Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wordless Wednesday


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Introducing Herbie the Frog

All C1 asked Santa for was a froggy in a tank. C1 believed Santa would bring him one and Santa, at the very last minute, made sure a frog was under the tree on Christmas morning. The first thing C1 did for Herbie was to make a sign with his new frog's name. (I named Herbie before C1 saw him.) You can see the tape and the white oval that makes up the sign in this picture.

Our cat Simba thought the frog, the little gray blob at the back of the tank on the left hand side, was hers. Fortunately the tank has a wire mesh cover! The tag on the tank said the froggy is a red spotted frog.

She though Herbie was very interesting while he was under the tree. However, she hasn't visited Herbie up in C1's room where the frog now lives. As for my son, he was more skittish at first than our usually skittish Simba. He looked at Herbie from across the room, but eventually was able to get closer as you can see from the first picture.
Late in the day, I asked C1 if he was scared of the froggy or if he liked him.
"No I love Herbie," he said. When asked by relatives on the phone what he received for Christmas he would say, "I got what I wanted--a froggy in a tank!" Although he did receive some other gifts, he only talked about Herbie.
Long live the frog!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Feeding the Reindeer

My youngest son brought home some reindeer "feed" from Kindergarten. He and his older brother, 10, decided to put feeding the reindeer on the agenda for Christmas Eve.
They were quite proud of their offering and to my surprise the older one did not complain or tantrum when the younger one poured all the food out himself.

The "feed" looks quite a bit like oatmeal. If Santa's reindeer do not eat it, I imagine the regular local does or bucks that live in our city will be happy to find the the meal.


I promised the the Kindergartner that we would not throw the Reindeer food holder away. Maybe we refill it next year for another offering.
Merry Christmas!!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Poem: Deserts or Meadows

Image: Calligraphic Lion, Persia Nineteenth Century Giclee Print


Deserts or Meadows by J. Lorenzen

Bold one, bold one,
Bold one of my heart,
He puts me all together
He tears me all apart.

He brings out all my weaknesses,
but the strengths afterward flow.
So, across deserts or meadows
With him would I go.

He carries in the fire light,
And lights my curtained room,
Bold in the doorway
Bold in the gloom;

And bold as a lion,
Crouchful and low.
Across deserts or meadows
With him would I go.

Author's note: This latest adaptation was based on W.B. Yeats' poem To an Isle in the Water, which appeared in a book of Yeats poem titled: A Poet to His Beloved: The Early Poems of W.B. Yeats. Some of the poems were bittersweet because they reflected his unrequited love for Maud Donne, a woman who rejected his three marriage proposals.

Like Yeats, many of us parents of children with special needs love our children unconditionally, no matter what happens. I'm willing to go wherever my child and my love for him takes me. Fortunately, that love gives me the all necessary, but powerful strength to do so. This post concludes my weeklong series about meltdowns. If you missed my first Yeats adaptation titled When you Have Meltdowns and would like to see it, please go here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sharing an Article about Holiday Stress

Photo (to illustrate the last tip provided in the article): Our Christmas Countdown Calendar provides a fairly low key way to track the holidays. It's up a few feet above our living room entrance way. Usually our five year old who is not on the spectrum is the one who reminds mom to move the little Santa from pocket to pocket. The ten year with ASD likes it when we remember, but doesn't seem to notice when we forget to change it.
Holiday Stress
Meltdown week here at this blog was inspired by the holidays. I think it's a time that can inspire anyone, on the spectrum or not, to have a meltdown. Throw in flu and cold season and bad weather (for those of us in harsher winter climates) with the factors mentioned in the article and things can get extremely stressful to say the least.
The following is an article appearing in the most recent issue of Kid's World News. It's a publication featuring news from local schools. The mini newspaper, written for kids, comes home in both my boys' back packs. The following article was one adapted from one on KeepKidsHealthy.com, Nov/Dec 2005 and Texas Children's Hospital.

Here is the article:

"The holiday season is upon us, and for many families that may mean decorating the house, baking cookies and endless shopping trips. Mixed in with the constant holiday music, you may hear the faint strains of children (and adults) suffering from the stress of the season.

