Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Botanic Garden Wonderland

The three of us took in the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Winter Wonderland exhibit over the weekend.

Kai and I had gone last year and really enjoyed it so we looked forward to showing it to Mom this year.

The Wonderland is several rooms of famous Chicago-area buildings and landmarks all built from natural materials. And passing through it all are tracks with many different types of trains running on them.

Here you see the President’s Chicago home.

Kai enjoyed looking at all of the trains.

But he also wanted to see several other parts of the Botanic Garden as well.

As is now becoming our custom when we visit, we walked through each of the three greenhouses.

And then went outside and walked over to the Japanese Garden. One of Kai’s favorite parts is the zig-zag bridge that, according to legend, keeps evil spirits from getting on the island.

The end of the year is always a time for reflection. For us, it was a year of good progress for Kai, and many fun moments for all of us. And as we look ahead to the new year, we hope that next year will be just as joyful.

Happy new year, everyone! We wish the best for all of you.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Zumba Master

Who knew that my son was a Zumba master?

Kai received a new Wii game for Christmas. It is a Zumba game.

My wife used to be an aerobics instructor so she expected to do well. And so it frustrates her to no end that Kai has scored higher than her every time so far.

I’m not taking sides, but I’ve got to say that my son has great moves.

What do you think?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Snapshots Of Our Christmas

We’re not sure if Kai still believes in Santa. At nine years of age, I think he’s past the point when most kids stop believing. And when my wife told him in the days before Christmas that he needed to be good or Santa would not come, he responded, “well, if you believe in Santa…”

Still, on Christmas Eve he wanted to track Santa on the Google Santa Tracker. And make Christmas cookies for Santa.

And when it was time for bed, it was his idea to put the milk and cookies out for Santa.

He also asked that we not turn on the security system overnight so that Santa would not have any problems getting into our house.

He had a hard time falling asleep that night; he was too excited. And then he woke me up in the middle of the night and asked me to sleep in his room. At 6AM he woke me up again saying that he had been awake for two hours and could not sleep.

When I finally told him that he could get out of bed, he was excited to check his stocking and to see if Santa brought him something.

After that, he was remarkably patient as we had breakfast before opening the presents under the tree.

That was a lot of fun, of course. The excitement of opening presents perhaps made more so with the flurry of activity from the dogs staying with us.

Though one of the dogs took cover under the tree when the frenzy got to be too much.

After the presents were opened, we took a break to walk the dogs.

And then it was time to play with his presents.

He did several experiments with the chemistry set he got.

We played almost every game he got.

And he polished off a Star Wars sticker book in the afternoon.

He did so many things that I wonder what is left for him to do the rest of winter break. I think I’ll go nuts if I hear him moan about being bored in a few days.

But for now, all is good. Hope you had a merry Christmas, too.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Conversing on the Phone

There was a time when Kai would not say anything on the telephone except for whatever short phrase we whispered in his ear. His grandparents would talk to him, and he would not be able to process what they were saying and formulate a response so we’d quietly tell him what he could say back to them. It wasn’t a real conversation with him, but I think they enjoyed hearing his voice.

These days he’s gotten much better at having two-way discussions, both in person and on the phone.

Kai’s swim instructor called us from the local Target the other day. He had apparently asked Kai what he would like for Christmas. Kai told him about Trashies, the little rubbery characters that he is collecting. But as there are hundreds of them, James wanted to know which ones Kai already had.

Well, my wife and I can’t keep up with the names of all the characters that he has. So my wife handed the phone to Kai.

I could hear him explaining which ones he had, and answering questions about whether or not he had a particular set.

What was most remarkable was that I continued to wash dishes and my wife busied herself with the dogs during the whole conversation. We did not feel the need to hover over the phone to help Kai answer the questions.

It certainly wasn’t all that long ago that we never would have believed that Kai would be able to carry on a conversation on the telephone by himself.

Kai’s progress with his speech is certainly a very treasured gift this Christmas.

I’ll leave you with a photo from this weekend where we hit the big hill to go sledding once again.

It will be the coldest Christmas in years here. But it will be warm in our hearts.

Hope you have a merry Christmas, too.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Gingerbread Class

Winter break started and it’s a bit of a challenge to keep Kai busy with productive activities for two weeks. This weekend, we got some assistance from his mentor at school.

One of the nice extra things about our son’s school is that they have a program where an adult mentor will spend time with your child, taking them out for various activities while giving the parents a little break. Kai’s current mentor is his former teacher from second and third grade whom he adored. So it is great that they can continue their relationship.

This weekend, she took him to our local botanic garden for a class in gingerbread cookies.

Now this being a botanic garden, the class was more than just a cooking class. They taught the kids about all of the plants that are used in making gingerbread cookies. Here you see Kai inspecting one of the ingredients.

Of course, they also did make some cookies, too. Here you see Kai decorating:

And then he got to taste ginger in three different forms: pickled ginger, fresh ginger, and ginger ale. He liked ginger ale the best.

