our chosen activity is a good fit, and hopefully avoid some of the more obvious pitfalls.

Her book is a timely reminder of lots of things that I already knew, but had either forgotten or dismissed as irrelevant - what was irrelevant two years ago is now 'doable.'

Lisa Jo also gave me lots of ideas, but I won't spoil the experience for you of finding out for yourself, but by way of example - my child may be unable to catch a ball but he could easily keep score for a team and so be involved by a different route.

It reminded me to keep trying, no matter how long the list of 'failures.' Indeed, many of our 'failures' might well have been avoided if I'd taken a few tips from Lisa Jo in my initial research.

I liked her approach, her 'out of the box' thinking, encouragement to tailor the activity to the child, their interests and fixations, but also taking account of their individual limitations.

I was interested to read her interview with Donna Williams in her chapter about the visual and performing arts - helpful to parents and students alike.

I was delighted to learn about Autism on the Seas, in her chapter about summer camps and alternatives - sufficiently motivating to make me consider tackling my own seasickness.

This is an inspirational read for me. Anyone who has the ability organize and create their own camp, as Lisa Jo did, deserves my admiration. Her final chapter on 'inclusion' should fire me into action.

Lastly, I leave you with 'one' of my favorite quotes:-

'There's a strange myth out there that people with autism have no emotions.'

What more do you need to know? Hallelujah!

You can find details about the book "here" at "Lisa Jo Rudy", pre-order it from "Amazon" or straight from "JKP"

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Speak for yourself - I am not a conduit

I understand some of it.

Part of it is woolly terminology.

How can it be a bathroom if it only has a shower? Why is it called a sitting room when no-one sits there? Dining room is meaningless if ‘dining’ isn’t in your vocabulary. The situation is made worse by parents who do not use language consistently - where ‘corridor’ and ‘hall’ are used interchangeably, at random. How can it be a corri’door’ when there are no doors?

Then there’s the practical matter - we live in an open plan house, where a ‘room’ may have two and a bit walls, undefined, not delineated by any visual boundary, no doors bar entry.

Part of the problem is that the name of any room is unimportant anyway – off radar.
Why is the garage a garage, when it houses a car not a gar? What about the kitch, what is it? When you leave, does it become a kitchout? Isn’t every room a family room? If you share bunks why isn’t it a bedsroom? It can’t be a spare room or guest room, and a day bed is a contradiction in terms. Only the garden is easy – out-side, enclosed by a ten-foot fence, with locked gates.

When they were little they didn’t have the words to explain the confusion. Now they do, and I’m the one that’s confused. We need a map for our own home, but we keep plodding onwards and upwards.


I sit on the floor with my youngest son, a pair, while the respite worker, Ms. G, sits at the table in the dining room – she’s six, stride-lengths away. Conversation is encouraged by not obligatory. I start:-
“Why don’t you tell Ms. G what happened to your sister yesterday?”
“Can’t remember.”
“Can’t remember?”
“No. You tell er.”
“I think she’d rather it about it from you. It was only yesterday.”
“Yesterday is being a very long time ago for my type of peoples.”
“What about all that drama? Tell Ms. G. She’s listening.”
“Don’t know drama.”
“Yes you do – when I had to rush off to collect her from school and take her to the doctor and you stayed at home and were very good because you used your emergency crisis behavior.”
“Oh yeah.”
“So? Tell Ms. G what happened, how she hurt her finger?”
“I don’t know. I weren’t there.”
“But we told you all about it when we got home again. Ms. G wants to hear all about it, from you.”
I look at his dead pan face.
“SIGH..Basketball is a blood sport?”
“Not that bit, anyway, don’t tell me. Tell Ms. G. Remember what we talked about? Being polite. When someone’s in the same room, include them, address them directly.”
“But she ain’t in the same room.”

I look across expanse, from the open plan sitting room, to the open plan dining room where a silent Ms. G observes and grins at me.

Sometimes I’m tempted to run away and hide amongst the filing cabinets in dad’s home off’ence.’

