Friday, June 5, 2009

Essay: Growing things upside down

Image: The green cylinder hanging from our flowering Crab tree over our back patio is a Topsy Turvy planter, which contains a tomato plant.

Everything I knew about children and development went all Topsy Turvy when I had my oldest son with autism almost eleven years ago. At the age of six C1 was diagnosed with Autism/pervasive development disorder/not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). He's part Aspie (short for Asperger) and part Autie (short for autistic).
Image: my son could recognize all these logos by age 4!
I'm learning more about autism and how to help my son all the time. One thing I learned long ago is that many children on the spectrum appreciate logos, slogans and television advertisements. As a tot, when C1 communicated, it was usually in regards to logos, in particular fast food logos.

I remember he cried at age two when I passed a McDonalds. I was driving, but a friend looked back at him and discovered what was wrong. He was pointing at the Golden Arches! He wasn't talking much at the time, but in time I took comfort that he could utter Burger King in the appropriate context. Later, I discovered that an unusual love of logos and television ads can be (but not always) and indicator of autism.
Image: Billy Mays

It shouldn't be surprising then that my son (actually both sons and the husband) really likes Billy Mays, a TV advertising guru. What is surprising is that we only own one of the items he has pitched. It's the Topsy Turvy, of course. And of course, it was the husband who went out with the two boys and came back with the goofy planter.

Image: Clip Art depicting photo tropism. Our topsy turvy plant is doing OK. Due to a desire to keep the plant in a deer-free zone combined with a lack of hooks and tech skills, we hung it from a tree. It's a bit shady there and the plant is growing a bit crooked as it bends and twists to get more light (photo tropism).

I'm continuing to learn how to connect with and enjoy being with my son. Now that growing season is here in Mid-Michigan, I've discovered that he really enjoys gardening. When his little brother wasn't around to "help" and (aggressively try to nudge his way into doing all the fun planting tasks), we had a great time planting tomato plants (most of them right side up!), begonias, broccoli, egg plant, and pumpkins.

Planting things with the two around was fun, but it was even more fun with just the older guy. I can find all sorts of ways to relate to C2, but it is more difficult to find activities C1 enjoys. I have found that the smaller the group, the easier it is for him to participate. A group of two is just perfect for C1. He gets the encouragement he needs without the distractions caused by another child.

C1 and I can only find the time to do one-on-one activities together occasionally because his brother is a "me too" kind of guy. I guess that is OK, because the social world operates with group cooperation. Social skills like turn taking and sharing are best learned when there is more than one child in the group. It also helps when the group is mixed with special needs children like C1 and typically developing children like C2.

That is one of the reasons why I allowed C2 to join in after C1 and I planted a few vegetables and flowers. I also pointed out to C1 that we didn't want to hurt C2's feelings. We've been sharing and taking turns since C2 (now age 6) was old enough to join our activities, so it wasn't too difficult for C1 to share the planting duties and my attention. Actually those two things were a little harder for C2!

Image: C1 gets pulled up to the Fowler Center's Tree House. This photo was taken almost two years ago. He can now use the rope ladder that can be seen behind him.

As far as C1 goes, I plan to keep nurturing him (along with C2). Nature put him in the shade a bit, but I will help clear the way so that the sun can reach him. My husband and I plan to keep giving him all the "water" and "food" he needs (both literally and figuratively) so that he can keep growing.

This summer he'll get opportunities to go swimming, go to a special needs summer camp, ride his bike (a newly acquired skill), ride a horse (proud equestrian program), go to an amusement park (a planned trip to Cedar Point), a county fair, and maybe a zoo or two.
He'll get to play with some neighborhood children (I'm always nervously holding my breath when he's outside with other kids--most of the time he does OK.) Later this summer we'll be picking tomatoes, cucumbers and other veggies. If we find the time and energy (mom's energy), we'll also go blueberry picking. We also have a couple of mini vacations dotted throughout the summer. My guy loves to go on trips and does pretty well riding long distances as he loves to read road signs and spot familiar landmarks.

Image: This cover photo isn't from the set of books I ordered (it was the Magic Tree house series). However, books from Roger Hargreaves might be able to help children on the spectrum as his series focuses on topics like being noisy versus being quiet or messy vs being neat. Mr. Topsy-Turvy is one of my favorites--probably because I can identify with him as my son used to speak in a backwards (wardsback) sort of way, just like the character.

As far as academic development during this most unstructured of seasons goes, I did buy a few challenging chapter books and I might sign both boys up for the reading program at the local library. I'm also hoping to help them both with math and fine motor skills. I have the best intentions in the world. I just hope my "teaching" plans don't all go Topsy Turvy!!


jonipony said...

I find your discovery about logos and Autism very interesting. I create horse logo designs. I have always had problems spelling -- I cannot always get the right letters in the right order.

Casdok said...

Things go topsy turvy sometimes here to!
C was very into tv adverts when small for a number of years.
And we used to live near Roger Hargreaves.

Julie L. said...

To jonipony: I imagine the horse logo designs are wonderful. : )

To Casdok: Really? Wow! I love his books, but you probably guessed that already! :)

Jon Gilbert said...

Our 4-year-old autistic son has a handle on the logo's as well, and whenever he sees a Jeep (our car), he's sure to point out the icon!

Julie L. said...

To Jon: My guy likes car logos too!!

Saja said...

Julie, I just found your blog and am delighted. You are a wonderful mother for an autistic child to have! On behalf of your son, let me thank you for your willingness to decipher what's going on with him and understand him on his own terms. I look forward to reading more about your journey.