Monday, December 31, 2012
Friday, December 28, 2012
My Christmas cheer is starting to return so I will post some happy Christmas photos. This is especially for Kai’s grandparents. Kai was very excited when he woke up on Christmas morning. Of course he wanted to open his presents right away. I told him he had to wait for Mom to come downstairs, so he happily jumped for joy on the trampoline until Mom arrived.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
I know that many of you are checking in to see what a glorious Christmas we had. You want to see Kai’s smiling face and the excitement as he opened his presents. We certainly had all that. But I’m not in the mood to talk about that. On Christmas afternoon, after we had opened all of our presents and played with some, we drove over to Kai’s aunt house. We usually see her at Hanukkah, but she did not make it this year, and invited us to her house on Christmas instead. She had recently gotten engaged, and this was to be her first Christmas hosting her fiancé's family. We were the first guests to arrive, but it wasn’t long before the others came. This was our first time meeting most of them, including two kids who were near in age to Kai. My wife and I were amazed at how much Kai wanted to interact with them. We don’t see him with other kids too often, but we remember back when he was in preschool that he was very uncomfortable around unfamiliar children and rarely interacted with them. All was good as they chased each other around the house, especially enjoying going down to the “man cave” that Kai’s aunt’s fiancé set up in the basement. In the midst of all that playing, Kai noticed that the Christmas tree had presents beneath it, and he made sure to check each one to find the one with his name on it. “Mine is a small one,” he noticed. I reassured him that good things can come in small packages and forgot about his concern as dinner was served. Kai sat nicely through dinner, though he ate quickly and asked when it would be time to open presents. But he was surprisingly patient and while everyone was finishing their meals, he went to the living room where I heard him chatting to the other kids, first about Jesus Christ, and then, something about the Maccabees. When everyone had finished eating, his aunt gave the go-ahead to start unwrapping presents. Kai’s present was a game called Spoons that you play with a deck of cards and bunch of spoons. It looked like a cute, fun game. The other young boy unwrapped his present. He received an Angry Birds game. Kai was jealous. He loves Angry Birds, and was disappointed that he did not get that present. As the other boy took out the contents of the game, Kai stomped on the box. I pulled him away and told him to stop that. Before I go on, I must mention that Kai’s aunt had already very generously given Kai several gifts for Hanukkah including those “credit cards” that he is anxious to spend. The other kids at the party do not celebrate Hanukkah, so this was the only occasion for them to receive gifts from her. Kai talked about his dissatisfaction with his present. My wife came over and we both tried to show him what a fun game Spoons is. I gave him the plastic spoons that came in the box, but he threw them on the floor. We pulled him aside once more. We quietly explained how his aunt had already given him great presents for Hanukkah, and how he had received so many other presents just that morning. But instead of understanding, he got angrier. He started shouting. “This is a stupid present!” “I hate this party!” “I’m never going to come here again!” And with that, all of our good cheer on Christmas vanished. We thought it was best to leave. Though we did give Kai one last chance at the door to say he would calm down and have dessert. But when he continued to complain, we said our goodbyes and made an abrupt departure. In the car and even after we got home, Kai continued his rant. It frustrated us to no end that he just could not comprehend what awful things he said. Kai’s disappointment with that Christmas present doesn’t begin to compare with our disappointment over his attitude. How can you teach a child about gratitude when he does not seem to feel any in his own heart? Is any of this due to his autism, or have we just failed miserably as parents? Where do we go from here? We told him that Mom would not be taking him to the Lego store today to spend his gift cards. That is a start at teaching him a lesson, but it feels like it will be a long time before he truly learns to appreciate the things he has. Addendum: I wrote the above on my train ride home from work. When I got home, my wife informed me that Kai talked to his aunt on the phone and apologized. I asked him what he told her, and he said he was "sorry for ruining the party and destroying the boy’s present.” Okay, perhaps he learned a bit of a lesson. Still a long way to go, I’m sure. But perhaps my Christmas cheer is starting to creep back just a bit.
