Friday, May 29, 2009

An Idea for Making Colorful Musical Shakers

Image: (picture from You can buy duct tape in fluorescent colors as pictured above or in regular shades from this site. Price as of May 2009 is $3.25 (U.S.) per roll.

Wonderful Tape: Use duck tape or electrical tape. They come in bright colors. The only thing is that tape is sticky and can cause frustration when two ends get stuck together before the tape goes into the correct spot. To avoid meltdowns, I surprised my kids with the instruments already constructed and then let them add stickers, etc as decorations. I used to make drums out of coffee cans but that is rather difficult now that Maxwell House and Folgers has switched to plastic containers in unfriendly drum shapes.

How to Make a Musical Shaker:

1. Wash out a tin soup can and lid. (preferably) a lid that doesn't have a pull tab)

2. Dry, then fill with uncooked rice, pasta, unpopped popcorn kernels, etc.

3. Tape lid back on can.

4. Use as many different colored tapes as you'd like to decorate the can. Make rainbow stripes or use just one or two colors.

5. Have child put finishing touch on with stickers or foam shapes (one can glam the shapes up with glitter or other fancy materials).

6. See here for more ideas and warnings (please take care when using materials that could be choking hazards!). Here is an idea for making a tambourine using paper plates.
Other container ideas: Pringles cans (great for duct tape stripes), 64 oz plastic peanut butter jars with lid, plastic containers made to hold pre-made icing, peanut cans with lids (be aware of allergies of guests as skin contact can be harmful too!)

For More Music: See my sidebar for information about getting a free Kids Bop CD. We have extras to share from Happy Meals. I have #4 or #7 to send out. Each CD has five songs. I have three or four (approx. two of each) to give. Will send to the first people in the U.S. or Canada to request them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Summer Activities: Occupational Therapy Activities for the Home

Author's Note: There is a terrific occupational therapist in my school district that offers parents, especially parents with newly diagnosed kids, a list of activities to do over the summer. This week I'm going to share some of that information with you at this blog. Hopefully this will be helpful to those of you who are as jittery as I am about school letting out for the summer. I've included a few links. They are high lighted in blue.

Fine Motor and Hand Strengthening Activities

Play dough: Make play dough at home and assist child in mixing, measuring and kneading dough to desired consistency. (Opt. Add Kool Aid for color and scent.) Use pegs or toothpicks to make designs. Use kid scissors (that is if you can find any; they always seem to disappear at my house!) to cut dough that is rolled into snakes. Use plastic knife to cut play dough (for extra fun use cookie cutter to make an imprint to cut around. Create a treasure hunt by hiding pennies, pegs, and beads in play dough.

Paper: Tear or cut newspaper/scrap paper into strips. Roll paper into a ball using one hand and repeat with the other hand. (Opt. Make a paste out of flour and water, dip paper strips in paste and put on an inflated balloon. Let strips dry, then paint or glue crate paper on the "sculpture." Keep as sculpture or turn it into a pinata.) Attach sheet of paper to wall, door or easel as drawing on a vertical surface is a helpful activity.

Household items and materials: Use a squirt bottle, plant sprayer, squirt guns to water plans or for outdoor squirting fun. Draw letters, shapes in shaving cream. Make building sculptures by poking toothpicks into marshmallows.

Tactile Games: Play in water, wet sand, salt, rice or goop (make goop by adding water to cornstarch until it is toothpaste consistency) Another option: buy a sand and water table. Spread cards, coins, buttons, or checkers out and then turn them over.

Toys: Memory game for visual scanning, puzzles, Legos (stacking blocks and building towers), Magna Doodle, beanbag toss (or water balloon toss), activity books that include coloring activities, mazes and connect the dots, Connect Four (dropping in checkers to make patterns rather than playing the game is a popular activity at my house. Drop pennies into a favorite piggy bank.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Special: "Lock Down My Ears!"

Image: (from A firing squad performs the three volley salute at some unknown location. The salute is a ceremonial act performed at military and police funerals. It is also performed in memory of fallen soldiers during Memorial Day Events. During the salute, three blanks are fired in rapid succession. It's not a popular ceremony in our family because my son is sensitive to sound and/or has anxiety at the thought of shots being fired.

