Monday, December 31, 2012

Four Dogs and a Boy

We have four dogs with us at the moment. It is nice that they all get along with each other, more or less. Here you see the first three dogs enjoying a nice romp in our backyard.

After a half year of dog sitting, Kai still enjoys having dogs around. He likes to go for walks with them.

And he really had fun when we took two of the dogs to a small hill for our first sledding of the season. (One dog seemed to really enjoy riding with my wife on the sled, while the other preferred running down the hill and chasing after the sleds with me).

But the thing that Kai most enjoys is when a dog does something he or she shouldn’t do. This boy, who rarely comes when we call him, will run up from the basement every time the moment he hears Mom groaning. No matter if he is playing with his beloved Legos or doing something on the computer, Kai doesn’t want to miss out on the ‘fun’.

“What did Coco do, Mom?”

“Where did she pee? Can I see it? Can I see it?”

And as my wife cleans up the mess, Kai is laughing hysterically the whole time.

Usually the dogs bond quickly with my wife. Most of them seem to like Kai, too, even though he doesn’t pet them or play with them much. And they like me well enough, though I am never their favorite.

Until this last dog we got.

Perhaps because she was the last to arrive this week and my wife was already occupied with three dogs, a boy, and my dad, the fourth dog took to me right away from the moment she arrived.

The next day, when I left the house to take my dad home, she cried as we drove off. And when I returned in the evening, she showered me with affection, licking my face, wagging her tail, and asking for tummy rubs.

I had known her for only a day and she missed me much more than my son did. He was on the computer when I returned and was in no hurry to rush up and see me. I barely got a “hello” out of him.

This morning, Mint hung out with me from the time I woke up until the moment I had to leave for work. She again was whimpering as I left.

Oh well, I guess I will take my affection where I can get it.

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.

We let him open a few stocking stuffers first.

Then he had to wait until everyone showered and we all had breakfast before we would open the rest of the presents. While my wife and I showered, he sat at the tree sorting through the presents and organizing them into piles for each person.

And then it was finally time to open the rest of the presents. He went through his presents pretty quickly, though I was glad that he remembered who gave him each gift.

Kai has already made great progress on building one of his new Lego sets. I can tell already that he will be finished with his new sets all too soon.

But we haven’t been doing just Legos, we have done science experiments, and played with other toys and games. Here’s a game called Suspend where you have to balance metal bars so they don’t fall down.

In a lull between all of our activities, Kai had the audacity to proclaim, “I’m bored.” How a child with so many fun, new things could be bored is beyond me.

When does he go back to school?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Losing My Christmas Cheer

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

Holiday Festivities

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.

Though my dad was more interested in trying to show Kai how to play the harmonica, which my dad is very talented at playing.

He also got Kai a game that we played that night, and a jigsaw puzzle that we haven’t opened yet. I found out later that my dad’s neighbor had taken him to the store and helped him pick out these items.

The next day, the three of us went to our local botanic garden to take in a special holiday exhibit of miniature trains winding their way through a village of small replicas of Chicago landmarks constructed out of all-natural materials collected in the wild: gourds, pine cones, bark and wooden logs, acorns, eucalyptus pods, grains and grasses, and more.

Kai enjoyed watching the trains, my dad loved the flowers, and I marveled at the buildings.

Here you see one portion with the Hancock Building on the left, Navy Pier in front of it, the old Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) in the center, Union Station in the foreground, and Marina Towers toward the right. A train is passing in front of the Sears Tower.

My wife didn’t come with us, so I took a picture of her favorite building, the Crate & Barrel store. ;)

After we took in this exhibit, we went to the greenhouses.

My dad has always loved plants and flowers – he had one of the nicest gardens in our neighborhood when I was growing up – so it wasn't surprising that he enjoyed our visit. But I was surprised at how much interest Kai showed in seeing all of the plants.

As we went from the Semi-Tropical to the Tropical to the Arid greenhouses, we saw banana trees, orchids, cactus, among many others plants. Kai and Ojiichan both especially liked the many cactuses they had.

After that, we ventured out into the cold and walked over to the Japanese garden.

Kai wanted to see much more of the Botanic Garden; we had only seen a portion of it. But my dad was getting cold and it was time for lunch so we headed home. But, Kai’s interest spurred me to become a member so we can make many return trips there this year.

And at home, Mom’s Christmas Cookie Shop opened with Kai as Chief Decorator.

Hope you are enjoying the holidays, too.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Issue with “Credit Cards”

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.

This past weekend, Kai received a couple gift cards for Hanukkah. My wife tucked them away as usual. But this time, Kai noticed.

The next day, he asked, “Mom, where are the credit cards I got?”

