Thursday, June 30, 2011

Having to Remind Myself

About an hour after my post on Floortime went up yesterday, the psychologist who coaches us on Floortime gave us a call. She didn’t see the post; rather, she called because she had just observed our son at school and then spoken to the school’s program coordinator afterward.

In speaking with the coordinator, she said that she realized how difficult it must be for us parents to hear so many varied thoughts about our son. The school uses one approach, various therapists advocate others, and some of those may be different from our personal philosophy.

She said that she understood how confusing it must be for parents to get so many distinct, and at times conflicting advice from professionals.

Hah, it was like she had read my mind, or at least my blog.

She wanted us to know that it’s okay to adapt the different approaches to fit our personal beliefs. And that certain approaches may be more appropriate for one situation and not another.

Then we talked about one particular example of where Kai had difficulty in school. The situation was that after eating his lunch, Kai threw the plastic food container in the garbage. A teaching assistant (TA) reminded him that it can be reused and that he should put it back in his lunchbox to take home. Kai reacted by hitting the staff member.

The psychologist said that she might have used a more positive approach. So, in this instance, she would first thank Kai for cleaning up and then remind him how important it is to recycle his containers. She said that Kai is quick to anger when he feels that he has done something wrong, so a more positive approach may help.

At home, I could see myself in that same situation, reacting with impatience. I might have raised my voice that he threw away his container when he should know that he shouldn’t.

But I have to keep reminding myself that parenting a child with special needs is often much more complicated than parenting a typical child. I think a lot of my frustrations come when I forget that, and don’t remember that I need to react differently than I would with another child to situations like the one I described. A simple thing like being more positive may make a world of difference.

And so I welcomed the thoughts of the psychologist. Her timing was perfect.

I learn, grow, and adapt.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Is it Floortime, or Is It Me?

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

How many of you have heard that before? When you hear it at the end of a relationship, it sounds like a bad excuse for breaking up with someone. But, sometimes, there’s truth to the statement. Sometimes two people are just not meant to be together.

Now, as we are having increasingly frequent behavior challenges with our son, I wonder if it is time to say, “It’s not you, Floortime, it’s me.”

The principles of Floortime have never come easily to me.

I was raised the “Asian” way, meaning that I didn’t have a lot of playful interactions with my parents. My upbringing was more the polar opposite of the Floortime model: stern parents, little room for discussion, obeying what you are told to do.

On the other hand, the way that I was raised was not exactly according to the ABA model either. When it came to positive reinforcement, well, let’s just say that the only carrots I saw were on my dinner plate. Good behavior was expected. It was the norm. There were no carrots/rewards for doing well. But, for bad deeds, well, there was a price to be paid.

With my son, however, we have used elements of both philosophies. We use the positive reinforcement aspects of ABA quite a bit. And though I didn’t personally experience much of that in my own childhood, I understand the reasoning behind it. It makes empirical sense to me. And I see how it works with my son.

On the other hand, the Floortime philosophy is a lot harder for me to grasp. I do understand the idea of following the child’s lead and building relationships, showing that we understand him and encouraging interactions. But I’m unsure about what to do when our son misbehaves, as he has more often these days.

Some of the psychologists who espouse the Floortime approach have said that when our son does not respond to a request to begin homework, for example, that means that he is communicating that he is not ready to work and may need to be given more time. My natural reaction, on the other hand, would be to give him some type of punishment for not complying.

If he gets angry and uses unsafe words, their counsel may be to use humor to get him to laugh and break the tension. My natural reaction is to give him a timeout for using those unsafe words.

The past few weeks, my son seems more defiant. He laughs it off when I tell him that he has made a bad choice. He is more disrespectful to my wife and me. In my gut, it feels wrong to laugh off those situations with humor. It feels like we are failing to teach our child discipline when we just go with his desires not to do something he doesn’t want to do.

I don’t doubt that Floortime has been a huge benefit in many respects. We turned to it in the hopes of improving our son’s skills for natural and spontaneous communication. And he has improved remarkably in those areas. So, maybe this is a case of having to take the bad with the good. Perhaps as my son speaks much more freely, we may not like everything that he says.

