Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Road Age

Freeways in Utah are a joy. Constant construction, insane drivers and, of course, the weather! The other day as Avi, Itai and I were making our way home we hit construction. Traffic was at a stop and I could see the lights ahead indicating the lane we were in would be closed ahead.

"Thank you UDOT," I muttered under my breath.
Suddenly, from the back seat I hear, "Thank you UDOT!"

I turn around and see Itai smiling.

"Thank you, abba! Thank you, Avi! Thank you, white truck! Thank you, blue car! Thank you, trees! Thank you, clouds! Thank you, hay truck!" And on and on and on.

Sitting there stuck in traffic, trying unsuccessfully to merge with traffic while listening to a toddler's nonstop thank yous I couldn't help but smile.

Thank you, Itai for reminding me to relax and be happy even while stuck in traffic.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Autism's Lessons

Are you interested in reading a chapter of a book that will probably never get published? Well then today is your lucky day! Enjoy!

Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Autism

When working with children with autism (or even typical children) we seem to focus on what we can teach them or what we have to teach them. But one fact is as overlooked as it is important: the children we teach have a lot to teach us! I keep learning from my son and from other children. Some of these lessons come from the lessons the children are learning, while some come from the children themselves.
Self Care

Anyone who has a child with autism or works with children on the Spectrum has heard the term "self care." The focus here is helping children learn the basic skills of self feeding, dressing, grooming and other aspects of hygiene. Ok, most of us have mastered these skills (and I'm getting close), but I like the idea of learning self care. It looks a little different for the "neurotypical adult," at least the way I see it. Parents of any child can feel overwhelmed, exhausted or worn out. I think it's important for everyone to practice a little self care when they need it.

A Reward is a Terrible Thing to Waste

As Avi works in his program he is rewarded for doing what is asked of him. These rewards are candies, or fruits, or sometimes jumping on the trampoline. The reward is whatever his interest is. This reward idea is a pretty good one. We all do things we aren't interested in doing, but we do them anyway. Wouldn't it be great if we could give ourselves a reward from time to time? Or even better if we recognized the efforts of others and rewarded them.

Use Soft Hands with Friends

While being a friend sometimes means being brutally honest I think everyone could stand to be a little nicer. Some believe that a lack of friends who know how to be mean when they need to be hurts our society. Why can't we use soft hands and words with the people we love?

Sensory Breaks

For many children on the Spectrum the world is too full of sights, sounds, smells, tastes and even tactile sensations. In order to combat this many children have an agreement at school to take a break in a quiet, private room where their sensory needs can be met. Brilliant! Couldn't we all use a sensory break now and then? When all of life gets to be a bit too much why not take a sensory break and just breathe for a moment?

Not Talking is Not the Same as Not Having Something to Say

People commonly think that a child who doesn't speak doesn't have anything to say. Of all the things people believe about autism this one may be the most incorrect. Avi doesn't say much and he sometimes seems to be on an entirely different plane from those around him, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't have an opinion and it certainly doesn't mean he doesn't have something important to say. The things that Avi and other children on the spectrum say have surprised and astounded me several times. There is a reason the term "dumb" is no longer used to describe someone who doesn't speak! We sometimes forget that silence isn't bad, that we don't have to fill ever quiet second with speech.
Finding a Voice

I have heard several people talk about helping Avi "find his voice." He can speak, he just doesn't. The problem is he just hasn't found the need to talk. I have been surprised by how, as I have sought to help Avi "find his voice," I have found my own. When Avi was first diagnosed I could barely utter the word. I couldn't conceive of talking about it publicly, I couldn't even imagine telling a stranger that my son had autism. It was intensely personal. Now I have found that I have truly found my voice. He isn't speaking for himself and I cannot escape the feeling that I have to speak for him until he does find his voice. Sometimes the best way to find your voice is to help someone else find theirs.

Say "Please"

As Avi is learning to talk, but he's also learning to talk politely. He often reminded when asking to say please. He's getting pretty good at remembering now, but reminding him to say please reminds me that we all need to say please.
Marching to the Beat

As I have been in involved with Avi's various programs I've noticed that there are all sorts of drummers and all sorts of beats. Children with autism tend to march to the beat of whatever drummer happens to play for them. Most of us are concerned about how our march will look when compared to other's, sometimes so concerned that we fail to be ourselves. I like the idea of marching to the beat your own drummer no matter what it may look like.