We all want our holidays to be unforgettable, filled with happiness, traditions and memories. But the truth is that holidays are filled with hustle, bustle and new routines, which can be a never-ending whirlwind of stress for children.

You can help your child (and maybe you!) beat the holiday stress by following a few simple tips:
  • Limit TV and video game time and increase physical activity and exercise time.

  • Remember your child's normal routines, and try not to interrupt them. Stress is often the result of routine changes over which your child has no control.

  • Don't allow yourself to get too busy to pay attention to your family's nutrition. When you factor in all the extra goodies available during the holidays, be sure to plan at least one healthy family meal every day so you are sure your child is getting the energy he/she needs. (Note: I suppose this may be very difficult or very easy depending on the food preferences of specific children.)

  • Family traditions are very important to you and your children. They offer great comfort and security for children when other routines are disrupted. Maybe your family tradition is putting up the tree, decorating cookies, or reading a special book. Be sure to make this family tradition all that it can be for your child.

  • Do occasional attitude checks, before the holidays get into full swing. Take a deep breath, and have everyone in the family agree to do their best to make the holiday season a time of joy and family peace.

  • Laugh a lot. Laughter is still the best way to beat stress and change everyone's mood from bad to good. Read the comics together, tell a daily joke, and lighten the mood with a smile. (From the blogs I read, I think many parents with children on the spectrum already know all about humor!)

  • If you are doing a "countdown" activity with our child, be sure it is low key and doesn't add so much anticipation that our child is stress or anxious."

A Book Excerpt: What Do I Do When My Child Loses Control

Below are some tips from the book "What Do I Do When my Child Loses control by Polly Greenberg. The book seems to be written for parents with typically developing children who are between the ages of 3-7. She calls the ideas outlined below "Tantrum Tamers." They aren't meant to address sensory or anxiety overload, but I believe that some of these ideas may work or be adapted for the child with autism--even those who are older than seven since many children with ASD are running a few years behind developmentally.

Greenberg writes:

"Here are some ideas that work for many parents. If your child won't go to an out of the way time out place:

1. Use reverse time out.

Walk out yourself. Shut yourself in a room where you have a good magazine to read, and enjoy it. keep one there, just in case. If necessary, take the baby, but it's better to leave your other children out of this, if possible.) After the storm has subsided and blue skies appear again, say nothing about the wild behavior. Move on in a friendly way.

My input: I like the idea of the reverse time out, but if the child is older and able to understand, it might be a good idea to actually talk about the wild behavior after the child has calmed down. Try to make sure you and your child have an idea of what caused the meltdown. (Writing down the factors surrounding a meltdown afterward may give you some insight.) While offering some reassurance, try to help your child understand why that behavior was unacceptable. This may help cut down on the probability that a tantrum or meltdown will happen over the exact same or during similar circumstances in the future.

2. Start time out after the tantrum has wound down.

Say, "You'll start your time out when your enough in control of yourself to go into your room." Later, say, " I see you've gotten yourself calm. Good. Now spend some time alone (as many minutes as equal the child's age), and figure out what to do next time you feel frustrated instead of having a fit. I'll give you the timer. Come back in x minutes if you feel ready."

My input: This is a really good idea because it might be hard for a child with ASD to stay in anyone place while melting down.

3. If this causes junior to renew his tantrum, go through the same procedures again.

Don't discuss anything with your child. Don't reward this unacceptable behavior with your attention. (is there anything a child considers more rewarding?) state what is now going to happen and make it happen.

My input: During the meltdown or tantrum, sometimes it's impossible to get a word in edgewise. I suggest trying to remain calm and doing one's best to make sure the child is safe (a reverse time out may not work, if a child is a danger to himself.)

4. Give a choice: time out of the loss of something he likes.

(The video he usually gets to watch one afternoon a week? the pack of sugar-free gum he gets on Saturdays?) If your child weighs almost as much as you do, or you have a bad back or some such, say, "You can go to time out right now or you can skip the video, your choice."

My input: This might work after the child has calmed down and can understand choices, which are often difficult for children with ASD to make--especially younger children.