C1 (my ten year old with autism): "Lock Down my Ears! Lock Down my Ears!"

He was rocking back and forth a little, a sign of anxiety. We were at the ceremony that followed the Memorial Day parade in the quaint downtown of our small city. Watching the parade went smoothly and I felt like a typical American Family. (The typical feeling changed as soon as the ceremony started.)

Me: (thinking to myself): What?

C1: "Lock down My ears!"

Me: (thinking to myself again): Oh, he wants me to put my hands over his hands as he covers his ears.

So I handed my small flag (that was given out to parade goers by members of the VFW auxiliary), and my sunglasses to my husband and "locked down" my child's ears. It didn't help much. The anxiety heightened to the point it was becoming noticeable to the crowd around us, so we had to go on to our next planned activity. A picnic was next on our daily agenda. That part didn't go so well because ceremony moved on to the bridge parallel to our picnic spot where they spoke for several minutes before the squad performed another salute.

The lock down demand started as soon as my son saw all the people on the bridge. While my husband and other son, C2, ate chicken salad, potato salad, etc., I had my hands on C1's hands, which were over his ears, for ten minutes before all the speakers had their turn and the guns finally went off. This time it was evident the anxiety was worse than the actual event. I'm sure the light popping sound was a bit louder to him than it was to me, but I suspect that noise was tolerable. I'm thinking he just let his anxiety get the better of him.

Next Year: My son does love everything American. He is quite the little patriot as you can see in this photo from last year. We don't want to avoid our annual trip downtown to see the Memorial Day parade because C1 has difficulty with some of the traditions. Instead I will do my best (to remember to) accommodate his needs. I plan on (if I remember a year from now) having a social story about the three volley salute on hand. I'm also hoping to remember to bring ear plugs or head phones!

Monday, May 18, 2009

National Front: Autism Treatment Acceleration Act

Author's note: Since my last post was about health insurance for autism therapies and coverage in Michigan, I thought I'd pass along this article that was emailed to me by the Autism Society of America (I am a member). As the wheel has just started to roll, I'm sure I'll have more than a few posts about State and National level autism-related legislation in the future.

From Autism Society of America:

"Autism Treatment Acceleration Act (ATAA) Introduced in U.S. House

On May 14, the Co-Chairs of the Coalition on Autism Research and Education, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), along with Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) introduced the Autism Treatment Acceleration Act of 2009 (ATAA). This is a companion to the bill of the same name introduced in the Senate in April. The Autism Society applauds this comprehensive autism legislation focused around enhancing the quality of life for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families.

The Autism Society especially applauds the inclusion of support services for adults on the autism spectrum in this bill. Currently, the federal government provides for educational services until age 21; however, autism is a lifelong disorder, and when the school bus stops coming, individuals and families are often left to fend for themselves.

ATAA creates a demonstration project to provide an array of services to adults with autism spectrum disorders, including: postsecondary education; vocational and self-advocacy skills; employment; residential services, supports and housing; nutrition, health and wellness; recreational and social activities; and transportation and personal safety.

The legislation also would provide for the establishment of a national network in order to
strengthen linkages between research and service initiatives at the federal, regional, state and local levels, and facilitate the translation of research on autism into services and treatments that will improve the quality of life for individuals with autism and their families. A national data repository would be created to share emerging data, findings and treatment models."

Two other key aspects of the bill are:

1. setting up a national training initiative on autism and a technical assistance center to develop and expand training and education on autism spectrum disorders; and

2. requiring health insurers to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders, including Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, assistive communication devices and other effective treatments.

My thoughts: It is good news that bills addressing autism are being introduced at the state and national levels. I just now discovered that Colorado now has a great possibility of being the eleventh state to have legislation addressing autism and health insurance coverage. A bill is on the way to the governor's desk. Other good news is the state government in New Jersey is also working on similar legislation.

However, there are many such bills such as those in Michigan, that have not passed yet. I am keeping my fingers crossed. Here is a link to commentary that was written last month by State Senator Tupac Hunter regarding coverage in Michigan.

May 25 update: Here is a link to an article about legislation that just passed in Nevada.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Covering Autism Therapies: the ongoing process in Michigan

We've had a minor break though in Michigan regarding health insurance and covering the various expensive therapies for autism. Up until Monday, most health insurance companies in our state declined to pay for therapies such as Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) or Play Therapy.