From all indications, Kai enjoyed it. And his mentor reported that Kai participated very nicely. And it was nice that he fit in quite well with all the typical kids who were in the class.

And while Kai was the class, my wife went shopping and I wrapped presents.

We’re just about ready for Christmas. Hope you are, too.

Photos courtesy of Kai's mentor

Thursday, December 19, 2013


A professional theater company in our area was performing Mary Poppins.

We have taken Kai to live theater before, but only to performances specifically for children that were no longer than one hour long. This was a main stage production and would be two and a half hours including a 15-minute intermission. And at main stage prices, I did not want to leave halfway through.

But Kai has been doing very well at movie theaters and other live shows. (For instance, he loved the concert we saw as part of the covered wagon ride and chuckwagon dinner in Wyoming this summer.)

Besides that, we had already seen the Mary Poppins movie so he was familiar with the songs and story. So, this was a great opportunity to see if he could tolerate a long stage show.

We got to the theater early enough to settle in, but hopefully not too early that we would have a long wait before the show started. I started getting anxious when a family with younger kids sat directly behind us and the kids began to sing. Kai got agitated with their singing. My wife explained that the kids would be quiet once the show started, but Kai continued to be upset. Still, he didn’t get too loud. Rather, he put his hat on and tried to cover his ears. Though I breathed a sigh of relief when the lights were dimmed and the show started.

The story was not quite the same as in the movie; for instance, Mary Poppins leaves the Banks family for a while and a mean nanny comes and takes her place. But most of the songs were the same.

My wife had read the Mary Poppins book when she was a child and she enjoyed the show immensely. I thought that the actress who portrayed Mary had a wonderful voice. And there’s nothing like seeing a live performance.

I don’t know that this was Kai’s favorite show, but he behaved beautifully. He paid attention, stayed quiet, and applauded at all the right times. He had no problem with the length of the show other than needing to dash to the restroom after it was over.

We had a nice time, and did not even need a spoonful of sugar to help. And that is just super. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious that is.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Oh Christmas Tree

We went to get our Christmas tree this past weekend.

Before we went, Kai wanted to measure the distance from floor to ceiling in our family room. We had room for an 8-foot tree.

We had been buying trees from a local nursery for several years now. But this year, their selection was limited to Fraser Firs that started at $80, with most close to $100 or more. Ah, let’s go to Home Depot.

The prices there were much more reasonable. We found several Fraser Firs for under $40. Now that’s more like it.

The only problem was that most of the trees were bundled up with string so it was hard to tell what they would look like opened up. But I found one unbundled tree that looked great and suggested we take that one.

Kai asked how tall it was. I estimated that it was about 6 and a half feet tall.

He wanted a taller one.

He looked around and picked out the tallest one they had. It was nearly 8 feet I told him.

But it was bundled up so I wondered if it would look as nice as the other tree. And besides, it was coated with snow and ice.

But, Kai insisted on that one, and I wanted to make him happy, so that’s the one we bought.

When we got it home and unwrapped it, I discovered that there was a big bare spot near the top. And with so much ice on it, it would take hours before we could begin to decorate it.

Well, perfect. That meant that Kai could work on his special homework project.

The project was to create a poster that showed pictures of plants and animals found in the ocean, and to list some interesting facts about that habitat.

This probably isn’t a terribly difficult project for most fourth graders. But Kai has difficulty with multi-step processes so we gave him direction on how he could do the project.

First he did his research, mostly online, but also using a couple books.

Then he selected pictures to print out.

He wrote out his text on separate sheets of paper rather than directly on the poster in case he made mistakes.

Then Mom helped him organize everything, after which he then pasted it all on the posters.

It was the first project of that kind that he had to do. I’m sure there will be many more like this, of increasing difficulty, so it was good to get this one done. I thought he did fine for a first effort.

We went to check on our tree. There was a large pool of water on our family room floor from all the ice that melted off the tree. But the tree itself appeared dry so we decided to go ahead and decorate it.

Kai’s enthusiasm for decorating the tree seems to have diminished over the past couple years. This year I got frustrated when he kept playing on the iPad as I started to put the lights up.

But eventually he helped.

And once the lights and ornaments were on, you could hardly see the bare area anymore.

Hope you all are enjoying the holiday season!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Progress Seen Through an Elvis Song

Every December, our son’s school has a holiday concert where parents are invited to hear their children sing.

Two years ago, we sat through all the songs but Kai never came out to sing. He had had a meltdown and we found him after the concert with his school therapist, still visibly upset as he sat without a shirt, having tattered the one he had worn to school.

This year, Kai sang several songs along with all the other students at his school. I couldn’t attend, but my wife recorded all the songs with her iPhone. I could see that Kai sang nice and loud.

The school's music teacher is from Chicago’s venerable Old Town School of Folk Music, and Kai has spoken many times about how much he enjoys his music class. Watching the concert, you could see that he was not the only child to feel that way.

The highlight of the concert came when any student who wanted to sing solo was given the opportunity to sing the chorus of Teddy Bear, the song made famous by Elvis Presley. Kai was among the many who raised their hands.

