Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Writer Dad Puts a Call out for Stories

Now that Jon Gilbert, story teller and author of this blog, recently celebrated the one year anniversary of his publication, Same Child Different Day: One family's experiences during the first year after a child's autism diagnosis, he's ready for a new project. He is hoping to collect and publish autism-related stories from other authors who have a loved one with autism.

Jon writes about what he is looking for at this post. Please note, that while my series of late has been about dad's and creative story telling, Jon will accept stories from moms and other family members too. Here is an excerpt from Jon's post that gives an idea of the types of stories Jon is looking for:

"Share something funny, something frustrating, something prideful or something quirky. Did you have an awkward but amusing run-in in public? Maybe we did, too! Does your loved one living with autism have a funny trait? No need to be embarrassed or devastated by it; brag about it now! Here's your chance to tell everyone how frustrating that stim is, while at the same time admitting that you have laughed about it behind closed doors. I am not asking any of us to make fun of our loved ones --- oh goodness, no! Instead this is an opportunity to include them in mainstream life --- a chance to show off the fact that, just as they are as different as chocolate and vanilla, they are equally just like everyone else."

Note: I've revised and submitted one of my posts from my earliest days of blogging. Bloggers and non bloggers alike are invited to submit. You can email your stories to jongilbert[put in at sign] rocketmail.com. His publication, Same Child Different Day is available for sale at his blog.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dad, We Do Not Have a King Cobra!

This post is by Michael Lorenzen. It is submitted by request of my wife as part of a series on creative storytelling by fathers of special needs kids.

Recently, I spent a week with C1 (the son on the spectrum) at the fair. See Julie's post Photo Essay: Proud of Proud Equestrians! for details.

C1 won first place for the first time on Tuesday of fair week. He proudly carried his trophy with him as we left the horse riding stadium. C1 and I had discovered the 4-H food stand at the fair years ago and when we visit we always eat there. This year, we visited the fair every day. And of course, C1 insisted that we eat at the "restaurant" every day he was at the fair.

C1 carried his trophy into the 4-H stand. As we ordered our food, we caught the attention of a boy who was working for 4-H. As we sat done with our food (hot dog and fries for C1 of course), he sat down next to us.

The boy said, "Wow! That is a neat trophy. What did you get it in?"

C1 responded, "In horse riding."

The boy continued, "I entered pigs in the fair this year. I hope I win a trophy. I am finally going to by free of working here and showing my pigs. I will get to go on the midway rides soon."

I liked the boy. He was very open and friendly. I had the sense he often invited himself to tables and inserted himself into conversations. He promptly told me he was ten years old which is the same age as C1.

Storytelling runs in my family. It goes back at least to my paternal grandpa who could with a straight face tell the most outrageous stories and made his marks, his kids and grand kids, believe every word until they caught on. My dad carried on the tradition. He often made unusual claims to my brother and I when we were young and we often believed him. As we watched movies such as the Wizard of Oz, he would tell us the ending. When we asked how he knew, he would retort, "I wrote it!" Needless to say, we caught on to him fairly quickly but he still tells stories to this day.

I tell stories too. I am an academic librarian who is internationally known for teaching critical thinking skills. I have a doctorate and I am comfortable in front of audiences from my kids, my staff at the library, college students, and higher education administrators. And, I like to tell stories. My tales are usually segregated from the daily work flow (no tales at the Reference Desk to patrons!) but my boys and wife get no such mercy. They come all the time. It is up to them to figure out if it is true or not.

C2 (who is 6) was on to me early in life. He has doubted my stories for years. (How could a four year old be so skeptical?) However, the older autistic son does not tend to question my stories. That does not mean he believes them, but he hasn't challenged them.

That changed at the fair on this day. C1 called me out.

As I said, I liked the 4-H boy. As such, I gave him the courtesy of a story. I said, "I wish I could compete in the fair. I worked hard all year on my project and they wouldn't let me enter!"

The boy answered, "What did you do?"

