Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Carnival Fun

My daughter and I went to a Halloween carnival today! We had so much fun! My daughter went on a roller coaster! We both went on a Ferris Wheel that was scary-fast, but so much fun! My daughter went down a humongous slide on a potato sack (that was the scariest moment for me!). She played a bunch of carnival games and won a ton of prizes.

The highlight was going through the haunted house. They offered a scary experience, where people jump out at you, or the Caspar experience, where you just see the scary rooms, but there are no loud noises or people trying to scare you. My daughter opted for the scary experience. However, once our group got started, the people running the venue clearly saw that the group was pretty scared just by the sights, so they just gave them the Caspar experience. It was actually still a pretty awesome haunted house.

I had such a great time with my daughter! In the past, when we go to carnivals, she can appear overwhelmed which brings out her autistic tendencies (poor eye contact, whiny, tantrummy, hypersensitive to sounds). After we got home, I told her how much fun I had with her. She looked at me lovingly and said, "I had a great time with me too!"

Well, at least her sensory issues seem to be doing well!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Top Ten Things I Love about Halloween!

Halloween is my favorite holiday, so it get its own top 10 list! My ten favorite things about Halloween are:

1. Trick or treating

2. Candy

3. Dressing up in costumes

4. Halloween parties

5. Watching scary movies and television shows

6. Telling ghost stories

7. Carving pumpkins

8. Chicken pumpkin curry

9. Pumpkin bagels

10. Watching my daughter enjoy all the above (except the chicken pumpkin curry--too spicy for her!

What do you love about Halloween? However you celebrate it, have a very safe and fun Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Is the Poop Real?

Yesterday, my daughter finally earned her Webkinz toy reward for keeping her crying down to a minimum. We went to Toys R Us because they were having a sale where you could buy a hamster Webkinz (which is the animal she wanted) for only $1 if you purchased a Webkinz "Plush" animal. I figured this sale allowed her to get an extra Webkinz. What could be better, right?

Well, the Toys R Us store near us is disgusting. There is hardly any sales help. Everything is a mess. The Webkinz area was particularly bad. Everything was carelessly thrown together. Many Webkinz were missing their codes, which wouldn't let the buyer play with the Webkinz's avatar on the computer. I was able to find the hamster, but the "plush" Webkinz were co-mingled with everything else. I told my daughter that we should just go to another store to buy the Webkinz, and I'd let her pick out two of what she wanted. But she found another animal she liked to go with the hamster. It wasn't a plush, so I had to pay full price for the hamster, but the animal she picked out was much cheaper than a plush anyway. Not that it mattered. I just wanted to get out of that store, then take a nice shower.

As I was buying the toys, the cashier asked how my shopping experience was. I said, "Well, since you asked, it was quite horrible. The Webkinz area is a complete mess." The cashier just smiled and said, "Here's your package. Have a great day!" AGH!

As we were driving home, my daughter started telling me about a toy she was looking at near the Webkinz. It was a dog that pooped. She wondered if they used real poop for the toy. I started laughing and explained that they couldn't use real poop because it's too dirty, smelly, and would make children sick.

Then I wondered why a toy would even have fake poop. It seems to me that there are some things that shouldn't be in toy form. Poop is one of them. Vomit may be another!

Because I love my readers so much, I did extensive internet research to find out what this toy was. Apparently, Mattel actually makes a dog that poops out pellets. What's even funnier is that you feed the dog food so he can poop! Guess what the food is? Yup, you got it! You feed the poop to the dog, so he can then poop it out.

I wonder if Mattel has actually sold any of these toys? What message do they want kids to learn, exactly?

Enjoy the You-Tube video demonstrating the toy! I apologize for the poor video quality. It's also kind of loud, so make sure your volume is turned down a bit.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

F Is for Friendship!

For me, one of the difficult adjustments in my life was shifting gears from having a pretty high-paying career to being a stay-at-home mom. My husband always told me that the transition would be much easier if I made some new friends who were in the same boat. I needed to find my Ethel (assuming I was Lucy, of course).

This didn't seem like a difficult task at first. I got involved in my local moms' club. Unfortunately, no one would ever show up to any of the activities, with the exception of the monthly Moms' Night Out. After awhile the turn-out for these dwindled too. One time, I went to a board meeting to discuss what we could do to increase participation. I remember one mom asked if I went to a particular event. When I told them I didn't (because I was tired of being the only one showing up to these things), the other women poked fun at me and made comments like, "Wow, we know we're doing badly if even Cheryl didn't show up." Talk about feeling like a complete loser!

I did join a play group through Moms' Club, and was pleasantly surprised that the other moms in the group were on the older side, like me! But I really didn't click with any of the other women. Also, now that my daughter was getting older, she was starting to tantrum more. Other moms started dropping out of our play group and word got back to me it was because they didn't like the "drama" my daughter caused with her tantrums.

When my daughter was preschool-age, I found an adorable developmental school not far from my house. This school had no bells and whistles and was like an old-fashioned nursery school. I loved the nuturing environment and the lack of academics. Even though my daughter's autism diagnosis was still a couple of years away, I knew that she needed more work with her social interactions than her academics.

The moms whose kids attended this school were a really great group of women. They were almost all really friendly. But my daughter's daily tantrums--particularly at pick-up time, make it hard to really socialize with the other women. I did form a couple of nice friendships, however, which was great! Ironically, most of the better quality friendships happened after my daughter received her diagnosis. I think that once we knew what was going on and started to see improvements, the tantrums started to decrease which allowed me to socialize more. Also, my depression started to decrease which allowed friendships to form.