I’m pretty sure that several kids who volunteered to sing solo, including Kai, were receiving speech therapy. So it was quite heartwarming to see them so confidant and wanting to sing in front of an audience.

For us, the contrast from two years ago was stark.

Who knew that Teddy Bear could be so meaningful to us?

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Belated Hanukkah Celebration, and Other Good Things

Our weekend started off with some good news when Kai came home from school Friday afternoon with two certificates from his school. He had been awarded Student of the Week, and received his Safe Month Award for going the entire month of November without a major incident.

The safe months have been few and far between so that was particularly nice. Let’s see if he can put together two in a row for the first time.

We were out of town for Thanksgiving when Hanukkah arrived this year so we had a belated family celebration this weekend.

My wife was busy much of Saturday preparing the brisket, kugel, latkes, and other goodies. Kai and I helped. I fried up some of the latkes and tried to keep up with washing the bowls, pots and pans. Kai helped slice up the mushrooms that were to be sautéed.

Kai was excited, as he usually is when we have family gatherings. But it was nice that he was not overly rambunctious this time.

It was very important to him, thought, that he told everyone the schedule for the evening as soon as they arrived.

He kicked off the evening playing a few songs on the piano. He wanted to get that over with as he was nervous about forgetting his songs if he had to wait until after dinner. He then invited his cousins to play (keyboard and flute).

Next, he helped Mom light the menorah. Yes, we know in reality Hanukkah was over, but we thought it was okay as he really wanted to do it.

Then we had dinner. In the past, Kai would eat quickly and then pester everyone that it was time to open presents. But this year he was surprisingly patient. He still was the first one to finish eating, but he waited nicely while the rest of us continued eating and talking. When all of us had finished our meals, he came over an asked if it was time to open presents. He did not make a fuss when we told him that we wanted to chat a few minutes more.

Of course, he was happy when we finally gave the go-ahead to open presents. But I was pleased that he seemed a bit less frantic and greedy as he did so, and took the time to look at the presents he opened instead of rushing on to rip open the next one.

After that, Kai was on his iPad most of the time playing an app that went with a new game he had gotten. That gave us adults a chance to relax and engage in conversation. For my wife and I, it felt strangely normal, something we were not used to at all.

The next day, we got our first measureable snow of the season. Kai and I took advantage by going sledding.

We have a nice sledding hill nearby, but it has been a few years since we’ve sledded there. The last time we tried, Kai was very scared to go down and it was a traumatic time – for me, at least. Ever since, Kai has always insisted on going to the far smaller hill down the street instead.

But last winter we had told him that it would be the last time we would sled down the baby hill. He was too big for that. So he’s had about nine months to mentally prepare himself to go down the big hill again. But I was still surprised yesterday when he readily agreed without a protest.

It turned out to be perfect conditions for sledding. And I’m not talking about the snow. There was no one else on the hill so we could sled down without worry about running into anyone else.

We went down quite fast, certainly faster than on that old baby hill. It was bumpy but Kai loved it!

We went down several more times, pausing only to catch snowflakes in our mouths.

So, this weekend, we had a boy who wasn’t anxious in a situation that normally makes him so. One who was properly excited but unusually patient in another occasion. And who celebrated a good week and month of school.

All that, and good times with family, too.

Yes, it was a very nice weekend.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

“Dad, Am I Doing Good?”

We traveled out east for our annual Thanksgiving visit with my sister and her family.

Kai always enjoys the trip and looks forward to repeating the same activities that he did in the past. I thought that re-doing the same things he did before might be a symptom of his autism, but my now grown-up nephews reminded me that they, too, had their favorite activities that they had to do each time they visited me when they were kids.

One of Kai’s favorite activities is having his uncle chase him around and then tickle him. Uncle Frankie playfully warns Kai, “You’re dead meat!” before going after him. This year, Kai requested the attack, calling out, “Dead meat me, Uncle Frankie!”

Another favorite activity is playing with my nephews’ Nerf guns. After all, nothing says Thanksgiving like Nerf guns.

On this Thanksgiving morning, he kept asking his nephews what time they would break out the Nerf toys. As they would be busy helping with the dinner preparations, they did not respond with a specific time. And that led to Kai repeatedly asking his question. I finally suggested that they tell him when they would play or he would drive us all crazy with his questions.

And when the Nerfs came out, Kai enjoyed them like he always does.

This is one of the extremely rare years where Hanukkah overlaps with Thanksgiving. Kai wanted to celebrate Hanukkah so we introduced the menorah lighting ceremony to my sister’s family.

And afterward, Kai wanted to play the dreidel game with his cousins. In fact, we did that every evening that we were there.

On our road trip last summer, we had an incentive plan where Kai could earn new videos to watch in the car if we behaved well that day. He asked that we repeat that incentive.

At Thanksgiving dinner, he would have to sit at the table without his iPad, and try the different dishes without complaint. He did very well, and enjoyed the feast.

However, he did drive us a bit crazy when he kept asking, “Dad, am I doing good?”

