Thursday, September 29, 2011


My son is off from school today due to Rosh Hashanah. As I am trying to work in my office, I hear him calling out from the basement:

“Mom, come here! Yoohoo!”

I still recall the days when he didn’t speak. When he wanted Mom he went to get her and then took her hand.

“Yoohoo!” makes me smile.

L'shanah tovah to all of our family and friends that celebrate Rosh Hashanah.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Perfect Score Means a Good Week

“As the parent of child with autism, one of the things that I always struggle to keep in mind during the tough times is that things always change. When my son’s problems seem to get worse by the day, it is hard to imagine that things will ever change for the better. Yet, they always do.”

This week’s column in the Patch takes a closer look at the ups and downs of parenting a child on the autism spectrum. Get more details about the good week we experienced last week after the tough times we had earlier. Click here to read all about it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Return to the Ice Rink

You know that winter is right around the corner with the start of my son’s ice skating class over the weekend.

A year ago, Kai took this class for the first time. He could barely stand up on his skates. He was very wobbly on the ice. He was scared, and wanted to clutch onto the girls who were helping him learn.

By the end of the class in the spring, he was able to skate on his own and even skated in an ice show.

Still, I wasn’t sure how he would react to the start of the class now. Sometimes he has anxiety about things that he hasn’t done in a little while. So I was relieved when he was happy to go to the class on Saturday morning.

And when we got there, he didn’t show any signs of the nearly five-month layoff from skating. He skated easily on his own.

On Sunday evening, we always have him do his homework where he has to write about one thing that he did over the weekend. He doesn’t like to write, so it is hard to get him to do this assignment at times. Other times he can’t decide what to write about.

This time, he knew right away that he wanted to write about his skating class. He wrote that he had fun and that it was his favorite thing over the weekend. Thinking about how far he has come in a year, it was my favorite thing, too.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Nice Finish to a Good Week

“It’s a new day. It’s a new week. Hopefully, it is a new beginning.”

That is how I closed my entry at the beginning of the week.

After weeks of tough times, we had some positive experiences last weekend. Still, we weren’t sure if it would carry over to school. After all, Kai had been having major incidents on an almost daily basis since the beginning of summer.

As the week started, it looked like nothing had changed as far as school was concerned. Kai had three major incidents in the first three days.

And then yesterday, out of the blue, he earned a “100%” on his school point sheet. That meant that he was safe all day. That he followed directions in every period and stayed on task for every class.

Where did that come from?

Surely, it was just a one-day wonder.

Today, he earned a “98%.” That means he had two great days in a row, no longer an aberration.

He also was named Student of the Week for the first time in many months. Obviously the school overlooked his incidents earlier in the week in order to give positive reinforcement to his improved behavior later on.

I don’t know why this sudden change. I can only speculate that he may finally be adjusting to the medication he has been taking.

But, regardless, it is a great way to end the week.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Loose Tooth

My son had a loose tooth the other day. “Had” being the key word.

Kai gets agitated about the most minor things sometimes so it is not surprising that he got annoyed when his tooth got loose.

He started to pick at it and soon was constantly moving it with his fingers. He wanted me to get it out, but when I felt it, it seemed like it wasn’t yet ready to come out.

So, we told him that it would be awhile and that he should just try to ignore it. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen.

He kept picking and picking at it.

My wife used the occasion to motivate him to eat his dinner. Eat all the meat, she told him, and your tooth may come out. He ate all of his dinner very diligently that evening, but was perturbed afterward when his tooth was still hanging on.

The next morning, he was still perseverating on his tooth. Oh, this is not going to be good for school, we thought. I could just picture him not paying attention during class, and complaining about his tooth all day.

And then, just like that, he pulled it out.

He was very happy. But no more so than we were.

Still, kids grow up fast. And I’m guessing that it won’t be too long before we look back and fondly recall these days when Kai was still a kid, and laugh about how agitated he got with his loose tooth.

It’s all just a matter of perspective, right?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Great New Book Just Came Out, and I Am In It!

I am very excited to tell you about a new book about the challenges and rewards of raising children with autism and other cognitive disabilities. Written by parents, this book contains more than forty fabulous essays.

One of my essays is among those included. I’m thrilled to be included in such a special book.

You can get your copy by clicking on the link.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Take It Out On The Husband Day

“It was Take It Out On The Husband Day at our house recently…”

I am sure that many parents of children with special needs can relate to the stressful times we had recently. Check out my latest column in the Patch to read about our tough week. Click here to read the whole story. Here’s hoping that my wife reads all the way to the end! ☺

Monday, September 19, 2011

A New Day

Last weekend, my son threw a fit and did not play in his soccer game. Then, during the week, he had an awful session at his karate class where he refused to do many of the activities. (I’ll have more about all that in this week’s Patch column that should be posted tomorrow).