My wife explained that he did not receive credit cards, but he did get two gift cards. I don’t think he cared about the distinction.

What he did care was that he could use them to buy more Legos at the store. Like, immediately.

We are trying to get him to wait for a little while before he cashes in his cards. I, for one, would like to do a better job of teaching him about delayed gratification, the concept of saving his money, and the notion of being able to buy something better later by having saved some money now.

But this is a boy who sometimes can hardly wait a few minutes for something, let alone having to save up for weeks or months. Rationally explaining the value of waiting often seems to have no effect.

I know we need to start small, and perhaps for short periods of time that we gradually stretch out. But it is not easy.

For now, with his latest gift cards, he seems to have accepted our argument that he should at least wait until after Christmas so he doesn’t spend his cards on something that he may get on the 25th.

But come the 26th, I know that we will be hearing his persistent pleading/whining/yelling to go to the store.

Perhaps it is both unfair and unrealistic to try to use these gift cards to teach him about delayed gratification. Maybe we should let him use these now but come up with another plan to teach him this valuable lesson.

Kai has made progress in many ways. This will be one of our next challenges.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Tree Loses to Hanukkah Present

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.

Usually I want him to have breakfast before he starts in on a project, but on this morning, we let him play for a good long while before we had breakfast together.

But after that, it was time to turn our attention to Christmas.

When I was a kid, putting up the Christmas tree was a highly anticipated occasion. Not only did I enjoy decorating the tree, the occasion signified that Christmas would soon be here.

In recent years, Kai had the same excitement. He would play with the ornaments before helping to put them on the tree. It seemed like every year he got more and more excited. 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.

He finished the first model early that afternoon.

That was quick. I was thinking that all of the new Lego sets he would get for Hanukkah and Christmas would keep him occupied for many months. But I can already see that he will be pleading for new sets much sooner than we thought.

In fact, he was already thinking ahead.

When we had our usual Skype call with his grandparents in Japan that evening, he told them which Lego sets he received for Hanukkah. He was very concerned that Jiji and Baba were going to get the same ones for him for Christmas. “You have to get a different one,” he told them.

My wife translated Kai’s concerns, though we already know that he will be receiving different sets.

But such are the worries of an eight year old.

My worries are about what will happen when he finishes all of his Lego sets.

Ah, but those thoughts can wait, I suppose. Only one week until Christmas. Time to enjoy the moment.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Best Hanukkah

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.

All was going well until Kai hurt his thumb while trying to peel a potato. My wife put a bandaid on it but Kai complained that it still hurt. I explained that a bandaid only stops bleeding, and his thumb was not bleeding, but it does not make the pain go away. He did not like that explanation and insisted that Mom put on another bandaid. She ended up putting three on that non-bleeding thumb. But that did not soothe Kai and he said that he wanted to cancel the party. Eventually, my wife couldn’t take any more of his loud complaints and sent him to his room.

I felt sorry for Kai; I’m sure he was in pain. But we had potatoes to peel and latkes to make and we were already running late. Neither my wife nor I had time to give Kai any more attention.

After awhile, he returned to the kitchen, and asked if someone would come up to his room with him. He really just wanted some attention. When I finally finished peeling the potatoes, I went up to his room while my wife completed the rest of the prep by herself.

By the time our first guest arrived, Kai was calm, the painful thumb was forgotten, and he was excited about the party. My wife and I still had to change clothes, but that was a small price for a happy child.

After that bit of a rocky afternoon, I was kind of worried about how Kai would do during the party. So I was relieved – no, correct that – I was amazed at how things went that night.

Kai negotiated the schedule with his grandfather, and then announced it to everyone. First, we would light the menorah. Then, have dinner. After dinner he and his cousins would give a concert. And then they would open presents.

Kai sang along softly as his aunt lit the candles on the menorah.

He ate his dinner nicely.

And then it was time to perform. All week, when my wife was trying to get Kai to practice his piece on the piano, he goofed off and frustrated her to no end. But on this night, he played as well as I’ve ever heard him play.

He also watched attentively while his cousins play percussion and flute.

Of course he was most excited it was time to open presents. He seemed to know that he would be getting Legos, and was happy to see the great sets he got.

When someone suggested that it was time for dessert, Kai declared that they would play with their presents for ten more minutes first. And when someone jokingly tried to change the schedule, Kai said “No, no, no. It’s my party” and let them know that he was in charge. Well, why not? He pretty much was.

After dessert, he wanted to play the dreidel game. And kept pestering people until Bubbe and I and one of his cousins agreed to play with him.

As the party seemed to lull, he asked his cousins to play with his new Weird and Wacky Contraption with him. And that got everyone involved and the fun picked up again.

