Friday, April 29, 2011

It's Been a Slow Week!

I have no right to complain--everything's been going pretty well by us lately! So it's been hard to come up with great blog topics! For today's post, I'm resorting to my mail!

We received an invitation for our daughter to compete in the National American Miss California South State Pageant. According to the invitation, not just anyone can show up. It's by invitation only! Our daughter was referred to them as someone who may enjoy modeling, acting, or learning stage techniques. If that's not vague enough, the letter was addressed to "The Jesus Family." While I keep my last name quiet on the blog, I can assure you it's not Jesus. We're Jewish, so our last name is definitely not Jesus. I'm assuming that whoever referred my daughter for this did it as one big joke! Whoever did that, thanks! It's a pretty funny one!

This invitation made it clear that contestants under 12 are not allowed to wear make-up and there's no bathing suit competition. I think that's a good thing. But there also isn't a talent component. So what do the girls do? Just stand up there and smile and get selected solely on looks? Really? At least they're encouraged not to wear make up. I bet there are girls that wear it though!

A couple other things made me laugh a bit. The invitation was for the girls to attend a cattle call where they'd get weeded out. The invitation encouraged the girls to dress as if they're going on a job interview. Maybe I'm a negligent mom, but my 7-year old does not own a single power suit! What do 7-year olds wear to job interviews anyway?

The other funny thing was one of the prizes at the national competition is a 2011 Ford Mustang Convertible! Woohoo! My 7-year old would love driving that baby around. She'll look great driving around with the top down in her power business suit.

At least she won't be wearing makeup!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Gotta Brag!

My daughter's first grade class has to write sentences using their spelling words each Monday as part of their homework. To encourage them to put more effort into their writing, the teacher gives out an award to the student who writes the best sentences. This week the teacher said that two of the six sentences must contain quotes in order to qualify for the prize.

My daughter really wanted to win the prize, so she decided to use quotes for three of her sentences. She did it! The teacher gave her the prize for the best sentences this week! My daughter is convinced it's because she had three sentences with quotes instead of two.

I don't agree. I think her first sentence, which didn't contain quotes, is what actually sealed the deal. She used her spelling word "bird" for that sentence. Her sentence was: "The Hawaii state bird is endangered."

Yes, I'm a proud mama!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It's as Easy as Falling Off a Bike!

It's that time of the week again! Time to link up with Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday! This week, we have to write about something regarding the letter "B." For me, B is for bicycle!

We had quite the excitement over this past weekend! My husband and I finally bit the bullet and bought our daughter a two-wheel bicycle (wow, I had a lot of b-words in that sentence, and I wasn't even trying to do that! LOL). It's a little embarrassing that we're just now getting around to teaching our daughter to ride a two-wheeler! She turned 7 in January, so this is something that we should have done, well, a couple of years ago!

Why the long delay? For one thing, no offense to my daughter, but she's not the most athletic person in the world. Plus, I tend to be very over-protective. The thought of her on a bike just makes me really nervous! I really had to fight the urge to wrap her up in bubble-wrap before she climbed up onto the bike!

The other reason is that we live in a house on top of a hill. There are no sidewalks where we live. The streets are narrow, with steep hills. The street is also filled with potholes that haven't been fixed in years. The street really needs to be totally repaved. It's not conducive to learning to ride a bike.

After my husband bought the bike, the first challenge we had was to figure out how to get it into my trunk. We figure out that if my trunk is completely empty, and we unscrew the handlebars to move them down, we can fit the bike in! So, we were able to take the bike to a park where my daughter can learn to ride.

Our vision of taking off the training wheels on the first day didn't happen. My daughter managed to fall a lot with them on! In fact, she initially just had her helmet on for protection. Over the course of the next hour, we put riding gloves on her, then added knee pads. They really came in handy--especially since I couldn't find any bubble wrap!

Even with her falling, she got the hang of steering and pedaling. By Sunday, she was riding pretty fast around the park. My husband had to jog pretty fast to keep up with her. I didn't even try. I figured I was saddled down with carrying her water, jacket, and my purse (which must weight about 20 pounds), so I didn't even try to keep up.

Watching her ride like that made me realize how much she's growing up and separating from us. It's her first step toward some degree of independence. There are times that I wondered if she would be capable of driving when she's older because she can be so spacey at times. I now have more confidence that she'll be able to handle driving. But it's so weird to imagine her driving while I'm watching her ride her bike (with training wheels!). Nevertheless, watching her whiz around the park made me realize my little girl is growing up.

