Archive for December 2011
Today, on the very last day of the year, my first tomato was ready to be plucked.
You may remember my plans to plant a sensory garden, with the hope that Pudding would become involved, and perhaps develop an interest in gardening herself. Well, she wasn’t so interested, but I enjoyed my efforts anyway. We’ve been eating the herbs I’ve grown over the last few months, and finally one of those tomatoes is ready. I even got Pudding to try it, which is an achievement in itself. I have a feeling that this coming year will be full of all kinds of growth.
I hope that 2012 is a year you get to enjoy the fruits of you labour- as messy and mushy as that may be at times.
This has been an incredible year, and I thank you for sharing it with us.
Happy New Year to you, with love from all our family.
I was sitting in Cubby’s room about an hour ago while he went to sleep. With Pudding home at the same time, this is always a challenge. He fights a nap, and the slightest sound will have him up and out of bed. Pudding…well, let’s just say that the noise she makes isn’t slight at all.
She was downstairs for now, and I wasn’t quite sure what she was up to, but the lesser of two evils would be having one of them asleep so I could focus on the other one (and perhaps clean up any mess).
She came to the door, and I made the non-verbal sign for “shh” by placing my finger over my lips. Pudding knows what this means, and imitates the gesture. She doesn’t always comply, but on this occasion she did, walking a few steps away before making noise.
She then decides to go back downstairs, and Cubby’s eyes close as he continues to stroke his hair. He is close to sleep now.
The phone rings, and his eyes flicker open. Damn. I stay where I am, choosing to ignore him. He is so close to sleep. It stops ringing. Then starts again. I hear Pudding come up the stairs, and I know she has answered it, though I can’t hear the conversation.
Remarkably, there is a conversation.
A few moments later she goes back downstairs and I steal out of the room as soon as I think Cubby has fallen asleep. I find a missed call from Spectrummy Daddy and he tells me he was calling to let me know he was on his way back from a meeting in Soweto. Then he details the conversation.
Pudding (picking up the phone): Hello?
Daddy: Hello Pudding!
Pudding: I’m talking to Daddy!
Daddy: Yes…where is Mummy?
Pudding: She’s putting Cubby to sleep.
Daddy: Oh, okay.
Pudding: Cubby went on the potty for a skittle.*
Daddy: Good for him! Now, Pudding, hang up the phone…bye bye.
Pudding: Bye-bye Daddy (hangs up the phone).
*This part didn’t happen exactly as she tells it.
We are working on a system where Cubby gets a reward (skittle) for using the potty, but he is only interested intermittently. When he feels like a skittle, he uses the potty, but let’s just say he isn’t exactly responding as well as his sister did to this method, where “potty for skittle” was the bargaining tool she used whenever she wanted to go to the bathroom.
Eventually we faded out the treats as she became fully potty-trained. But Pudding does not appreciate her brother being rewarded for something that she isn’t (and vice versa, I might add). So now when she goes to the bathroom, we’re back to the demands for treats, and no amount of explaining convinces her that she doesn’t need one.
Now what did happen….
Pudding was downstairs and went to the bathroom. I wasn’t around, so she went upstairs to request her skittle. As mentioned, I motioned for her to be quiet, and she returned downstairs, to go to the kitchen, move a chair to get into the treat cupboard, help herself to (one? several?) the skittles, and was probably disturbed by the phone ringing before she ate the entire packet. Telling Daddy that was only going to get her into trouble, and she knew it.
But, hey, check out my girl’s telephone manner!
Smart kid that one: conversation is an essential skill, but not incriminating oneself is even more useful.
Book Review: The Parents’ Guide to Teaching Kids with Asperger Syndrome and Similar ASDs Real-Life Skills for Independence
In The Parents’ Guide to Teaching Kids with Asperger Syndrome and Similar ASDs Real-Life Skills for Independence, Patricia Romanowski Bashe guides us through teaching life skills to kids with ASDs with average or above average cognitive skills who are seldom taught the basics of how to get along independently. It is often assumed that our kids are smart enough to just pick up these skills, but the author describes how various aspects of Asperger Syndrome and other co-occurring conditions make it difficult for our kids to learn.
