Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Special Exp. / Wordless Wednesday: First Lost Tooth

... and he swallowed it while at school. Just like his mom.

The Tooth Fairy found out anyway!

For more great images or to join in the fun, Visit Special Exposure Wednesday at 5 Minutes for Special Needs.

5 Minutes for Special Needs
and ... Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Still Learning Our ABAs

Autism-related behaviours manifest differently with each person. Our experience with James is special in that he likes and seeks out others, he is normally sunny, and is empathetic toward others. Sometimes I realize how focused I am on James, and how much I am not paying attention to the bigger picture if Autism, it's issues and research.

For example, this morning I was reading an article regarding treatments for those affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which is James' official diagnosis. There were many references to ABA.


Okay, I'm officially clueless. I had to Google it. ABA stands for Applied Behaviour Analysis and there are pages and pages out there on the internet that cover what this means, what's hot, and evidence-based reports. The Bright Tots website is what I was reading this morning.

Once I got going, I realized I did know what this was, I just wasn't used to thinking about it as "ABA". In preschool, his teacher and SHAPE assistants worked with us to help James learn to eat and dress by himself, as well as cleaning up after himself. It was key in getting him engaged with successful potty training (although it took several attempts to find the correct motivating behaviour). Instead of ABAs, we talked about self-care goals, targeted social interactions, delved into breaking tasks down into small steps & social stories, and strategized ways to model correct speech & language.

Now in kindergarten, his team and family continue to look at ways to keep James engaged in his class routine, improve his social & language interactions, and encourage age-appropriate behaviours. So I feel better that I haven't totally missed out on ABA for James.

What I still feel I need to learn about ABA, though, is how else it might be able to help James. Where we can find these services. How we can pay for them. Because last time I looked, they were not covered by health insurance in California. Because I agree 220% with Autism Speaks in the part of their 2009 document "Arguments in Support of Private Insurance Coverage of Autism-Related Services", which states:
Argument 7: By improving outcomes for children with autism, mandated private insurance coverage will decrease the lifetime costs of treating and providing services and will actually result in an overall cost savings in the long-run.

Incidentally, I think the government should be seriously looking at this as well and see programs that support ABA-related services as a key investment in our future. We need to keep state and federally funded programs intact as much as possible, because for families like us they are just about our only options.

James currently receives the bulk of his services from public schools and the North Bay Regional Center. Without this assistance, we'd be hurting. And 10-20 years down the road, James might be even MORE dependent on government-related services, had we not had the help to get him to manage his own self care and jump-started his learning and speech. Along with the other 1 in 100 children on the spectrum.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Kinder F/T: Pumpkin Patch

James' first field trip as a Kindergartener was one he's before -- Grandma's Pumpkin Patch! Even though the weather was grey, cold, and moist the kids were excited.

There was no room for parents on the school bus, so I met up with them after their arrival. James did very well on his first bus trip without a seat belt and his aide said he did a great job of going right to his seat and enjoying the trip.

This year he helped make his pasta string by picking out the colours and poking the yarn through the holes. When I asked who it was for, he said "You, Mommy." Melt. I shared with him halfway through our visit.

James liked handing with his buddy Alex. They raced through the mini corn maze and up to the top of the hay bale pyramid, just to enjoy the jumps back down. He picked out his own pumpkin, one of the biggest in the whole dang patch, and could read his name on the label to show me his choice. Awesome!

James also enjoyed looking at the pullets, which was new because I don't think they usually have chickens this young on display at this time of year. The heat lamp was working overtime in that pen!

He then wound up his trip by driving one of the old display tractors. It's still a little surprising to me to see how well he takes to getting behind the wheel and practices driving. I don't know why, but I still see him as a more passive three year-old. I know he's not ... but I guess the contrast is still new for me. Anyway, I love to watch him go!

