Saturday, April 05, 2014

Autism Awareness Month: Apps for Us

Technology is balance  act, for parents of kids on the spectrum. It can help the nonverbal be expressive. It can feed their visual strengths. Be a great tool for learning.

And if your kid is like mine, they will latch onto movies or an iPad or mobile device and focus only on that for hours.

And if you are tired and sleep-deprived, like I am, at first you're all

... and then um, oh. I guess that's not such a good idea, to have them obsess over something that is not a substitute for interacting with people and the world.

After six years of learning about autism, I probably let James have too much time with technology. He seems so happy when using it and being able to have iPad time is a great incentive for positive behaviours and rewarding good work. I also need a break from constantly being "on" and now, working full-time and making sure the school routines run smoothly(ish) once the kids are home. Oh, that is such an easy trap to fall  into.

However, a nice benefit of Autism Awareness month is that there are interesting, non-Angry Birds/Minecraft/Star Wars/LEGO apps that are offered for free.

I thought this one looked interesting:
Articulation Station

James actually plays math and spelling apps for fun on his iPad, so this might also be worth a try:
 Splash Math App
Splash Math
And there are websites devoted to apps for interested parents to check out. It's kind of like trick-or-teating for apps for our kids. What did you find?

Friday, April 04, 2014

Program, Interrupted

I've been trying to get James to bed for almost an hour. Normally this is not difficult. We know we are very lucky in that respect.

Not tonight, though. Oh no. James has been upset, wailing, in tears, and with a distraught face that would sink an armada of tender hearts.


Yup.  These are noises James can tolerate without a problem:

Flies sharing his space ... will freak him out every time. He hates their buzzing more than leaf blowers. That is saying a lot.

He only calmed down when I showed him there were no flies in his room and sang to him -- lots of songs from my mom and grandmother, and half a dozen Disney movie tunes.

And when I thought I had him down? Bathroom visit. We went through the whole routine again.

That fly is so toast if *I* see him!

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Spelling Out Perception

Words and James have been fickle friends. For almost a year, I wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to verbally communicate. For many years after that, his words and speech were difficult to understand. James had extreme difficulty in holding a pencil, let along writing. 

This year, a lot of hard work from us all is paying off. James is expanding his expressive and social verbal skills. In a recent questionnaire, he said what he most wanted to learn in school is "vocabulary." 

Spelling homework, however, is still the bane of his homework experience. His teacher and aide do a nice switch-up throughout the week. Writing the words multiple times, sorting them alphabetically, creating sentences with them ... it's still tough to shepherd him through the practice ... and keep him in his seat!

James' wonderful aide makes him little spelling cards every week. He keys in on the colours and traces over her letters in pencil. They can sound out the components of the words together.

Spacing and control have also been issues for James. This year, we focused on getting him to start practicing spelling on binder paper. His O/T said that it was hard for him to visually keep track of the faint blue lines -- that was why his writing rolled like an oscilloscope. So I started to rule the binder paper with pencil, and when that was still not enough, black marker. And when the words get longer (and his patience shorter), I add smaller pencil lines for each letter. 

James is a visual guy. He does well on his spelling tests and has progressed from 6 words a week to 20. He loves reading signs aloud with the enthusiasm of a first grader whose world just grew another dimension: Words.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Autism Awareness: Always

It's April 2nd, and World Autism Awareness Day is almost over. I have not put blue lights out or done much writing lately, but I am awware. Every day.

Autism has punched us in the gut and wrung our hearts. It's given me a new appreciation of what I really do have, and many more blessings in the little things in life meaning so much.

  • My son's hand in mine. Being able to have him tell me what happened in his day. 
  • Conquering hopscotch. 
  • Watching him write. 
  • Hearing him read all the road signs or playing the alphabet game on the way to school. 
  • Finding out he chose to play football with his classmates at free choice, instead of playing games on the computer. 
  • Watching him "conduct" music from the very back of the multipurpose room during his sister's chorus performance. Having his help with household chores.

  • The pat on my back and whispered "It's okay, Sweetie, it's oooo-kaaaay!" when he sees me upset or sad.

