Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Autistic student: Reeling them in for homework

Staying on task is hard for many of our spectrum students. It's even harder when the topic at hand isn't their main interest or an interest at all. There's a lot of redirection involved, especially at first and early in the year. It's frustrating, mentally taxing and can leave you drained. It can still pay off, though, so it's important to never give up.

The first problem we face is the time of year. It's only the beginning of the school year so this is a change in routine. It's not a small change either. There are many expectations that just weren't there for the summer. Try as you might, even with some extra activities and camp, you just can't recreate those expectations (on your own anyway) during off-school months. So this will be a period of adjustment with new routines. Thankfully, we have been blessed this year with good mornings in the way of getting up and getting dressed without fits. And now he's learning to make his own breakfast (cheers!). So, as years go by, improvements are quite possible.

The second is making the switching of tasks through the day part of his routine. It's all routines inside of each other and he balks at them. My son has had difficulty calming down for class in the mornings, (no doubt because of all the sensory input from excitement and hustle bustle) and has had to leave class a few times to recalibrate. I will say his teachers are on the ball with him. We are blessed to have such proactive teachers this year. But for all of our kids, we have to remember this goes hand in hand with number three.

The third is major sensory input. Crowds of children are loud and noisy. Hallways echo, and there's constantly someone bumping into you. At some ages, our kids are starting to put on deodorants and colognes and our sensitive kids will smell this at a distance. Kids with hygiene problems will be there as well and add to the mix with smells of their own. Not all of them will be triggers, but some will be and likely have been for some time. And let's not forget temperatures, those can have drastic effect too. Especially heat as it increases irritability.

Now I get to homework. It's another area of routine that we know our kids hate. It's more school after the school day has let out. What kids wants that? Well, it's a fact of life and they have to do it. For us, toward the end of the day, my son is more embroiled in fantasy from holding back all day (or being steered back to reality all day) and he just wants to play. Bringing him in from fantasy to get started on that homework is kind of like reeling in a really big fish. It's a fight for a bit, but once he's in the boat it gets easier.

The next issue in homework is getting overwhelmed and giving up repeatedly. He still has to learn to slow down and take his homework or any problem a bit at a time. He wants to rush, skip steps and be done. This is pretty common of our spectrum kids. It's especially common with Asperger's or ADHD kids. You get the idea. Ours may throw a fit and close down. We give him a break, but he can't go back to play or have privileges until he does that homework. So, piece by piece it gets done. It can be tedious and tiring for everyone involved too.

Handwriting is still a vexing issue too. It's like having something to concentrate on inside of everything else. My son is working on it, but it takes as much redirection and do-overs as anything else. Sometimes, by the time he has to rewrite something, he's forgotten the what the problem was and has to rethink it too. That's frustrating for him. I'm sure it's the same for many of our kids. Think about it, how much can your brain juggle?

It's easy to feel like this will never improve, but the truth is, that it can. If he's able to keep trying over and over again, then he may and likely will improve. That's not a guarantee of course. But, look back over your child's school history and make it appoint to notice the improvements. Has your child improved while moving up in grades? Then there's distinct hope. Has he improved despite lack of support or in the face of other difficulties? Then there's major hope.

So here's to moving on in a new school year (or getting started for many of you). Keep your chin up and never give up.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mike Corey, musician with a message

When Mike Corey put a link for his music on my facebook page, I must admit, I almost deleted it. I don't allow marketing for much on my page and try to filter out any spam that turns up. This is the internet after all, the kingdom of spam.

I didn't delete his link, though. Instead, I clicked on it and gave his first song a listen. It's called "My mind so broken" and it has a very clear message. You can check out this song HERE.

The song is very clear about what it can be like to live with a mental illness or disorder. So I strongly suggest giving it a listen.

It's clear that Mike has a passion for his music. He takes that passion and embroiders it into his songs to help educate about conditions that are on the rise in our country and the world.

Around August of 2010 Mike was diagnosed with Bipolar, Borderline Personality Disorder, PTSD, and a social anxiety disorder. He is a recovering alcoholic and addcit (from his facebook page). This brought him the clarity of what you hear in those songs. Mike has actually been writing music and has had his passion since he was 15. Currently he is working on putting a band together and plays regularly at a resource center in Rockford, IL.