Looking back, I'm sure I had a level of depression from parenting a child who has autism, without knowing that's what she had. I take full responsibility for not being more approachable to the other moms because of this.

Unfortunately, when it was time for my daughter to enter kindergarten, she ended up going to a school that very few of the other kids from her preschool went to. The friends I made at the preschool didn't really survive the transition. Sure, we exchange emails and meet for the occasional cup of coffee, but it's nowhere like it used to be.

Elementary school is interesting! Again, I've met many really great moms and dads. But socializing with people is difficult apart from the occasional extended chat after drop-off. And to be honest, I've given up putting much effort into it. I've met tons of acquaintances and have been pretty happy with the socializing that always occurs at Trader Joe's or Target when I run into people I know.

Oh, there's one group of women I've left out--other moms of kids who are are the spectrum. I've had tremendous bonding experiences with many of these women. Although they are just acquaintances as well, there's still a "Oh, you totally get it" vibe that you don't get from other moms. So while I may not see these friends very often, when I do, I always know I'll have a really good time!

These are the groups of women I've met in the real world. I've made other "friends" via blogging. I consider quite a few of them to be friends, even though I've never met them. There's something about reading a post that a person shares--something that may not be easy for them to share; or something that's hilarious--that forms a particular bond of friendship. I can't say I'm friends with all 150 bloggers I follow, but there are a few who I do consider to be friends.

I guess that while I haven't met my Ethel (at least for the long haul), I have met many amazing moms along this journey called motherhood.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kids' Television Shows and Asperger's

The PBS show "Arthur" did an episode last year that introduced a character with Asperger's syndrome. I think this character was on just once. The episode was titled "When Carl Met George." They did an amazing job depicting Asperger's Syndrome. In fact, other than "The Big Bang Theory" (where the writers claim that Sheldon doesn't have Asperger's), it's the best depiction of Asperger's I've seen on television! They show Carl as being extremely smart, but having unusual quirks, such as having meltdowns over what appears to be minor things. Carl's mother explains his behavior to his new friend, George. Telling George all about Asperger's Syndrome. She covers a lot of information!

However, I am a bit horrified that this topic was covered so explicitly. The target audience for Arthur is ages 4-8, according to the PBS Parents' website. Was it really necessary to explain Asperger's to this age range? Personally, I think a show that handled the broader issue of how some kids are different and appreciating these differences would have been a more age-appropriate approach, while still imparting a wonderful message.

We are not ready for our daughter to know about her autism or Asperger's. We've boxed away all of our books on this topic. We keep any papers with the words "autism" or "Aspeger's" out of her sight. The last thing we need is for her to watch this episode of "Arthur" and to have a big AHA moment. Also, I'm not sure I want her peers to be educated on this topic yet and to make the connection with my daughter. At school. That would be just peachy.

So now, not only do I have to constantly check the DVR queue to be sure I delete this episode when it comes up, I also have to hope and pray that my daughter doesn't view the entire episode on the PBS website. Because it's posted there. That's how I watched it.

Another PBS kids' show that doesn't address Asperger's but is clearly geared to kids on the spectrum is called "Dinosaur Train," which covers two common areas of obsession for kids on the spectrum--dinosaurs and trains. My daughter recently discovered this program through the PBS website and absolutely adores it. I watched one episode and was amazed at it also. While the PBS Parents' website says that this show is geared to preschoolers, they certainly can't be accused of talking down to them. The show teaches about a variety of dinosaurs, using the full, scientific names. They also discuss which of the three mesozoic periods the dinosaurs come from (Triassic, Jurassic, or Cretaceous). The train has the ability to travel through time tunnels that span through these three periods.

As if this weren't enough to excite a child on the spectrum, they have the world's least charismatic paleontologist, Dr. Scott Sampson, to give additional information about the species of dinosaur that was covered. At least I hope he's the least charismatic. If he's the most charismatic....the thought is too horrifying! They also stress that a lot of information is not known for sure, but are hypothesized. They throw that word around quite a bit.

Really? Three and four year old kids were the target audience for this show? Maybe they do love it, I don't know. I do know that this show probably attracts a huge viewership from kids on the spectrum.

I'm just saying!

Monday, October 25, 2010

My Autar Is On.

When my daughter and I are out and about, I'm amazed at the number of kids I see who I suspect are on the spectrum (sometimes I even get confirmation about this). It's such a common occurrence that it's mind-boggling how common having a child on the spectrum is.

Last week, my daughter and I went to the nearby park. There weren't a lot of kids in the playground, so we took a walk around the park to admire people's dogs that romp wild. My daughter loves to see them play with each other and likes when they come over to check her out as they always do. Not to brag, but my daughter is quite the dog-magnet. She always has been. Dogs just love her. Too bad she breaks out in a rash when they lick her. Sigh.

Anyway, as we were taking our walk, an adorable boy about her age came running up to her. He introduced himself to her! I thought he seemed very nice and social. Then he went running up to a sprinkler and got excited by the name brand. My autar (autism radar) started to register a hit. He then asked me if the sprinklers at my house were the same brand. I was embarrassed to tell him I had no clue about what brand sprinklers we used. Then he ran off to play with my daughter. No surprise that the two of them had a grand old time together.

His dad joined me as we watched our kids play. He seemed impressed with how well the kids were playing together. Then he confided to me that his son was on the spectrum. I laughed a little and said the sprinkler obsession gave it away. But I quickly followed it up with telling him about my daughter. We agreed that when you're a parent of a child on the spectrum, you do develop autar capability.

