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.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Now That Was a Busy Weekend: Part 2 – Mom's Birthday and Pumpkin Festival

After the Pooch Parade, my wife took Riley and her owners home while Kai and I drove separately. Kai wanted to stop at a Target to get Mom a birthday present.

I asked Kai what he wanted to get Mom.

“I don’t know. Maybe Angry Birds.”

I mildly scolded Kai, explaining that when you buy a present for someone, you look for something that you think they would like, not something that you want for yourself.

I suggested that we could look for music, movies, or clothes. He chose music.

I found a couple CDs that I thought my wife would enjoy. But Kai did not like the selections.

“Let’s look at the movies.”

Kai asked me what movies Mom would like. The reality is that there are very few movies that I would think of buying for my wife. First of all, our public library has a very good selection. But also because we watch almost every movie just once so it’s not really worth owning them.

I saw Kai eyeing the latest animated feature that I knew he would want to get for himself. But after my earlier scolding, he knew better than to suggest it for Mom.

After much dithering going back and forth between the music and dvd sections, I was getting impatient. Kai’s boxing class would be starting soon so I wanted him to decide on something.

I asked him if he was sure that he did not want to get the CDs I picked out. He said he was sure.

So I suggested that we go over to the section that sold women’s clothing and look for shirts. Kai thought that was a good idea.

And when we got there, he quickly picked out a nice pink long-sleeve top.

“This looks good.”

Yes, it does, I agreed.

And with that, we were finally free to move on to the rest of our activities.

Kai had his boxing class and soccer game.

And after he took a bath, it was time to go to the Highwood Pumpkin Festival.

This is the fourth year for the festival in which our tiny neighboring town attempts to break the Guinness world record for the most lit jack-o-lanterns.

It was raining lightly when we made our way over to the festival. Kai usually gets upset with any amount of rain, but he didn’t complain at all on this evening.

The festival covered several city blocks so started walking around and taking in the sight of all the pumpkins.

We came to an area that was set up for carving. To break the record, they would have to carve and light over 30,000 jack-o-lanterns, so they needed all the help they could get. Kai insisted that I pitch in.

I carved Kai’s name in a large pumpkin.

After that, we walked some more and saw people starting to light the jack-o-lanterns. Kai wanted to help.

We let Kai hold a lighted candle for the picture, but most of the time he gathered the small, unlit candles and placed inside the jack-o-lanterns for lighting. Then, my wife or I would light them.

It was hard work. After I lit a row of pumpkins, I looked back and saw that the wind had blown out nearly all of them. After three or four attempts at the same row, I was ready to move on. We had done our part; let someone else try.

But Kai didn’t want to quit.

“We have to keep going!”

It was cold. My wife and I were tired. But we kept going for longer than we wanted, as Kai was still enthusiastic about lighting as many pumpkins as he could. We found a spot that wasn’t as windy and was able to successfully light the pumpkins.

Eventually we convinced Kai to leave as we still had Mom’s birthday to celebrate. I think it was the thought of birthday cake that finally got him to agree to go.

On our way out, we saw a lot of lit jack-o-lanterns.

But I was pretty sure that it wasn't going to be enough to break the record. We later found out that they had over 28,000 lit jack-o-lanterns, but another town, in New Hampshire, set the record that same day with over 30,000. Oh well, we'll try again next year.

Back in the warmth of our house, we celebrated Mom's birthday.

Here’s a picture of the pink top that Kai picked out:

Kai enjoyed watching Mom open her other presents, too.

It was a long day. But a good day.

And our weekend fun wasn’t over yet.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Now That Was a Busy Weekend: Part 1 – Pooch Parade

As if our Saturdays aren’t busy enough with Kai’s special needs activities for ice skating, boxing, and soccer, this week we also went to two additional events on Saturday.

First was the Spooky Pooch Parade at our local botanic garden. We went there with two of the dogs that my wife sees often, and their owners.

There was Riley, who was a beautiful pumpkin ballerina.

And, Momo, who was an adorable witch.