Mike volunteers in the Stars of Light Troupe and does some acting as well as singing. If you click on the "here" link above, you can read about it to the right of the profile.

In talking with him in messages I asked him what message he would give to youth struggling with these problems today:

"Do not be afraid and do not judge the people who can truly help you, such as police officers, therapist, judges, case workers and so on. They may seem strange or even mean but it may only be because you are not use to how they are. They only want whats best for you."

People who live with disorders, yet manage to help others and strive to make positive forwards in their lives, are a beacon of hope. It doesn't matter what kind of disorder you live with, you can relate. From what I've seen, Mike definitely can.

So give his music a listen and add him on facebook, I think you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dustin Nunn, autistic comic artist

Today I want to show you someone with a passion in life. His name is Dustin Nunn and he is the artist and writer for a book of comics called Dustin and Darling.

This book of comic stories is no ordinary book. It has a very distinct style and "flavor" that show you need to take time to understand the author and autism.

Dustin and Darling are based on Dustin's real life experiences. He really has a dog named Darling and he even draws in his parents and other experiences. Not to be limited, he also created his own scope of fictional characters. You can check out his work at his page HERE.

While Dustin clearly has a great passion to write comics for the entertainment of others, I can see another purpose in his work; understanding autism. I think his work reflects living with autism in everyday life very well and should be considered as a part of anyone's autism library. His work is unique and comes from an even more unique perspective.

You can find Dustin and Darling on Amazon and I suggest you take a good look. Tell your groups and friends about it. Pick up a copy. The adventures of Dustin and Darling are those we can all relate to.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Loss of a pet, dealing with loss and autism

I had something else I wanted to touch on today, but I'm switching things up again. Sometimes current events demand attention. You never know what surprise may overtake you.

Cupid the pet rat was very sick and suffering. She wasn't drinking water and barely ate the food I gave her. Despite cage cleanings, she had contracted mites (they are very common and can come from almost anywhere). Despite treatment, they could not be stopped or gotten rid off. I will have to throw her cage out to be sure they're gone because of how hardy these nasty vermin turned out to be. Our other rat doesn't have them, thankfully.

It's never easy to send a pet friend on their way and sadly, I had to do this last night. Now, let me tell you, I have a great deal of experience in this unfortunate skill from working with animals as long as I have. I was a breeder of rats long, long ago and I worked for an Animal Control Agency for six years. In that time, I've had to put down all manner of injured wildlife. I had to put down many a sick rat with cancerous tumors or other ailments that prevented them from thriving. When you cold have 10 litters of rats growing at numbers of 20 per litter (average), it was impossible to avoid.

Anyway, Cupid was very special. She would let you pick her up and take her anywhere. She would let a hyper child with autism hold her. She would ride on our shoulders and nestle into anyone's long hair. She was cute and loveable. She could teach you to enjoy a rat's company. My son was very attached to her. I hated what I had to do. I hated to deliver the news as well. He fell into my lap when I told him she had to go last night. He cried for a good ten minutes as I discussed how I understood his feelings.

I offered to do a burial in the backyard and he accepted readily. Out in the back yard is the remains of an old stump someone tried to burn out. It's center was only dirt and ashes. Looking around the yard, I realized that there would likely be nothing under the stump. It should be safe to dig there. So I did and I managed to get the hole a good foot and half deep before digging into hard clay. We put poor Cupid to rest there and my son said a few words of goodbye. Then we filled it in and talked some more.

Loss is a hard change and change is already hard for autistics. All you can do, is be supportive and understanding. Offer to do things that help bring closure and remind of the good times. Don't go for instant replacement. Time is needed to get full closure or anything close to that. In getting a new pet, you shouldn't be getting a replacement. You should be getting a "new" pet, with an identity and history all it's own. That way, you don't find yourself constantly looking at this new animals as a replacement for Fido or who ever.

We still have a family of pets that need our love and support. We still have a big ol boy rat named Mocha Joe who needs attention. He's not the same, but we still have him and he is who he is. My son will be fine, but it's a tough loss for any child, conditions or not.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Everyone needs support in autism parenting

The last couple of days have been a rocky ride for me. My own medical conditions have been slapping me around and making it hard to get things done. Still, I have managed a few things and made a decent weekend for a family visit. In recent events, I have found a challenge. Well, it's been there all along, but you may be able to relate.