Yes, Kai, you’re doing well, I reassured him.

Though when he kept asking that question over and over, or when he repeatedly asked about the Nerf guns, I told him that he was getting a bit annoying and that he shouldn’t keep asking the same question again and again.

Overall, though, Kai did very well.

We noticed that Kai’s language continues to improve and he generated a few chuckles with his comments.

For instance, when finding some startling information on the iPad, he declared, “OMG!”

And he was remarkably patient at restaurants we stopped at on the way to and from my sister’s house. My dad is a very slow eater, which meant that Kai had to wait long for him to finish eating. In the past, my wife and I had to chow down quickly as Kai insisted on leaving the restaurant as soon as he was done eating. So it was amazing that he could be so tolerant about waiting now.

Nerf guns, good food, a great time with family, and a boy who continues to improve.

Yes, we have a lot to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The School Board's Vote

I attended the school board meeting last night. Unfortunately, it looks like minds were made well before the meeting. Read my thoughts here.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Is My Son’s Future At Risk With Impending School Board Decision?

How much money does a school district have to save to in order make it worth risking the future of a few kids with special needs?

That is the question that the North Shore School District 112 Board of Education will be faced with at its next board meeting Tuesday night.

I discuss this in a post today on my local Patch site.

I know many of you are not local to my area, but for those of you that are, please spread the word. I think that there has been almost no publicity about this important decision and time is running very short.

Please click here to read more.

Thank you.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Practicing Comprehension Skills Through BrainPop

BrainPop has been one of my son’s favorite apps from the time he first got an iPad. We like it because the short animated movies teach a variety of subjects including math, science, social studies and more. Kai likes it because the character of the orange robot, Moby, is very funny as he antagonizes his buddy, Tim.

Lately I’ve noticed that as Kai has seen just about all of the different movies the app has to offer, he watches only the funny parts, skipping all of the educational content. I was wondering if he remembered at all what the movies are attempting to teach.

The cost to subscribe is over $7 a month, so it’s not terribly expensive, but it does add up. And for nearly $90 a year, I wanted to make sure Kai was actually learning something.

So, I’ve started making him take the test that is given at the end of each featured movie of the day. He had been skipping that part, but we are now tying in taking the test with earning points from our Point Store. If he answers 80% or 90% of the questions correctly, he earns 50 points. If he gets 100% correct, he earns 100 points. And if he scores less than 80%, he loses points.

The first day he struggled and got only 70% correct. I could see that while he can answer most questions about facts that were given, he struggled when he had to make inferences. It is the same issues he has with reading comprehension.

The next day, he still struggled with the same types of questions, but improved his score to 80%. I saw that he was paying much closer attention to the main content of the movie.

So, I’m thinking that this will be good practice for him. He can still laugh at all the funny parts. But, I’m hoping it helps to condition his brain for listening and thinking through what he hears, too.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Math Word Problem Struggles

Kai does very well in math normally, but there are areas where he really struggles.

I had him do coordinate plane word problems on his online Khan Academy program the other day.

The first problem stated that an ad was as 4 inches wide by 3 inches high. The upper left corner of the ad was given as (-6, -2) on the coordinate plane. Kai would have to place the four corners of the ad.

I thought this was a very easy problem for him.

So I was a little surprised when he didn’t know where to begin.

I asked him if he knew where one corner of the ad was. He tentatively moved his cursor to place the point in the wrong spot.

I stopped him and asked him to read where the sentence that gave the coordinates for the upper left corner.

He was starting to get agitated, and he did not pick up the fact that all he needed to do was to plot a point at (-6, -2).

I wrote out (x, y) on a sheet of paper and asked if he knew the x and y coordinates of the upper left corner. He would not answer the question.

I then told him that the he needed to plot a point at (-6, -2) and asked him to point on the screen where that point is. He waved his hand wildly, not pointing to any particular spot. He was getting more agitated, and I was starting to get that way, too.

I finally explained that -6 on the x coordinate meant that we needed to count six places to the left, and -2 on the y coordinate meant that we needed to count two places down. This was not the first time we have worked on coordinate planes. This really should not have been so hard.

I finally got him to place that first point. I breathed a sigh of relief as I thought the other three corners would be easy.

I was wrong.

He started to place the next corner in the wrong spot.

I stopped him. I pointed out that the first point he plotted was the upper left corner. When it says “upper,” does it mean that it is at the top or bottom? He answered bottom.


I was getting very frustrated.

I drew a rectangle on the paper. I asked him to point to the upper left corner, and he was able to do so. I asked him to write down the coordinate of the upper left corner. He resisted.

I yelled that he needed to write it down.

Now he was getting more upset.

If the upper left corner was at (-6, -2) and the height was 3, how far down to we count to get to the bottom left corner?

I thought I was giving away the answer but he just did not seem to understand any of it.

My frustration boiled over, and I was shouting my questions at him. He was yelling back saying that he never wanted to Khan Academy with me again.

My wife came downstairs to find out what was going on.