I’m also well aware that the problem may be that I just don’t understand the principles of Floortime well enough to execute it correctly. And that is why the problem may be more me than anything.

Still, as my son gets further and further away from respectful person I want him to be, I wonder if we are doing right by him by continuing to do what we have been doing.

It’s time to give critical thought as to whether it is our approach, our execution, or something else that needs to change.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Camping At Home

We lost power for 32 hours during last week’s storm. What did we do? Check out this week’s column in the Patch for the full story.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Our Weekend Outdoors

The beautiful weather we had this weekend was a welcome change from the storm earlier in the week. It was too nice not to get outside a lot.

On Saturday, I needed to do a lot of yard work, so my wife and Kai had an afternoon of fun in the water at a nearby public pool.

It sounded like they had a great time. As he had on our recent weekend in Ohio, Kai showed that he is very comfortable in the water, even without his swim instructor present.

But he was disappointed that I did not go with them and said that he wanted to go to the “family pool” next time, meaning that he wanted all of us to go.

So, we made plans for all of us to go again on Sunday.

But, first, a short drive over the border to Wisconsin for some pick-your-own-strawberries.

This was our fifth visit to Thompson’s Farm. I still remember our first time when Kai was three years old, he ate almost as many strawberries as my wife and I could put into our baskets. And on the car ride home, he continued to gobble up the berries we managed to collect. Since then, we decided to make it an annual tradition.

On this visit, he ate a lot fewer berries in the field. And he started to complain about his leg being itchy, probably because it had brushed up against the berry plants and weeds. Memo for next year: have him wear long pants. Or bring along some anti-itch cream.

Once he started whining, we knew our time in the field was short. My wife and I hurried to fill out our baskets while Kai shouted that he wanted to go home. Fortunately sound disperses (somewhat) when you are in a big strawberry field. We ended up with two baskets of small but very tasty berries, then went home.

I would show you pictures but in our rush we forgot to take any. Instead, here is a picture from our first visit four years ago. Looking at this photo, it reminds me that Kai did not make much eye contact back then, with either people or cameras.

After we got home, we made our way back to the pool. Kai was content and happy being back in the water. I was happy that he wanted me to come along. We all seemed to relax in the sun and water.

It was a great way to wind up the weekend. Looking forward to the next one.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Swinging Good Time

My son hates swings. Or at least, he did until recently.

As I wrote in my recent Patch column, Kai has difficulty with motor coordination. He has trouble catching a ball, and never wanted to ride a tricycle, let alone a bicycle.

And he never goes on swings.

A couple of weeks ago, Kai went to a playground with another boy. While Kai much prefers going on slides, this other boy, who also has autism, loves swings and soars to amazing heights on them. That is one small example of how kids with autism can be very different.

For some reason, on this occasion, Kai surprised Mom by telling her that he wanted to go on a swing, too. So, my wife helped him on and gave him gentle pushes. Before, whenever we tried the swings, Kai stayed on for only a short time before jumping off. But this time he stayed on for a long time.

I could hardly believe it when they got home and my wife told me that Kai asked to go on a swing.

But, the other day, Kai and I made our way over to the local playground. Again, he went on a swing. As you can see by the picture, he actually seems to be enjoying it. I’ve got to work with him on moving his legs and body so that he can propel himself better, but this is a start.

Oh, what’s that? Yes, he is wearing a bicycle helmet. But, that is a story for another day.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

32 Hours

Our power went out Tuesday night, just as I was putting Kai to bed. Unfortunately, it went out just before I would have shut the lights out in his room. And once he saw the lights flicker before all went dark, he was wide awake.

What happened in the ensuing 32 hours before the power came back on at about 5AM this morning? Sorry, you will have to wait for my column in the Patch next week to find out. In the meantime, check out the Patch for some photos of the damage. Thankfully, our house was safe, though our neighbors across the street are still without power and have huge trees down in their backyard.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Stress of Being a Houseguest

There’s nothing like staying over at someone else’s house to bring out feelings of inadequacy in your parenting abilities.