I responded, "I raised a King Cobra snake. I love him and he is a good pet. But there is no class for him at the fair! He was even rejected for pocket pets in the open class!"

The boy was very sympathetic. He told me that that was unfair.

I continued by saying, "And that is not all. I think the fair is biased just because of one little incident last September. My King Cobra accidentally got out of the house. He ended up eating the neighbor's cat."

The boy said, "Oh! What a tough break."

However, C1 was having none of this. He stopped eating his hot dog and said, "Dad, stop telling stories. We do not have a King Cobra!"

I was stunned. C1 had never ratted me out in out in public before. My story to the boy was ruined! I had so many layers to the saga I could have elaborated on if C1 had not stopped the tale!

The boy looked at me and grinned. He said, "Well, I was not sure but..."

I guess I am doing a good job raising both an autistic and a non-autistic son. Their critical thinking skills are sharp. They can hear a tale, test their bull shit detectors, and sense if something is wrong.

C2 is telling stories already. The family tradition will continue. However, if C1 eventually tells stories, I know my life will have been a success. I think some autistic individuals can tell stories too. And their perspective will make them all the more powerful. Come on C1, I am counting on you! And my hat off to you, as you can tell people when your Dad is full of it. But please don't do it again...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tribute Composed by a Dad: Ryan's Song--Shine--Autism Song

Note: The post I wrote about artist Justin Waterman and his work featuring his family inspired a series on creative dads. I've been wanting to do a great series about fathers who have children with autism every since I did a series about mothers starting with this post back in 2008.

Ideally the timing would have been around father's day, but this will work. I found this video while working on my previous post. This has been on You Tube since October 2007, but it is definitely worth checking out if you haven't already seen it. Just make sure you have a tissue on hand, because it inspires tears. Please stop by tomorrow for a wonderful post written by my husband about creative thinking and having a son with autism.





Thursday, August 20, 2009

On the Outskirts of Autism: A nonverbal display of autism in the family by Justin Waterman

Below are two pieces from On the Outskirts of Autism by Justin Waterman. Justin and his wife have an eight-year old son, "Lobos," who has autism.


Image: Motherhood

Note: Justin's display about autism in the family tells a story that starts around the time his son was born--before any Suspicion arose. This work depicts the love of a mother whose affection is also apparent in more recent paintings. The child in the image, "Lobos", was diagnosed at age three.

Image: Suspicion

Note: While all the artwork in "On the Outskirts of Autism" is really good, this is the one that I thought stood out as the Masterpiece. Hopefully, it will be someday be considered a classic in terms of autism-themed artwork. Justin said this painting is a personal favorite. It's definitely a favorite of mine too. Here are a few words from the artist about the moments that inspired Suspicion:

"My son was about 2 and a half when the painting was inspired. At first, as most parents, you think that your child is just being individual. This was a private home daycare. He wasn't really speaking at the time, and the worker had told us not to worry, she had seen shy children before.

As more time passed, the clues were becoming more evident. This image was basically the final straw before the first doctor's appointment was made. It is basically a snapshot of me coming to pick him up. The other children (some younger, some older) were all playing together. My son was in the corner, mesmerized by spinning the wheels of an upside down truck. He was oblivious to the other children, and my calls to him."

Justin had a gallery exhibit featuring On the Outskirts of Autism from May to June 2009 in his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Please check out the whole show on You Tube as seen below. It's definitely worth your time as the collection of artwork tells a heartfelt story of a family of four (Lobos has an older brother who is not on the autism spectrum). Two demos of Justin's songs, Sail On and Home accompany the display.



My Thoughts: I only occasionally come across the opportunity (here are one or two more examples) to write about one of my favorite topics, art and/or artists, on this blog so I was thrilled when I met a painter who has depicted autism in some of his work. As a parent of an eleven-year-old son with autism, I'm sometimes amazed at where I meet other parents of children on the autism spectrum--especially when I do not have my two children in tow. A week ago, Justin Waterman, a talented artist and musician showed up on my virtual (online) doorstep.