Monday, December 24, 2012
I picked up my dad on Saturday, as he will be staying with us this week and celebrating Christmas with us. For as long as he has been a grandfather, I have never known him to buy any presents for his grandkids. He is generous with cash gifts, but he has never gone to a store and picked out something for my nephews or my son. Heck, I don’t remember him buying things for my sister and I either except for an occasional toolbox or something like that. I think my mom and aunt did all of the Christmas shopping. So I was more than a little surprised when he gave Kai a gift bag with several items inside. Kai’s favorite thing was the box of Hot Wheels cars.
Friday, December 21, 2012
On past birthdays, my son has sometimes been given gift cards. The cards come enclosed with a birthday card, and Kai has not shown much interest in them. I wonder if he even knew what they were. He usually just tosses them aside and moves on to the next present. My wife makes sure to grab the cards so that they don’t get lost in the frenzy of opening the presents or tossed out with the wrapping paper and boxes. However, and here is where we have a confession to make, we don’t give the cards back to Kai afterward. Oh, it’s not like we use the cards for ourselves. We are not that bad. But after getting so many presents like he usually does on his birthday, it seems excessive to take him to the store with his gift cards and get him more. Instead, we save the cards and use them later in the year when he wants something. And that has worked out fine. Until now.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
We were all still feeling the great about the Hanukkah party when we awoke on Sunday morning. My wife and I were still aglow about Kai’s interactions, while Kai was excited about his presents. He wanted to get started on one of his new Lego sets right away. Last year he even climbed up the ladder to put the lights and ornaments high up on the tree. But not this year. He was mildly interested when I took out the boxes of decorations and started to string the lights. But soon he wanted to do something else. “Mom, I’m going to work on my Legos.” “Hey, what about the Christmas tree?” I asked. “Dad, you can do that yourself.” Sigh. Hanukkah 1. Christmas 0. He worked on his new Lego diligently with only a short break for lunch.
Monday, December 17, 2012
Saturday was the eighth and final day of Hanukkah, but we started the afternoon off by going to buy our Christmas tree. The rest of our afternoon was busy preparing for the Hanukkah celebration we were hosting that evening. Such is the life of a family that celebrates both holidays. Kai had been looking forward to Hanukkah for the past few weeks. Sometimes it seemed it was just for all the presents he would receive, but I think he really enjoys seeing his grandparents, cousins, uncle and aunt. He asked if his cousins Lucy and Peter were coming, and when I told him that they were, he was very happy. My wife recruited Kai to help with some of the preparations. He and I hung the ‘Happy Hanukkah’ banner. Well, at least he watched me put it up. But he did join me in peeling carrots. He reminded us that he had done this before when his grandmother in Ohio had him help her in the kitchen last summer. He also told us that Uncle Frankie would be proud of him as he told Kai to help out Mom in the kitchen.
Monday, December 10, 2012
Hanukkah started this weekend and Christmas will soon be here. My wife and I both feel like we have way too much to do and not enough time to do it. How I wish I had followed my blog friend Betsy’s lead in starting planning for Christmas back in October. Anyway, this will be just a short post on our weekend. We won’t have our family Hanukkah gathering until next weekend, but we did light the candles on our menorah the first two nights. Kai is looking forward to the presents, and seeing everyone, too!