Finally, according to this Detroit News article, Blue Cross Blue Shield is going to start paying for ABA for children between the ages of 2-5. This is great news for parents of young children as early intervention is found to be beneficial for most individuals. This is not so great news for everyone else who has children with autism older than the age of five.

As you will see if you click on the link above, the insurance company is under the threat of being sued. A seven-year-old autistic child's dad, Christopher Johns, filed suit in federal court in May 2008. According to the article he filed the law suit on behalf of "the more than 7,000 children" in Michigan who have autism.

One of the reasons insurance companies have declined to pay is because "long-term studies on autism educational therapies have been inconclusive and the treatments are experimental." Another reason is that although my state lawmakers are working on it, Michigan is not yet amongst the ten or eleven states in the U.S. where state law mandates coverage for therapies that parents seek out for their children with autism spectrum disorder.

I find it ironic that autism is classified as a health issue in the United States, yet it seems to be the school systems that help people the most. Unfortunately, even schools are limited in the amount of services they can provide due to budget restraints. Often, the special education division does not start the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) process until a diagnosis is issued from a physician.

This is a concern because physicians, especially general family practitioners, are still learning how to spot the symptoms of ASD. Sometimes, as in the case with my child, autism isn't diagnosed until the age of six. This may mean a missed opportunity for early intervention, and, now, coverage from insurance companies.

So you see, it may be awhile before people with ASD in Michigan have access to the (often very expensive) services that may help them. There could be years of fighting before things start to improve. I will be watching the lawsuit while also monitoring the progress of state lawmakers in Michigan while they contemplate passing legislation that will be helpful to this cause. I'm not holding my breath just yet...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Special: My Son's Mother's Day Booklet

Image: (as featured on the marigold presented to me today looked a lot like this one.

On Friday my son ten year old son's school bus driver handed my boy (who has autism) a purple paper sack before C1 stepped off the special education bus. (It had been given to the bus driver for safe keeping!!) Standing at my front door, I was curious. 'What is in that bag? ' I thought.

But C1 wouldn't let me look. "It's for Mother's Day," he said, tossing the bag into our coat closet. I knew he wouldn't be handing me the bag until Sunday. I also knew he wouldn't forget as he happens to love holidays--any holiday.

So, this morning, being the big day and all, the first thing my son did when he got up was to retrieve that lovely purple bag with a card, made by him, attached. I opened the bag and found a potted marigold inside. (It looked great despite the fact it was in a dark bag in a dark closet for a day and a half.) I noticed that C1 had decorated the terra cotta pot using his favorite color--green. What I didn't notice was the card attached. (I know, how rude of me, not looking at the card before the gift!!) Both my boys were up and C2, my youngest son, reminded me that there was a card.

"It's a book!" C1, the gift giver, said. So I picked the card up (oops, it was on the floor!! I really am like a kid sometimes...) and found a gift as beautiful as the orange and red flowers on the plant. It was a mother's day book--written (with prompts) and illustrated (no help necessary there) by my son. The cover had three (non-colored) hearts hand drawn with a #2 pencil. One heart had an arrow going through, one had ruffles drawn around it, and the third was just your standard issue heart. Each page started with a prompt and ended with my son's own words. I don't have the tech ability to put the drawings up, but below are the words--misspellings and all!

Title: mother's Day Story book by C...

Prompt: Dear Mom,

C1's words: Happy mothers day i will Love you forever p.s. i know you'el love me for ever to.

Prompt: Love,

C1: [wrote his name].

Prompt: If I could give my mom something special, it would be

C1: takeing my mom to red Lobster.

Prompt: My favorite thing about my mom is

C1: When she gets of the computer and Let's me on.

Prompt: I like being with my mother most when

C1: She takes me out. (he even drew a picture of our mini-van with him and I looking out our respective windows!)

Prompt: Things I've learned from my mother are

C1: that i have t be good.

Prompt: The funniest thing I remember about my mom is

C1: She teases when we do and she says i know (I'll often say "I know! You're teasing me!" He's pleased at his fairly new skill of teasing. However, he is still somewhat limited when it comes to the skill...)

Back cover page: A picture of C1 taken at school, with a box noting it was Mother's Day 2009.