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Three Book Reviews

On Their Own, Creating and Independent Future for Your Adult Child with Learning Disabilities and ADHD by Anne Ford published by Newmarket Press

Siblings the autism spectrum through our eyes edited by Jane Johnson and Anne Van Rensselaer published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Stand Up for Autism by Georgina J Derbyshire, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers

1. On Their Own, Creating and Independent Future for Your Adult Child with Learning Disabilities and ADHD by Anne Ford published by Newmarket Press, also author of 'Laughing Allegra.'

Why would I read a book about young people with learning disabilities moving into adult independence when my children are autistic and young?

Because I want to get ahead of the curve and learn from people who have already been there and done it, and because I have a secret agenda; I want to know how they fixed things, skip to the end and learn how they lived happily ever after, but of course that's where I went wrong.

Usually I can tell early on if I'm going to enjoy a particular book. Something to do with the tone, writing style and general approach, invaluable information to let me know if we're on the same wavelength.

Anne shares an anecdote, that hits just the right chord. She was called to jury duty, along with eleven other people, where naturally enough, the conversation turned to the subject of learning disabilities - we all know someone etc. It's a beautiful description of the frustration and inability to communicate with public at large - not mental retardation, not autism, not ADD, not ADHD - it's like trying to nail down jello.

The same issues arise with learning disabilities as they do with other spectrum diagnoses, we have so much common ground.

This book helped me recalibrate and look forward in a practical manner, examine our options and keep a common sense approach to what might be manageable; a fine balance between optimism and realistic expectations.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the topic of motivation, especially when you mix in the raging hormones of teenagers, closely tied into the nightmare of self esteem. I can definitely see myself utilizing some of those strategies.

Ultimately this book is as deeply frustrating as it is satisfying.


Because everything we are currently doing with our children to prepare them for an independent life in the future, it what we must continue to do. It's the old adage, 'a marathon not a sprint.'

So, buy it, read it, and keep it on hand as a visual cue to represent the goalpost - let's hope our aim is good.

Siblings - the autism spectrum through our eyes, edited by Jane Johnson and Anne Van Rensselaer, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers

It’s divided into sections. Part I is for younger children and parents, and Part II is for teenagers and parents.

I thoroughly enjoyed 90% of this book - any less than that and I wouldn't write a review. It's a slim volume of 94 pages - not too daunting for young people to read and share with their friends. It is filled with the startling insight of youngsters with siblings on the spectrum.

They share their experiences with undoubted candor and display a degree of wisdom and compassion way beyond their years. Each speaks in their own distinct voice with anecdotes, and remarkable humor.

Some have strategies for coping and the common themes of embarrassment, frustration and love. They reluctantly accept the status quo, that their autistic sibling has the lion's share of parental attention - sobering.

The 10% I didn't enjoy?

You'll find it for yourself when you read it.

Not all siblings cope as well as others. I imagine this was an editorial decision. In some ways it detracts from the honest and positive outlook of this book, but it also serves as a stark contrast - those who learn, mature, grow in strength and develop a positive attitude, and those who struggle with inner demons and conflicts. Which is why I'm in two minds about it. If I were a sibling of an autistic person and read a book where everyone had learned to cope, but I was still struggling, it could be too daunting - 'how come they're doing o.k. and I'm not, there must be something wrong with me?' All the children and young people featured had difficult issues to adjust to, it wasn't easy, and they express common difficulties that we all share.

Not everyone has access to support groups, people similarly situated, or even internet forums, so what better way to find like minded people than in a book, in the privacy and security of your own home.


Stand Up for Autism by Georgina J Derbyshire, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers

So here's the deal. You must buy this book, BUT you must NOT read it.

First an aside and then an explanation.

Aside -

Georgina writes about her son Bobby who, as brief short-hand, has Asperger's Syndrome. Just writing those last two words has made 80% of people switch off, people whose children are sloshing around on some other point[s] on the spectrum - and that's a problem for me, so I must declare my bias.