The odd and bad behaviors that we see from our son every day at home somehow seem worse when staying as a guest in someone else’s house. The imagined spotlight brings out the guilt feelings much more than when you are by yourselves at home.

We had a great time when we visited Kai’s grandmother this weekend. And she was very understanding and supportive of our situation. But when Kai behaved poorly, we still felt awful.

We saw a lot of the little things we see everyday. Things like not staying in his chair at dinner. Or, using his hands to pick up his food instead of using a fork or spoon. Or, wanting a different utensil for each different food.

At home, we work on these things. Sometimes despite our best efforts, we still have not been successful in changing his behavior. Sometimes we decide that we have to choose our battles and decide that some of these are not worth the effort at the time. But when I see him doing those things at grandma’s house, I wish that I had been more firm with him.

There were bigger things, too. Things like not listening and obeying our requests.

“Don’t throw the rocks into the water.” But he did.

“Put the golf balls away.” He didn’t.

“Don’t go on the couch in your wet swimsuit.” He did.

He got timeouts. But he didn’t seem to care.

You almost want to stop and explain that you really aren’t as incompetent at parenting as your child’s behavior might indicate. You are tempted to go into details of all the things we have been doing to work on these behaviors.

We are fortunate that the relatives we visit are understanding, though I don’t think anyone fully understands the difficulties of being a parent of a child with autism until you go through it yourself for awhile.

As we were leaving, Kai told us that he got a 30% score for his stay there. He had graded himself using the point system that his school uses. 30% is a bad score so he knew that he did not behave well.

I told him that next time he can get a better score. In the meantime, we will continue to work on the things we need to work on.

And I will try to work on not feeling so inadequate.

This post made possible by the free wifi provided by our local public library. We lost power in the fierce storm last night and it doesn’t look like we’ll have it restored anytime soon.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Best of the Best, Edition 7: Media and Kids with Special Needs

Check out the latest S-O-S Best of the Best (BoB). The topic this month is
media as it relates to invisible special needs.

Bloggers share their experiences with media, be it viewing TV, using the computer, playing video games, or reading magazines. Some explain how media can be beneficial for children with special needs, while other bloggers recount negative experiences. You can find all of the posts here.

A Different Field of Dreams

Today’s column in the Patch takes a look at my dreams of playing catch with my son.

Click here for the full article.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Weekend Away

We went away for the weekend to visit Kai’s grandmother in Ohio.

We haven’t visited there in three years, and Mama Dell doesn’t get to our area too often either, so, with school off last week, it was a great opportunity to visit.

Mama Dell was thrilled to see us. She gave us big warm hugs and welcomed us.

She and Papa Earl live near the water and Kai wanted to explore the dock area, so Papa Earl set up some fishing poles for us. My wife had hardly fished before so this was a new experience for her. She ended up catching the most fish and the biggest one that first day. Kai didn’t want to handle the fishing pole, but liked checking out the fish that Mom hauled in.

When he got bored of the fishing, Kai went inside and helped prepare dinner. After my wife found out how successfully Mama Dell had gotten him to peel potatoes, she hired him to be her new sous chef at home.

The next day, Dell insisted that my wife and I get a break from Kai. She took him for the bulk of the day, going to a merry-go-round museum, pick-your-own strawberries, and the park. We want Kai to know his family better, and so it was nice that he had this opportunity to spend a day with his grandmother. And though picking strawberries was tough on the back and Kai wasn’t perfectly behaved, she appreciated the time they had together.

Though I think that my wife and I got the better end of the deal as Papa Earl took us out on his boat for some fishing on Lake Erie. It was a beautiful sunny day with a gentle breeze keeping things from getting too hot. My wife  kept her fishing luck from the previous day with more action in the boat.

As we were away from Kai for so long, a strange sensation came over us. I vaguely recalled the feeling. I think it is called relaxation.