She suggested that she could take over for me, but I didn’t want to end on this sour note.

I had Kai take a five-minute break, which extended longer than that. For most of the time he was still yelling that he wanted to do this with Mom, not Dad.

Finally, my wife encouraged him to come try again.

I spoke very softly. Okay, we know where the upper left corner is. And we know the height is 3. Let’s count down three from the point we already plotted.

Finally, with me pretty much giving him the complete answer, he was able to plot out the other three corners.

And after he completed this one problem, he was able to do four more similar to it all on his own.

But it was an eye-opener for me how he struggles to comprehend the simplest things that are in word problems. It showed me how reading comprehension is still such a big issue for him.

So, we’ve got a couple of big things to work on: Kai’s reading comprehension, and my patience.

I think that progress with the latter will be essential to making progress on the former.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Generosity – Highlights From Parent-Teacher Conference

We had our parent-teacher conference at my son’s school last night.

Kai’s teacher gave us a nice overview of his academic progress; he continues to struggle mightily with writing, especially, but, not surprisingly, continues to do very well in math.

This year they are teaching math to Kai using three different methods: a textbook three days a week, and two different online programs the other days. We are already familiar with one of the online programs as we have him do Kahn Academy at home.

The other program is called Dreambox, and the teacher explained that all of the kids like it because the program awards points that can be traded in for game time. While all of the kids like the program, she said that Kai was the only one to stand up and cheer when she announced that they would now be able to do it at home as well.

We thought it was cute that our son was cheering that he got an opportunity to do more math.

Though, later, after we got home, we had Kai show us what he is working on in Dreambox. He showed us the avatars you can select and the games you can play and it all looked quite fun.

Unfortunately, the program doesn’t let you select your own level; you have to start from the beginning and work your way up. And so, on Dreambox, Kai is doing math that he mastered two, three or maybe even four years ago. And since he is a kid who loves to do easy work and has to be pushed to challenge himself, he loves this way-too-easy math program.

I emailed the teacher and asked that they limit use of the program to break time or only as a reward.

But I digress. Back to the conference we had at school…

Kai’s teacher shared a story about a recent class project. Each student had to write compliments about each of their classmates.

She said that Kai thought long and hard about each one. He praised one student for achieving a Level change. He complimented another for doing well at PE. The teacher said that every compliment was very appropriate for that child and very well thought out.

Kids with autism often have a very hard time relating to another person’s perspective. So for Kai to be so thoughtful with his compliments was quite an achievement. His teacher was nearly tearing up as she explained what a great job he did.

She went on to say that because he did such a great job, she awarded him with a Generosity card. Generosity is one of the school’s Circle of Courage values along with Belonging, Mastery, and Independence. Students who show special adherence to any one of the values have a card with their name on it posted on the Circle of Courage board in the school’s common area.

When she honored Kai with the Generosity card, he spoke up.

“But Ms. F____, everyone should get one because we all wrote compliments for each other.”

And with that, Kai showed his generous spirit even more.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wondering If A Special Needs Activity Is Right For My Son

My son’s special needs soccer league wrapped up this past Saturday.

This is the fourth year that Kai has been participating. When Kai first started, there were enough kids that they had two groups, one for older kids and one for the younger ones.

The kids had a wide range of disabilities, with several requiring volunteer buddy kids to take their hands and help them go up and down the field, to direct the ball toward their feet, or to point them toward the goal. Other kids were able to function independently.

I recall one boy in the younger group who was an excellent soccer player. He was so talented that I first wondered why he didn’t play on a team with typical kids. When he had the ball, the “coach” (on the field) would sometimes defend him to make it more challenging, or to get the ball over to other kids who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance.

As the weeks went on, though, I could see that this boy had trouble keeping his emotions under control, getting angry on several occasions. It was not unlike how Kai gets many times.

In those early seasons, Kai did not play well. Physically, he should have been fine, but he rarely ran after the ball, and frequently complained about how he was too tired to play. I was seemingly constantly yelling at him to run and go after the ball.

It was frustrating for me as other kids with disabilities more severe than Kai’s were enthusiastically playing hard.

But gradually, Kai started to play better. It helped when a classmate of his joined the team and they could run up and down the field together.

Over the past couple of seasons, though, several of the more able kids stopped coming out. That talented boy from the first year had long since stopped coming to the games. And this season, all of the other kids at Kai’s level, including his classmate, also dropped out. Kai was now the most capable soccer player left on his team.

In recent weeks, attendance among the kids still signed up was poor. We barely had enough kids for one game, let alone two separate groups. One week we had only four kids come out, meaning that they played a two on two. With the disabilities of the other kids, they didn’t play a game so much as just taking turns with each child having a chance to kick the ball down the field and scoring.

Back when there was a wide mix of kids, it was tough to balance the varying needs of the kids. But it usually worked out well enough. Sometimes the more able kids would run and pass and try to score like in a real game. Sometimes the volunteer kids would get the ball to a less able child and make sure that they had a chance to kick the ball.