This challenge is in co-parenting an Asperger's child or any child with special needs. This challenge is support to the child and the other parent. Support has to go in all directions. While that sounds simple in words, the application is anything but.

The most obvious need of support is the child. His difficulties in dealing with the world around him demand it. He has a lot of development to catch up on and the world isn't likely to be forgiving. Half the time, it's definitely not forgiving. One of the lessons recently cited to my son is this: "Our condition is not an excuse to break rules". Discipline can be tricky however thanks to sensory issues. I can't spank him, it will cause a full blown meltdown for hours. Yes, a long long time ago, I was a parent who used spankings. I don't anymore.

Next there is the co-parent, and even more challenging, the step-parent. A step-parent is walking into a whole new world and it's quite an eye opener. For an accurate view on what this is like, please check out my fiance's blog:

It's more than a little frustrating for both parents in this situation and you have to support each other just as much as you work to support the child. You have to remind each other that it's going to be okay somehow and that each others feelings are valid. The second part of that is actually the most important. It's okay to feel frustrated, you have every right.

I can't tell you how many times I've sat down to explain consequences and behaviors to my son and got reactions that just didn't fit. Many reactions suggested that he never got the message I was trying to deliver. I would have to prod at that time and ask him if he was hearing me. I would have to remind him that I wasn't talking about the fantasy things and needed him to hear me. I often ask him what I'm talking about. Sometimes, for that, he shakes his head hard and get's angry, and says: "I just don't know!" He doesn't like to talk about his behavior.

On another note, he's actually angry with himself and we have to watch out for that one. He'll actually call himself "crazy" and "bad". That's not psychologically healthy either, so has to be intervened. I tell him he's not crazy or bad and that he has behaviors to learn like anyone else his age. I tell him we are just trying to help him learn them and he's not always going to like how that is done. No one does, and everyone has to learn. It's all that can be done at that point.

Yes, therapy is important and support in other places like school is too. But, one the spot, in the moment, this is what you are left with. There's the child's pain because he doesn't understand himself; your own pain and stress from worry; your parenting partner's pain and stress; and worry for each other. What else can you do? See it for what it is, call it like it is, listen to each other and support each other.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sensory school supplies

Now that the school year is drawing in close, it's time to get school supplies for many of us. As we do this, I wonder how many of us are on the watch for things that are "sensory friendly"? I'm not necessarily talking about pens and pencils, but anything at all that you would need to get for your child. In the world of our senses, it's amazing what can trip us up when they are turned up too high.

In clothing, seams and scratchy material are the enemy to many an ASD child. It can cause high distraction and inability to sit still for very long. That's minding that our kids don't sit still long in the first place. Tags aren't ASD friendly either. Thankfully, there are tagless shirts out there. Some companies are printing their information right on the fabric. That has to be helpful right? If you inspect the clothing you buy (and I bet you do) you can see what kind of tags are easiest to cut out without damaging a shirt. You can also see what kind of seams are just too stiff to soften. Most T-shirt seams are pretty soft, but you know your child's sensitivities better than anyone. What about the designs printed on the shirts? Are they really stiff also? Don't forget socks either. Look for seamless designs in socks that fit to your child's size. You can order specialties online.

When dealing with clothing, a good practice is to always wash all new clothes with a good dose of fabric softener before wear. You'll wash out any "fillers" used by the companies to keep the clothes from wrinkling on the sales floor. Those are most commonly used in jeans, but I've heard of them in shirts too. This will still go a long way toward making clothing softer and more comfortable.

Now, what about pens and pencils? I've actually heard of children who don't like the pencils and pens with flattened sides on them. I think this is particularly rare, but maybe your child is one of them? I've come to wonder if this may get in the way of an ASD child's handwriting? If it's uncomfortable or distracting to use such an implement, wouldn't it make the task harder? Our kids can't necessarily tell us, so maybe a few experiments are in order.

Then there's markers. Unscented is the way to go, as well as washable. I don't know about all our kids, but marker scent gives me a headache. Scent is one of my downfalls with my own condition. It's that way for my son too. Then there are those who like the scent a little too much. Either way is a distraction in class.

Some of our kids are very sensitive to sound. I've seen that some schools have headphone ear protectors that make it easier for some kids. You can also order these from locations online. Now is the time to get prepared. Some of these items are not cheap, so the earlier you get them the better.

Best of luck and a great start to all our kids' new school year.