Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ritualization of Halloween: Part II

Like the pumpkins mentioned in Part I, my son has also ritualized his Halloween costumes. Fortunately, this is nothing that disrupts the household, so we can go with the flow on this one. He actually decided a couple of months ago what he was going to be for Halloween. Like the two previous years, it had to be something scary--no animal, popular culture, or career costumes for him. He already was a skeleton and a ghost, so we went down the list of scary possibilities. I don't really remember what all I proposed (it was two month ago), but he settled on my suggestion of a vampire. We found a Dracula costume and he is happy with it. Fortunately, he did not insist on fangs and fake blood.

He doesn't know this, but he actually looks handsome in the white fancy shirt with red velvet vest and a high-collared cape rather than scary. I'm not about to point that out to him either. Anyway, I was a proud mama this morning around 9:15 as I watched the entire elementary school march down the street in costume. My son looked great amongst the pirates, super heroes, witches and princesses. I only saw one other vampire.

Now that he has dressed scary for the last three years including this one, I know that choosing a scary costume is a ritual for him and that the next three or four years or so will be predictable in terms of costumes. At least we have a few options left--scarecrow, mummy, a variety of monsters, Frankenstein...

P.S. Kudos to the Vowles Elementary school staff for going with the 101 Dalmation theme. The teachers, aides and staff were dalmation puppies and the administration were the villians. The principal, in dog catching garb, carried a big net with a small stuffed puppy. You all looked great!
Happy Halloween

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Ritualization of Halloween: Part I

Tomorrow is Halloween and it will be a very busy day. Last week, in order to reduce a little stress, I announced that we would carve our pumpkin the day before (which would be today.) I would list all the things I'll be doing tomorrow, but it would take too long. Anyway, I shouldn't have been surprised when my nine-year-old (who has autism and also a fantastic memory) protested. In the past, we have always carved our pumpkin on Halloween night. He even reminded me this morning that we would carve pumpkins tomorrow.

The right thing to do do would probably be to use the proper behavior supports such as social stories or a visual schedules (more on these later) and/or compromises in order to follow my plan to carve the pumpkin tonight. The goal of my husband and I is to reduce his tendency to be rigid about rituals. However, even though the behavior supports would help my son accept the new ritual, he would not necessarily be happy about it and I really want us all to have fun tomorrow.

So whether this is right or not, we are going to carve the pumpkin on Halloween Night. We'll also have to stick to the standard triangle eyes and nose and our typical toothy mouth--at least this year anyway. My son's behavior is improving every year as he matures, so hopefully we'll be able to alter his expectations of pumpkin carving. Let's hope anyway.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sensory Integration and our October Field Trip

Hay was the big hit of the day yesterday at the Outback Lodge (see October 28, 2007 post for more information). Sure, the kids had fun riding in the horse-drawn wagon, hunting for leaves, painting gourds, and decorating grapevine leaves with pinecones and scarecrows. But it was the hay they really loved—and it wasn’t just the ones on the spectrum. All the kids had a great time climbing up the bales of hay, jumping off the stacks, and burying themselves in the hay. Needless to say, a lot of jackets needed to be washed afterward.

Behavior-wise all went as well as can be expected. My son had one incident when we went in for dinner. He kicked a wall because he wanted to stay outside. A stern lecture and a deep-pressure massage (called the Me Protocol) helped to limit the kick to just one. The other five children on the spectrum (all with Asperger’s Syndrome) did pretty well—with a few missed social cues here and there and a few complaints about being too hot in the fire-place lit dining room. Most of us, however, were glad to warm up after being out in the fall chill for two or three hours.

For the most part, the warmth of the dining room seemed to be the biggest sensory problem of a day filled with plusses in terms of sensory needs for our kids on the spectrum. Playing in the hay, running in a “horse” relay race (with kids wearing loose harnesses), lassoing a post (which one boy fixated on), painting, and walking and/or running around the great outdoors provided great opportunities for sensory integration. Those opportunities, along with the opportunity to socialize, made the four hours of our field trip go by fast. I believe that everyone involved in the field trip went home tired, but happy.

One of the biggest challenges of planning fieldtrips for children on the spectrum is considering sensory issues. Having sensory issues addressed can make a big difference in the behavior of a child with ASD. Children on the spectrum tend to misbehave when over or under stimulated by environmental factors. I’d highly recommend planning field trips outdoors (when it’s not too hot or cold, of course.) The great outdoors allows a lot of space for physical activity and other opportunities to meet sensory needs (hay, for example). For basic knowledge of sensory integration, please see Eric Digests.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Outback Lodge

It's Sunday, October 28, 2007 I have been looking forward to this day for about six weeks. My family and I are going on a field trip with a small group of parents, children with high functioning autism (like my son) or Asperger's Syndrome and siblings. Our destination is Outback Lodge, a bread and breakfast inn in Stanwood, Michigan that offers horse drawn wagon rides through a beautiful wooded area. We'll also be doing crafts with gourds and other things found in nature and will be having dinner provided by the great lady (a parent in the group) who organized this field trip.

Looking out the window of my study, I see that the sun is shining brightly in a cloudless sky and that the leaves in Central Michigan are still at their peak. It should be beautiful. rated this day as a seven out of ten for event planning. However, it looks more like an eight or nine with a point or two taken off for chilliness. Still, We couldn't have hoped for better weather. We should have a great time. Here is the description of Outback Lodge offered by their website (

"Families, couples and groups welcome to our working horse ranch with a new casual lodge nestled in the heart of rolling timberland. Our rooms overlook horse pastures, a small lake and towering forest hills with sunrise or sunset views. Via sleigh, wagon, horseback, skis, snowmobile or hiking, explore 700 acres of twittering tree lined trails leading from the inn as white tail deer and small forest animals dart into their hiding places. Thirty Michigan lakes and two rivers (within seven miles) allow for swimming, fishing, canoeing, golfing and boating. Amish, antique and quaint shops dot the countryside and minutes away are Soaring Eagle Casino, downhill skiing, Ferris State and Central Michigan Universities, a rodeo and biking, cross-country skiing and snowmobile trails. Help as a ranch hand, star gaze beside the bon-fire, bird watch or just relax. A place to dream."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Welcome to the New Autism Blog

The idea to create an educational blog about autism has been lingering in my mind for a long time. Why start this blog today? Today, Saturday, October 27, 2007, is Make a Difference Day. A website for USA Weekend( does a good job explaining what this day is all about. In short, Make a Difference Day, is about volunteering in one’s community. That is why volunteering to write this blog on this day seems so appropriate.

As a parent of a child with autism, I want to make a positive difference in our community and beyond. Volunteering has its positive rewards, and my reward would be making this place a better world for my son and other individuals with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. I intend to explore issues and hopefully educate the public beyond the basics.

This blog will at times focus on events and issues that come up in relation to autism in the Central Michigan area. Other times, this blog, may benefit those who live in other places—whether it is in California, New York, Kansas, the United Kingdom or beyond.

On some days, local events will be highlighted. On other days, I may share a funny or inspiring story about my son or other individual with autism. Book and movie reviews may also pop up on this blog. But most importantly, I will write about issues that come up in the home, educational setting, or in doctors' offices.

I hope this blog will help parents, family members, educators—especially future educators, and professionals who work with individuals with ASD. I also hope to help related organizations in my area by writing posts about them and their efforts.