Now, with no other kids at Kai’s level, I no longer felt like cheering him on to play hard or try to score. Though Kai now plays like I wanted him to before.

This past Saturday, at our last game, Kai ran, dribbled, kicked, and got off some really hard shots.

One of the parents of a volunteer buddy child commented to me, “He can really play!” He may have even been wondering what my son was doing playing in a special needs group.

But then it started to rain. Kai started to scream, “I WANT TO GO HOME!”

There was no thunder or lightning. The rain was really light. He wouldn’t calm down when I tried to tell him there was nothing to be scared of.

And so Kai’s panicked screams drew stares from the volunteer kids and their parents. I think they might have figured out why Kai was in this group.

And so we’re left with a conundrum. Kai is still not capable of playing on a “real” soccer team with his typical peers. But it doesn’t feel like the special needs team is right for him anymore either.

I love that the special needs program exists. I think this is a great activity for these kids. I’m glad there are wonderful volunteers who make it possible.

I just wonder whether it is right for my son now.

I think one of the difficulties of having a child with special needs is finding an appropriate placement – in school, in therapy, and in extracurricular activities like this. I’ve learned that just because something is labeled as being for kids with special needs does not necessarily make it appropriate for my particular kid with special needs.

Well, next soccer season does not start until spring. We have a few months to think about it.

Here's a photo from earlier in the season of Kai with a couple of the volunteer buddies:

Monday, November 4, 2013

Making (Some) Progress on the Bike

After a rainy few days, the sun came out on Sunday so we were able to get out on our bicycles once again.

We went back to our favorite forest preserve along the Skokie Lagoons, but this time we convinced Kai to go on a different path that goes in the opposite direction. That was no small deal as Kai is a boy who usually prefers to stay well within his comfort zone and just do things that he is very familiar with.

As we started riding, Kai seemed much more comfortable on his bike. He didn’t seem so anxious to be on his bike, and he was pedaling a bit faster than how he started last week. Though still riding far behind Mom, still afraid that he would crash into her if he rode too closely. In the photo below, can you see the tiny spot of pink far ahead of us? That is my wife, and that is about as close as Kai felt comfortable getting.

Besides riding so far behind Mom, when other riders passed going in the opposite direction, Kai would sometimes yell out, “I’m scared!” as if they would crash into him.

But I also heard him humming as he was riding. That was a good indication that he was mostly relaxed and enjoying himself.

But it wouldn’t be an outing with Kai if he didn’t get really upset about something.

Unlike our other path that loops around back to our starting point, this one goes on for many miles. As we did not want to travel all the way to the end, we picked a spot to stop, turn around, and head back.

We had all agreed that our turnaround point would be Lake Street. But it wasn’t until Kai and I stopped to look at a map that we realized that there was no intersection there; rather, there was an overpass.

We tried to yell to Mom to stop before the bridge. But as we were riding so far behind her, we weren’t sure she heard us.

As we slowed down to stop, we yelled to Mom to stop. But she kept riding up and over the bridge, disappearing from view.


I told Kai that Mom would come back soon. But he would not calm down.

“When she comes back, she should get a big punishment!”

I told him that if we were riding closer, Mom would have heard us.

I called her on he cell phone and she came back. Kai wasn’t exactly happy to see her.

“Mom, you did a bad job!”


We resumed riding. Kai was crabby much of the way back, complaining of how his legs couldn’t pedal any longer. I wasn’t surprised that he felt tired. Our old path was about 4 miles; this time we biked about 7 or 8 miles, so we went about twice as far.

I was exhausted, too. Not from the distance, but from constantly exhorting Kai to keep going.

When we caught up with my wife back at the starting point, she was cheerful about how beautiful the new path was. I grumpily agreed.

She enthusiastically praised Kai for making the longer ride.

And though I wasn’t exactly in an enthusiastic mood, I agree. He did deserve the praise.

Progress is measured in many ways. On this day, it was by the length of a little longer bike ride.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Halloween: Ketchup and Mustard

Kai has been really into collecting Trashies that I thought perhaps that he could be one for Halloween.

About a month ago, I googled “Trashies Halloween costume” and, well, let’s just say the results were not what I was looking for. (Though I notice today that the same search now yields a bunch of kid-appropriate results.)

We eventually found one Trash Pack costume for sale, but since it was for young kids, it would not fit Kai. So, I decided that I would make him a costume this year.

I ordered a light-weight collapsible trash can. We would make it a craft project to paint it as if it were trash-stained, and to also paint an old t-shirt.

Unfortunately, nearly four weeks later, the trash can never arrived. It is still showing as “In transit,” stuck at some UPS facility. I contacted the seller and they refunded the money rather than send out another one.

So, still without a Halloween costume for Kai and with the big day approaching, my wife went out and got a replacement:

It’s not homemade, but I have to admit that they look good together.

My wife attended the Halloween parade at school in costume.

And then they came home and did a short round of trick-or-treating in the rain.

When I got home from work, Kai was ready to go again. I don’t think he particularly cared about getting more candy – he eats hardly any of the candy he collects – he just wanted to do another round with me, which was very sweet.