So, this weekend, we had trepidations about those two activities.

On Saturday morning, I spoke to Kai at breakfast and set my expectations for him. I said that I knew he could do a good job at karate because he had done so before. I told him that I wanted him to listen to Sensei and set a good example for the class. I also said that I wanted him to play soccer without complaining. I was positive, but also added that if he did not do the activities nicely, he would lose his computer and video privileges.

As the karate class started, I was tense as I sat in the stands. I didn’t relax even when Kai got off to a good start. He was doing all of the warm-up exercises nicely, but it was early. With Kai, I’ve learned that you never know when he might get upset about something and start acting out.

As the group went on to doing karate, Kai looked very serious. Frankly, I was surprised how well he was doing. His form is often not crisp, but on this day he seemed very focused and his movements were unusually sharp.

Toward the end of class, each student had to perform kata (karate movements) individually in front of the entire class. Kai performed well, and, at the end of the class, earned high praise from Sensei. “Kai, that’s the best karate you’ve ever done.”

One activity down, one more to go.

In the afternoon, we went to his soccer game. Kai played. He ran. He kicked. He did not complain. It was a complete change from the week before.

Later, we heard from the mom of another child at the game. She said that she congratulated Kai for his play and he responded to her, “I always knew I could do it.”

I am not sure why he did so well this week or why he had so much trouble last week. I can only hope that the positive behavior will carry over to school, another area that has been a challenge of late.

It’s a new day. It’s a new week. Hopefully, it is a new beginning.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Trying to Keep Smiling

It’s been a week where both my wife and I caught change-of-season colds, and struggled with our son’s continued frequent incidents at school. Add in some additional bad behavior at his karate class and, well, let’s just say that I’m ready to put this week behind us.

I’ll have more details of our week in next week’s column in the Patch. (By the way, I am now in the Northbrook and Glenview Patch as well as the one in my own town).

In the meantime, as we try to keep a smile on our faces, check out the t-shirt that Kai and his uncle are modeling. Is it still funny when it is so real?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

S-O-S Best of the Best, Edition 10: Calming Techniques for Stress and the Special Needs Child

This month’s S-O-S Best of the Best (BoB) is on helping special needs kids to calm down after a meltdown or a stressful event.

My own post on the topic is about some of the techniques we have used, to varying degree of success, to help Kai calm down or, proactively, so he would not have a meltdown in the first place.

Click here to read about others’ experiences.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Math Class

During the first week of school, my wife was disappointed when my son brought home some math homework that was easier than the work he was doing in kindergarten. So, she wrote to his teacher.

It turns out that the school is changing its math curriculum and had temporarily placed some kids in easier classes as they thought that it might take them some time to get used to the new methods that were being used.

But Kai was obviously outperforming his assigned group so they gave him a placement test. Now he is taking math with fifth graders. It sounds like he may be the only second grader in the fifth grade class, and, as far as we can tell, there are no kids taking 6th grade math there.

Last year, he was taught math individually. So, it will be interesting to see if he can learn math in a group setting. The teachers report that so far he likes being with other kids and is doing well.

We liked the individual attention he got before, but it will be good if he can continue to learn in a more typical classroom environment. Though if he keeps progressing at this rate, he may be back to individual teaching as there may not be other kids at his level by next year.

Now that would be a dilemma that we would gladly face.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

My son is into all things numbers related, including the “birthdays” of countries. Check out this week’s column in the Patch to find out which countries are turning 190 this week. Click here for the whole story.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Weekend Ups and Downs

My son had his first soccer game of the season this weekend. Well, there was a game all right, but Kai hardly played.

It was a beautiful sunny day, seemingly perfect for soccer. Kai’s grandmother was in town and happy to get a chance to see Kai play. We got to the field and were pleasantly surprised to find that Kai’s best friend from school had decided to play after originally saying he did not want to. They had fun chasing each other around before the game. So, all looked fine.

Then the game started.

Kai’s friend had to go to the bathroom, and apparently took all of Kai’s energy with him when he left. As the other kids were running up and down the field, Kai was mostly just standing around.

A short while later, he came to the sidelines complaining that he was hot. He is really sensitive to heat. But it wasn’t like it was a 90-degree day. And he was hardly running enough to work up a sweat anyway.

I gave him water and let him take a break. And then I told him that I wanted him to go back out and play.

But then he complained that his new soccer jersey was uncomfortable. Was it itchy? I couldn’t make out the reason for his complaints. Still, everyone has to wear the jersey so I tried to get him to persevere. Yeah, that didn’t work.

As Kai’s team was running low on players, the coach said it was okay if Kai didn’t wear his soccer jersey so I had him change into a regular t-shirt. By then, though, he was yelling that he hated soccer and wanted to go home.