His adorable boy later asked me what car I drove. He then asked a dog-walking couple about their dog. Specifically, he wanted to know what activities the dog enjoyed (we all answered, taking long walks, sniffing other dogs' butts, etc.). My daughter liked him a lot, and mentioned that she noticed he liked mechanical things. I agreed and said that maybe he'll grow up to be a mechanical engineer and design things. I really need to call them to set up a playdate!

On Saturday, I had to take my daughter to her pediatrician to get a flu shot. The tiny "Well Room" was packed with other people there for the same purpose. My daughter was not thrilled about getting the shot and was nervous about it. She read one of her science-oriented magazines and tried to tune out the other kids around her to deal with her nervousness. While we were waiting, a mom and dad came in with two very rambunctious boys. They opened up a package containing a new Megaman toy and gave it to the older boy. My autar was going off with both of the boys. The older boy, who I found out was 5, wanted to show off the toy to my daughter by getting right into her face, popping the toy on her head, and yelling "MEGAMAN!" repeatedly while my daughter did her best to ignore him.

His parents kept prompting him that he was too close to her and needed to step back, which he didn't do. I also prompted my daughter to use her words and tell him to back off if he was annoying her. But she didn't. She kept trying to read as the boy kept shouting, "MEGAMAN!" When the nurse came in to tell her it was her turn to get the shot, my daughter jumped up excitedly and said, "Oh good!" The boys' parents and I busted up laughing.

I guess that's one technique to happily getting a shot. Later, my daughter said the boys were so "wired!" That cracked me up too.

At least we know we're not alone on this journey.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Walking on Eggshells

This week's Asperger storyline on "Parenthood" involved the incredibly stressful situation of Max (the nine-year-old boy with Asperger's) wanting to go trick-or-treating this year. In the past, they wouldn't go because the whole experience was too much for Max to handle. He was scared of many of the costumes, couldn't handle seeing candles of any kind, and the whole holiday put him into sensory overload. His Mother was afraid of extreme anxiety and tantrums. So, instead of being really excited that Max wanted to face his fears and go trick-or-treating, his mother dreaded the event. She didn't want to deal with him having a major episode in front of the whole neighborhood. So while Kristina didn't want to face trick-or-treating, his dad, Adam, was pretty excited about trying it out.

I have to be honest, I love this show, but I'm getting pretty annoyed with the Kristina character this season. The writers are turning her into a total control freak, crazy-lady. I think they need to lighten up on her a bit. Anyway, Kristina did not want to take Max trick-or-treating. She just wanted them to do the usual--playing Monopoly in the upstairs without the lights on. I guess so that Max wouldn't have to see the trick-or-treaters. They actually consulted with an expensive psychologist to see how they should proceed. His advice? Go trick-or-treating you numskulls!

I mean, this is obvious, right? I was really losing patience with the show. They were rehearsing Max the day before Halloween by walking in the daylight, explaining what he had to do. This might make some sense to do, but it seems they should have done it at night-time instead of the daytime. Kristina was also passing out chem lights to all her neighbors, asking them to use those instead of candles. Really? Isn't that a bit overboard?

As I was screaming at the television, I had to stop myself and remember what it was like with my daughter before we starting to get help. I walked on eggshells constantly. I was always afraid of what might set off a tantrum, that I would try to avoid any situation that might bring it on. You can only imagine what the stress level of living like that is like. You are figuratively waiting for the bomb to drop. Every. Single. Second. And you know what? For every tantrum you successfully avoided, another one would pop up that you could have never anticipated--not in a million years!

My daughter has come a long way during these last couple of years. Does she still tantrum? Of course, but it's nowhere like it used to be. While I still try to anticipate what will set her off and prepare her for it (called priming), I don't allow myself to become overly stressed about it anymore. Because either she's in a mood where any little thing will set her off or she'll take things in stride. I know how to handle the storm once it hits. I don't try to avoid situations anymore. I do prime her as best I can (although trying to get a whole neighborhood to accommodate my daughter would be a bit much).

My daughter needs to learn to face the world and deal with its challenges. If I shield her from these things forever, then she won't be prepared. At the end of the "Parenthood" episode, Max really pushed his parents to stop coddling him and let him push his boundaries since he felt ready to do this. They ultimately let him face every major fear. He didn't have any meltdowns and really grew through that experience. And you know what? I think he would have grown through that experience even if he DID have a meltdown.

You can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs. Sometimes you have to stop tiptoeing around and just try making that omelet!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What Am I Getting Myself Into?

Because my daughter has been progressing well in her behavior therapy, one thing we heard repeatedly was that she needed to socialize with her typical peers. Many of the experts we spoke with said we should get her involved with a Girl Scouts Daisy troop (girl scouts girls who are 5 and 6 years old).

I could not find a troop for her age group at her school, and the neighboring schools' troops were completely at capacity. So, I did what any insane mother of a child on the spectrum would do. I decided to start our own troop! After initial attempts at getting a troop off the ground failed, I found a super woman who volunteered to be my co-leader! As if this wasn't great enough, she is one of the kindergarten teachers at the school! So, we now had a place to meet AND somebody who was competent around kids! Awesome!

We had our first troop meeting yesterday. I was responsible for putting the program together. It turned out to be a lot of fun, but I have to admit, I am having a hard time keeping up with these kids, at least socially. During the snack time, I heard a cell phone ring, I assumed it was my co-leader's, and she assumed it was mine. We then saw one of the six year old girls go to answer her phone. After she had her conversation, she apologized and then told us she was going to turn her phone off so she doesn't disturb the meeting. Luckily, my daughter was too engrossed in the neat things on the classroom walls to notice that one of her peers has her own cell phone. I dodged that bullet, for now.