We did run into a bit of a problem in that James needed to use the bathroom, but was freaked out by the portapotty. So I signed him out and took him to a quieter restroom, where much was accomplished. We then rejoined his class for lunch at a nearby park. He did a good job eating and racing about with his classmates, playing.

I thought that he was not as excited as in past years to go to the pumpkin patch. I am not sure if it was the weather, the bathroom situation, or the fact that he's visited this patch several times over the past two years. Regardless, it was still good to get out together and have some seasonal fun.

Magic Marker Monday: Colour by Numbers

Another KinderWork project.

Normally, I am not a fan of colour-by-numbers, but I can see how this could be a very helpful activity for James, both by breaking a picture into ordered components and coordinating his number recognition and colour identifying skills.

This reminds me of the solve-the-equation & colour the picture variations I used to make up for my mom's classes, waaaaaay back in the 1970s. I'll bet I can come up with some more for James. Hmmmmm ...

I just thought of something else -- it's a good speech and social discussion project too, because we went on a field trip last week to a pumpkin patch!

Visit 5 Minutes for Special Needs for more Magic Marker Monday.

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Fringe Benefit

Our first motel had a nice fringe benefit: a grassy central courtyard with a gazebo and goldfish pond at our end.

Technically, the waterfall is not a fountain, and the pond is full of fish and therefore not suitable for wading or swimming. So the kids loved spending time running around it, checking out the waterfall, the little bridge, and ... feeding the fish.

It's true. We lucked out and happened to be there when the groundskeeper was going to start tossing them their Fish Chow (or whatever). My daughter asked politely if we could feed them and he said "sure!"

Recap: more water, rushing water sound, bubbles, fish, bridge, gazebo, fish swimming, warm and lazy afternoon, get to wear swim suits, get to *feed the fish*, and no school. It's official, we have a new favourite motel.

(P.S.: notice James's shoes -- he has a thing for constantly putting them on the wrong feet. Gah!)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I Think He's Left, But Is That Right?

How do we determine hand dominance? It's a question about James that's been bugging me for almost a year. His sister was pretty easy to determine as a right-handed and footed person because she consistently used the right side of her body to write, draw, kick, and throw. James, in keeping with the mysterious/super powers aspect of his personality, is keeping the whole dominant hand card game close to his chest (with both hands).

Last year, when he had better mastery of eating with utensils and was starting to use markers and paint brushes, I started watching his to see which hand he used. A lot of times it was his left. Then he started to use his right. I know that many kids do this, but by a certain age, children need to have a dominant hand to support. I started discussions with his preschool teacher, who recommended a wait-and-see approach, as well as a helpful suggestion of not handing him something, but rather putting it on the table in between his left and right hand. James continued to experiment, but then picked it up with his left and transferred to his right.

Through this Spring and Summer, he continued to throw consistently with his left hand, kick with his left foot. He also used his left fingers to draw in the sand and WRITE HIS NAME IN THE CAPRET (this, when his teacher and O/T said he could not write and needed to concentrate on making circles and crosses). Yet for table activities he usually picked up with his left and transferred to his right.

I am not trying to discount the knowledge and experience of James' preschool teacher or O/T (the same O/T as in his preschool), but I continue to push the question of hand dominance with James. There are many left-handed people in my Mom's side of the family, and my uncle has shared stories about being punished when using his left hand and being made to use his right (which he hated and now no longer does). My mother taught SpEd for many years and I remember her talking about how not determining hand-eye-foot dominance can make some learning disabilities harder to overcome. In short: I worry that James' development will be negatively impacted by this protracted waffling about which is his dominant hand.

I am now being told that "some people" are ambidextrous, which is "fine". That "some people" don't settle on a dominant hand "for a while". That "some people" have a dominant left foot and a dominant right hand. This adds to my concern, because while I am sure this is fine and dandy for many of the "some people", this is our James, and I think we need to start supporting the appropriate hand NOW, because he is just getting this school thang, is absolutely in love with it, and does better when he builds consistently on a routine.