This is an annual event, but it was the first time we had attended. This is the only day of the year that dogs are allowed at the garden, and there were a lot of dogs taking part in the event.

The three-headed dog was one of my favorites.

Many dogs came dressed for the horticultural theme of the botanic garden.

And we also saw a lot of owner and dog combinations.

My guess is that there were over a thousand dogs there, and it was a crush of people and animals as we waited for the judging to be completed before the parade would begin.

My wife and I enjoyed looking at all of the dogs, but Kai was getting grumpy at all the waiting. We thought perhaps that we would take a break from the crowd and go get a snack before the parade began.

Of course, as soon as we go to the cafeteria, Kai started becoming anxious that we would miss the start of the parade. With his loud grumbling, I barely had time to take a bite of a cookie before we hurried back to the area where all the dogs were.

The parade started soon after, and Kai enjoyed marching in it alongside Mom and Riley.

I could have taken hundreds of pictures, but here are just a few of other dogs we saw.

For those of you who want to see more pictures, I direct you to the website of Chicago Botanic Garden.

My wife and Kai did the short route of the parade while I snapped these pictures. It would have been fun to stay a bit longer, but I think Kai had had enough by then.

And besides, we still had a long rest of the day ahead of us.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fall Weekend at Ojiichan’s

We drove out to see my dad this weekend.

Fall is a great time to go as my dad has a lot of apple trees on his property that are usually loaded with fruit this time of year. Kai wanted to walk around and pick apples as soon as we got there.

After that we had lunch. And then Kai occupied himself with the iPad while my wife and I cleaned up the house just a bit. It would take a 10-man crew a few weeks to really clean the place, so we just did what we could while we were there.

We couldn’t work too long though, as Kai was itching to get outside again. My wife loves chestnuts and Kai knew that Ojichan has a couple of chestnut trees. So we went in search of the elusive treat

We saw a lot of the thorny shells on the ground that was evidence that the trees must have produced a lot of chestnuts. But with no actual nut inside the empty shells, it looked like the squirrels had gotten all of it. Finally, my wife spotted one with the nuts still inside the shell.

We found a total of three chestnuts.

We came back to the house and played a game of darts.

From the time that Kai first saw my dad’s electronic dartboard, he was fascinated by the game. The combination of numbers and funny sounds made a perfect combination. At the time of his first visit, he was too small to throw the darts well, though we let him stand on a crate just a couple feet from the board so that he could participate.

Now, my dad no longer plays as his eyesight has deteriorated to the point where he cannot really see the dartboard. But Kai has gotten much better and he can throw the dart from almost the same distance back as I do. So, he, Mom, and I played while Ojiichan watched.

After the dart game, the four of us drove to a nearby farm where we saw apple cider being made. It was the first time I had seen the process.

First, a woman washed the apples and loaded them on a conveyer.

The apples went through a grinder.

A man wrapped the apple pulp in burlap.

When he had five of those stacked up, he started the machine that pressed the juice out of the pulp.

The juice flowed into a tank.

And then we were able to pour ourselves some cider.

Afterward, we enjoyed the cider, and a dozen apple cider doughnuts which we also saw being made.

Both the cider and doughnuts were very delicious.

The next day, we walked around picking more apples.

Kai enjoyed tasting fruits from each different tree. Some were too sour, but he found some that he really enjoyed and we brought back a large bagful.

On the drive back home, we stopped at a country market that had a very wide assortment of large pumpkins.

We picked out the largest pumpkin that we had ever bought, and it was only $10, which is about a third of the cost we would have to pay at a pumpkin farm near our house.

And so we had a very pleasant weekend.

I know my dad was happy to see us, but I was also pleased that Kai had a good time.

There were many things that could have bothered him – the fruit flies in my dad’s house, the odor from the garbage we hauled away in our car, the odor from my dad who doesn’t shower as often as he needs to – but the boy who often wails at the slightest odd smell just went with the flow this weekend.

I really don’t know if he just did not notice, or if he did notice but had enough social decorum not to mention it. I’m guessing it was the former, though that would be a bit surprising given his ultra sensitivity to everything.