Then, the co-leaders daughter warned everyone to be careful when getting onto the carpet because it's easy to trip on. I thanked her for letting everyone, including me. I then joked about being a klutz! My daughter came to my defense, saying "You're not a klutz, mommy!" She's so sweet. But then all the other girls started swapping stories on whose parents were the klutziest. It went something like, "My mom fell down a whole flight of stairs!" "Well, my dad fell down two flights of stairs!" I guess my daughter is right! Maybe I'm not so klutzy after all!

The theme of the meeting was about discussing the Girl Scout Promise. I led a discussion about promises and how important it is to keep a promise you make. To make the discussion more interactive, I asked them to give examples of promises their parents made and how they followed through. Unfortunately, the discussion took an ugly turn when the girls delighted in talking about all the promises their parents made, but didn't keep!

Oy, I think I'm in over my head!

Special Needs Blog Hop

Thanks for visiting during the blog hop! My name is Cheryl and a mom to a beautiful, smart, and quirky six-year old girl who has Asperger's Syndrome. I consider my blog to be a mom blog, but through the lens of a mom raising a child on the spectrum. I try to celebrate the joys of raising a girl with Asperger's on the blog, although I often don't succeed!

I've listed my favorite posts down the page a bit. Check them out and thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

E is for Expensive!

This post is being linked to Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday. Each week we write on a topic based on the letter of the alphabet. This week we're on the letter E. E is for expensive!

The other day, we received a catalog from American Girl. The cover of the catalog proudly proclaims that they offer free shipping (with a $50 minimum purchase). After looking through the catalog, I quickly see that the free shipping is almost a given! They have these new "Real Me" dolls that follow the same idea as Webkinz. You order a doll, and you can play with her avatar online! The basic doll and casual outfit are $95! But, you can add on accessories like glasses, messenger bag, and other accessories for an additional $32. Cool!

You can also buy your daughter outfits to match her doll's. For a pretty scarlet dress and matching hat for both your daughter and her doll will set you back a mere $92 ($66 to dress your daughter and $26 to dress her doll).

After perusing their website, I found that you can also get the doll her own Halloween costume for about $30! That's about what I paid for my daughter's Halloween costume. Sigh.

I don't mean to sound cheap. The dolls are beautiful, and the clothes look gorgeous. But I can't imagine shelling out that kind of green for a toy. I guess everyone splurges on certain things and are cheap about other things. This is a thing that I'm cheap about. My daughter easily tires with most of her toys. I have no doubt that if we invested $200 on a doll and some outfits, she would love it. At first. I can see her easily getting bored with it. And maybe jealous that we spend more on the doll's outfits than we do on her outfits.

I can also see her getting sucked into playing with the computer avatar. I can bet the website for this would be full of ads of other things we HAVE to get for the doll.

I'm just going to file this catalog away in a safe place--at the bottom of the recycling bin.

Here is a link showing one of the dolls and the possible accessories you can get for her. Click if you dare!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad. You Have No Choice!

It's been a rough few days in our house. My daughter has been whiny and quick to cry when things don't go her way. This behavior has caught be by surprise because it came on so fast with no warnings. Of course, that's always the case, and it always catches me off-guard. Things will be going pretty smoothly, and I get a false sense of security. Then, WHAM, her behavior changes on a dime.

Because my daughter's behavior can be cyclical in nature, I'm assuming it's going to be a little rough going over the next couple of weeks. I just have to keep telling myself that this too shall pass. I also have to remind myself that her worse days now are still better than her best days used to be.

Also, something positive did come out of a tantrum she had last night. My daughter didn't want to do part of her homework. She completed her 6 worksheets, and I rewarded her with time to play on the computer. But, it was under the condition that she would finish the rest of her homework after dinner. This was the toughest part of her homework. She had to write six sentences using her spelling words. Now, my daughter is definitely academically advanced, but this is a tough thing for her to do. Because of her autism, she has a hard time generating sentences, and once she does, actually writing the sentences is hard for her to do.

So, when it was time for her to write her sentences, she started complaining that she was tired and wanted to do other things instead, like play hula hoop or read a book. After much crying and fighting, she finally sat down to write her sentences. She ordered me to stay away from her. Because I was so angry, I said, "No problem!" and left her alone to do her work. Usually, she needs my help with coming up with sentences. I was sure she would come out to ask for help at any moment.

And sure enough, she did come out a mere 10 minutes later! Only, she didn't ask for help. She came out to tell me she had finished her sentences. I was surprised! I looked over her sentences, and she did an amazing job on them. All on her own, in much less time than she usually takes!

I told her that while I didn't like the fight we had, I was certainly impressed with the results.

This morning, my daughter had amazing behavior. She was in a great mood and didn't let every little thing get her upset in the least. I'm hoping the good cycle is beginning!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Help Out a Research Project!

I normally do not use my blog to solicit people. I've never plugged free products I've received. Granted, I haven't had companies breaking down my door to have me hawk their wares. But hypothetically, I don't want to cheapen my blog in this manner.

A few days ago, I received an email requesting me use my blog to advertise a research study being conducted at Columbia University. I do not know much about the study first hand. I am planning on participating, although I haven't gotten around to it yet. Here is what they emailed me:

"We are researchers at Columbia University's Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy studying autism. We are currently collecting life stories from parents about their experiences in recognizing their child's autism, seeking professional help and navigating the available service systems. We think participation in this study would be of great interest to your readers, and we would like to invite you to write about our survey on your blog.