I have to find some tissues now!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Walking into Walls

After my daughter was first diagnosed with autism at 4.5 years of age, we wanted to work on her empathy. She totally lacked having any. I remember one time she was at her best friend, Billy's house. Billy had banged his head and was screaming and crying in pain. He sounded awful! As his mom and I were tending to him, I noticed my daughter playing with his toys seeming happy to have a chance to play with them all on her own. I was horrified! This wasn't the first time I've seen this type of situation either. She adored Billy, yet she liked his toys more.

I went up to her and said that Billy was really hurt. It would probably make him feel better if she checked to see how he was doing. She put the toy down and went over to him to tell him she was worried. I didn't think this lesson would stick, but a couple of days later we were at the park for her preschool picnic. As I was pushing her on the swings, I heard a boy crying. My daughter yelled for me to stop swinging her. She said she heard Billy crying and wanted to see if he was okay! She was right--it was Billy who was crying. I was floored!

Nevertheless, we had more work to do on empathy lessons. We consulted with one of the top experts on autism, Dr. Lynn Koegel. Dr. Koegel runs the Autism Center at U.C. Santa Barbara. She has written quite a few books on her approach with behavior therapy. We've been extremely blessed to have met with Lynn a few times so she could meet my daughter and help us with some issues. One of the first things Dr. Koegel did was help us work on empathy issues.

What she did initially was literally walk into a wall. After hitting the wall, Dr. Koegel said, "Oh, that hurt!" My daughter didn't say anything. She just kept playing. Dr. Koegel asked my daughter if she was aware that she had walked into the wall. My daughter answered that she was aware. Dr. Koegel then prompted my daughter by telling her she could have asked, "Are you okay?" After that, poor Dr. Koegel kept walking into walls. My husband and I had a hard time stifling our laughter. We also wondered if our daughter though this bigwig at the university had to be the world's klutziest person! But it worked! My daughter was much better at asking, "Are you okay?" without being prompted. It sounded kind of forced, but at least my daughter was showing some form of empathy.

After our visit with Dr. Koegel, I continued the accidents at home. It's a good thing I'm pretty accident-prone to begin with! This kept my daughter well rehearsed. Then a weird thing happened. Her display of empathy stopped sounding so stilted and actually started to sound genuine. My daughter also was able to show empathy in other situations. She was able to take this skill and apply it to other situations! Fantastic!

Now, a couple of years later, I think my daughter is extremely empathetic. Not only do I think her empathy is high for a child with autism, I think her empathy is high for any child her age!

I will always thank Dr. Lynn Koegel and her walking into walls for this gift of empathy! Thanks, Lynn!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Little Miss Know-It-All

My daughter has a tendency to correct me about everything! She'll even find fault where there is none. For example, she'll correct the way I pronounced a word even if I had pronounced it correctly. This can get really annoying. I also worry how it effects her relationship with her friends at school. Nobody like a know-it-all, right?

Our school is having its big annual fundraiser soon. Each class is responsible for collecting items toward a really cool basket for a silent auction. Our class's basket is going to be called "Eager Reader." The flyer detailing information about the basket requested the parents to bring in new books and games. I went to Target and selected the Mousetrap game. I figured it would appeal to almost all ages of kids and took some brainpower to do. I was really proud of my selection!

When we were leaving for school the other day, I gave my daughter the game to hold for the drive. She looked at the game disdainfully and said, "Our basket is the Eager Reader basket. This is a game. It has nothing to do with reading!" I hated being put on the defensive, but I told her that the flyer said we could get games also, and I thought this would be a good game. I also said that the fun thing about a basket is that it contains a lot of different type of items. A basket only containing books would be kind of boring! I then told her that the game required using logic skills that go hand-in-hand with developing good reading skills. I think I was laying it on a bit thick with the last argument, but I felt like I needed to defend my choice a bit.

When we arrived at school, my daughter wanted the honor of carrying the game over to where her class lines-up. As she approached her classmates, they all jumped on her like a school of piranhas. She was met with a chorus of, "That's not a book!" "Our basket is called the Eager Reader!" "Why are you bringing that in today; We're supposed to bring items in next week!" My daughter didn't know how to respond to this onslaught. I jumped in telling them that the flyer told us we could bring in games, and you have to read the instructions to play the game (desperate times call for desperate excuses). I told them the next week was spring break, and the fundraising committee wanted the contributions before then. Ack!

It immediately occurred to me that my daughter's quirk of correcting everything I say or do wasn't a quirk affiliated with autism. It's a quirk with being a first-grader. Something tells me this quirk isn't going away any time soon!