As everyone was getting ready to leave, his uncle complimented him for “running a tight ship.”

I feel like I’m too tired and not explaining this well. But, just know that on that evening, if you did not know that Kai had autism, you would not have been able to tell.

He spoke a lot, and most appropriately. His language was wonderful.

Hanukkah is really for children. But seeing and hearing Kai’s interaction that night was truly a gift for me and my wife.

We send our belated Hanukkah greetings to Kai’s longtime speech therapist Alyson, without whom all this would not have been possible. And congrats on your recent marriage, too, Alyson!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Quick Recap of the Weekend

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!

We are also counting down to Christmas. Well, Kai is counting down with his Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar. Every morning, the first thing he wants to do after he gets up is to see what the model-of-the-day is, and to build it right away. This morning’s figure was an AT-AT Walker from The Empire Strikes Back.

We were all in a grocery store yesterday when Kai saw coconuts for sale. He always takes an interest in fruits and vegetables that we have never had before. So, this time he wanted to bring him a coconut.

As a kid, I remember seeing my dad climb a tree in Hawaii and knock down some coconuts for us to eat. But I don’t remember cutting one open myself.

It was a once in a lifetime experience. Which means, it was such a pain to take out the juice, open the coconut, and cut out the edible parts that I never want to do it again.

But Kai really enjoyed the whole process, and he liked drinking the juice and eating the fruit as well.

Morn than a year ago, Kai’s grandfather in Japan brought over a Japanese marble race toy for Kai. Kai had seen Japanese videos of elaborate setups where one marble would run into something that would set off another chain of events. The toy he got was a bit difficult, even for adults, and Kai did not show a whole lot of interest in playing with it after Jiji returned to Japan.

But this weekend, he pulled it off the shelf and started building with it. He wanted me to join him, but he was the one who came up with the ideas of what to make. It was nice to see, as with Legos he usually just sticks to following instructions instead of coming up with his own creations.

And while we did not build anything too elaborate, it was great that Kai showed interest. Yes, at times like these, I can see that he is maturing.

Happy Hanukkah!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Present, Just Because

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.

When we got home, he made his first model from the set, a Gungan sub. Kai has not shown a great deal of interest in Star Wars until now, but somehow he knew what it was.

Two years ago, my wife gave him a different Lego advent calendar. At that time, he built all 24 models in one day. This time, he showed some restraint as he decided that he would build only one each day as intended.

The next day, as he was making the second model, he told me, “When I go to college, you can keep the set here.”

And then he added, “And when I get married, I’ll send you an email and you can bring this to my house.” That brought a smile to my face.

And I really smile as I see Kai smile that big smile of his every time he works on the Lego figure of the day. It makes me think that I made the right decision.

A dad should try to encourage his son to do his best, and reward him when he does.

But he should also let his son know that he loves him regardless.

Hopefully it didn’t take a Lego set to accomplish that. But I think it was a nice reminder.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Our Thanksgiving Trip

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.

On Thanksgiving morning, we, of course, observed our Thanksgiving tradition. No, not watching the parade, or the football games. Kai wanted to play Nerf guns with his cousins.

We played Capture the Hill and it was fun until I tumbled down and fell hard on a rocky surface. Note to self: running full speed downhill while carrying a Nerf gun is not a good idea. Kai thought it was very funny, though. He laughed and laughed while I grimaced in pain, then tried to copy my ‘pratfall’ as he rolled down the hill. It was all funny to him until he, too, fell for real a little later. He got angry, as he often does when he hurts himself, but recovered fairly quickly. I, however, am still limping.

Of course, the highlight of any trip to my sister’s house is all the good food they serve us. She is the master chef, but every member of the family is a very proficient sous chef.

Kai helped out as well.

We had the usual turkey feast on Thanksgiving.

And an unusual fondue treat the next night.

And Kai wanted to do all of his other favorite activities that he always does there. It is becoming part of our Thanksgiving tradition to play miniature golf.

And go for a walk with the dog.

The activities are fun and the food is great. But the best part of all of our traditions is the good time spent with family.

Hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving as well.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Campaign

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.

But in recent months, Kai has started to work on his Legos. One by one, he has built each set. Working mostly independently, he has constructed the simple to the more complex.

A couple years ago, he would have gotten frustrated if he could not find the right piece, or if he had made a mistake and the pieces did not fit right. He would have given up and perhaps thrown things around in anger. But these days he is much more able to stay focused and is able to work through most of his difficulties.

A couple weeks ago, he finished the last of his Lego sets. And now he wants more.

With the holidays around the corner, we told him that he could make a list of what he wants and perhaps he might get some of the things on his list at Hanukkah or Christmas.