But, eventually we had to head back to shore. And Kai “welcomed” us with some bad behavior that I may write about later in the week.

But there was no dampening the warm feelings of sharing time with loved ones and renewing bonds.

We ended our visit on a great note, visiting the local pool before we left yesterday. On other vacations, when we have gone to a pool with him, he is too scared to try to swim. But this time, he was much more comfortable, and showed Mama Dell how much he had improved with his swimming.

Today, we are back to our daily routine with Kai starting summer school. But, our weekend in Ohio was a great way to kick off our summer and we won’t forget the fun times we had.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Top 5 TV Dads, and If They Had a Child With Autism

For Father’s Day, here are my picks for the Top 5 Dads in television history, and my thoughts on how they would have handled being a parent of a child with autism.

You may recall my earlier list of the Top 5 TV Moms. I found this list of TV fathers harder to put together as most of the fathers on recent sitcoms seem to be of the buffoon type, with Raymond from Everybody Loves Raymond being a prime example. He’s a funny character, but not exactly much of a role model. So, I had to dig a little deeper.

Here’s what I came up with. Let’s see if you agree:

5. Steve Douglass – My Three Sons: Fred MacMurray was the quintessential nice-guy dad. On this long-running ‘60s series, he played a widower raising his three sons on his own, with a bit of help from Uncle Charlie. It’s funny what passed for comedy back then. This show had no outrageous characters, and the dad was just a normal, decent guy. It never would be on the air these days. It’s hard to say what kind of parent of an autistic child Steve would have made; his three sons never seemed to provide all that much of a challenge, so who knows how he would have reacted under more stressful situations.

4. Lou Grant – The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant: Okay, so he wasn’t really a father. I mean, his character had kids, but I don’t think they were even on one episode. But the reason he makes the list is because he was a great father figure, first for Mary Richards on the MTM sitcom, then for the young journalists on the Lou Grant drama. Gruff but with a soft heart. Though, I can’t see him with a child on the spectrum. I don’t think he would have a clue as to what to do. It’s likely that Mary would have ended up taking care of the poor kid.

3. Burt Hummel – Glee: I don’t watch many television shows these days, but Glee is a guilty pleasure that my wife and I share after our son goes to bed. And while many of the characters are caricatures, Burt Hummel comes across realistically. A guy’s guy, and the father of a gay teen, he doesn’t always relate to his son. But he tries his best to understand, and, more than anything, he supports him and loves his son very much. Those qualities would make him the kind of father many of us are with a child with autism, loving even when we don’t fully understand.

2. Andy Taylor – The Andy Griffith Show: When I was a kid, I looked forward to watching reruns of Andy Griffith after I had finished my homework. Deputy Barney Fife was the funniest character, but Sheriff Andy was the heart of the show. A single father raising his son in small town Mayberry, N.C., Andy often used homespun humor to impart wisdom. As a sheriff, he never carried a gun. As a dad, he never raised his voice. If he had a boy with autism, I have a feeling he would have been just as good a dad as he was with Opie. I could just picture him picking up his guitar, singing a song, and connecting with his son.  And then they would go fishin'.

1. Heathcliff Huxtable – The Cosby Show: Who wouldn’t want Bill Cosby as a father? He’s warm, funny, and loving. As Cliff Huxtable, he taught his kids right from wrong, and personal responsibility, all while making you laugh. When his son on the show, Theo, was found to have dyslexia, Cliff held him to high expectations, not letting him use his learning disorder as an excuse. A great model for us dads, he would have been a wonderful father to a child with autism, or any kid for that matter.

Those are my choices. What do you think?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Progress at the Pool

It has been a while since I saw my son at his swim lesson, so I looked forward to the opportunity to see him this week.

My wife has been telling me of the progress that Kai has been making. So, I wanted to see for myself what he can do.

I was happy to see how far he has come. Kai now puts his head under water while stroking his arms, and then lifts it up to the side to breathe. It’s not the smoothest motion, but that he can do it at all is amazing. He is much farther along than we thought he would be at this point.