Note: The book is only 48 pages long and is easy to read. However, it was published in 1997 by Scholastic Books and seems to be out of print. It only seems to be available on Ebay with a January 15, 2009 deadline for purchasing ($1, plus $4 for U.S. shipping).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An Essay: What Meltdowns Mean to Me

A friend, who is a non-native English speaker, once asked me to define what I meant by the word meltdown. I suppose I could have merely said the word tantrum and she would have understood. I suppose the words tantrum and meltdown can technically be exchangeable. On one hand, the word meltdown merely seems to a more politically correct word than tantrum. On the other hand, the word meltdown seems to infer something else entirely.

After witnessing and enduring the meltdowns of my child with autism for many years, I started to think that maybe there is a subtle difference between the tantrum and the meltdown. Tantrum means one is being naughty because the person either didn't get what they wanted or they felt that people (i.e. mom or dad) were being unfair. Trust, me, a child with autism can still be naughty and use tantrums to manipulate. I know that from experience too.

But, meltdowns, the way I'm thinking of them do not generally indicate manipulation. Meltdowns indicate a complete and total loss of control of one's emotions when the person becomes completely overwhelmed by a situation. They can occur as a result of a trigger such as a super loud sound, a change of routine, or a profound disappoint. Sometimes those triggers are easy to foresee and a parent can guide a child smoothly past them without difficulty. Sometimes they are hidden and kaboom a meltdown hits.

Sometimes the meltdown happens privately as in one's own home. That is the location I think most parents and likely individuals would prefer. Sometimes, though, they happen publicly with varying results. If one is fortunate, bystanders will either ignore the situation or offer to help. If one is less fortunate, someone will utter a nasty comment about the person's behavior or the adult's apparent lack of control. It's also possible that security may (at least try to) escort those involved in the chaos off of the public property.

It's not always possible, I have discovered, to be completely in control when one's child vents in public. Sometimes it is quite possible to end up in a crappy situation and an embarrassing meltdown moment occurs. Sometimes they turn out alright and the person out of control will be able to function after venting for a few minutes or more.

Ultimately, I believe the word meltdown definitely deserves a definition separate from tantrum. I liked this definition on urban dictionary for meltdown: "1. Describes what happens when a person freaks out, cracks, loses control of themselves. Life - reality at large- becomes overwhelming. They just can't deal with it all. The person may act out, withdraw, become emotional, run, etc... "

A word of caution though: While perusing the same site, I also ran into another definition of meltdown: "something that is crazy fun or really tight. Usually said when having a good time."

Oh right. If someone in the autism community used meltdown to invoke that meaning, I would probably be downright confused. Meltdowns in the freaking out sense of the word has been part of my world far too long. Now that my child is ten, they don't happen as much. We've become much better at techniques in regards to handling meltdowns. Don't get me wrong though. Meltdowns are still difficult around here when they occur. I dread them and somewhat fear them, but it's a part of my world I do my best to accept and endure with as much compassion as possible.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Poem: When You Have Meltdowns

When you have Meltdowns by J. Lorenzen


When you have meltdowns and fire and discord in your soul

And raging from the core, find my soft look

And slowly calm and get off the path took

You find your way and fury does go


How I love your moments of pure delight

And find the beauty with love true and true

My one one heart loves my child that is you

And spites the sorrows of your fearsome fight


And not seeing down the curving road

Sigh, a little, sadly, how love prevails

And face toward the mountains autism entails

And find your story amidst many told.


Note: This poem is one I wrote to kick off my week long series on meltdowns. I wish I could say the poem is an original, but must admit it is a derivative of W.B. Yeats' work When you are Old. I bought a book of his poetry while visiting his hometown in Sligo, Ireland and found his poem about unconditional love to be endearing.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Chance to State Ideas about Health Care and Autism

They asked. We should take the time to answer.

"Tell us your ideas and be part of the change you are looking for," the box on Change.gov, the website for President elect Barrack Obama and Vice President elect Joe Biden, states. I know that parents and advocates have a lot of ideas of how the health issue of autism should be handled in the United States. There is a button on the box that allows people to submit their ideas.