The goal of this project is to gain a better understanding of the road to diagnosis. Parents have different experiences and observations of their child's development and they have different personal resources with which they access care and services. Parents also differ in the type and extent of their support networks and social relations. And finally parents make different decisions in their quest for obtaining the right diagnosis and care for their child. We would like to give parents the chance to tell their stories. Participation in the survey may help us understand the heterogeneity of autism as well as how children develop over time.

We are collecting life stories of parents of children who have autism through an online semi-structured survey at our website, You could help our research tremendously by encouraging parents to participate in our study."

If you have a child or children on the spectrum, I highly encourage you to participate in this study. As a former Senior Analyst with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), I have some experience with conducting studies looking at different policy issues. I really value research when it's done correctly. One key component to make a study like this meaningful is to have a high participation rate. The more people who participate--particularly from a variety of class backgrounds and locations--the more meaningful the study results will be.

Over the last few years, I've heard of study after study being done looking at either autism or allergy issues where the number of people used in the study was less than 10! This does not provide meaningful data.

I have never heard of a study being done that looks more at policy issues of autism. This study sounds fascinating and can really provide needed information on how complex the system is in terms of getting a diagnosis and services.

I want to stress that I'm not involved with this study at all and do not know the exact issues the researchers are going after. But I do know a good study in this area is needed and it will only be meaningful if people participate!

Thanks for considering participating!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Actually, I See Two Correct Answers

My daughter brought home this homework question the other day. I burst out laughing. She looked at me confused and asked what was so funny.

I had to tell her it was nothing, and made up some stupid excuse.

At least the teachers are trying to entertain us while we hunker down to do homework!

My First Guest Blogger!

Today, I'm doing something I've never done before! I'm hosting my first guest blogger, Jen Bush here while I'm blogging at her site! Crazy, huh? I've been following Jen's site, Anybody Want A Peanut? for a few months now. She writes with such honesty and humor! Jen is a mom to a three year old with autism. She has been blogging since before her son Moe's diagnosis in early 2009, and writes about daily life with a preschooler on the spectrum as well as their experiences with early intervention, school districts and behavior therapy. She also has a typical 17 month old toddler and a stressed-out dog on Prozac. You can find her personal blog at Anybody Want A Peanut? Pop on over there to read more of her posts (and my guest post there!).

The Girl In the Shoe Store

Yesterday, in search of an air conditioned place that wasn’t my house, I took Jelly to the mall. The play/germ-spreading area was being cleaned so I went into the Payless Shoes across the hall. Of course, I couldn’t just look (buy one, get one 1/2 off!) and ended up with two pairs. As I was paying, I noticed the girl at the cash register had a necklace with a really nice, pewter charm. It was in the shape of a puzzle piece and had an engraving I couldn’t quite make out. It looked heavy and important.

Of course, I recognized the symbolism of the puzzle piece, but wasn’t sure if I should say anything. I decided to say, “Do you mind if I ask the symbolism of your necklace?” She seemed surprised and spoke a little too quickly. “It is a puzzle piece that says I AM FEARLESS. My friend’s mom gave it to me.” She didn’t say anything more, so I said “It is really nice,” signed the credit card receipt, and left the store.

As I turned around, I saw the girl, who was probably about high school age, cover her face with her hands and hug a friend. I don’t think she was crying or upset, but rather seemed a little embarrassed at my question. I don’t know if the girl has autism. Before I asked the question, I had guessed the necklace was in support of a sibling, and I certainly didn’t mean to put her on the spot. I didn’t tell her my son has autism, the reason I asked. I wanted to go back and say something more, but when I circled back by the store, I couldn’t see her and the store had gotten busy. She probably didn’t want to hear any more from me anyway.

Before I asked the question, I don’t think I realized how young she was. Assuming she does have autism, I wanted to tell her how proud of her I was. How working in a store in the mall must be hard. How truly fearless she really must be, and by seeing her, how much hope she gave me that my own child will someday be just like any other kid, working in the mall, embarrassed at the slightest mention of something that might make you stand out or be different.

I don’t know if this is the exact necklace the girl was wearing, but here is a similar one:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Support Is So Important!

Support is really important--and I'm not just talking about bras! The television show, "Parenthood's," Asperger topic of the week was about support groups. The mom on the show, Kristina, wanted to attend a weekly support group with her husband. He felt support groups for a waste of time, until he went to one, that is!

My first thought when I saw this episode was shock that Kristina found a weekly support group for parents of Asperger's. Wow! That's pretty hard to believe on its own. I live in the major city of Los Angeles. There is only one support group for parents of kids with Asperger's. It meets once a month clear on the other side of town. If I went to it, it would probably take me about 3 hours of travel time, round-trip, factoring in traffic.

There are other groups that meet. Most of these groups also hold monthly meetings. Many are geared toward parents of kids with any level of autism. I once attended the one support group geared to moms that met during the school day (at least the only one that met fairly close to the area I lived in). Most of the moms had kids who were teenagers or were approaching the teen years. They also were much lower-functioning on the spectrum. While I needed to talk about issues such as frustrations and disappointments with the challenges of setting up playdates, they talked about the frustrations and challenges of teen children who were nonverbal, aggressive, still in diapers, and needing help with hygiene among other issues. I found myself more depressed after these meetings than I was before them.

The autism spectrum is so huge that support groups should not really be one size fits all. They do need to be tailored to specific areas on the spectrum. It's really hard to believe how hard it is to find ones appropriate to a particularly need. Heck, it's really hard to find any support groups at all!