What’s more, the author knows how difficult it can be to teach proficiency in these areas. We don’t remember learning these skills ourselves, and our efforts soon end in disaster when we get overwhelmed with emotion. This book gives us everything we need to overcome these hurdles, and provides a systematic approach to developing the tools our children need for self-reliance.
Patricia Romanowski Bashe is the coauthor of The Oasis Guide to Asperger Syndrome, one of the first books I devoured following Pudding’s diagnosis two years ago. When her publishers contacted me to see if I’d review a copy of her new book, I jumped at the chance, even though I felt like Pudding’s self-help skills were pretty okay. I thought this book would be a great one to have on my shelf as Pudding gets older and we have to start working on ways she can be more independent.
I couldn’t have been more wrong- this is not a book that stayed on my shelf! I was implementing changes before I’d even finished reading. As a parent of a child on the spectrum, the author knows how much easier it is to just do things ourselves. When you’re in a hurry (and when aren’t we in a hurry?) you don’t have time to teach these skills. As a behavior analyst, she knows the implications of not allowing our kids to develop their independence.
Now, as I mentioned, I didn’t particularly feel that Pudding is a particularly dependent child; but by helping her in the wrong way, I’d been unintentionally encouraging her to be more dependent on me. I often talk Pudding through a series of actions, like getting dressed, or cleaning her room. It gets the job done, but it doesn’t teach Pudding to do it herself. If I (or somebody else) were not there to keep giving the directions, she would not be able to complete the activity. And the worst thing about my talking her through it? It makes it even more difficult for her to concentrate on what she needs to do:
“Remember that kids with AS are attracted to language; when words start flowing in, their attention to most other stimuli goes out the window.” p.148
The more I read, the sooner I wanted to alter my techniques. Like many parents, I have some reservations about the use of an ABA approach. While I think it is an excellent tool for teaching skills, and perhaps “real-life” skills most of all, I’ve always been put off by the idea of collecting and monitoring data. Every single objection I had is addressed in the book, and explained in a way that makes sense to me- we are evaluating the usefulness of the teaching method, rather than the performance of the child.
I was ready to jump in.
The book comes complete with all you need to get started, including a chart showing at which age most children have acquired certain skills. Pudding has just turned 5, so I looked for a task we’d never tried before to get started: making her own bed (not perfectly). This was a good place to start. It is easy for me to remain calm and objective (and not interfere) while observing Pudding making a bed. There was no safety issue at stake, and as we are on Christmas break, no real hurry or time pressure. The conditions were perfect. I found a suitable reinforcer, and using the techniques detailed in the book, Pudding is now independently making her own bed in the mornings. No nagging, no prompting, just another skill that she will use throughout her life.
There are plenty more to get working on. Learning and developing the skills our kids need to live independently is going to take time and effort, it is never too early to start. As Bashe writes:
“Ultimately, it’s all about choice. And when we limit the skills needed to exercise choices, we limit choice.”
I couldn’t recommend this book enough. It has everything you need to begin teaching or shaping the skills our kids need for when we’re not around. It might be the best gift we ever give our children.
The Parents’ Guide to Teaching Kids with Asperger Syndrome and Similar ASDs Real-Life Skills for Independence is available now. You can find more information about Patty Bashe at her web site >here< and purchase the book from Amazon >here<.
I meant to write a post on Christmas Day, to wish you all happy holidays from our family to yours, but the only photo I have of us all together is this one, and I realized that it looks like we are in a very comfortable and festive jail. Not really in the spirit of the season, but a fair representation of living here. So in the style of not-so-great photo-journalism, here is our Christmas in pictures.
So, as you can see, Santa came. Or Father Christmas as we call him in England and South Africa. He enjoyed his whiskey and cookies, and I’d like to say Rudolph enjoyed the carrot, but that was actually Pudding who gnawed on it. I had to stop her before she ate the whole thing, and shook my head at the strangeness of a child who chooses carrots over cookies, and a mother who stops her.
Pudding awoke at the usual 5am, but we made her wait an unbearable (for all of us) hour until her brother woke up to go downstairs. Eventually her demands of “I want presents” became loud enough to rouse him.
One of the great things about raising third culture kids is that they are exposed to many different religions and cultures, and we embrace this fully, while honouring our own traditions. One of the weird things is that you end up with photos of your kids opening Christmas presents while sitting cross-legged on a Muslim prayer rug.