One little boy who arrived at the arrival area a little late looked at the game and yelled, "Mousetrap? I LOVE that game!" Finally, a breath of fresh air!

Friday, April 22, 2011

What I Hate About My Daughter

The other day after her bath, my daughter was trying to find something about herself that I hated. I have no idea how she got this topic into her head. Our conversation went something like this (warning: this conversation contains some mild potty talk):

My Daughter: There has to be something about me that you don't like!

Me: Nope, I love everything about you!

My Daughter: I bet you hate my socks when they're really smelly!

Me: Nope! They smell sweet like you! I love that smell!

My Daughter: I bet you hate the inside of my nostrils.

Me: Nope! I think even your boogers are wonderful. Plus, they keep your body healthy by keeping germs out. How could I not like them?

My Daughter: My pee and poo! I bet you don't like my pee and poo!

Me: I love your pee and poo. When you pee, I don't have to worry about you getting a bladder or kidney infection. When you poo, I know your body's waste is leaving your body, keeping you nice and healthy!

My Daughter: (totally stumped by this point, and spending some minutes giving this some considerable thought). Tantrums! You hate it when I tantrum!

Me: (trying to word this diplomatically and failing miserably) Yup, you found something about yourself that I hate! Congrats! Luckily, you don't tantrum as much anymore. Yay!

And it's true! Things have been going pretty great lately! I think this conversation might contain the beginnings of a children's book. I wonder if my daughter would want to do the illustrations?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Paul Simon Rocks!

Hubby and I actually went out on a date last night! This is a rare occurrence. He got tickets to see Paul Simon and wanted me to go along with him. I loved Simon and Garfunkel, but I admit that I never really got into Paul Simon's work after that.

Well, I was blown away! Paul Simon is 69 years old, but he put on one hell of a show! He performed nonstop for almost 2 hours! His musicians were amazing also! I had a great time! In particular, I love the way music from around the world influences his sound. Awesome!

The one annoying part was that we were surrounded by people who couldn't contain their excitement. They were beyond annoying. I can understand people going to a concert and getting swept away by the music: jumping up and dancing, etc. But these folks were PAUL. SIMON'S. BIGGEST. FANS. They were all trying to one-up each other. It made for some annoying moments, particularly since they made it hard to see and hear the actual music being performed. They kept yelling things out like, "I LOVE YOU, PAUL!" The bitch it me was so close to yelling out, "Have my baby, Paul!" but I behaved. It wasn't easy though!

It got particularly annoying when the guy sitting in front of me kept standing up and jumping up and down constantly. If I wanted to be around that, I'd go to my daughter's social skills class! Hah, just kidding! I couldn't resist.

But really, who slam dances at a Paul Simon concert? Management actually went up to that guy and threatened to kick him out. Another guy loved to clap "rhythmically" really loudly. The only problem was that he wasn't clapping to the music and it was loud and distracting!

Sigh! I sound like an old person!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Asperger's and Autism

It's that time of the week again! Time to explore the alphabet with Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday. I know, I know. I was not going to go through the alphabet again. I was going to stop doing this! I guess having a writing prompt once a week has been good for me. It gives me one day to write about something I might not have written about otherwise. We're starting the alphabet again, so we're addressing the letter "A." My blog is all about the letter "A!" Also, April is Autism Awareness Month. I haven't discussed this much on my blog because I figured I try to increase awareness about autism during the other 11 months too. Nevertheless, this gives me a good opportunity to shine a little spotlight on autism. For me, A is for Asperger's and autism.

There are huge misconceptions out there about Asperger's. I visited a board recently at Cafemom where someone asked for clarification on what Asperger's was. The answers people gave were pretty incorrect. It was so far off that it bordered on being funny. Here is a part of the person's question: "From what I've heard/read it "SEEMS" that any "quirk" a person has making it clear they aren't perfect, means they have Autism. If you have a speech impediment then it means they have Asperger's."

One person responded with the following (not edited for misspellings, etc.): "ok not a perfessional or anything just coming from someone who knows people/children that have both.. From what I gather aspergers is what they diagnose you with when your an adult and they have missed it as a kid and it is what autism develeps into when you get older and have been diagnosed as autistic as a child. Does that make sense? It's iike aspergers is the "mature" version kinda. Again i am not a doctor this is just from what i have observed/ been told by these people. Their is way more to it but that is kinda the gist of it."