After my initial crusade of trying to find a support group, I stopped looking. The truth was that my daughter was doing so much better with the help she was getting, that I didn't need the support as much. I've also found blogging to be very therapeutic in this regard. In addition, I've met many other wonderful moms along this journey that I have developed a cadre of friends that I can talk to when needed.

Like the father, Adam, on "Parenthood," my husband didn't really get the importance of finding a support group. It's not that he felt they were "silly" like Adam did, he was just really focused on helping our daughter get what she needed. Everything else was secondary. To me, finding support was an aspect of getting my daughter what she needed. Being a stay-at-home-mom, I had to deal with a lot of tantrums each day that really stressed me out and wore me down. Having a safe place for me to talk about my frustrations and challenges and realizing that I wasn't the only person facing them would have helped me be a better mom to my daughter.

Even though I don't have that need for a support group anymore, I do find it strange that these groups are so hard to find! Doesn't that strike you as being strange?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

D is for Dinosaur

I'm participating in Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday. This week is the letter D. I have to be honest. I had a really hard time coming up with something for the letter D. As luck would have it, my first grader had to draw a couple of "D" items as part of her homework. Since I needed some help, I took great interest in what she was going to pick. The first thing she announced was that she couldn't use "dancing" or "dinosaur" since the picture on her homework was of a dancing dinosaur. "That's it!" I thought to myself. "I'll write about my love of dancing!" As I mulled that over, it occurred to me that I already blogged on that topic. So, that leaves dinosaurs. I can work with that.

Having a kid when I was 38 years old was harder than I thought it would be. I mean, I was a very youthful 38, so how hard can it be right? Well, there's nothing like having a baby to make you realize how old you actually are. Now that my daughter is in first grade, and I'm 45, I am feeling like an old dinosaur.

Why didn't I have kids when I was younger? Well, because I never met "the one" to have a child with. I didn't have a huge desire to meet Mr. Right either. I was having too much fun enjoying work, doing charity work, enjoying time with friends, and dancing my heart out. I felt having a kid when I was older would make me a more patient, loving mom. I also thought that since I traveled and lived a full life, it would be easy to hunker down and do the mom job.

While a lot of this did prove to be true, I didn't account for how tired I'd be all the time or how little energy I had to play with my daughter. And while I may be a bit more patient than I would have been 10 or 15 years ago, I think that the hunkering down might be a bit harder than I realized. When you have a taste for something then don't indulge in it anymore, you miss it. What a concept!

I'm very thankful that I was blessed with such a wonderful child, even at an older age. Even this old dinosaur knows it's better late than never to have a kid! Now, I have to go take my Geritol!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bullying Starts Young

My daughter had a cold today, so she stayed home from school. We talked a little bit about how hard first grade is. She's doing great academically, but she told me that she didn't like first grade much. She's having a hard time making friends. She says it's harder to talk to other kids than to adults. I agreed that adults are more patient, but I know that she had a number of friends in her class.

I guess the problem is that some of the kids really haven't been that nice. During carpet time, she sat next to one little girl who was pretty mean to her. She kept trying to make trouble for my daughter by complaining any time any part of my daughter touched her. Because my daughter didn't want to get in trouble with her teacher, she went out of her way to sit scrunched up to avoid making any contact, which was very uncomfortable for her. Unfortunately, I didn't know about this until recently. Fortunately, the teacher saw what was going on and moved the other little girl to another location on the carpet. My daughter said she's MUCH more comfortable now!

Sigh! Why does this crap have to begin so early? What can we do to stop bullying behavior? Bullying has been getting a ton of attention in the media lately, what with some high-profile cases of children who were getting bullied committing suicide in recent weeks. I do think the media attention is long overdue because it's not a new problem.

And it's not just all-out bullying. In general, I see young children treating each other unkindly. The other day, as my daughter's class was lining up. I overheard and saw an interaction between a boy and a girl that I just didn't like. These two appeared to be friends and were involved in a "game" of one-upmanship. The girl was giving the boy a hard time by lifting up his shirt. The boy first threatened to hit the girl. When that didn't work, he told her he was going to kill her beloved pet turtle. The girl didn't seem to mind his threats and just laughed at him. He, in turn, kept trying to up his threats. Both kids didn't appear to take each other seriously, but I found their actions to be awful!

When I see interactions like this, I'm pretty thankful that my daughter is sweet and sensitive and doesn't act this way. I can understand why she's having a hard time talking with kids her own age, to a certain degree. At this young age, we need to teach kids to treat each other more nicely!

Monday, October 11, 2010

"I'm Going to Be a Hair Stylist--Maybe"

My daughter waited a whole month of school before coming down with her first cold. We spent the weekend just taking it easy. I still probably do way too much for her, which I'm trying to get better about not doing. On Saturday, she was dragging her feet about letting me brush her hair. "Fine!" I said. "Then you do it yourself!" This worked like a charm. She jumped up and ran into the bathroom. She worked away for about half an hour before emerging with her new hairdo. It was a pretty creative style. She took a thin yellow headband to pull back her outgrown bangs. Then she twisted some hair up front and put some yellow rubber bands (one at the top, one at the bottom) to hold the twisted hair in place. She was so proud of her creation! When my (horrified) husband looked at it and said, "Wow! How um....creative!" She said that she might become a hairdresser when she's grown-up.