And the best part is that he is enjoying it. At the end of the day, I asked him what was his favorite thing that he did that day and he answered “swimming.” Given that he’s off from school this week and he did several other fun things, that said a lot. It is certainly a far cry from the first few weeks of lessons when we had to literally drag him out of school kicking and screaming on the days of his lessons, and then forcibly carry him into the health club where the pool is.

As great as seeing the swimming was, the thing that stood out for me was something else that I saw at the pool. A girl about Kai’s age was swimming near him at one point. He looked at her and asked her what her name is. After asking everyone their name at the party we went to recently, he is apparently keeping up his socialness. This time, however, after the girl told him her name, he didn’t just turn away. He said, “nice to meet you.”

Progress, progress, in more ways than one. I love it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


We are friends with a couple who have twins, a boy and girl. The kids are neurotypical, and so, even though they are about a year younger than Kai, they are much further along developmentally.

When they were younger, we had play dates with them. But, Kai did not play well. Much of the time, he sat in Mom’s lap, or got upset, or otherwise did not engage with the other kids.

It has been a while since we’ve seen them, but they stopped by a few weeks ago to drop things off for the Japan-relief benefit garage sale that my wife was having.

The boy, Benny, proudly told me that he just made yellow belt in karate. I offered my congratulations. Then, I mentioned that Kai was taking karate, too. Benny asked what color belt Kai had. When I told him that Kai was a green belt, his jaw dropped and his mouth was agape.

It was obvious that he could not believe that Kai, the boy who was always acting like a baby when he came over to play, the one who could not even ride a bike when he and his sister were able to, the child who would hardly play with him, was actually a higher belt than he was. And not just one level higher, but two.

He said, “Kai is a green belt?!?” as if he could not believe what he heard.

No worries, Benny. I wouldn’t have believed it either if I didn’t see it with my own eyes.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Boy Who Did Not Speak

My latest column in the Patch takes a look at Kai’s challenges with social interactions, and the progress he has made.

Click here for the full article. And if you like it, please be sure to ‘Recommend’ it. Thanks!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ugly Dolls – A Powerful Summer Incentive

My son has a week off before summer school begins.

It is always challenging to have Kai at home from school for long stretches as he doesn’t play like typical kids and always needs our attention. And if we are not vigilant with him, too much of his time can be spent on unproductive activities such as watching videos on tv or looking for YouTube videos on the computer.

So, my wife got him some math and reading workbooks, as well as computer programs that build analytical thinking skills, to help occupy his time in more productive ways.

We figured that it might be difficult to get him to do these voluntarily, so each day we set up a visual schedule to show him all of his activities. Somehow, having these things in writing elicits cooperation more easily than just telling him to do it.

In addition to the schedule, however, we set up an incentive program. Kai has a pretty good collection of Ugly Dolls and has been asking for more lately. The Ugly Dolls are one of the few typical things that Kai plays with. I’m not sure why he likes them so much. But I think the fact that there are so many different ones that he can collect add to his interest.

And so, my wife created an incentive board where Kai can check off each activity as he does them. When he completes the two math workbooks, he will get one Ugly Doll. When he completes the reading one, he will also get one. And, he will get one for finishing the two computer programs.

We figured that it would likely take him the bulk of the summer to finish all of these. Some of the workbooks, especially the one for reading, will get quite challenging for his level. But, if he works on it a little at a time, he will be able to get it done.

Well, what we didn’t figure was how motivated he would be to get the Ugly Dolls.

After school on Friday, minutes after his break started, he already went right to work on one of the math workbooks. He said that he wanted to finish it that day. We told him that would be impossible and that it may take weeks of work for him to get his Ugly Doll. But, he said he couldn’t wait weeks and wanted one that day.

He went through pages of the math until we had to force him to stop when he got tired and started making careless mistakes. And then he got mad at us for making him stop.

But, he was at it again the next day. By the end of the weekend, he was more than halfway through both math workbooks. I won’t be surprised now if he finishes them in the next few days.