I’m just glad that he remains such a sweet kid who truly enjoys seeing all of his grandparents. Even the smelly one.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Full Weekend: Old and New Activities

Our weekends got even busier than they had been as new activities started up this weekend.

Kai attended his first special needs ice skating class of the season. He seemed happy to be back on the ice and looked like he did not forget how to skate over the summer.

On Saturdays, we also have his special needs soccer game. This week, it started to rain lightly just as we got to the field. It was peculiar when he wasn’t bothered at all by the heavy rain last weekend when we were in our tent, but just this little light rain on Saturday was enough to get him upset and he kept pestering us that he wanted to go home.

He refused to go on the field and practice before the game would start. And then he really got angry when we had to clear off the field and go under the shelter when it started thundering. The plan was to wait it out a few minutes to see if the rain would let up. But even under the safety of the shelter, Kai kept complaining and repeatedly said he wanted to go home. Finally, it the game was called, Dad had to walk over to the faraway parking lot to get the car, and drove home.

The highlight of our Saturday, though, was a new activity that we had Kai try for the first time, a boxing class for children with special needs.

We had heard about Jordan’s Corner through word of mouth. It sounded like the perfect activity for Kai. It would provide exercise, which we’d like him to get more of, and perhaps it would give him an opportunity to release some of his aggression.

The class is a fast-paced mix of exercise and boxing.

Here you see Kai getting instruction on punching. I think the big smile on his face says it all.

Toward the end of the class, each child gets a turn to spar with the teacher. As this was Kai’s first session, he was a bit tentative compared with some of the kids who had been there before. Still, you can see that he enjoyed it.

I think this will be an activity he looks forward to every week.

After the rain on Saturday, we welcomed the nice sunny day on Sunday. We went back to the Skokie Lagoons to canoe and see a different part than we saw a couple weeks ago.

And then, afterward, we worked on Kai’s biking.

I had tried to loosen up his hand brakes to make them easier for his little hands to grip and squeeze. But I wasn’t successful, so we took his bike over to a local bike shop and they were able to do the job.

I wanted to go right on the bike trail near where we went canoeing, but my wife suggested that he practice at our school parking lot first. This time, I took her suggestion right away.

He did several laps around the parking lot, and then I had him slow down and squeeze the brake. He was able to do it and the bike stopped.

The only issue was that he did not stand up off of his seat, so that when he comes to a stop he does not feel comfortable as his feet can hardly touch the ground as he is still sitting on his seat.

I repeatedly tried to get him to practice lifting up off his seat, keep his left foot on the peddle while lowering his right foot forward to the ground as he stopped. It is always an eye opener for me when something that seems easy proves difficult with Kai. I try to break the instructions down into simple steps, but he still struggles.

My wife later suggested that we practice this while I hold the bike, as Kai may be more relaxed to try it on a stationary bike than one that is moving.

All in all, though, I was happy that he went back on the bike. After last weekend’s trauma, even that small step is good progress.

Hope you had a nice weekend, too.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Quick Update: He Had a Good Day!

After the events of yesterday, we were nervous about how Kai would do at school today.

He seemed remarkably jovial in the morning, but we were not sure how he would react when it came time for his classmates to enjoy their movie while he would be in a different area.

We emailed his teacher to give her a heads up over how upset Kai was last night, and to ask her about the events of the previous day. She wrote back to say that the staff had provided supports to Kai throughout the activity, but that he refused most of them.

A little later, his school therapist emailed to say that Kai came to school with a calm demeanor and positive attitude and was doing well so far.

The rest of the day, including movie time, must have gone well. His score on the point sheet was one of the highest so far this school year, and my wife said that he came home with a smile and in a very good mood.

At this week’s community meeting, he had been awarded Student of the Week.

I don’t know that he really deserved that recognition for his behavior all week. But I think the school staff wanted to give him positive reinforcement for how wonderfully he overcame his disappointment from yesterday and turned it into such a good day today.

The recognition, and his outstanding day, was a surprise.

A good surprise.

Have a nice weekend, everyone!

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