I was mad – no other kids were causing any problems; why was Kai being so difficult? I was embarrassed – my son was the only one making a scene in front of all the parents and I was proving to be an ineffective parent. I was frustrated – why couldn’t I be more patient and understanding with him? Or, maybe I was too patient with him? Whatever! Why can’t I get him to go back out and play?

I ended up threatening to take away his Pokemon cards. I told him that he wouldn’t be able to use the computer for the rest of the weekend. His grandmother and I told him that we weren’t going to leave until the game ended regardless of whether he played or not.

He didn’t.

When we got home I took away him Pokemon cards. He lost his computer privileges for the weekend.

But, later that day, we visited relatives and he played nicely with his cousins. And that was more meaningful than a soccer game.

Frustrations and triumphs. The weekend was a microcosm of our life.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Keeping Calm

My son had three major incidents at school yesterday. And that is a lot, even by his standards. Here are the things that prompted them:

First, for some reason, in the middle of class, Kai wanted to get some gummy bears from the school’s snack shop. As the snack shop isn’t even open on Thursdays, the staff couldn’t accommodate him even if they wanted to. But once Kai gets an idea in his head, it is difficult for him to be flexible and he often becomes angry. The inability to overcome his disappointment at not getting a gummy led to the first major incident where he threatened the staff and had to take a timeout outside of the classroom.

Next, his class went outdoors during PE. Kai had on short pants and complained when some grass rubbed against his legs. We have experienced similar situations and once he gets agitated, it seems impossible to calm him down. This time, the staff at school brought him inside, but he kept getting angrier, and tried to hurt the staff members who were helping him.

After two major incidents, the school’s policy is that the student is not permitted back in the classroom for the remainder of the school day, instead having to stay in a study room. This led to the third incident, as Kai got angry that he was missing out on a special viewing of the Ant Bully video that the rest of the class was watching.

Three incidents for three different reasons. In every case, a seemingly small thing triggered a reaction, and the staff couldn’t get Kai to calm down before a major incident occurred.

As luck would have it, the topic for this month’s S-O-S Best of the Best is Calming Techniques for Stress and the Special Needs Child. As our son’s day in school yesterday illustrates, we have yet to find solutions that work much of the time. It is no particular comfort to us that the professionals at our son’s therapeutic school haven’t found easy answers either. So, I will be very interested to read the perspective of other bloggers on this topic.

Still, in the hopes that others will find some value in our own attempts, here are some calming techniques that we have tried with some degree of success:

Big Pillows and Air Mattresses – From the time he was able to run around, Kai has loved crashing onto a big air mattress we have on our basement floor. I’m sure there is a sensory need that is fulfilled by the crashing. More recently, as he is outgrowing the air mattress, we got a big foam-filled pillow/bean bag chair. He can crash against that as well, but he also uses it to sit in to do homework on occasion as the feel of the pillow around him provides comfort. These don’t really help to calm him much once he is agitated – nothing really does – but is more of a proactive device to keep him from getting dysregulated in the first place.

Trampoline – Yes, we are a “trampoline in our living room” family. For the first few weeks after we got it, Kai was on the trampoline several times a day, and I think it helped to proactively head off more aggressive behavior. Lately, though, with his lower energy levels, he hasn’t been on it at all. Hmm, is that a clue as to why he had three incidents at school yesterday?

Blanket – Like Linus in the Peanuts cartoons, Kai turns to his blanket often for comfort. After a bad day at school, he will often run to his bedroom to snuggle with his blanket as soon as he gets home.

Angry Octopus – After explosive incidents at home recently, Kai has asked us to read Angry Octopus with him. A wonderful story by Lori Lite, Angry Octopus tells the tale of an octopus who explodes with anger, spreading his black ink cloud all around. The octopus is not happy about not being able to control his anger, and finds comfort when a Sea Child comes along, teaches him to relax, and be in control of his body.

I think that Kai really relates to the octopus in the story. It is great that he wants to read this story, and it helps him to regain a relaxed state. Hopefully, over time, he will be able use the relaxation techniques taught in the book to prevent his anger from rising in the first place.

One side benefit of reading Angry Octopus with my son is that it reminds me how I can calm down as well. And maybe that is just as important. After all, you can’t get your child to calm down when you are not calm yourself.

Okay, that is all I’ve got. This next S-O-S Best of the Best will come out on September 15. I can’t wait to read what other bloggers find helpful with their children.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Learning Chess

Kai’s grandfather is a chess aficionado. As such, I’m sure it would give Papa great satisfaction to pass along his passion to his grandchildren. But chess is not a game for very young children, and Kai wasn’t ready to learn it.

Until now.

A few years ago, my wife and I celebrated when Kai went beyond the games of pure chance that really young kids play. No longer did we have to keep playing Candyland or other mindless games over and over. At last, playing games would be fun for us too now that we could play some that involved thinking and strategy.