He hasn’t shown as much interest in the reading and the computer programs, doing only the bare minimum of what we ask him to do. So it will be interesting to see how long it takes him to finish those.

But I’ve learned not to underestimate the power of Ugly Dolls. Just look at them. Wouldn’t you want more of Wedgehead and Ox?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Recognition Day

My son’s school celebrated the end of the school year yesterday with their annual recognition ceremony.

Kai was very excited about it from the day before and his teacher reported that he was trying to sneak peeks to see what awards everyone was getting.

With our heat wave over, Kai was able to wear his new suit that my wife got just for this occasion. Kai actually likes dressing up, and I think it helps keep him on his best behavior.

At the ceremony, Kai’s class was the first one up. One by one, the school director called up each student to the front while the teacher read off their most notable achievements. The student then receives a certificate, as well as one for accomplishments in PE, and several different ones for speech therapy depending on how much they had.

Kai’s certificate stated that he was awarded for “displaying an enthusiasm for learning and making impressive academic gains. His amazing accomplishments in class as well as his outstanding progress with safety have set a great example for all students.”

After his class was recognized, it was everyone else’s turn. Remarkably, he sat nicely through the whole program. In the past, these large assemblies have overwhelmed him, so it was great to see him handle this one so well.

When it was over, Kai came back to where we were sitting and proudly showed us his awards. He had six, more than anyone else, he said. He had kept track and counted how many everyone had received. We didn’t tell him that he had more than anyone else because he needed more speech therapy than the others.

The awards are a nice way to give positive reinforcement to the kids for all of their hard work, and to recognize them in front of their peers and family.

But for us, what was so great was to note the improvement our son had made in this, his first-grade year. Looking at him in his suit, he seems so grown up. But it is not just the way he looks. He acts differently, with more maturity.

It seems like it was only yesterday that he was in kindergarten. Now, he is on to second grade. Time flies.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Our Latest Father-and-Son Activity

We give our son a lot of supplements per our DAN! (Defeat Autism Now!) doctor’s recommendations. Until recently, though, Kai had shown almost no interest in them.

He does not yet swallow pills or capsules, and we give him quite a number of different ones, so we mix most of it with applesauce. He has his before-breakfast applesauce, after-breakfast applesauce, before-dinner applesauce, after-dinner applesauce, and before-bedtime applesauce. Each has a different mix of supplements.

My wife organizes the supplements. She has them neatly stored in a corner of our kitchen counter. And she is the one who has most often prepared each applesauce mixture.

Last week, Kai noticed some familiar names among the supplements – element names. For instance, there is calcium and selenium and zinc. And that gave him the idea to label the container of each supplement with the atomic symbol and atomic weight of different elements.
The names he gave do not reflect the actual ingredients for the most part. So, for instance, Olive Leaf Extract is nitrogen and Tumeric is silicon.

But this labeling has made him extremely interested in the supplements for the first time.

The other morning he woke me up early and asked if I would mix his before-breakfast applesauce. Then he rushed to the kitchen so that he could watch. “Which elements are you going to use, Daddy?” And we prepared them together and he proceeded to consume the applesauce without the usual protest.

After school, he couldn’t wait to get out the “elements” and prepare them for the evening applesauce mix. And so, it’s becoming our latest Dad-and-son routine.

Some dads play catch with their sons. Others watch sports together. Me, I mix “element” supplements. And, I couldn’t be happier about it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Heat Wave

We are having exceptionally hot weather in our area this week with temperatures in the mid to upper 90s and heat indexes over 100. It is no coincidence that our son has had two of his worst days at school.

My wife used to live in Singapore where weather like this is typical. But even she can’t stand all this heat and humidity. And Kai seems to be affected by it more than most.

He sweats easily. He gets upset even quicker than usual.

His karate dojo is not air-conditioned and at his latest class, Kai was more irritated by the heat than the other kids. He wanted more breaks than Sensei was willing to give, and Kai complained, something that is not tolerated.