It's a problem for me because one of my dearest friends has such a child herself. I was there when he was diagnosed, not in the same room, but there in spirit, after-wards and forever after. She has a much tougher time than me because the disability is invisible. People see what they want to see - a mouthy, know it all kid, who doesn't have any problems that wouldn't be sorted out by a quick kick up the butt, or different, better parents - it's divisive, even in the autism community itself.

And yet, because it's a spectrum, no matter where you're located on the continuum, common factors are there to a greater or lesser degree as a child develops, skips over some milestones, regresses to pick up a milestone they 'should' have mastered several years ago, leaps ahead to stranglehold a goal they shouldn't reach for another decade, and so it goes on, fast forward and rewind over the same scattered hurdles.

And now for the explanation - why you can't read it, yet.

Wait until the mail carrier arrives, peek inside to check it's the right book, not some other book you also ordered at the same time. Once you're sure it's this one, re-seal the envelope or package and run to your bedroom. Pick up the stack of books that you are currently reading or about to read and stick the envelope at the bottom of the pile and forget all about it. Allow several inches of dust to accumulate - that's the easy part for me - and wait.

You may have to wait a week, a month or a year, but you will know when your designated reading time has arrived. That time will be when you've just experienced an exceptionally bad day, part of which may be attributable to some element of autism, probably an exacerbating factor, to an already dis-functional day. When the day comes you have my express permission to lock yourself into your bedroom - sadly that probably has to be at night time when [hopefully] everyone is asleep - and then you're allowed to read it. It will be one of those nights when you'd like to escape into your favorite genre but don't really have the stomach for it. You're tempted to read some more research to see if there is some hint somewhere that might improve your families situation, but you're too tired to concentrate and anyway, you've had quite enough of everything including autism for today. So, now you get the chance to read something which makes you feel less lonely, inadequate and pathetic, because there's someone out there, Georgina, who also has similar experiences. Do you really want to read another self serving memoir about the misery of autism - no thank you very much - so instead you can enjoy a brief snippet of someone else's life with the added benefit of a huge dollop of humor.

It's short, 140 pages.

Too short.

But that's exactly why you have to save it and savor it.

I'd also like to know who did the art work as my copy doesn't say.

So I made a quick check - what are the top ten "New York Times Bestsellers" in non-fiction? See for yourself "here," - an interesting spread but I don't notice any humor.

Humor, for me at least, should be in everyone's top ten. Don't get me wrong, I love Jessica Kingsley Publishers, my life line to sanity for many a long year, but if I could get my hands on Georgina, I'd surely wring her neck. I'd certainly give her a piece of my mind. I'd tell her she'd wimped out. She should be on the New York Times Best Seller list. Basically my unsolicited and unwelcome advice, after the fact, would be that Georgina should have held out – found an agent, someone who could hoik the manuscript to a big publisher, steal a huge advance and then sit back and watch copies of her book fly off the little shelf next to the Tic Tacs, chewing gum, batteries and cheapy, tempting toys, opposite the checkout, in every chain of grocery store, worldwide, translated into every language on the planet.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Medicine that won't go down

It’s a common phenomenon for many of us with children on the spectrum – those pesky fine and gross motor skills, with a dash of scattered sequencing and a dollop of mis-matched motivation – a recipe for disaster if ever I heard one.

They come to the fore every mealtime to taunt and tangle with us. Although we persevere with cutlery my children insist that everything is finger food. Let’s be honest here, how many other parents, cooks and nutritionists also have to factor in ‘splash, spill and ping,’ distance into their calculations? But they keep getting bigger, so something must be reaching their intestines, one way or another. Just lately, it’s ‘another,’ because although they don’t conform to the conventional, they’re nothing if not inventive.

So if you find your dry Cheerios just refuse to co-operate with a fiddly spoon - this might prove to be a good alternative.

Sorry it's been so quite around here lately but it's a bit fraught with "Nonna."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Check mate - Fire breathing dragons?