We started with games like Uno that combine luck with some skill. But these days Kai is quite proficient at games that are completely skill based like Qwirkle and Blokus.

But, while Kai was able to learn these games of skill, chess was another story. Chess is a bit more complicated, with pieces that move differently and with a number of exceptions to how moves can be made.

For those not familiar, just with the pawn alone, there are a variety of moves to learn. While a pawn usually moves only one space at a time, each pawn can move two spaces on its first move. It usually moves straight ahead, but has to go diagonally to capture another piece. When it reaches the end of the board, it no longer is a pawn, as it can be converted into any piece. And, let’s not even get into “en passant” which is a special move that a pawn can make.

Earlier this year, Papa gave Kai a chess set. But, at that time, Kai was not yet ready to learn.

While we were on vacation, though, watching the same Donald Duck math dvd that showed a pool table, Kai took notice when it briefly showed a scene about chess.

And so, after we got home, he asked to see the chess set that Papa had given him.

We set up the board and I explained the basic moves of each piece. My wife did not know how to play either so it was a joint lesson.

After the lesson, they played each other. Kai beat Mom, with just a little bit of help from me.

This past weekend, we visited the grandparents. We did a lot of fun things, but one anticipated moment was the first chess match between Kai and his grandfather.

It wasn’t exactly the match of the century. Kai has got a lot to learn about playing chess, and Papa passed along a number of tips as they played.

But it was an introduction to sharing his grandfather’s passion for the game. And in that regard, the match was noteworthy.

And just maybe, Kai learned a little something from his grandfather’s lessons. The next day, without anyone’s help, he beat Mom.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Contemplating Medication

“For many parents of kids with autism, there comes a time when they have to consider medication for their child. No, there is no cure for autism, but there are drugs that treat the anxiety and attention deficit that often accompanies autism. That time for consideration arrived for us recently…”

This week’s Patch column takes a closer look at our decision to use medication to treat our son’s anxiety and attention deficit. Read the full story here.

Friday, September 2, 2011

“I Just Want to Eat the Vegetables”

Actual dinner conversation at our house:

Me: “You have to eat your chicken, Kai.”
Kai: “But, I don’t want to. I just want to eat the vegetables.”

Yes, I must have the only kid in America who would rather eat vegetables than meat. Whether it is chicken, pork, beef, or turkey, my son often prefers to eat the veggies instead of the meat dish.

Carrots and celery have long been his favorite; I think the crunchy texture appeals to his sensory needs. But, these days, he also loves asparagus, cucumbers, onions, and peppers, and will readily eat green beans, edamame (Japanese soybeans), and even broccoli.

At dinnertime, he will usually eat the vegetables first, especially if carrots and celery are on the plate. Then he will have some rice. After that, he will ask for more vegetables. Usually I refuse to give him more until he eats some of the meat, and that is when we can have some version of the above conversation.

It wasn’t always that way. When he was young, we thought Kai would never eat anything other than hot dogs and bacon. But these days, he only likes bacon when my wife cooks it with some vegetable like kale or asparagus or spinach. And the only time we have hot dogs now is when dad has to make a quick lunch and nothing else is in our refrigerator.

On our last visit to our DAN! Doctor, he showed us test results that indicate that Kai’s protein levels are lower than they ideally should be, likely because he is not having enough meat. So now we are making a bigger push to get him to eat meat.

Of all the challenges I thought I would have raising a child, this was one that never entered my mind.

A vegetarian wannabe for a son? I never would have thunk it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sleeping in School Is Not a Good Sign

My son fell asleep at school yesterday for the second time this week.

Kai napped as a baby and toddler, of course. But, I think it is about four years since he regularly took naps.

During the bulk of these past four years, he rarely slept through the night. Yet he constantly amazed us with how much energy he had during the day regardless of how little sleep he got.

But recently, he has been lethargic fairly often. Yesterday, in addition to the nap at school, he was very quiet during a therapy session in the afternoon. He rarely spoke to the therapist and showed no energy. It was completely unlike the effusive Kai we’ve grown accustomed to.

So, what has changed?

We think this is the result of the new medication he is taking. And if it is a side effect that continues, we will have to ask the doctor to make a change.

We were hoping that the medication would make our son more attentive at school. But how attentive can he be if he is sleepy?

Of course, later in the day, after dinner and bath, when we wanted him to wind down for bedtime, he was full of energy. He engaged us in a game of his own invention. We started out playing the periodic table game that he has, but he soon infused it with a bit of Monopoly, and mixed in some Pokémon as well. My wife and I tried to play along, but were completely befuddled as Kai prattled on nonstop about the rules of the game he was making up as we were going along.

Ah, now that is the Kai we know and love.

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