Other gifts: Note: C2, 6, brought me a sheet of paper with his hand print and a poem about little hand prints--that I did get to see on Friday. Not to be outdone by his big brother this morning, C2 handed me a big chocolate bar (more than a 1,000 calories worth!!), and a handmade (by an older lady) card with pressed pansies on the front that his dad bought for him (actually both sons) to give. Their dad had brought me a dozen roses and gave them to me the previous evening before we went out on a dinner/movie date. Yep, I am one lucky lady.

I hope all moms out there are having a great Mother's Day!!!

P.S. There was a time, six years ago or so, when I thought he'd never be able to write so well or draw detailed pictures. But here we are! The day has arrived...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

One Very Personal Essay: Why controversial issues bother me

Image: (from Not a fence you'll see too many people balancing on, though I'm willing to give it a try. Read on to see what I mean...

My past few posts have been about the angst I've felt toward controversial issues in our autism community. The top three issues that bother me are vaccines, vaccines, and vaccines. Oh yeah, I'm also a little bit bothered by the arguments over the puzzle piece as a logo (may tackle this one eventually) and the disparity between neurodiversity versus biomedical beliefs.

It's hard to sum up the views of both sides without oversimplifying things or argh, getting something wrong, but I'll do my best. Though they too, love people (and often unconditionally) on the autism spectrum, people embracing biomedical beliefs think that autism can be cured and embrace the ideology of people recovering from autism. As I understand it, this is the side that tends to believe that vaccines cause autism.

On the other side, are people from the neurodiversity realm who would like to see scientists, advocates and parents steer away from curing autism. They focus on embracing people with autism for who they are. Most (but maybe not all) of people in the neurodiversity realm tend to steer away from speculating about the possible causes of autism, such as vaccines.

Someone dear to me, who is more on the neurodiversity side of the fence, believes that autism exists to help humanity advance civilization. The same person believes that autism has been around for eons and that geniuses like Archimedes would have easily been diagnosed with the condition, had it been known in his time. And, as we know, Archimedes lived centuries before we, as a species, started to use vaccines to knock out polio, measles, and even influenza.

I, however, can see both sides of the vaccine issue. As far as the biomedical side of things, I've seen big improvements after removing milk and ice cream from my own son's diet (we haven't removed gluten). I do believe there are some biomedical things that can be done to alleviate discomfort and improve behavior and cognition. However, I also believe that we must remember to embrace the person on the spectrum. It's important not to so focused on the cure/and or certain improvements that you forget to appreciate the loved one for who they are.

That said, I fall somewhere in the middle of the field. There are two sides parallel to white picket fence that separates the autism community. As for that fence, I sometimes feel like I'm balancing on top of it. That's why I don't like controversial issues. I am one who wants to be friends with those in the autism community regardless as to which side of the fence they reside.

Unfortunately, picket fences, as you can see from the picture above, are pretty difficult to balance upon. If I lose my balance and fall, it will hurt. Falling means alienating someone I love from either one of the sides to the point that they'll disappear from my life. The truth is I can't emotionally afford to lose anyone.

All of my grandparents, both parents, and all my aunts and uncles have died. I live more than a three hour drive away from my remaining family members. Further, in the distant past (before I learned some very valuable social skills) some of my own aspie-like traits (have not been diagnosed as being on spectrum though have my suspicions...) have surfaced to the point where "friends" have stopped talking to me for reasons I could not fathom. So that makes everyone of my friends, regardless of belief, extremely valuable to me.

My social past has made me hesitant to reach out to people. Luckily I do have some close friends and I value every single one of them. A few of them are from the autism community. Most friends in my community seem to embrace the biomedical side of things, but my best friend (my husband) and at least one of my closest friends in the blogger world are more in the realm of neurodiversity.

So you see, if I choose to blog about controversial issues, it could be politically and/or socially disastrous. So that's why I will mostly address social and educational issues on this blog. That means, I guess, that I've decided to hush my Scarlett side for a while and remain to be, for the time being, the dreamer who thinks she can maintain a graceful balance on one heck of a fence...

Future post: Prioritizing Autism Issues
P.S. Here is the link to the opening post of this sequence on controversial issues for those of you who haven't visited here for awhile or for those of you who are new here.