And another great thing is that Christmas is an opportunity to support the local economy. Pudding had her own very specific requirements that didn’t lend themselves well to sourcing locally-produced items. We did, however, find this hand-crafted chair for her doll at a local market. It broke moments after this photo was taken. Kind of glad the rest of our stuff came from Melissa and Doug or Lego Duplo.
I told you she was Santa’s little helper! Once her own unwrapping was done with, Pudding assisted us too.
And for most of the rest of the day, it was about play. Here we are tricking Cubby into developing his fine motor skills. Probably doesn’t hurt that he is learning about counting, shapes and numbers too- with us as parents he needs all the mathematical help he can get.
Pudding played by dressing up in the same outfit as newly-shorn Kelly doll and telling her a story. Maybe I joined in likewise- you can’t tell because I’m on the other side of the camera, thanks to Santa bringing me a new lens to replace the one I broke back in the US.
That was about it for our Christmas. It was quiet, cosy and drama-free, and I know what a lucky autism mama I am to be able to say that. Of course, I did take down the tree the next day- a return to our version of normality is a present to us all.
From my family to yours, I sincerely hope you had a wonderful time. And if not, I’m sincerely glad they are over for another year. Extra-special holiday love to you all.
You know how it is when your child is on the verge of a new skill- you work on it and work on it until it is fully grasped. Before the school holidays, Pudding was close to being able to use scissors. It is testimony to how difficult a task this is for her, that she has been developing this skill in OT for over two years. We used the pretend scissors for cutting play dough, so she could really get some proprioceptive feedback. I printed out lots of worksheets for her, and she threw herself into the task.
We were getting somewhere. It is still very difficult to attend to a task for long, but we made progress. Now she is cutting, not neatly, not as well as a typically developing child; but she knows where to place her fingers, how much pressure to apply, and how to open them back up without removing her grip. She can hold the paper in one hand while her other completes all these things at once. It really isn’t until you sit down and try to teach these skills that you realize just how many components are involved in such a “simple” task.
It is hard for those of us who don’t struggle learning new tasks to ever remember a time when we couldn’t do them too. It is hard to constantly be aware of all the factors that are at play preventing our children from acquiring these skills. So we as teachers, guides and parents need an unlimited supply of patience. This is always my stumbling point.
Last week in one of our cutting sessions, I didn’t notice until she finished cutting that the “safety scissors” had cut through Pudding’s new dress as well. It was an accident, neither of us had noticed what was happening at the time, and I let her know it was an accident, and I wasn’t cross. This was a clear teaching moment, and I earnestly lectured her about how scissors are sharp and dangerous, and we only use them to cut paper or card. Right.
What I failed to realize, is that the teaching moment was for me. I needed to social story the correct use of scissors. I needed to set down rules and guidelines for using them only when I was around. I needed to make sure they were under lock and (hidden) key at all other times. But I’m careless, and I’m impatient, and I’m lazy, and busy, and a hundred other things that meant I needed a bigger teaching moment. I had that today.
Pudding was upstairs and awfully quiet as I cleaned up the kitchen. I had that moment of dread- I knew I had to get upstairs to see what was going on, but I stalled because I didn’t want to see. I saw Pudding, safety (my ass) scissors in one hand, and her beloved Kelly doll freshly scalped in the other. I didn’t see the resolution of all that skill-building. I didn’t see yet further pretend play skills. I didn’t see a rite of passage that all little girls (yep, even me) go through with the intoxicating feel of scissors through hair.
I saw a pile of hair, some human, some doll. I saw a doll that cost way too much in the first place that was ruined. I saw all my carefully cultivated patience run out. I saw this:
Of course, now she won’t play with her doll. She wants me to fix it, or get some new hair. I have to decide if Kelly is just going to learn to rock her new look, because we’ve all had a bad style, and it builds character. Or if she’ll go to Doll Hospital for a new head, which isn’t covered by our health insurance.
One thing I have decided: the more she develops, the less I feel cut out to parent. Oh well, at least I’m pretty decent at cutting Pudding’s hair, and I probably got that way from chopping at my own dolls when I was her age.