Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Archive for December 2011

Harvest

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Harvest Time

Today, on the very last day of the year, my first tomato was ready to be plucked.

From her enigmatic smile, I'd say she likes it.

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.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 31, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Conversation, not Incrimination

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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.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 30, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Book Review: The Parents’ Guide to Teaching Kids with Asperger Syndrome and Similar ASDs Real-Life Skills for Independence

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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<.


Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 29, 2011 at 7:22 am

Wordless Wednesday 28 Dec 11

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They share a mutual love of fountains.

Happy Wordless Wednesday everyone!

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 28, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Happy Holidays!

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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.

It isn’t difficult to find gifts bigger than the boy himself.  The way he has been eating this holiday season though, we’re expecting a growth spurt any day now.

I told you she was Santa’s little helper!  Once her own unwrapping was done with, Pudding assisted us too.

Love is not indulging your husband by surprising him with Chuck Taylor Converse All Stars with his special interest- Batman.  Love is being seen out in public with him wearing them.

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.

And the rest of the day I pretty much spent making this: my most perfect turkey yet.  The kids ate about two mouthfuls, of course.

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.

Wordless Wednesday 21 Dec 11

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A lot has changed in two years. Happy Wordless Wednesday, and Happy Holidays!

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 21, 2011 at 7:39 am

Cut

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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.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 20, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Christmas Magic (at Hopeful Parents)

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This post was originally published at Hopeful Parents.  You can find it by clicking the link >here<

Hopeful Parents

Christmas is strange for me.  I never feel more homesick than at this time of year, nor do I feel more guilty.  I have an overwhelming desire to give my kids the same kind of Christmas that I experienced as a child, and I just can’t.

I’m not just talking about the winter wonderland that was a feature of the season in northern England, such a far cry from the heat of a South African Christmas, but the experience of being around family and friends.  Of having those ordinary moments that appear so extraordinary through a child’s eyes.  The magic of Christmas.

Life as a special needs child is tough.  When she role-plays, I’m at once elated that she is developing her pretend play skills, and dismayed that her doll is “going to therapy” day after day. Childhood should be about wonder and magic, not mundane, routine therapy.

So at this time of year, I find it even more important to put the wonder back into her life.

My previous efforts have been far from successful.  At the age of 2, she figured out Santa Daddy within seconds.  Last year she was sick all Christmas Day, and this year she has already discovered Santa’s stash of presents.

With no sensory Santa around these parts, I knew I’d have to work some real magic.  Yesterday we hosted a Christmas party at our house, and a member of our community here very graciously made a special appearance.

It was perfect.  Pudding was at ease in her own home with us around.  She was so excited (and only a tiny bit afraid) to meet Santa, who seemed to know lots about our little girl.  She was as comfortable as can be, content to sit in the chair next to him even after he’d delivered the goods.

It isn’t going to be a Christmas just like the ones I used to know, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be every bit as special.

Maybe the marvel of Christmas isn’t just for kids.  Maybe we parents crave the smile on their delighted faces every bit as much as they desire a Hello Kitty or Thomas The Train toy.  The good thing is that those are the presents that can be delivered throughout the year, though they never stop being magical.  You just have to believe.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 19, 2011 at 4:35 pm

J is for Jealousy

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I’ve mentioned before that for all the ways they can be different, my kids have an interestingly typical relationship.  They occasionally play together, in their own way.  They certainly seek each other out.  There are fights.  There is blaming each other for things they’ve done wrong.  There is teaming up as co-conspirators to wreak havoc.  There is a surprising amount of what you might call “normal” sibling behaviour.  And amongst all that, is jealousy.

Both of my kids like a lot of attention, and each becomes jealous of the other, particularly if I’m the only one around.  It is hard to handle, this push and pull, particularly when their needs can make it hard to be around each other.  Often I feel that if I’m not letting one down, I’m letting them both down.

And that push and pull goes a good way to describing my own jealousy.  I don’t feel jealous very often.  I like my life and the choices that I’ve made.  But I’m only human.  Once in a while, a feeling of jealousy will overwhelm me.  Like when I took the kids to the park.

Our local playground is renovating, so we went to the park near where Cubby plays football (soccer) which has a playground next to a cafe/restaurant.  A couple of times, we girls have gone there while the boys were at their game.  Pudding loves flitting between the playground and my table.  I’m free to relax over a pot of tea while keeping an eye on her play.  We both have a good time.

With Cubby there too, sitting at the restaurant is out of the question.  The push and pull takes me from one direction to another.  There is no relaxing and observing with the two of them.  I sit on a bench, knowing it won’t be for long, but I’m feeling unwell and could use the break.  Pudding pushes off, wanting to explore and take her dolly for a walk.  Cubby pulls in to me.  When we first arrive he is overwhelmed at first by the other children running around and making noise.  I gently encourage him to adjust to his new surroundings, and away from the safety of my proximity.

Pudding wanders too far.  I want to pull her back into a closer orbit.  I push Cubby to follow me closer to Pudding, but he isn’t ready yet, and refuses to move.  I watch her closely.  We’re not far, but she keeps going in the wrong direction.  She hasn’t turned back yet, and I wonder if she remembers where we are.  I call to her, but she doesn’t hear, or doesn’t respond.  The other kids playing, the other adults sitting and chatting make too much noise.