Here are some of the ideas that the incoming administration has outlined in terms of what the administration's approach to health care in general will be:

  • Require insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions so all Americans regardless of their health status or history can get comprehensive benefits at fair and stable premiums.
  • Create a new Small Business Health Tax Credit to help small businesses provide affordable health insurance to their employees.
  • Lower costs for businesses by covering a portion of the catastrophic health costs they pay in return for lower premiums for employees.
  • Prevent insurers from overcharging doctors for their malpractice insurance and invest in proven strategies to reduce preventable medical errors.
  • Make employer contributions more fair by requiring large employers that do not offer coverage or make a meaningful contribution to the cost of quality health coverage for their employees to contribute a percentage of payroll toward the costs of their employees' health care.
  • Establish a National Health Insurance Exchange with a range of private insurance options as well as a new public plan based on benefits available to members of Congress that will allow individuals and small businesses to buy affordable health coverage.
    Ensure everyone who needs it will receive a tax credit for their premiums.

There are many topics that can be addressed in regards to autism. Autism Society of America has outlined a few ideas of what to write. You can find them at this link.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Visiting Santa 2008

Photo: C2 visits with Santa Clause in the Town Square of Mt. Pleasant Michigan.

Photo: C1 (who still believes) tells Santa what he wants for Christmas. Both boys were given small Candy Canes by an elf that looked to be C1's age (ten). The elf seemed to know what school
C1 attends, but didn't seem to know that C2 is a Kindergartner at the same school.

Visiting Santa
The digital sign in front of a local bank said seventeen degrees (or minus eight degrees Celsius), but still we waited for about a half an hour before it was our turn to go into the little red house where Santa talked to the children. It was just after five Mt. Pleasant's annual downtown Dickens Festival just began. A manifestation of Mr. E. Scrooge with a light hearted
Bah Humbug!' manner visited with children and their parents as they waited. A local news crew interrupted the line for a few minutes to interview Santa. The camera man found a few moments to cue a group of children that included our two sons to wave at the camera. (It was a live newscastn we'll ever get to see.)
Anyway, the most important question the newsman asked Santa this year was:
Q. Are you giving out lumps of coal this year?

A. Well, given the recent energy crisis, I'm going to have to give stones instead of coal this year.
The most important question that Santa asked my boys was of course:
Q. What do you want for Christmas?
A. (From C2, who went first): I want a Ben 10 watch and a kitty.
A. (From C1): I want a froggy in a tank.
The bottom line: I'm not sure if Santa delivers live pets. If he doesn't, he didn't tell my boys that. We shall see what's under the tree on Christmas morning.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Unpredictability

Photo (of part of our backyard): A winter wonderland may mask a day of serious dismay!

Sameness seems to sooth my ten-year-old son's autistic soul. Changes challenge him. I suspect for many spirits on the spectrum, routines rule the day. Odd happenings like school delays and cancellations (as we encountered two days ago as a result of a snow storm) throw the person with Autism Spectrum Disorder off balance.
Predictability presents the opportunity to understand what is going on in one's world. Unpredictability upsets everything and brings anxiety to the surface. This applies to both the person on the spectrum and for everyone surrounding them.
How is one's child going to react to a two hour delay? Will a refusal to attend school threaten to ruin every one's morning? Or will showing a visual schedule, a visual clue (television announcement of the delay) or a social story help with understanding and acceptance of the new situation?

Social stories and schedules can help, but they do not necessarily (as I have found) guarantee a smooth day that has radically changed for the person on the spectrum. The techniques may help get the child through the morning, but the stress of trying to accept the situation may wear him or her down by the afternoon--especially if there are two substitute teachers filling in for the well known ones (as was the case for us).

So, perfect behavior in the morning can turn into shouting announcements into heating vents (for the echo effect) or hiding behind a display board. A trip to a time out room may ensue as well as a note to the parent (such as one I received) that the student had a so-so day. A (much appreciated in our case) social story that explains the the unacceptable behaviors and their consequences to the child (to be read as homework) also may be attached to the daily agenda. The goal of the social story is that the behaviors will not be repeated in the future--despite the predictability or unpredictability of any given day.

So a great morning despite the occurrence of unpredictability may change into a so-so day or a not so good day for the student, much to a parents dismay. The only thing to do is to hold on to the tools and techniques that may or may not work and to pray for a tomorrow of predictability.