I lean over him to help with the tricky zipper on his back pack, “so are you ready to play Draughts now that you’ve finished your homework and packed lunch?”
“What’s up?”
He shoves past me to dive to the sink, faucet on full flow, “jus a second coz I need water before I die from the smell.” He glugs several gallons before he’s ready to come up for air.
“What smell?” I ask as he wipes his mouth on his sleeve.
“Ugh! I can’t breathe!”
“Are you alright!”
“I fink I’m gonna faint.”
“Faint? Do you know what that word means?”
“Yes, it’s like dying but only temporary.”
“Give me a minute, I need to close the seal on the snack bag before we start, don’t want it to go soft.”
“It is being your snack?”
“What is it being? It’s being worse dan peanut butter poison.”
“The smell? Oh it’s Bombay mix, an Indian snack, I’ve not been able to eat it for…….years! I don’t think you’ll like it though as it’s pretty hot and spicy. ”
“You’re gonna be eatin with it ….again?”
“Yes, it’s my favorite treat now that my teeth are finally fixed.”
“O.k. but don draught on me.”
“Do you mean breathe?”
“Dat’s dah English?”
“Er…yes I suppose so.”
“Don’t Draught on me when we play Checkers.”

Sunday, February 14, 2010

An experiment

It is a well documented phenomenon:-

a youthful individual has a mishap on the play-ground and the autistic child nearby laughs.

Remember that one?

We could of course go into lengthy explanations as to why this should be so, sometimes, with some children – how some emotions, or rather the expression of those emotions, can flip over to their exact opposite – a trip switch.

Frequently, these explanations don’t ring true. This is usually for one of two reasons.

The first reason is when the speaker uses too much jargon, so the listener falls asleep from boredom, not that they were very interested in the first place.

The second, because the explanation is too simplistic, just not good enough to be convincing.

Anyone you know still need convincing?

Here’s my version of convincing.

A small autistic child is depressed – bear with me here, I know few people believe depression is possible in a child – a credibility gap - but it really is true.

So, where were we?

Ah yes, a small sad person comes to you; they’ve been encouraged to express their emotions, not bottle them all up. The small sad person has acquired words, lots of them. The delivery is often a bit dicky but it’s still a vast improvement. The listener must be patient as the child gains confidence, builds up to the moment. They cannot be hurried. Use prompts judiciously. There may be several false starts and sputters. There can be many ways of expressing hurt feelings, feelings of self-loathing and poor self esteem - many parents are familiar with these too. 'Negative talk' is another common phenomenon in autism. Because they are children, the terminology may differ from adult versions on the same subject. The listener must adjust to age appropriateness, calibrate carefully, tune in to any special areas of need. It’s a serious business for us, as we wallow in his ‘cat phase,’ of development, no jokes allows. We must step into their shoes, see the world from their perspective, their sensitivities. Under no circumstances should the child’s concerns be trivialized, dismissed or belittled, no matter what. Sincerity and an open mind are essential elements of being a coach to the sufferer in their time of need, so that when that sweet innocent appears before me, lifts his fragile chin and turns his pale liquid eyes towards mine, fear, pain and suffering etched into the tiny creases at the corners, beneath a curtain of silky dye cut hair and parts those soft cherubic lips to announce:-

“I’m …..I’m …bad….real bad…..really, really bad...I’m as bad…..as bad ……as bad as a pile of dog poo!”