She turns around in a circle, but she still doesn’t see me.  I wave my arms like an air traffic controller, but it is too bright, and there are too many others running around her field of vision.  Now she is scared, and I hear her calling me.  Her face is a picture of anxiety.  I pick up the protesting Cubby and run to her relief.  All is well again.  I abandon the bench, and draw both of them back to the playground, warning Pudding that she needs to keep looking for me.  She doesn’t stray again.

I want to rest.  I feel the first sting of jealousy as I look over at them.  Tables of mothers with their friends.  Worse, with their own mothers.  At that moment, I want nothing more in the world than to be sitting over tea with my mum.  I force myself to concentrate on the kids instead, so the emotion doesn’t take over.  Another child takes Pudding’s doll stroller without asking, and she lets her.  She just stands there, until I ask if she wants it back.  She does, and I coach her through asking the girl to return it.  And when the little brat refuses, I intervene myself, because her own parent who should be watching is at one of these tables, doing something other than paying attention to her child’s behaviour.

And the jealousy is throbbing now, because there is never a moment when I’m not paying attention to my kid’s behaviour.  This luxury of being able to ignore, to content yourself that your child will be fine is something all these mothers take for granted.  I can’t even sit on a bench when I feel sick.  I can’t even visit a doctor unless they’re in school.  I live on a different continent to all my relatives, and right at this moment I’m bitterly jealous of the carefree families relaxing in the sunshine.

I take the stroller and call Pudding and Cubby to join me on a climbing frame in the shape of a rocket.  My mood calms down as we play.  Cubby is driving us to the mall.  Pudding has her doll on her lap for the journey.  I’m pretending we can see planets and spaceships on our journey.  We have a few minutes of uninterrupted contentment.  Then we are disturbed.

A boy, probably eight or nine years old comes over to the rocket.  I get down so there is plenty of room for him to play as well, but hang close by.  He climbs up on top, over the area where my two are sitting.  Cubby moves away from the driver’s seat, and Pudding uses the space to lie down- she and Kelly doll are taking a nap.  A smile at the unexpected gift of pretend play.

The first time he does it, I think it was an accident.  He was trying to get down, and accidentally stood on her head as he looked for somewhere to place his feet.  That must have been it.  Even though there was plenty of other space around, he didn’t look before he started to climb down.  That had to be it.  She doesn’t react, though it must have hurt.  I look up at the boy, and he is looking down at Pudding.  But he isn’t climbing down.  And he raises his foot again, and stomps down harder on Pudding’s head.

This time I’m sure it is deliberate.  I’m too shocked to speak, and it is Cubby’s voice I hear telling me that the boy is kicking his sister.  He lifts his leg again, and before I know it, I’ve pulled myself up on the climbing frame, and we are face to face.  He freezes.  I don’t say anything, but the look on my face is enough.  He backs away and scampers off the rocket.  I go over to Pudding, still lying there, not even able to put her arms protectively around her head, but she is okay.

I’m not.  I’m not interested in the boy, but I’m poisoned with rage and I need to find this child’s parents.  He has already run out of sight.  I cast my eye over every table, but not one person is looking, or following in his direction.  Pudding wants to go home, so we do.

But even once we’re home, I can feel that jealousy like venom spreading through my body.  Because if my child attacks another, whether provoked or not, or under sensory assault, or just because they are plain mean; we have to answer it with more therapy.  With more hours spent helping our children learn to respond to the world in a socially appropriate way.  We don’t get to ignore it, and we don’t get to sit over a latte oblivious to the damage being done.  We can’t absolve ourselves of responsibility even for a moment.

There is an antidote, of course.  Those other parents don’t know what they’re missing out on, and they really are missing out on so much.  You can’t fully appreciate what you have when you’re not paying attention.  And not every parent of typically developing children is inattentive, not by a long shot.  But some are, and at times I’m just plain jealous of them, when perhaps it should be the other way round.

This post is part of my A-Z series.  You can find the previous ones by clicking >here<.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 15, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Wordless Wednesday 14 Dec 11

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Problem-solving the Pudding way.

We used the spare bedroom to stash the Christmas presents before they were sent to Santa to deliver.  Naturally, the door was kept locked, but one day somebody forgot, and Pudding infiltrated the room.  Luckily the gifts were placed high in a wardrobe, and I found her before she figured out a way to get them.  From then on, the key was placed out of reach on a hook that only the grown-ups could reach.  Of course, that was just a precaution.  With her significant fine and gross motor delays, and difficulties with motor planning, those presents should be safe under lock and key.  The arrow shows the keys.

Day one- she comes up with a solution, but she still isn't tall enough to get the keys. I find her and we play outside so she can't try again.

Day two- she tries again, this time lifting a very heavy chair from my room. Success, in the time it took me to change her brother.

Aspie girl 1, Mummy 0.  I eventually found the keys, and moved Santa’s stash elsewhere, but something tells me it isn’t over yet.

I hope to never, ever, read a report that says she has poor problem-solving skills.  I have good evidence to the contrary.

Happy Wordless Wednesday everyone!

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

December 14, 2011 at 2:12 pm