Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Archive for May 2012

Draw Something

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‘Cat,’ by Pudding_Girl in acrylics and tears.

On Saturday, we went to an indoor playground, with staff that watches your kids while you have a coffee in peace.  That is the theory anyway, what usually happens is that my kids see me having a coffee and decide they would like to order everything on the menu, particularly if it happens to be both unhealthy and expensive.

This particular place also had an art room, and following our success last week, I thought Pudding would be happy to give it a try.

I was right.

The staff member pointed out all the things that Pudding could paint for free, and all of the things we’d have to pay for.  Pudding sees a canvas, and determines that is her medium of choice.  I see the price tag, and vehemently disagree.  Then I see a cat in the free section.  I’m thinking cat…Hello Kitty…painting: this will be right up her street.

I was wrong.

Pudding immediately starts sobbing that she doesn’t want to paint the cat, she wants the canvas.  I hold firm, and she begins to paint, but cries through the whole experience.  Talk about moody artist.

Upon reflection though, I can see her point, whereas she wasn’t able at this time to see mine at that moment.  Her point is that she wants to paint something.  She wants to express herself on canvas with paint, not simply colour in something that already exists.  Really, I was denying her the right of self-expression, which must be the ultimate in frustration for a child on the autism spectrum who already struggles to express herself in typical ways.

Pudding’s ability to draw has also come on leaps and bounds lately.  She has always loved drawing, but the end result was very repetitive (perhaps intentionally so).  She has always enjoyed drawing people she is close to, now she is adding more detail: hair is long, short, or curly.  Clothes have pictures on them.  And she is moving on to drawing other things: houses with garages and cars, trees, and of course, showers.

A few weeks ago, at least a month after everyone who is anyone, I started playing the Draw Something app.  I adore playing in real time while on the other side of the world to the boy I sat with in school when we were Pudding’s age, even if my artistic talents haven’t developed since that point.

It is very interesting playing with other mothers of children on the autism spectrum.  To be good at Draw Something, you don’t necessarily have to draw well (though that helps, obviously) as long as you are good at expressing yourself in a way that your teammate/opponent will understand.  We mothers get to be pretty good at that.

It comes as no surprise to me that Fi of Wonderfully Wired and I have played so many successful turns that it stuck at 99.  Nor that Alysia of Try Defying Gravity finds a way to use positive reinforcement when my efforts are particularly successful.  Solo Dialogue and myself were both hyperlexic, and we are both far better as expressing ourselves through words!

But for me, the real draw (forgive the pun) of this app is the way I get to play with my daughter.  Games are so, so challenging for Pudding.  Or at least the games we’ve tried haven’t been right for Pudding.  Following rules that she doesn’t appreciate is tough, taking turns is also hard, and actually being interested enough to play to win?  Just not her.

But we play our own version of Draw Something that plays to her strengths.  Pudding can read a few words, perhaps twenty, but nothing like the number she’d need to read to play independently.  So with Daddy’s help, she is taught the word, and then draws it for me.  When it is my turn, she guesses my picture, then Daddy helps her pick out the letters to solve it.

I’d love to see a version where the word could be read out for the non-readers who play.  But for a social game, it definitely manages to avoid several of the things that generally frustrate us both playing more traditional games.

Sometimes she’ll freestyle and draw her own thing before she can be persuaded to draw the pick, but it just adds to the game for me- trying to work out what her drawing is, and whether or not it is relevant for my game.

As for her game, all that is important is that she gets to draw something.  One time her turn was “cat”.  She can both read the word, and draw the image, so she got to play independently.  Then again, whenever she is given her own blank ‘canvas’ she can express herself independently, and that is a thousand times better than just painting a cat.  Lesson learned.

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Written by Spectrummy Mummy

May 15, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Plan A

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So what I didn’t tell you about the times Pudding got rejected here and here, is that they were supposed to be our Plan B.  Our safety schools.  Our not-quite-ideal-but-we’ll-fall-back-on-it schools.  That is why it was even more ridiculous that she was refused, or that these places didn’t even want to consider accommodations or supports.