Don’t you dare laugh.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Contractions can be tricky

I nip upstairs to check progress, or lack there of. He stands in the middle of the bedroom, without stitches, surrounded by every shirt he owns, piled up on the carpet in heaps the size of earthworks, as well as his brother’s, a solid mass, indistinguishable, an impenetrable mountain range. But that’s only in my mind, an exaggeration, really there’s only half a dozen. It’s a metaphorical mountain and a distraction to the main event. The main event is to have my son dressed and sequenced through his daily routine in time for the school bus. However, this goal may be hijacked by other competing campaigns: self-care, personal responsibility, natural consequences for actions. I dither. I estimate that on a good day, without any other distractions or pressures, it would be possible to put one, maybe two shirts back on their hangers and into the closet, but that has to be balanced against the amount of time expended on a task that’s unlikely to be completed, could well result in major upsets and quite possibly destroy any possible of the first goal – ready of the bus. Speech and communication has always been the priority, reduce frustration, enhance understanding, but they’re bigger now, in a different place, way further along the road, and someone keeps moving the goalposts. In the midst of my indecision, he speaks.

‘It ate my shirt.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
He holds a tan colored top in one hand, blinking at the design on the front.
‘It ate my shirt.’
‘What are you saying.’
He flaps it towards me, but I’m a bit slow on the uptake distracted by his feet trampling the other clean shirts strewn across the room.
‘It ate my shirt.’
‘Who……or what ate your shirt?’
It’s almost a dance now as he travels around the perimeter waving the shirt.
‘It ate my shirt.’
‘That’s what I thought you said. Doesn’t look like it to me. You’re saying that this shirt, ate your other shirt, or shirts, or what?’
He stops for a moment, still, static and startled, as something clicks into place. He looks at the shirt and then at me.
‘Oh no, I meant…….it’s her shirt…..it ain’t my shirt.’
‘Fabulous. That’s much better.’
So stunned by the percolation of the missing ‘n,’ I leave stuffy shirts for another day. [diction]

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Notable Quotes and a quickie

My daughter to her little brothers:

‘You guys are just impossible!
‘No! We’re not guys! He’s a cat and I’m an "Uglyworm."

My son - after a long, tortuous and circular argument:

‘I am Mister Understood.’

At breakfast, before I am truly awake:

‘You may wish to get some more cereal from the garage, the choice is a bit lean.’ He doesn’t move but continues to stare at the cupboard. I watch him and try again, with far too many words, ‘I’m sure there’s some new packets out there, pretty thin pickings in here.’ He remains rooted to the spot as he slopes into a 65 degree angle with his cheeks sucked in, although its unlikely to make him any skinnier.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

We survive the drama of the ripped hang-nail and a micro bead of blood. His wounded hand hides in his pulled down sleeve for protection, as his other hand crushes the blood flow.
“Which are you be likin betterer?”
“What’s my choice?”
“Anemones, the flowers?”
“Dey are be lookin like flowers but they are being dah sea creatures.”
“Oh. Of course you’re right, Anemones are animals.”
“Which are you likin betterer?”
“Anemones or what, what am I choosing between?”
“Nude….nude…. Nudibranchs.”
“Fancy you remembering Nudibranchs! The enemy of all free thinking Anemones.”
“They are predators.”
“So I’m choosing between Anemones and Nudibranchs?”
“I think I prefer Anemones to Nudibranchs.”
“Coz then you are on the right side.”
“The right side of what?”
“You’re one of the good guys.”
“I am?”
“Why am I one of the good guys?”
“Coz Nudibranchs are dah enemy, predators.”
“Anemones are beautiful. Did you know they’re called the flowers of the sea? Such lovely colors. I can see why you like them. You’ve always had a fondness for flowers.”
“You still love flowers, right?”
“I love Daisy flowers but I like Anemones because they’re invertebrates and…..”
His face glowers as he growls, Boris Karloff style, “ and they’ve vicious carnivores,”.
He releases the grip on his hand so that the fingers can wiggle free from the fabric. He examines the damage to the digit closely, without the use of a microscope,
“and if they lose a tentacle, they can grow a new one.”

Monday, January 18, 2010

Children with Special Needs

I shall be diplomatic now because this isn’t my story to tell.