And so he wrote out his list and gave it to Mom to mail to Santa, and to also send along to his grandparents. I am not sure if he still believes in Santa; we have a suspicion that he no longer does. But, he wants to cover all of his bases just to be sure.

With the holiday list completed, you might think that would be that. But, of course, that is not the case.

On a regular basis, he reminds us of what he wants. And when he is not telling us, he leafs through his Lego catalogs, or goes on the Lego website to look fondly at what hopefully will be his one day soon. Sometimes he wants to add one more thing to his list. He tells my wife that we can get it for him, or Santa can.

And though I am poking a bit of fun at my son’s obsession, I remember that I was the same way when I was his age. In my case, my parents had a giant catalog from Montgomery Wards (back in the day when stores would make giant catalogs). I remember that I endlessly flipped through the toy section, as if staring at the toy would make it appear under our Christmas tree.

We shall see what Santa brings for Kai this year. But I think my wife’s Christmas wish is for Kai to go more than five minutes without him lobbying for some new Lego.

Much like how many of us are relieved that all of the election ads have finally stopped running, my wife will be relieved when this campaign has run its course, too.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Challenging Time with Ojiichan

My dad stayed with us last week. It was a long week.

My dad really enjoys visiting us. He loves Kai and my wife.

Kai likes it whenever we have visitors. A new person to play is always a good thing in his mind. And I think he senses the love his family has for him whenever one of his grandparents is here.

There were many opportunities for grandfather and grandson to interact.

On the positive side, I was so happy that they each made numerous attempts to engage each other.

I don’t recall my dad ever sitting on the floor and playing with my sister or me when we were little kids. And he was not exactly the playful grandfather to my nephews when they were small either. With Kai, while he wasn’t constantly playing with him, he did play Wii with us every night, and try to talk to Kai numerous times.

And that is where we had some challenges.

It is often hard for us to get Kai to engage in a conversation with us. He doesn’t like to answer our questions. He only wants to talk about the things that interest him, not the things that interest us. He does not look at us when he talks.

Sometimes Kai will respond if you wait him out. Sometimes he will talk if you keep encouraging him. Talking to him requires patience.

Unfortunately, my dad does not have much patience.

My wife and I could easily sense my dad’s impatience whenever Kai did not respond to him. The irritation showed in his face. But sometimes it also came out in his words.

“Is your name Kai?”

Kai would usually respond that it was. And that would prompt my dad to go on.

“Then why don’t you answer me when I talk to you? Don’t you hear me? Boy oh boy!”

After one of the first times this happened, I spoke to my dad and reminded him that Kai has autism, and as a result, communicating with other people is one of his major challenges. I told him that he needs to be patient, and it is better to be more encouraging than to get angry.

My dad did not seem to feel that there was anything wrong with how he talked to his grandson. I don’t think he really grasped what I was trying to tell him. But when my wife said the same thing to him, he apologized and said he would not do it again.

Of course, that was not the case.

With my dad’s 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

Election Day!

My son voted. How about you?

Photo is courtesy of Kai’s teacher. He was her ballot box assistant at school yesterday.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A New Plan

I thought I had a great plan.

My son was 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

Subdued Halloween

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.

With Kai’s GFCF diet, I will be the one to eat most of that candy. The sacrifices a dad has to make… ;)

* * * * *

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

Dealing with Disappointment

I first got word via an email from Kai’s social worker at school. Then, I spoke with my wife on the phone as I was walking to catch my train after work.

Kai had had a bad day at school, and was very disappointed.

Regular readers may recall that my son’s therapeutic school uses a level system. Students are at Level 1 when they first enter the school, and progress by exhibiting good behavior. Attaining each subsequent level is harder than the previous one. When a student reaches Level 5, they may begin the process to transition back to their home school if their parents so choose.

Some students progress relatively quickly. A few of the kids who came to the school after Kai have already returned to or are starting to transition back to their home school. Kai’s progress has been slower.

It took him more than nine months to make it to 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

Pumpkin Farm

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:

And that meant we could go to the pumpkin farm.

It was a week later and 30 degrees colder than it would have been if we had gone when we originally planned, but Kai was no less happy to be there.

Our first activity was the hayride.

It felt very cold when the hayride started, but warmed a bit when the sun came out and the tractor wound its way through Scarecrow Lane in the middle of the corn field.

Kai is getting too big for most of the kiddie rides they had set up for the month, but he did quickly go through the fun house.

And then he and I did our favorite… the giant slide.

After that, we grownups wanted to go to the indoor refreshment stand to get hot apple cider and warm up. Kai had a cold apple cider slushy.

And then it was time to take our usual picture by the measuring post.

These photo shows how much Kai has grown physically since our first visit four years ago.

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.

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