I let her do her own hair on Sunday too. This time, she only spent about 20 minutes doing her hair. It looked cuter and reminded me about how Dorothy wore her hair in "The Wizard of Oz." She put her hair into two almost braids (using two strands of hair instead of 3). She couldn't quite get all her hair in, so there was a large strand left hanging in the back. She held her outgrown bangs in the front with a pretty clip.

My husband said, "She's not doing her own hair for school is she?"

I'm sure I just created a great opportunity for future power struggles while she's getting ready for school. I'm going to try and compromise so that she's responsible for brushing her hair out, but I'm responsible for quickly putting in ponytails, etc.

We'll see how it goes!

I do admire her creative approach. I do think she has more talent than me. She just needs some help with her execution!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Top Ten Cool Things about Asperger's

Having a child on the spectrum can be challenging, no doubt about it. But it can offer some advantages as well. Here are the top ten cool things about Asperger's:

1. Functions Well on Little Sleep

Future doctor, perhaps?

2. Loves to Read

She's the top reader in her class. She should be, since she's been reading since she was four years old. Heaven forbid you get in between her and her book though.

3. Photographic Memory

She memorized all her lines in a play after reading the script just once. It was so nice not making my then five year old memorize anything. And she kept getting more lines, so her part in the play really increased! Cool!

4. Don't have to Worry about Peer Pressure

I REALLY don't have to worry about peer pressure, because she doesn't give a hoot what people think about her. I hope this holds true when she's a teenager.

5. Insatiable Need to Learn about Everything

My daughter is learning everything about everything! Want to know how far away the earth is from the sun? She'll know! How lightning happens? Just ask her! Figure out why the elbow is called the funny bone? She'll tell you! I'm sure you're getting the idea.

6. Passionate about Life

When my daughter is happy, she's really happy. When she's upset, she's really upset. She feels everything to such a huge degree! This is called passion, right?

7. Corrects Me when I'm Wrong

My husband has this knack too! But my daughter has gotten very good at pointing out every single instance when I'm wrong. Every. Single. Time.

8. Marches to Her Own Drummer

My daughter is totally unique. She is a free spirit.

9. Reminds Me of How Weird Our Expressions Can Be

My daughter isn't quite as literal as some people with Asperger's can be, but if she hasn't heard an expression before, it can confuse her a bit. I find that I always have to be sure to explain expressions so she won't take them so literally.

10. Provides Me with Endless Amount of Blogging Material

I don't think this well will ever dry up!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New Information on Food Allergies

My daughter suffers from tree nut allergies. Specifically, she's allergic to cashews and walnuts. Her cashew allergy is particularly scary, and I have to carry around two epi-pens--just in case!

When I gave birth to hear 6.5 years ago, the conventional wisdom was to withhold nuts and peanuts until your child was about 3 years old. With the dramatic increase in potentially life-threatening allergies, it was considered the safe course of action. At the time, it struck me as being very misguided. Studies showed that infants who had dogs and cats living in their houses were significantly less likely to develop dog or cat allergies. It seemed that introducing the allergens to the babies helped them develop protection against developing allergies. Wouldn't it make sense to introduce kids to foods early?

Well, yes it would! People used to be told to put their child down on their tummy at bed time so they'd be less likely to choke on their vomit if they became sick during the night. As all of us know, whatever advice is doled out is always completely changed later. In this case, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) was much more common. After switching babies to sleeping on their backs, the case of SIDS went down by 50 percent.

"Parenting" magazine recently reported that bad advice regarding food allergies might have been given out a few years ago. Currently, they're recommending introducing possible allergens at a much earlier age. Also, scientists have been conducting studies where kids are introduced very small amounts of an allergen that are increased over time. They're finding that with a significant number of kids have been able to overcome their allergies through these techniques. They warn about NOT trying this at home. The amounts they administer are too small to do at home.

I'm very excited about this research and hope it makes inroads into reducing the severity of the allergy or eliminating it entirely!

Wouldn't that be amazing?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Clouds, Beautiful Clouds!

This post is part of Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday. The letter this week is "C" so I'm writing about clouds!

We've had quite the weather during the past week! Last week it was over 110 degrees. This week it's cold and rainy--we rarely get rain this time of year. In between the extreme heat and the cold rain, we had hot, humid weather mixed with the occasional thunderstorm.

Last week was when the first thunderstorm hit. It was late in the day, and the sun was setting. I was driving my daughter home from her gymnastics class, oblivious to the storm forming behind my car. I didn't notice it until 10 minutes after we got into the house, as I was cooking dinner. I noticed the dramatic clouds outside, getting darker. I wondered if it was supposed to rain, so like any 21st century nerd, I grabbed my iPhone to check on the weather. I was surprised to see it showing thunderstorm for the current weather. I then actually went to my window to look out as I saw some clouds light up with lightning--a rare sight for the Los Angeles area. I called my daughter over to take a look. She pointed out a gorgeous rainbow that I didn't even notice. So, being the 21st century nerd that I am, I grabbed my iPhone to take a picture through the sliding glass door.

We saw more lightning and heard pretty loud thunder. My daughter wondered what caused the thunder. I explained that it was the sound of the lightning. I told her the real question was what caused the lightning. My six-year-old casually replied, "Oh, lightning happens when the light molecules rise up while the heavy molecules go down. They get electrified when this happens. If the cloud holds in the force, the lightning is contained in the cloud, but sometimes it bursts out, and the lightning hits the ground."

I just stared at her and said I had no idea what she just said, but I'm guessing it's true. I asked her if she read this somewhere, and she said she saw a video about it on the "National Geographic for Kids" website. Of course!