We met playing Lex, a Scrabble-like game, on Facebook. I hosted a game one evening, not knowing who was going to show up. (The name and photo of the opponent appears unless the player opts for a privacy setting.) I was a little surprised when someone who looks a little bit like a rock star appeared. "Who is this guy?," I thought. Thank goodness for the chat option on the game as I am, by nature, very curious. It didn't take long to figure out that we each had a son with autism and a website (please see link in above paragraph--this website also features artwork and music that are unrelated to autism).

Anyway, I'd like to wish the best of luck to Justin and his family as they sail down the river of life with autism. I'm hoping to follow up on this post by blogging about other creative dads who have children with autism spectrum disorder. The next post will probably appear Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. If you have any suggestions for posts on this topic, please email me. Thank you.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Essay: Quirky Cake Day

Image: Hope C1 gets his wish for his 11th birtdhay.
Image: Our babysitter, "K" rescued the cake the best she could. Of course she had "help." The orange frog C1 is holding was one of the froggy-themed gifts from her.

C1 turned eleven years old today. "I love being 11!", he said first thing this morning. So I'm guessing that the Olay Age Defying soap he put in my shopping basket later in the morning wasn't for him.

I chuckled to myself when I saw his spontaneous choice. We were actually on a mission to buy birthday supplies, not soap. Lately though, he seems to have appointed himself as an inventory supply specialist--especially when it comes to hygiene products like toothpaste and soap. Hopefully that means he won't have hygienic problems as he approaches puberty, which is (gulp) just around the corner.

At the top of our grocery list was soy ice cream (for C1) and regular ice cream for his brother. Two "1" Birthday candles and a dozen eggs for the cake were also on the list.

That brings us to the quirky cake. He did have a beautifully made cake (from a bakery) with a "froggy" on it for an early birthday celebration with family in Ohio on August 9. For his actual birthday, August 17, he requested a homemade cake. He helped stir up the white cake, though I was glad he wasn't around as the crumbled out of the pan.

Bits of the cake stuck to the bottom of the pan and what was left sort of fell into pieces. It was a bit disappointing because I took every precaution to prevent such a disaster. I greased the bottom of the pan, floured it, and waited the usual ten minutes before attempting to separate the cake and the pan (kind of like how I took all my prenatals, avoided cigarettes and alcohol and went to all my doctors appointments when pregnant).

Nervously, I put the pieces aside and hid them with a paper towel and visualized making a cool artistic piece out of the chunks. Mostly, though, I was hoping that when the time came, my boy who sometimes prefers perfection, wouldn't request a redo. There simply wasn't time.

Having to take a very sick cat with cancer to the vet, I left the decorating of all these pieces to the babysitter. Fortunately she is an artist and doesn't mind a challenge, so I didn't feel guilty leaving the white base frosting, the green trim paste, and the colorful sprinkles with her and the boys. When I came back from the vet, the cake was iced and decorated.

I smiled at the results. The cake looked kind of funky and cool as well as appropriate--a quirky cake for a quirky eleven year old.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Photo Essay: Proud of Proud Equestrians!

Author's Note: My son has been riding in the Proud Equestrian Program (PEP) for five year years now. This is the first year that Pep members were invited to compete in the Isabella County Fair for ribbons and trophies. The last competition was yesterday. My son collected two first places, three seconds and a third place ribbon. Well done C1! A special thanks goes to my husband who has taken been taking our son to PEP classes for years and who was devoted enough to use his vacation days to take him in for all four days of competition. Please read more about PEP here.