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Last Friday evening, my wife told me that Kai really wanted to get a Lego advent calendar. Saturday was the first day of December, so if we were going to get it for him, we needed to decide right then. We sometimes use things that Kai really wants like this as a reward that he can earn for good behavior. Or, we will give him with an unexpected prize when he has done something special that we want to recognize. But there was nothing in particular to recognize at this time. In fact, Kai had a poor month at school throughout November. Our one-time hopes that he might attain the next level at school have all but vanished for now. He is back to having several major incidents per week. So, there was no good excuse to get him the Lego set. It would have been easy for me to just decide that he did not deserve the present right now. But something about that gnawed at me. Between my wife and me, I am more likely to be the one to say that we should not get Kai a present. I am the one to argue that we are spoiling him if we give him things too easily. But when I woke up Saturday morning, knowing it was December 1, I wanted to get that Lego set for him. I didn’t want Mom to get it for him. I wanted him to know that I wanted to get it for him. And for him to know that it would not come with any conditions, but I wanted to give it to him just because it would bring him joy. And so, after he woke up, I told him that we would go to the Lego store and get that advent calendar. I think he could hardly believe it. First, we had our weekly trip to the library. And then I took him to a birthday party. But after that we drove straight to the mall. He picked out the Star Wars calendar. And he was very happy.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Apologies for the long absence; a business trip, traveling for Thanksgiving, and some technical issues with my computer kept me from posting the past two weeks. Our drive out east to my sister and brother-in-law’s house for Thanksgiving went well. My dad drove with us for the first time after flying there on his own in years past, and skipping the trip completely the last couple years. We stayed overnight in a motel on our way out. After driving all day and then using the swimming pool, I did not feel like going out to find a place to eat. Instead, we had dinner at the restaurant in the motel. Kai has been doing much better at restaurants. We don't get quite as anxious as we used to. But this was a higher class of restaurant than we are used to going with him. We ordered appetizers and salads in addition to the main course. Which meant that he had to wait for his meal to come. He waited nicely. At first. But about time when my wife’s and dad’s salads came and his meal had yet to be served, he started grumbling. “How long do I have to wait?” “I hate this restaurant!” “This is a terrible place!” He told us that the Mexican restaurant we go to at home always brings the food right away. The waitress came by to check on us. He told her, “I’m really hungry.” It was actually quite an appropriate thing to say, though his perhaps tone could have been nicer. The waitress soon came back with his meal, and all was well again. The next day we arrived at our destination. My brother-in-law got Kai laughing right away as they engaged in their regular horseplay.
Monday, November 12, 2012
The election is over but the campaign has only just begun. Yes, it is that time of year. The pre-holiday lobbying season. At his last birthday, Kai got numerous Lego sets. For those of you without young kids, when your child is attending a birthday party, particularly a boy’s birthday party, the go-to gifts these days are Lego sets. Boys like my son who do not play with many conventional toys will almost assuredly play with Lego. Lego has been around at least since I was a kid, but their popularity has never been higher. They have sets for a seeming endless variety of things, from vehicles and buildings to Star Wars and castles. Some of the sets are quite involved and expensive, but others are priced more affordably. And thus, make perfect birthday presents. Most of the Lego sets that Kai got nine months ago sat on a shelf unopened for a long time. He had too many new presents to play with, and other things caught his attention for a while.
Friday, November 9, 2012
Alzheimer’s, he likely forgot our conversation before the evening was over. And so the next day and the each day for the rest of the week, he often had the same remarks for Kai. Rather than have the same discussion with my dad each day, my wife and I tried to prompt Kai to respond to my dad more quickly. But it was not always easy. When Kai is watching a video or studying his Lego catalog, it is hard to get his attention. And so we saw several more occasions where my dad got impatient with Kai. Remarkably, Kai did not seem to get upset with my dad’s badgering. He still wanted to play with Ojiichan. The irony of it is that Kai had ample opportunity to get as frustrated with my dad as he was with Kai. My dad is very hard of hearing. There were plenty of times when Kai said something to him and my dad did not respond because he did not realize that Kai was talking to him. When we could, my wife and I asked Kai to repeat what he said and to speak louder. We got my dad’s attention and let him know that Kai was trying to talk to him. On those occasions, Kai never seemed to get impatient. He always nicely repeated what he said. By the end of the week, I was exhausted. And I was only with my dad during the evenings. My wife was even more worn out. She was a saint for spending the whole week with my dad, listening repeatedly to his same old stories, while I was at work. But my dad enjoyed his visit immensely. He kept telling me how much he enjoyed my wife’s hospitality and home cooking, and how much Kai had grown and changed. I don’t think he really remembered many details, but the good feelings stayed with him. With holidays coming up, we will be spending a lot more time together. I will have to keep in mind that as much as I preach to my dad that he needs to be patient with a boy who has autism, I need to be patient with an old man who has Alzheimer’s. In that way, I can take a lesson from my son.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Monday, November 5, 2012