At school, his teacher emailed to say that they had given him plenty of cold water to drink and even allowed him to carry ice packs with him when they went outside to walk over to the building where PE is held. But, despite that, he still had a lot of trouble participating along with the rest of the group.

It often seems that Kai, like many kids on the autism spectrum, are like finely tuned instruments that cannot handle any change in conditions. On a day like this, there’s not a whole lot we can do.

We have one more hot day today. Then, hopefully, the predicted cool off will kick in.

In the meantime, I'll try to stay cool. I’m the one sitting on the A/C vent listening to '70s music and brainstorming ideas about my keeping my son regulated.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Surviving a Seven-Year-Old Back Seat Driver

Our latest column in the Patch takes a humorous look at the challenges of driving in summer traffic with Kai.

Click here for the full article. And if you like it, please be sure to ‘Recommend’ it. Thanks!

Monday, June 6, 2011


Kai’s cousin Rudy graduated from high school over the weekend. Rudy overcame a learning disability to reach this milestone. He had a lot of struggles, so this is a particularly wonderful accomplishment for him, and his mom.

Rudy is a great inspiration to us, showing that through hard work and dedication, you can achieve your goals. And as he has been accepted to college, even more achievements are in his future.

* * * * *

Because of the graduation, there were a lot of out-of-town guests to see and parties to attend this weekend.

On Saturday, we went to a barbeque and, for the first time, Kai sought out his one-year older cousin to play. It was another sign that he is willing, and perhaps more able these days, to have social interactions with other children.

Sunday was the graduation party. There were a number of people there that Kai had either never met or not seen since he was a very young child. He went up to each of these people and asked them their name. I think he may have even approached some strangers walking by on the nearby sidewalk.

It was marvelous to see him be so sociable. He was certainly more the social butterfly than I was.

We tried to teach him that he should introduce himself as well, but that one still needs work. Most times he just got the other person’s name and moved on to the next person unless the other person asked for his name, too.

Of course, all those who have not seen him in a long time commented at how much he had changed. And he certainly had. It was, by far, the most interaction we’d ever seen from him.

I think he always had an outgoing personality, but now he is more comfortable around people. More and more he is developing the skills to interact with others.

Seeing this kind of progress on this particular day, we couldn’t help but dream about a day 11 years from now…

Friday, June 3, 2011

Water Balloons – The Source of Great Joy

It was a hot day. One of our first hot days this year.

My son came home from school and asked if he could do his homework right away. Hmm, that’s strange. But the reason for his unusual request soon became clear. Kai said that he wanted to play with water balloons, and knew that he would not be able to without having his homework done first.

And so, for a change, he focused on his homework and finished quickly. But before we could play, it was time to go to one of his therapy sessions. Now usually at the end of these sessions, he dawdles, not wanting to clean up or leave right away. But this time, my wife said that he wrapped up even before it was time to go, and then came rushing out for Mom to drive him home.

When they got home, my wife told me how excited Kai was to play water balloons with me. But she didn’t have to tell me. I could see the anticipation in his face as he asked me to play with him.

At seven years old, my son doesn’t have quite the innocence he had until just a short time ago. He is growing up fast. He seems a bit more independent, a bit more headstrong and defiant. On most days, playing with Dad doesn’t generate quite the same enthusiasm that it used to.

But the unadulterated bliss he felt on this day reminded me of those bygone days when I brought out his biggest smiles just by spending time with him.

Of course, I knew that it was mainly the thought of the water balloons that got him so revved up. But as we got each other soaking wet and laughed together, it was awesome to feel the pure joy of a father and son having a great time together.

Water balloons. Thank you.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Can Back Scratches Help with Sensory Integration Disorder?

Can scratching the back of a boy with autism help keep him calm?

Long-time readers know that I have an analytical side that likes to examine things I notice that might be affecting my son’s behavior.

In the past, I’ve hypothesized that compression shirts can help Kai have good days at school, while low barometric pressure bring on bad ones.