Let me tell you, if Plan B doesn’t work out, you really start to despair about Plan A.  So what is Plan A?  Well, let me first explain about where Pudding currently goes to school.  Pudding is in a preschool/early intervention centre for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and a few other special needs kids who weren’t welcome anywhere else.

This school is intimate, supportive, and caring, but it isn’t currently equipped to educate children through kindergarten and beyond.  It offers speech, occupational and physical therapies on site, so Pudding’s curriculum builds on what she is working on during her individual sessions, and as a bonus- I don’t have to trail around to get Pudding the intensive therapy she needs.  She has a good relationship with her teachers and therapists, and they genuinely care about Pudding and her future.  A future as bright as she is.

What her current program doesn’t offer, however, is time spent in a mainstream classroom with other typically developing children.  For a socially-motivated child like Pudding, it is even more difficult to begin to learn and understand social interaction from other children who hold the same challenges.

We’ve found a school which previously rejected us (on paper) but with new admissions staff, and a leadership promoting a more inclusive community, we were asked to come back.  Pudding went along for an informal school-readiness assessment, which went well.  A team then went out to her current school to observe her in the classroom and talk further with her current teacher and therapists.

Yesterday we returned to create what is probably the most individualized education plan to never be called an IEP. Pudding will spend her mornings in the new kindergarten class, then return in the afternoons to her current school to continue with the therapies and extra support that she needs.

We’ll gradually introduce Pudding to her new school and classmates with a series of outings to the new school, together with photographic social stories to prepare her for the coming changes.  We’ve discussed a couple of times we can meet to adjust or tweak the program to ensure all Pudding’s needs are met.

The new teacher already has experience with children on the spectrum, but requested any books or materials I thought might help her to better understand and support Pudding.  The school has also asked if we would meet with the other parents before the start of term to answer any questions they might have about Pudding and her learning differences.  They even suggested I write an article for the school newsletter explaining some of the ways we support Pudding’s strengths and weaknesses, and the ways in which an inclusive classroom is beneficial for all children.

In short, they are doing everything they can to help this to work.  They are doing everything I expected to see- but didn’t- in the Plan B schools (remedial schools that are supposed to support learners with additional needs).

As with trying anything new, we won’t know for sure if it will work out for us.  But I feel strongly that this is what Pudding needs come the start of the school year.  In the meantime, we’ll be working on Plan C.  There is, after all,  a whole alphabet to go through. 

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

May 11, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Wordless Wednesday 09 May 12

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Cubby’s Painting

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Pudding’s Painting

Following from yesterday’s post, here are the end results.  Happy Wordless Wednesday everyone!

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May 9, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Artistic

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Pudding loves art, so it was high time we gave her the chance to indulge in an activity that focused on her talents.  This weekend I discovered a place nearby that was just perfect for us- an art studio where you buy a canvas, and all paints and materials are free to use to make your work of art.

Both kids enjoy the process of painting, they don’t usually care too much about the end result, but going to an art studio was different, and special.

I hadn’t counted on how busy such a venue might be on a Sunday afternoon.  It was crowded with lots of people, noise, bright lights and colours.  Coming down with a cold, my senses were under assault, and I could feel myself getting overwhelmed.  Cubby became more restless too, but interestingly, Pudding seemed to channel her focus into what she was doing.  Generally, rather than become more absorbed in an activity, she tends to withdraw and disengage in the face of potential overload.  Not this time.

Pudding still struggled with motor-planning.  She wanted to paint a heart in her picture, and asked for my help.  Frequently when Pudding draws at home, she gets frustrated that the image doesn’t match her expectations.  Here she didn’t get frustrated: she just kept painting until she was done.

This was a place where Pudding could express herself without the challenge of words.  A space where getting absorbed in her activity and tuning out the rest of the world was an asset.  A place where she could be herself: as an artist and an autist.

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May 8, 2012 at 10:46 am

Wonder

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I could hear the catch in my throat as I told the woman she was wrong.  That rejecting Pudding’s application for admission was a mistake, for them as much as for us.  It really was us and them, no matter how she tried to tell us this was in our best interests- not giving Pudding a chance is wrong.