Image: C1's friend, a fellow Pep rider who also has ASD, gets a nuzzle from Fonzi, a horse he was visiting in the horse barn. The great thing about PEP is that riders become comfortable around horses, though they also learn about horse safety too. C1's friend also did a great job competing and won some ribbons. (photo by Sherrie Sponseller)

C1 with one of his ribbons, Mister, and Mister's owner, Staci. Staci, C1's mentor and member of the Pony Express 4-H club, did a wonderful job helping him compete all week. C1 will present her with a bouquet of flowers in appreciation of her hard work. She also showed chickens and competed with Mister in various categories, so it was a busy week for her. (photo by Michael Lorenzen)

Image: C1 feels pretty comfortable on horseback both a Western saddle (shown) and English saddle. He competed in both styles of riding and always looks forward to a chance to ride. (photo by Michael Lorenzen)

Friday, August 7, 2009

This Author's Autism To Do List

Am a little bit behind due to a hectic summer schedule. Please bare with me. Am hoping to get back into the blogging groove soon. Here are a few of the things that I'm either working on or on my list.

Blog:

1. Sending in a promised story to a fellow blogger.
2. Writing a post on said blogger's projects.
3. Writing more posts for this blog!
4. Acknowledging more fellow bloggers in posts.
5. Catching up on a couple of emails that are blog related.
6. Visiting more blogs (sorry, am going to do more of this once the school year starts).

Community:

1. Selling 50/50 raffle tickets for Central Michigan ASA's (CMASA) Golf outing on August 22.
2. Supporting chairs of August 22 event.
3. Working on website content for CMASA.
4. Helping to find a replacement for me as secretary of CMASA.
5. Keeping interested persons in the loop of what is going on with CMASA.
6. Helping to plan school year kick-off party for CMASA. Hopefully this will occur in September.

Personal:

1. Getting both of my sons to accept twice weekly tutoring from an outside tutor. This has not been easy as there has been refusal to do work.
2. Keeping up with a schedule that has changed weekly.
3. Maintaining balance between the two siblings. The one with autism (C1) has had more activities (camp, horse riding, swimming lessons) scheduled for him than the one who is Neuro typical (C2)(just swimming lessons). I did paint C2's room for him to his delight, but am trying to think of something else to do for him as well.
4. Dealing with more meltdowns than usual from the one with autism due to a more unstructured schedule.
5. Keeping up with housecleaning and cooking. It's more challenging with the two home from school!
6. Taking old writing projects off the back burner.
7. Spending quality time with all of my immediate family members.
8. Monitoring old cat that has just been diagnosed with a cancer. He has a tumor in his mouth.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Update: Home from Camp

Image: The sign is kind of hard to read, but it basically says Roadside Park. This sign looks much like the one that stands by the park we stopped at yesterday. My son always notices signs, especially one for roadside parks or rest areas! He knows those signs are always blue.
Thank you all for your support as I prepared to pick up my ten-year-old from Summer Camp. I was a little nervous on the way there, but relaxed by listening to calming music. Upon arriving at his cabin, I found him pretending to be asleep on a sofa in the commons room, but he bounced up as soon as he heard my voice. He was ready to come home. I gave him a big hug before gathering up all his stuff for the big return. Before I started up the van, I mentioned the roadside park I planned on stopping at and mentioned that would be our only stop.

He agreed to the plan and the ride home went smoothly. I did have a recording from his dad that reminded him to try not to melt down in the van, but I didn't need to use it. I'm particularly glad we avoided any incidences involving flying shoes and had a safe ride home. He tends to throw them at people when upset. That, as you can imagine, can be more than a little distracting when driving.

My guy had a little trouble adjusting to the transition once he arrived home--fighting with his brother (who was being really ornery as he too adjusted), yelling at me for pulling out his camp photo instead of letting him do it, and insisting that we go to the grocery store immediately to replace the corn on the cob that we ate while he was gone. All that happened in the space of an hour, but then he settled down.

Today, his dad will do the usual Saturday grocery shopping. Corn on the cob will definitely be on the list. The grocery shopping is an indication that things are going back to normal (normal for us, anyway) after three weeks of irregularity. Three weeks ago his dad was at a week long conference in Vancouver Canada. The next week we went on a mini-vacation. Then finally, C1 was off to summer camp. This upcoming week no one in our family is planning on going anywhere. It sounds a little boring, but I'm kind of looking forward to the relaxed change of pace!