Whether You're Looking for Differences or Similarities You're Likely to Find Them

I've noticed that people who ask me about autism are most often interested in finding out the differences between children with autism and neurotypical children. There are a lot of differences so if you're looking for them you'll find them. I have met few people who are interested in finding out what makes children with autism similar to other children. I love this viewpoint. It is a viewpoint of inclusion, not exclusion. I love the thought of of finding similarities instead of finding differences. I wish more people, myself included, could adopt this thought pattern.

I have never seen any of Avi's classmates reject a child or adult. They may not be able to connect with others the way typical children do, typically children with autism treat everyone the same way. Whether they are friendly to everyone or aloof from everyone the reaction tends to be similar to everyone. I think a world where people accepted others for who they are would be a great place.

And the list goes on.

Yes, children with autism have a lot to learn about functioning in a non-autistic world, but maybe, just maybe, we could learn something from these children. Maybe if we were all a little autistic the world would be a better place.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sick and Stuck

Both boys have been sick for a month. Oh wait, it was only a week? It sure felt a lot longer! They both had fevers and a cough and the worst runny noses in the long history of runny noses. It was also the first week of the semester, so it was a bit rough. Both boys are healthy now, but they've been going stir crazy (which I learned comes from the word stariben, which is Gypsy for prison) being stuck indoors.
It has been a pretty sad week, so let's look back to a happier, healthier time.
Before everyone got sick we had a little fun in the sun day. Well, it was a bit more of a fun in the hazy 30 degree sun day. Either way the boys loved their day outdoors. Two weeks of not getting above freezing made going outside pretty painful. I just keep reminding myself that Spring is only 63 days away. Brrrr!Of course Spring in Utah isn't always very punctual.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Avi's Good Fortune

Avi has been extremely lucky to have wonderful teachers at school and at church. He (and we) haven't always been so lucky, but this year he hit the jackpot!

First off, at school his team of teachers are very caring and concerned about him. They are also very good at communicating with us. They involve us in the decision making process in every step and make sure that every thing they do is in Avi's best interest.

At Church his teachers were a wonderful couple who were very proactive in learning what they can do to help him in church. Beyond that they participated with us in the Walk for Autism. Whenever we printed off some information or gave them a suggestion they ran with it. They were recently asked to help out in a different capacity so they will not be Avi's teachers anymore. We were incredibly sad to hear they were moving on. But before they left they told us they want to stay involved with him and participate in anyway they can. They even said that if we don't call them to babysit they will just show up!

We owe all of his teachers a very sincere thank you. So to all of you, thank you so much!

Dear Teacher

Taking my son’s hands in yours
You do not take his alone.
For when you take him by the hands
You also take my own.

You hold my hopes, my plans, my fears;
You hold my every whim.
In fact you hold my very dreams
When you are holding him.

To place his hands into another’s
Is not so easily done,
But hands like yours are perfect made
For a child like my son.

Hands soft enough to comfort,
Yet strong enough to guide,
Hands which show daily,
Your quiet strength inside.

Please accept these words, though weak,
As no mere platitudes
But truest expressions of my thanks
And endless gratitude

Saturday, January 8, 2011

News to Me

Avi and I appeared very briefly on the local news this week. This appearance fits in perfectly with the new year. How? Well, my appearance on the news led me to a New Years Resolution:
"Don't ever appear on TV again!"

There are several reasons to avoid TV cameras.

1. I was terribly, terribly nervous.
2. I sounded like an idiot.
3. My voice should NOT be preserved for posterity.
4. After watching the clip a coworker looked at me and said, "You look cross eyed."
5. My own brother teases me about being, "Shaky voiced."
6. My coworkers in the emergency room seem to think I owe them ice cream for being on TV. (I don't understand either!)

Yeah, I'll stick to anonymity.

So, here's to one New Year's resolution that will be pretty easy to accomplish!

As for the Wakefield study, the most upsetting part of the entire thing is the fact that this study fueled the guilt that many parents feel. Then there is the fact that the limited resources available for autism research have been deliberately diverted away from other studies that could have actually found the cause.
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