Pudding had gone through a battery of tests for this school.  The first day of the tests as soon as she woke up, I knew she was ill.  I also knew we wouldn’t get a second chance.  I would just have to hope she would shine through.  But when Pudding is ill, everything is too much, and a strange place with unfamiliar people and questions she didn’t feel like answering were beyond her comfort.  The following week she was feeling better, and performed as required, but the decision had already been made against her.

And instead of just denying entry, we had to sit, again, and listen to Pudding’s autistic traits used against her as reasons why she shouldn’t be included.  Once again, this is a remedial school.  A place that is supposed to welcome and support students who need a little extra help.  But the doors are closed to us.

I tried to distract myself from feeling hurt over the weekend.  Hurt isn’t a good emotion for me.  I mope and feel sorry for myself without doing anything.  Doing nothing does…well, nothing for Pudding.  

I’m hosting the book club in our little community this month.  One book particularly appealed to me, Wonder by R. J. Palacio.  I found a short video taster for the book which ended with the line:

“You can’t exactly blend in when you were born to stand apart.”

I quickly downloaded the book, and laughed, cried and cheered on the protagonist through his journey.  It is a work of fiction, of course, but at its heart is a message that held me up this weekend.

It doesn’t matter how nice the campus, how well-equipped the school, the size of the classrooms, or how expensive the admissions process- the only thing that matters is that we find a place that embraces Pudding’s differences.  Not accepts…not tolerates…but truly acknowledges the wonder of our child.  Because then, and only then will she show them how right they are about her.

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May 7, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Seven Keys to Unlock Autism: Review and Giveaway

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Elaine Hall is the founder of The Miracle Project, an acclaimed arts program for children with autism and other special needs which was featured in the EMMY Award-winning documentary, Autism: The Musical. Together with Executive Director, Diane Isaacs, we are introduced to the training program they developed for The Miracle Project to teach the techniques necessary to reach and teach children on the autism spectrum.

Hall and Isaacs, both mothers of children on the autism spectrum, acknowledge what many parents learn the hard way- to effectively engage with our children, we must develop the skills within ourselves to facilitate interaction through a child-led approach, focusing on the unique skills and talents of the individual, and understanding of sensory needs. Seven Keys to Unlock Autism breaks down these skills into self-guided exercises, together with real-life examples of using each key in a ‘locked’ situation to facilitate genuine inclusion.

The book also comes complete with a DVD featuring experts such as Stephen Shore, Alex Plank, Barry Prizant and the late Dr. Stanley Greenspan discussing how these methods can be used to develop educators and care providers with the necessary skills to enhance the communicative and social skills of children on the autism spectrum.

This work would be essential for a child moving into a mainstreaming situation, particularly if the teacher or facilitator was inexperienced with autism. Indeed, even educators with several years experience would find this an incredibly useful tool if they needed an alternative and creative approach to establishing a relationship with a child for whom other methods have failed.

As we are considering moving Pudding to a mainstream classroom for the first time, I won’t hesitate to give a copy of this book to those entrusted with her education. Without an open-minded appreciation of the different ways our daughter learns and develops, any efforts at effectively building a learning relationship with her will be stalled. This is an excellent guide to supporting a miracle in the classroom.

Here is the best part for you: I have three copies of Seven Keys to Unlock Autism to give away*. To take part, please leave a comment telling us about the miracle in your life, and be sure to “like” my Facebook page where I will be announcing the winners at the end of the week.  ***Giveaway now over, all prizes have been claimed.***

Seven Keys to Unlock Autism by Elaine Hall and Diane Isaacs is published by Jossey-Bass and is available now for purchase.

*Apologies to my international readers, due to shipping restrictions, only those with a valid US, APO or DPO postal address can take part in this giveaway.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

May 3, 2012 at 11:37 am

Wordless Wednesday 02 May 12

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Today is my birthday! My body thinks it is 68, my brain is stuck at 17, so 34 fits quite nicely. I'm posting a picture of the Eiffel Tower I took when I was in Paris for my 30th, because I vow to be back there for my 40th and each year is taking me closer. Happy Wordless Wednesday!

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May 2, 2012 at 1:45 pm