I've watched him get excited about playing a game with other kids in a room full of beach balls, just waiting to be kicked. I've seen how long it takes his brain to process (1) the ball (2) the activity (3) triangulation of said ball in regards to his body (4) figuring out where his legs, then feet are (5) shifting from one foot to another to find his starting foot and then (6) brace on one foot and start the kick with the other. Somewhere in between steps 4 and 6, I watch another kid zoom in and kick his ball out from under his foot. Yes, that's a game; he had fun and practiced; it won't always be like that. I want this to limit this happening with him at school, learning-wise.

I'm his mom and I worry. It goes with the job. If anyone has any helpful ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Water Buddy

Even though we hit the road in October, Southern California had one more heat wave up its sleeve for us. As the temps climbed and baked us in the mid-90s, the kids became increasingly excited about using our hotel's pool. The high outdoor temps were key, because the outdoor pool was not heated.

Even though James is a wader and refuses to get his head wet (let alone blow bubbles or do "bobs"), he has become more confident when playing in the water. I am sure being bigger has a lot to do with it, but I like to think all those trips to our gym's pool and watching his sister's classes helped too. In fact, it was at the gym's pool this summer that James started to engage in water splashing fights, and did not get too upset when splashed in the face.

I enjoyed the fact that I did not have to be in the water right there with the kids too. I love swimming and water play, but being able to thumb through a magazine (waiting to be read since July) while soaking up the sun and watching the kids made me feel even more like I was on vacation. Here was another first for us all.

It was really fun to watch him play in the water. Because he can now walk down the pool steps to the bottom of most pools, James tends to stay in the water longer. I no longer have to slap a floatie on him if I am poolside. His sister has been successful with swimming dogpaddle style by herself so my focus can be on him. James' focus was on his sister (and, one afternoon his cousin) as she kicks, cavorts, and leaps off the side of the pool into the deeper water. It made me feel so good that he laughed and was a part of it. Next year, I hope he's doing some more cavorting of his own.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fountain Fascination

What is it about kids and fountains? Is it the sound? Motion? Sensory stimulation? Or is it all about the playing?

We have a nice one at our Town Green and the kids love the one at Preston Vineyards. During our recent trip to Thousand Oaks, both kids spent long periods of time playing by this fountain:

Made me happy, because I had a chance to relax and drink my morning coffee rations slowly, watching them enjoy themselves. The warmer weather (80* before 9:30am) helped too.

Fountain Hit Parade:
Town Green Fountain

Play Factor at Discovery Museum in Sausalito

Preston Vineyards

Friday, October 22, 2010

Reading Together

As posted earlier, I was pleased to see that reading was high on the vacation activities list. It's so much easier to pack books than toys, and it's better than watching TV or movies. Big sister gets to practice reading and leadership ... little brother wants to grow up to be just like her. Plus, they have an activity they like to do together:

There was an added bonus to this, in that both of their schools had a Scholastic Book Fair in the week before we left. I got each of them 2 books for the trip and their libraries and their schools got free books. They got the surprise of a "present" and we had the satisfaction of providing a gift that will keep on giving. Even if it's about SpongeBob.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Packing Lists ... the Shorter Version Rules!

Even though it means more travel time, I prefer to drive down to the LA area from the Bay Area. Honestly, I do not think James could wait successfully in the security lines, and all the noise and people would freak him out. I am sure that just as we made it to the head of the screening line, he'd bolt. Yeah,   I so don't ever want to test that paranoid fantasy ...

Also, I have more freedom to PACK. Airline weight restrictions aside, many items we used to entertain the kids (or keep them fed & clean) involved Prohibited items (milk, water, nail clippers, scissors, food). Besides, by the time we got to the airport, parked the van, took the shuttle to the terminal, got through security, and checked in, and flew into a SoCal airport (assuming the plane was not delayed a couple of hours or oversold) we'd be in Bakersfield or further south. Trumping everything else is the fact that James cannot stand random up & down motions and has extremely sensitive ears.