And so it was my turn to be Ketchup, and we embarked just as the rain picked up again.

Three Halloweens ago, Kai was just beginning to talk more ably and it was still hit or miss whether he would say “trick-or-treat” and I constantly had to remind him to say “thank you” at each house. He did not respond when people commented about his costume.

This year, I heard him say “trick-or-treat” loudly and clearly. And I only had to remind him to say “thank you” once.

And when people remarked how great his costume was, he quickly and appropriately thanked them.

At one house, the person at the door did not see me hanging further back with the umbrella over my head. Seeing Kai as mustard, she asked what happened to ketchup. He turned around, pointed to me, and told the woman, “He’s right there.”

We probably went to less than ten houses before turning around and heading back home. It was late and the wind started picking up.

But it was plenty of time for father-and-son bonding.

And for me to notice the progress he has made with his communication and socialization.

And so, despite the rain, we had a great Halloween.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Carving a Pumpkin All by Himself

I always call my wife after I leave work to let her know which train I will be on and when I expect to be home. When we talked the other day, she told me that Kai was carving a pumpkin all by himself.

My wife had bought three smaller pumpkins to go with the big one we carved earlier. As it was Halloween week, Kai reminded her that they still needed to be carved, and volunteered to work on one himself.

My wife was very surprised that he wanted to do it. We had never let him try to carve one before.

He told her that he had carved one in school, having been taught by his OT. We don’t always have a lot of insight into what his OT at school works on with him, so it was good to find this out.

Once the pumpkin insides had been cleaned out, he drew a face on his pumpkin. Then he poked a hole for a starting point using the icepick-like tool that came with the carving kit we had.

Next he inserted the tool with the small, saw-like blade and began carving out his design.

He started with the eyes, and then went on to the nose.

I couldn’t wait to get home to see his work. He did a nice job, don’t you think?

My wife and I heaped praise for a job well done, and my wife continued to express surprise that he was able to do this.

“I’m becoming a big boy, Mom,” he told her.

Yes, he is.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I Wonder…

Are all kids as sweet as my son, or does his autism help make him that way?

After our bike ride on Sunday, Kai wanted the two of us to build an electronic circuit with a set we had given him three Christmases ago. He hadn’t played with it much in the past year and a half so I was surprised that he wanted to now.

But before we would do that, I wanted Kai do a little bit of online math work. He has been doing math on the Khan Academy website for several months now, mostly on weekends, to get in some extra practice at home.

Kai enjoys math so it was not difficult getting him to agree to work on one or two sets of problems.

On this occasion, I had him work on pattern recognition. He solved the first problem easily, but started having trouble with the next one. Frankly, I didn’t quite understand what the problem was asking for, and couldn’t point out to Kai an error in his answer.

And once Kai gets an answer wrong, he starts to get frustrated.

The next problem was also a bit difficult for him. But I understood it and tried to help Kai by asking pointed questions intended to get him to think through the problem better himself.

But once he is frustrated, his listening skills deteriorate.

Rather than answer my questions, he started randomly guessing answers to the problem. I tried to slow him down and try to figure out the problem one step at a time, but he was too upset to think about what I was telling him.

I asked him to write things down on paper, as it would help him to work things out. He chewed on his pen, and then angrily wrote things down, but so sloppily that it did not help him gain clarity.

At one point, I read aloud the key sentence in the problem that should have clued him in to the answer immediately. When he still didn’t see the answer, and continued yelling that he didn’t want to do this anymore, my frustration grew equal to his.

He wanted to quit. I was angry. I yelled at him to keep going.

He started crying that we would not have time to do the Electronic Snap Circuits as it was now approaching dinnertime.

I could see that it was probably pointless to continue working on math when his mind was in this state. And I felt terrible that I had lost patience, and my temper.

But, I’m stubborn. And I didn’t want to stop on a low note so I pressed on.

I tried to calm myself down.

I finally decided that if he could get one more answer correct, that would be enough for that day. When I told him that, he seemed to calm down enough to start thinking about the math problem again.

And when he got the problem right, I breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

After our ordeal with the math, I was a bit surprised that he still wanted to do the electronics with me. And so I eagerly joined him.

He did not really need my help, though. He was able to read all the instructions, view the diagrams in the book, and build the circuits by himself.

But he really enjoyed that I was there with him, constantly explaining to me all the steps as he did them, and occasionally asking me to grab a piece for him.

He built a circuit that would record and re-play his voice. On his first attempt at recording, he spoke very tentatively and barely got any words in before the 8 second limit had passed and the beep sounded. But after that, he enjoyed recording his voice many times, saying something different each time.

After a break for dinner, he wanted to build another circuit, this time asking Mom to watch us while he built an FM radio. It really worked.

At bedtime, he told me that he wanted to build another circuit with him the next day. And when I came home from work on Monday evening, he was eagerly waiting for me.

He was so sweet.

It made me wonder. How does this sweet boy continue to love me so much when I keep getting frustrated with him?