  • The Trader Joe's lady, who waits for him to come visit with her after he finds the Peanuts character in the store. 
  • The boys in his class who hang out of car windows and yell "Hi, James!" during after school pickup as we walk to our car. 
  • Seeing peoples' faces soften as he skips past them. 
All special things I might have been too busy to notice, if I had not been made aware.

What would I hope for others to be aware of? Please don't put people in an autism box. Please don't get too caught up on test scores and check boxes. Please don't see a price tag or something dangerous.

Listen to the parents. Take a good look at all the little things, and be aware that they matter, and you can help make them happen.

Help us. Help us find answers, solutions, and a better future together.

One thing I will be doing, is walking this month to raise money and awareness for Autism Speaks . Please help, if you can, and thank you.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Small Kindnesses Make A DIfference

The kids and I hit Trader Joe's yesterday morning for the weekly grocery run. I love Trader Joe's in so many ways ... their low prices, great food, and convenient locations all match so well with our hard-to-match lifestyle. I think of them as a family partner.

After becoming a parent, they won me over in a whole new dimension -- namely their crew members' wonderful way with kids in their stores. The crew members for the store closest to us were incredibly understanding when child #1 became unexpectedly ill on aisle 2; their "things like this happen, please don't worry" response was a very relieving surprise. When they still handed out balloons, they would accommodate balloon colour requests like they would be at Nordstom's.  They *tried* to get me to see the funny side of my toddler child #2 swiping a carton of eggs and turning it upside-down just out of my reach and the cart (and refused to let me help clean up or pay for it).

Several crew members are familiar with both kids by now. If I make the weekly run by myself, they ask where the kids are. One woman asks specifically after James. His happy hunt through the store, looking for the Peanuts plush doll of the day makes people smile. When he finds the character, he runs up to the front desk and reports its location for his coveted prize: a red TJ's lollypop. Talk about motivation to speak a sentence clearly!

This week, however, he was unable to find Lucy, and he began a semi-frantic, howling meltdown, right as I was in the checkout line, trying to check my list and make sure I'd gotten everything. I got him to calm down enough to ask a crew member for a hint. They sent someone to look for her in the store. When they discovered that Lucy was AWOL, they hid Charlie Brown, and gave James' sister a "cold" clue for where they could find him. She then took James on another search, which had a happy conclusion in the freezer section, amongst the cookies.

I know they would have done this as soon as someone brought it to their attention, but these people also seem to understand how something not being in its right place was driving James into a panic. Because when his big sister told him "Lucy's on vacation," they said "That's right, and she'll be back later." Immediately, James calmed down, and afterwards I did not hear him asking constantly where Lucy was (which is something he does when someone/thing is out of place in his world).

And after a tough week (like this past one), small kindnesses mean everything. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Over the past couple of months, James has become more interested in playing with other boys from his class. This is an exciting first.

First I heard the boys' names from James at home. I asked his aide, who told me I was hearing their names properly and that they were good kids who played football at recess. James watched them as the weeks passed. I heard when someone got "hit" and someone ran after the ball.

Then James moved closer, onto the field. Once of twice, they boys got carried away with their game and "hit" him as they bumped into him.

Today I heard that today, James chose playing with his classmates with some touch football over computers.

One of those sweet breakthrough moments that I intend to savour.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Planetarium Field Trip

Last week I got to help chaperone an honest to gosh field trip with James' third grade class. We visited the local JC's planetarium and sat through their show on our solar system and galaxy. Although the show is dated (Pluto is still a planet in a video), the venue is easy to get in and out of and a great place to be introduced to astronomy.

There was lots of oohing and ahhing, especially when they showed pictures over the constellations in the ceiling. James sat still through almost the entire show, which means he was interested.

I am trying to remember if I've been on a field trip with James and the best I come up with is a field trip to the pumpkin patch in preschool and kindergarten. Having me show up at James' classroom used to throw James off his routine to the extent that it would tank his day, so I haven't done one of these class activities in a while.

James is having some regressive behaviours. It's been a very stressful time outside of school and likely will be for a while longer. His reading regrouping teacher and case manager is going out on leave. His case worker from the Regional Center left and we have not yet been assigned a new one. I am working with his aide and teacher to keep him on track with practicing good behaviours and choices. We have putting leaves in the mouth, poking self with pens, and not focusing. Then on the good side, we have this on a field trip: