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.

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