disappointed that he had a major incident at school, and because of that he would not achieve the next Level anytime soon. Along with that, he lost his chance to his chance to go to our local area Legoland. Kai’s teacher suggested that we make it a bit easier for him to earn the incentive, and we agreed that perhaps holding him to the standard of a Level change was a bit ambitious at this point. We all agreed that a safe month was more realistic, while still being very challenging for Kai. In exchange for lessening this standard, Kai would have to write a note of apology to the teacher he bit and show sincere remorse. Kai agreed to the new plan and I left for work on the morning of November 1 hopeful that he would have a good month at school. We did not have time to have Kai write the apology note that morning, but he would do it immediately after he got home from school that afternoon. After work, I received a phone call from my wife. Kai had had another major incident. I was disheartened. It was only the first day of the new month. It was the first day of the new plan. And already the chance to earn his incentive was lost. Now what? I was worried that this was the start of another bad period, where he would have major incidents every day. In this latest incident, he again tried to hurt the same teacher he bit two days earlier. My wife had him write a note of apology, which we brought to school that evening. Coincidentally, it was the day of our parent-teacher conference. We had been able to secure the last time slot of the day so that I would have time to get there after work. We met privately with Kai’s classroom teacher and social worker while another staff member watched Kai. His teacher was very positive and encouraging. She showed us charts that showed how far above average Kai performed in math, and his charted progress for reading and writing as well. We discussed his academic work, which was generally very good. And we talked about his behavior. His social worker noted that Kai’s behavior since he began third grade has been far superior to his past performance. And his latest incident, they said, was relatively minor. (Note of clarification: the recent incidents were not with his main classroom teacher, but with another staff member who teaches him math and is also an aide in the classroom. He was not there that evening, but we gave Kai’s apology note to the main teacher to pass along). His teacher had another suggestion for motivating him with a reward. She suggested that they could create a visual reminder that they would keep at his desk. At the end of every safe day at school, they would make a visual mark. After 25 consecutive safe days, he would have earned his trip to Legoland. A major incident would restart the clock. We thought it was a good idea. A visual reminder that staff can point out might help to keep him calm before things escalate. After conferencing we all told Kai about the new plan. He was not keen about it. He thought 25 days was too long. He did not feel confident that he could stay safe for that long. But his teacher encouraged him. She told him that she thought he could do it. She told him that she would help him to stay safe. Slowly Kai agreed. He said he would try. Friday was his first day under the new plan. I am happy to say that he stayed safe, and had a really good day at school overall. 24 days to go.
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Despite his declaration the evening before, my son went to school yesterday. And, he went trick-or-treating. But he did not seem to enjoy either. Kai was still subdued from his major incident the day before that resulted in a delay of an achievement at school, and a subsequent trip to Legoland with Mom and Dad. I had to leave for work before Kai woke up, but my wife reported that he was in a funk from the time he woke up and throughout the day. She and my dad went to school in the morning to see the school parade. Most of the kids were having great fun, but I could see from the pictures she took that Kai was not. There was not a smile to be seen on his face on any photo. Even being dismissed from school after just a half day, and a trip to his favorite hamburger restaurant for lunch did not brighten his mood. He went for a short round of trick-or-treats with Mom and Ojiichan, but it seemed more obligatory than fun. He came home and spent much of the afternoon on the computer. Still, my wife said he wanted to go trick-or-treating with me, and I left work just a bit early to get home in time for a trip around the block with Kai. He didn’t have the extra bounce in his step that I’ve seen on past Halloweens, but he finally seemed to be enjoying it. I reminded him to say “trick-or-treat” and “thank you” and I was happy that he said it with enough enthusiasm for me to hear from my perch down the driveways. I got Kai to talk a little bit about the parade and lunch while we walked. And by the end of our short walk, he seemed to be in a lighter mood. Between the parade in the morning and the tricks-or-treat with all of us, he had collected enough candy to fill a large bowl. And I finally saw a smile.
* * * * *
Yesterday, we received an email from Kai’s social worker at school suggesting that we ease the criteria for Kai earning his prized trip to Legoland. Instead of achieving Level 4, which may be beyond his ability right now, she thought that attaining a safe month might be more realistic.
I agreed. Rewards are a positive thing only when they are attainable. When they are not, they set the child up for disappointment and failure.
But I wanted to find a way to relax the standard without feeling like we are sending the message to Kai that we lower the bar every time he fails to clear it.
And then my blog friend Shiroi Tora gave me an idea.