My latest theory is that giving my son a good back rub in the morning leads to a better day at school.

I started scratching Kai’s back a few weeks ago. As he has been sleeping somewhat better these days, I’m finding that more often I need to wake him up instead of the previous routine of him waking us up early. Rather than yelling for him to wake up as I was doing before, I’ve been trying a more soothing approach.

I had read of a technique called ‘body brushing’ that can help soothe the nervous system in children with sensory integration disorder, which many kids with autism have. The technique involves brushing a child’s arms, back, legs, and soles of the feet with a soft surgical brush, using long, deep strokes. The brushing should be done for three to five minutes.

I didn’t have a surgical brush, but wondered if similar results could be obtained by scratching my son’s back with long, deep strokes of the tips of my fingers. So, most mornings for the past few weeks, I have been waking Kai up with three minutes of back scratching.

As a wakeup technique, I recommend it. Kai really likes it, and always seems much more relaxed immediately afterward.

But does it have longer-term effects?

So far, he’s had a string of really good days at school since I started doing the back scratches. And, interesting enough, on the few days when I did not do it for various reasons (like being rushed for time, or Kai wanting to forego it so that he could use the computer), he did not perform as well in school as on the days that he got the back scratches.

It is definitely too soon to say that there is a causal relationship. And perhaps an OT can confirm or debunk my theory. The body brushing is supposed to be done every two hours, so just one back scratch in the morning may not be sufficient anyway.

But, it is something that has my attention right now.

I’ll be curious to see if the results hold up over time. If any of you have had any similar experiences, please let me know.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Day Trip to the Indiana Dunes

After all the miserable weather we’ve had this spring, we had to take advantage of the summer-like conditions here on Memorial Day with a day at the beach. But not just any beach. We made our first-ever trip to the Indiana Dunes.

The Dunes stretch along several miles of the Indiana shores of Lake Michigan. There are actually several different beaches but the most popular area is an Indiana State Park. There, the hilly dunes are said to be very scenic. I say “said to be” because we did not quite make it into the State Park.

The hour and a half drive from home was mostly uneventful and Kai was excited about going to a new beach. But, when we got there, we encountered a long line of cars waiting to get in. It looked like everybody in Chicago had the same idea we did. We couldn’t even see the entrance far ahead of us, and the line was barely moving, so we got out of the line and drove away to search for a different beach.

A few miles away, we found West Beach, and also found another line of cars waiting to get in. We had come too far to turn away so this time we waited in the line. Kai was impatient, yelling about finding a different place, but we stuck it out and eventually got in.

Once there, Kai ran straight into the water. We followed him in, and quickly ran out. Brrr! Cold! After I got home, I looked up the water temperature and it was listed as 43 degrees. Somehow, our part-penguin son was able to tolerate loved that cold water.

He kept trying to pull us back into the water with him. My wife was having none of that, as she kept retreating to the comfort of our beach blanket after only a few seconds. But I tried staying in. After a few minutes in the water, I didn’t feel the coldness anymore, mostly because my legs had gone completely numb. But Kai enjoyed it, splashing around and getting most of his body soaked.

We ended up staying there for over four hours, eating our picnic lunch, digging in the sand, and splashing in the water. I think all of Kai’s sensory needs were met, and it was a really fun day in the sun for all of us.

My wife and I were tired and sleepy for the drive home, but somehow Kai was wide-awake. My wife tried to nap and every time that she fell asleep, Kai called for her from the backseat. “Mom, can I have a snack?” “Mom, can I have gum?” “Mom, can I have the remote (to the portable dvd player)?”

That last one drove my wife crazy as Kai handed the remote back to her each time after he had used it, only to request it again a few minutes later just as she was nodding off. And when she told him to just keep the remote with him, he got upset as if she had told him go take a hike.

So, my wife didn’t get much of a nap, but the comedy of their back-and-forth talking kept me awake so that I could drive safely.

It was a long day, but a fun one overall.  Memorial Day is the traditional start of the summer. If this first weekend was any indication, I think we will have a good one.
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