I think I mumbled something about the clouds being beautiful. Sigh.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How Much Is She Aware?

When my daughter had after-school behavior therapy all that time ago (okay, it just ended last week, but it already feels like it's been awhile), some of my friends asked if my daughter is aware of her autism because of the services she's getting. My pat answer was that she wasn't aware because she has no idea that all the other kids aren't receiving these services also, right? I mean as far as she knows, all kids have kind women who come over to their house to teach them how to play and manage their emotions. All kids go to speech therapy class once a week to learn about the rules of conversation and to be aware when they are dominating a conversation, right? I was confident that as smart as my daughter is, she has no reason to believe that she's getting training in areas that come naturally with other children.

Last week, however, my daughter made a comment that made me realize she may be more aware than I realized. During her last day of behavior therapy, her behaviorist started singing a song that my daughter learned in a special class she had two years ago when she was 4 and a half years old. This class met once a week after school and was geared to kids who had speech issues. My daughter was allowed to attend because the school district had just assessed her to have autism, she had poor conversational skills, and we felt we needed to give her some kind of service while we waited for her other services to kick in (which, BTW, could take months and months).

The only problem with this particular class was that most of the kids had severe speech issues. Many were pretty nonverbal. However, I thought the kids were quickly obtaining speech, and my daughter had a blast going. The other kids were very nice and played pretty well with my daughter. I remember one adorable boy who had such a horrible time during his first day. He tantrummed nonstop and kept banging his head on the floor. The other kids were terrified of him except for my daughter who didn't even seem to notice him. On the car ride hone, my daughter mentioned that this boy seemed nice. I was floored because I didn't even think she noticed him, and I couldn't in my wildest dreams imagine what she thought was nice about him. But the next week she said "hi" to him and his behavior improved! The two of them ended up becoming pretty good friends during the class. He turned out to be sweet and charming. My daughter was right--he was nice!

I ended up pulling her out of the class after about 3 months because her other services kicked in that were more appropriate to her. After leaving that class, neither one of us mentioned the class again until we heard the behaviorist singing the song that was taught in the class. I looked at my daughter and asked if she remembered the song from that class. She answered that she did. Then she commented that none of the other kids talked in that class. She didn't ask why she was in that class when she DID talk. I don't know if she doesn't want to know the answer or if she does realize that there is something different about her.

She once mentioned to me that she's different from other kids. She has a lot of confidence so it was obvious that she doesn't consider herself inferior--just different. I also don't know to what extent she considers herself to be different. For example, is it just the fact that she could read years before her peers could or does she feel different in other ways?

Quite frankly, I'm way too chicken to ask her any questions along these lines just yet.

Monday, October 4, 2010

May Not Be the Best Advice Ever!

Today's post is inspired by Natalee at Raising Normal Kids. Natalee always posts these signs that she runs across that are so funny!

I was thinking about this today when I was out having a nice family brunch at a neighborhood coffee shop. They recently changed owners and have been trying to spruce the place up and expand menu options--REALLY expand menu options.

This little sign was on all the tables:

After seeing this, I told my husband, "Looks like it's going to be a long day!"

Bottom's up!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Anything at All

I'm very excited because my husband cowrote a song for Joey King, the actress who played Ramona in Ramona and Beezus. It's a catchy number called "Anything at All."

Check it out! I think it's great!

Back to School NIght

We had our daughter's back to school night. We hired a babysitter so that both my husband, and I could attend. Odd, we never hire a babysitter to go out to a movie or anything. Anyway, we were looking forward to hearing her teacher's spiel on what the kids were going to learn in first grade.

Wow, kids learn so much more in first grade than when I was in first grade! The teacher went over the math they were doing. They were working on T-graphs to break down numbers. For example, they're learning to graph out all the possibilities there are that constitute a given number. For example, if the number is 12, they can graph out 12,0; 11,1; 10,2; until they have every possibility graphed out.

Earlier in the day on back to school night, the kids' reading level were tested through a computer program called Accelerated Reader. It gives a reading passage, then the child has to answer questions about the passage. If the child gets the question right, it will give a harder passage. If the child gets it wrong, it will give an easier passage. It keeps doing this until it finds the child's reading level.

When my daughter told me she was tested, I asked her what her reading level was. I've been dying to know since she's been reading since she was 4. She didn't know, although she assumed it was high because the computer program was giving her words she had never heard of before. When I asked her teacher how she did, she told me that my daughter tested the highest in the class. Her reading level was in the range of 3.1 to 4.7 (this correlates to grade level).

Based on this, the kids are given colored dots so show them the types of books they can check out of the school library that's appropriate to their reading level. The next day, the kids were given their cards and were sent to the library to check out a book. My daughter, who is usually oblivious to everything around her apparently inherited enough of my competitiveness to sneak a peak at the other kids' cards. She later reported to me that she was the only kid with 3 dots, and there were only a few other kids who had two dots.

Their days are so academic also. There's not too much play time during the school day! I was pretty overwhelmed by everything they're doing. My daughter likes to learn, so even though first grade has been an adjustment for her, I think she's enjoying learning. For example, it took her about an hour to trudge through her homework yesterday. One of the items in her homework was introducing the concept of fractions. She had to color in half of a ball. The half was shown as a fraction (with the 1 over the 2), which she wasn't familiar with until I explained it to her. After she was finally done with her homework, I let her play on the computer for an hour. What did I catch her playing? She was playing with her math software section on fractions to learn more about them.

So, as demanding and challenging as first grade appears to be. I think she'll rise to the occasion. It's going to be an interesting year!