But back to the packing list. Clothes are the easy part. Food is pretty easy because our kids are picky eaters. I usually do the weekly shopping at Trader Joe's and shlep it with us and we're good for most meals. Equipment is my Waterloo. It's getting much better. I used to pack 2 bags per child for special toys/comfort items. Of course they were items used daily, so it had to be done at the last minute, while taking care of home chores for the week or so we'd be gone. Recipe for stress and cortisone overload: Bing!

Here's a sample of what we packed this time:
@ Daughter: conditioner, brush, sparkle hair spray, nail polish, tooth brush, paste, flossers, mouth wash, Chapstick/lip gloss, plug-in nite lite

@ Son: pull ups, Balmex (hands-down my fav to deal with any kind of rash), powder, wet wipes, tooth brush, nail clipper, tooth brush, paste, floss

We had some extras in there because we had tickets for Trick-or-Treating at Disneyland. When in Rome ... eh? The exciting part was that everything fit in 1 bag per child. If not for the costumes, it would have been 1 bag for both kids ...

Here's the bog difference for me, when considering logistics for the trip:
-------- ephemera ----------
• 2 books
• 1 sketch pad
• MagnaDoodle
• phone
• camera & download cable
• chargers for phone and camera
• scissors
• sewing kit
• old crib mattress & sheet
• picnic blanket
• double stroller

The first 8 items fit in one reuseable bag. The next 2 items we use for bunking James in hotels. This is because he rolls off the side of a bed easily, and once he whacked his head. We find a nice corner for him, put down the picnic blanket and then set him up with the crib mattress and his blankies, which he travels with. Sometimes we even use the picnic blanket if we're also stopping at the beach. It's heavy-duty, and lined with this vinyl on the underside. Strange as it seems, I still find use for the double stroller. It's like having a nanny with strong arms while spending 15 hour days at an amusement resort. James still likes to buckle himself in -- it seems to make him feel secure.

This is what we did not bring: box(es) of diapers, special feeding cups and plates, toys that run on batteries and make lots of noise when buttons are pushed, white noise machine, ice, beads on a wire, porta potty chair, booster seat, books that make noise when you push buttons, spinning toys, toy phones, stacking toys, teething toys, portacrib, excessive stuffed animals, or extra "lovey" pillows.

Vacation just got better!

There and Back ... Again

We are back from an early second trip of the year to visit family and friends in SoCal. Excitement, new experiences, and I am happy to report that that there were no incidents of either car sickness or constipation. Progress!

Early on a Friday morning, we hopped in our van and made our way to I-5, which became our friend for the next 5 or so hours. The kids and I were able to enjoy a late-afternoon nap that ended with the start of the Grapevine. Could that connecting segment be any rougher? It's almost like a speed bump and comes right before the CHP station, which is probably a good thing.

This was quite a different trip for me. We've been doing this ~1,000-mi R/T thang for over 7 years now, but this was the first time I hadn't had to pack an extra bag of white noise machine, diapers, and small children toys. The portable CD player, for the first time, went completely unused. This was liberating for me. Less to fret over packing and tracking the entire way. What entertained the kids? Books, a pad of paper & crayons, and for James, a Magnadoodle:

If his smile looks different, it's because he lost his second tooth on the trip. The first one disappeared at school before we left. My buddy is growing up!

I loved how well the Magnadoodle worked. It focused James when he was at loose ends. It had no batteries or cords. He could use it anywhere and it occupied him for hours, allowing him to indulge in his latest obsession, Writing His Letters and Spelling His Own Name. Take that, Bembridge Scholars!

The trip was to visit family, help a family member move, and meet up with friends at Disneyland. We sure got our money's worth out of this trip, and it will take several posts to cover it all.

Safe to say that on the trip back up, we'd had our fill of fun, and were happy to enjoy the ride home as we unwound from vacation overdrive and rested up for more school.