My son, the birthday boy and host is busy, occupied, as we order our drinks in the restaurant. His friend makes two strenuous attempts to request a beverage from the server. His voice is as clear as a bell and quite as piercing, but the message has failed to penetrate. I intervene:- “yes he’d like half Pepsi and half Sprite please?”
The server is perplexed and distracted as he mines for information. From a distance we look like any other party of 12. Close up, it’s different. It takes a different format in each child. Collectively it can be disconcerting. It’s as if we each have three heads, fluent in Swahili.
“Can you do that? Mix Pepsi and Sprite in the same glass please?”
“Er….well…..um?” Throughout our exchange, our young friend repeats his request in a loop of ever increasing frustration, since my translation appears equally as useless.
“Do you think that would be ok.?” I ask as I try to arrest the server’s attention.
“Is he er…..does he…….is he…….does he have…..special needs?”
“Yes Sprite and Pepsi, mixed in the same glass please, special order.”
“Right.” He disappears without a murmur, to return shortly afterwards. We go round the table for the food order, until we reach our same young friend, “chicken nuggets please and no fries.”
“Would you like fries with that?”
“No fries.”
“It comes with fries. Would you like fries or one of these other choices, see at the bottom of the page?” Persists the server.
“No fries.”
“Would you like something else?”
“No, no fries.”
“You don’t want fries?”
Our young friend turns to me for full on eye contact, the faulty conduit, gives up on the server, to explain what should not need any further explanation. With an electrically charged tone of voice that carries over 10 tables in the noisy restaurant, “don’t give me fries, don’t give me anything with potato products or I’ll vomit.”
The server flinches, stabs himself in nose with his pen - a gasp and a laugh of relief as he skuttles off to the kitchen with mirth. My daughter watches him leave without initial comment, until she is quite certain he is out of ear-shot, “I never thought you need good listening skills to be a server.”
“It a much more highly skilled job than most people realize, at least if you want to do it well.”
“I wouldna believed it if I hadna heard it for myself.”

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Perspective taking – Nice but dim

I remember the festive season when I was small; my family confined together in cozy home with condensation on the window panes. My mother’s expression was one of displeasure with large blotches of annoyance – a message without any other clues. Being clueless, she added words – “why don’t you play in your room!”
Lots more toys up there.
“What do you think your bedroom is for?”
“Do you think you might do something to help?” Helping seemed like a good idea; I considered myself to be a helpful sort of a child. Given the choice between unhelpful and helpful, I’d definitely opt for helpful; who’d choose the negative? I thought, quite wrongly, that my beaming smile was an indication of willingness and readiness. I should have probably added words to match my demeanor, something like, ‘yes, here I am, awaiting orders.’
“Open your eyes!”
They were already, so I blinked, just to make sure.
“Look at this place! Look at the mess!”

I looked.

There were my toys, quite a lot of them. My little brother’s toys were scattered without any noticeable order – very messy. There was my teenage sister’s paraphernalia; boring stuff with very little entertainment value. My Dad’s papers, books, stamps, albums and equipment were neatly arranged on a small collapsible table, poised in front of his winged backed chair. Next to it was my mother’s winged backed chair, because they were a pair. On and around her chair were masses of bags and boxes, with a side table at arm’s reach. Every surface was piled high with knitting, embroidery, darning, mending, many books on a wide variety of topics, all open, not even stacked – a veritable mountain of mess.
“Shall I tidy it?”
“Yes you will!”
I stood alone in the room for a moment, pondering my mother’s lair. What, if anything, could be squished into something else? It was just as I was jamming the knitting into the basket that my mother returned and squeaked, “mind!” but I was ahead of her, I had no intention of impaling myself on the needles. “What do you think you are doing?”
She shooed me away as you would a chicken, flighty creatures renowned for their small brains. “For the last time!”
Last time?
“Will you pick up your toys?”
My toys?
Well why didn’t you just say so in the first place and I might have acquiesced to your unreasonable demand, I’m nothing if not helpful.

It’s my turn now because I’m the mum. I often misjudge - forget. Sometimes it takes me a couple of attempts. It’s usually just when I’m about to blow my stack with exasperation that I remember.

There’s a lot to be said for specificity and logic.

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