He suggested that Kai create an apology card for the teacher he bit the other day. As he put it, “a heartfelt card of apology would go a long ways toward Kai’s growth.”
I conferred with my wife and we agreed; if Kai would create an apology card for his teacher, he would have shown that he learned a lesson from this, and we would give him another chance to earn a trip to Legoland, this time with a slightly easier standard.
This new criteria will still be very difficult for Kai. He has had only one safe month in his whole time at this school.
But this morning, when we told him this, he seemed a bit more encouraged.
Hopefully he can carry forward and make it a good month.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Level 2, and then another 18 months to get to Level 3 where he is now. We have had a number of rocky moments since then. This summer it looked like Kai would top out at Level 3, as he had incidents nearly every day. But this school year has gone remarkably well so far. In September, he had only one incident. In early October, Kai’s social worker told him that if he did not have a major incident for the rest of the month, he would reach Level 4 on Halloween. Kai had one incident a couple of weeks ago that pushed that date a few weeks out. But he was still on track to make Level 4 relatively soon. We told him that when he made Level 4, we would have a big celebration. He has been wanting to go to Legoland for a while now, and chose that as his reward for the major achievement. It felt good that he was so confident that he could do it, as he was counting the days until we would go to Legoland. And then yesterday happened. His teacher had been giving out Pokémon cards to the students as a positive reinforcement. Yesterday, one student earned the privilege of opening up a new pack of cards. Kai got very upset that he was not the one to do so. He disrupted the class and had to take a timeout. When his classmates walked past him to go to lunch, Kai tried to go after the boy who opened the pack of cards. The classroom staff intervened. And when they were escorting him out of the classroom, Kai bit one of the teachers. In that moment, he had lost his chance at attaining Level 4 for several more weeks. Of course I was not happy to hear that my son had bit one of this teachers. I feel bad for the teachers who work so hard and are so patient with all of the kids, but who have to endure this as part of their jobs. But my heart also went out to Kai a little bit. For whatever reason, he did not control his emotions. He acted out his anger. It was a very poor choice on his part, but I’ve come to realize that self-control is a lot more difficult for him than it is for most kids. He had been doing so well in school. He had improved his behavior so much. He was motivated to earn his reward. And now he was very discouraged. My wife told me on the phone that he was very down. He cried a lot and then wanted to just stay in bed all afternoon. When I got home from work, he was dawdling in the bathtub. When he finally came out, he ran to his bedroom and buried himself in his bedspread. He did not want to come down for dinner. I talked to him about the poor choice he made, but tried to be more encouraging than disparaging. He said that he did not want to go to school tomorrow. He did not want to go trick or treating. I told him that tomorrow is a new day, and that the bad day today doesn’t mean he has to have a bad one tomorrow. But he has to make that choice. Eventually he came down for dinner, more because of Mom’s sukiyaki than because of anything I said. And later, at bedtime, my wife and I both tried to encourage Kai to continue to do as well as he has most of the past few months. It will be a challenge to keep his spirits up. While positive reinforcement is very motivating to Kai, when a reward seems out of reach to him, he often gives up. I don’t want him to give up now. Today there will be a Halloween parade at school and then the students will be dismissed after only a half day. My wife is taking Kai and my dad to a favorite hamburger restaurant for lunch. And then it will be time for tricks-or-treat. I hope to get home from work in time for a second round of tricks-or-treat. Hopefully I will see a happy kid when I get home from work today.
Monday, October 29, 2012
After last weekend, when Kai had not cooperated with his piano teacher and we ended up cancelling our scheduled trip to the pumpkin farm, my son had been behaving pretty well all week. I was fairly confident that Kai would listen to his instructor this week and we would get to the farm. But, you never know. Ahead of the time when his teacher would arrive, I reminded Kai to listen to Vlad and do as he instructs. As is often the case, Kai did not respond to me, but I knew he heard what I told him. And after Vlad arrived and started teaching, I let out a small sigh of relief when Kai mostly did what he was supposed to. Vlad taught him a new song while my dad, who I had picked up the day before to stay with us for the week, watched attentively:
It is a little harder to tell from just looking at the picture the growth he has made in other ways.
But if we knew then the type of boy Kai would become in four years, I’m pretty sure we would have been overjoyed.