I don’t know why.

But I do know that I want to work harder not to get frustrated.

I don’t want to risk losing his love.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Back on Our Bikes

We had one of our few “regular” weekends this fall, meaning that we did not attend any special events. And that meant that we had time to get back on our bicycles and go riding.

For this of you who have been following along, you’ll recall that we got new bikes for Kai and my wife. But we’ve had a lot of difficulty getting Kai to ride his new bike, as told here and here.

It’s now been over a month since we got the new bikes, and I was looking forward to finally taking them somewhere besides the empty parking lot in our neighborhood.

If I knew how difficult it would be, I don’t think I would have been looking forward to it so much.

Kai got off to a slow start. And I mean that figuratively and literally.

Kai tends to pedal very slowly. Which makes it hard to steer. And almost impossible to ride up even the slightest hills.

Now, this being the Chicago area, we’re not talking about the Rocky Mountains or even hilly San Francisco. Our “hills,” if you even call them that, are very mild inclines.

But when you’re barely moving on flat ground, you’re not going to make it up the small hill.

I tried to encourage Kai to pedal faster. But he said he was scared and then started yelling at me to be quiet every time I told him to pedal faster.

The result was that he would not make it to the top of the incline, he would stop, and yell at his bike and me.

“Stupid bike!”

It’s not the bike’s fault, I told him. You just need to pedal faster.


Aside from being afraid to pedal faster, he also was afraid to ride too closely to the rider in front of him, which was my wife in most cases.

Here you can see the typical distance between them.

Sometimes my wife would slow down or stop so that we could catch up to her. Whenever she did this, Kai would start yelling.


There was panic in his voice, as he was afraid that he would crash into her.

I tried to reassure him that we were so far behind that there was absolutely no way we would run into her.

“You be quiet!” he told me.

Eventually he did start to ride a little faster. And so it got easier for him. We did the last 3 and a half miles of our short trip in less time than the first mile.

Back at the starting point, he had a bit of a smile on his face.

“Dad, I was out of sorts at the beginning, but then I did better, right?”

Yes, Kai, you did.

Hopefully we can go ride at least once more this fall before he forgets that’s it’s not so scary to pedal a little faster.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Now That Was a Busy Weekend: Part 3 – Carving Our Jack-O-Lantern, and Dinner Out

Our Sunday wasn’t quite a busy as Saturday, but we still had some special activities.

After looking at all of the carved pumpkins at the pumpkin festival the night before, Kai wanted to carve our own pumpkin.

You may recall that I mentioned that we had bought a very large pumpkin the previous weekend when we visited my dad. Well, here it is:

Kai and I set to work on carving it. I cut open the top and scraped down the sides. I let Kai take out the “guts” of the pumpkin.

Kai had earlier gotten an Angry Birds pumpkin pattern book with my wife, so we picked out one of the patterns and I traced it on the side of the pumpkin. And then I set to work to carve out the design.

I found out that really large pumpkins have really thick skin. The carving tools that came with the pattern book barely were long enough to cut all the way in. And so it took a long time to carve that pumpkin.

Kai was interested for a while. But as I continued working on the pumpkin, he said that he would go play Wii by himself.

Periodically he would yell over from the family room to ask how I was doing.

It ended up taking me two and a half hours to cut that thing. And not all of the holes are nearly big enough as the pattern was designed for a much thinner pumpkin, I’m sure. After all that work, I’m not sure you can even tell what it is.

I grumbled that I would never carve this kind of pattern on such a large pumpkin again. But Kai seemed very happy with the finished product.

By the time I was done, it was time to go meet Kai’s grandparents for dinner. They were taking us out to Benihana for my wife’s birthday.

Benihana is one of those Japanese steakhouses where the chef prepares the meal right at your table. We’ve been to a similar type of restaurant before, but never to this particular one.

When the chef came to our table, Kai asked if there was going to be fire. At the other restaurant, a big part of the show is a huge flame that the chef ignites as he begins cooking. It’s a fun sight, but Kai always gets very scared.

“Is there going to be fire?” he asked our chef here.

The chef told him that there would be no fire, and we had to reassure him several times that would be the case.

The chef was quite talented, and his skillful slicing and dicing entertained us. One of his tricks was to flip the cut-off shrimp tails into his pocket.

Kai and my wife ordered combination platters that included lobster. My son doesn’t like regular fish, but he loves his shellfish.

The food was excellent, the atmosphere fun, and the company was great. Kai had a triple helping of shrimp (from others who knew he loved it so much) and finished all of his lobster.

It was nice to see Bubbe and Papa again. Bubbe told the wait staff that we were celebrating my wife’s birthday so they came and sang “Happy Birthday” in both English and Japanese.

It was a very enjoyable evening.

Kai had behaved very well at the restaurant, even though I had told him that he could not bring his iPad. I think the entertaining atmosphere helped, but he also just had a good attitude about it. The whole thing was a far cry from the old days when just the thought of going to a restaurant with him stressed us out.

And so, this was a great way to cap off our special weekend.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...