This confustion isn't surprising at all. Asperger's is oftentimes misrepresented in the media. The television show Parenthood does an amazing job showing a child with Asperger's, however. Many people don't realize that Asperger's is a form of autism. Heck, the state I live in, California, doesn't seem to realize this! If a child gets an Asperger's diagnosis in California or Texas, they will not get services.

This is crazy to me! A child with Asperger's has similar issues as a child with autism. The three main areas affected for both are: 1) sensory 2) communication, and 3) socialization. The main difference between Asperger's and autism is when language is acquired. A child with Asperger's generally has no speech delay. In fact, these kids can have very advanced vocabularies. A child with autism can have enormous speech delays and may never even acquire the ability to speak.

I can imagine many of you out there reading this saying, "Well, if the child with Asperger's can speak, then they don't have the problems with communication that you listed above!" While it's true that a child with Asperger's can speak, they still have problems with communication. Having a two-way conversation can be extremely difficult for a child with Asperger's. They can be quite content with having a two-hour speech on the mating habits of Katydids, but not be able to tell that the other person has tuned them out 1 hour and 56 minutes earlier.

Another misconception is that Asperger's is a very high-functioning form of autism. While this is probably generally true, it's not always the case. Asperger's has a spectrum also. Some kids with Asperger's can be higher functioning, but there are cases where a child with Asperger's can be lower-functioning. In fact, it's entirely possible that a child with high-functioning autism could be much higher functioning than another child with Asperger's.

In 2012, the American Psychiatric Association may be doing away with the diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome from the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). This is very controversial within the autism community. For one thing, many adults with Asperger's like their label and do not want to see it officially go away. The move to fold Asperger's into the broader autism diagnosis is because they want the focus to be on severity of the condition. As I stated above, the Asperger's label can be misunderstood in this context.

Does this mean that the Asperger's label is going away? Probably in the official diagnosis only. I think people who would have otherwise been labeled as having Asperger's will still consider themselves to be Aspies. If it means that kids with Asperger's will no longer be denied services in California and Texas, then I'm all for getting rid of the Asperger's label. Officially, my daughter doesn't have this label. I still consider her to have Asperger's, however.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

To Go or Not To Go. That Is the Question!

A while back, I wrote that we were applying for our daughter to go to the gifted magnet school in our area. When we toured the school, we thought it sounded like they had some cool programs. We weren't sure it was the right fit for our daughter's special needs, however. Our advocate warned us that the officials don't really know how to handle kids with special needs there. My daughter's current teacher raised concerns about how our daughter would do on the group projects that they would have there. She was afraid that these projects wouldn't play to my daughter's strengths.

Nevertheless, we applied. We figured she wouldn't get in. Our school system has a weird point-system. You can build up points various ways. We were going in with no points, so we thought out daughter wouldn't get in. Yet applying helps build up points for future years. We figured we'd apply every year to build up points for middle school. That was the plan.

But then we received the acceptance letter. The letter stated that they reviewed her current IEP and felt that they were best qualified to meet her unique educational needs. The letter moved me. While I'm sure it's a form letter for the kids on an IEP, it made me feel like they "got" my daughter--that they were willing to roll their sleeves up to work with her and help her grow.

So, we're now going to have to decide what we're going to do. We have about a month to decide. Do we keep her at her current school where she's thriving academically and socially? Or do we jump in the unknown and enroll her in an extremely well-regarded school where she may not know many people and which could be a lot of extra work. Also, will the new school embrace her like her home school does? Or will they see her as being a pain in the butt?

I hope we can sort through all this during the next month!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Relaying a Message from Beyond

One of my hobbies is reading or watching anything about the paranormal. I love shows like Ghost Hunters and Destination Truth. I love reading about ESP! A lot of people who believe this stuff also believe that kids with autism are sensitive. They believe that these kids might have psychic capabilities and are more sensitive to seeing ghosts.

I've never seen this ability in my daughter. But this morning at breakfast, I thought I heard my daughter say that while she was sleeping, she heard a message to pass on to me. This intrigued me quite a bit. I asked her who sent the message and what the message was. She couldn't remember any of it. My mother, who passed away about 8 weeks after my daughter was born, had her birthday this past Friday. I was sure the message was from her. I asked my daughter if the message was anything like "I love you!" She said it definitely wasn't that!

I was at a loss and very confused. My daughter went on to say that she received the message while I was sleeping. I told her she must have been sleeping too! She said she wasn't, which confused me because I thought it happened while she was dreaming. I mentioned this, and she said she that wasn't the case--she was awake when she heard the message.

I was really confused. Then I realized that someone must have called and left a message on the answering machine. Sure enough, the light was blinking. It was her soccer coach who called to let us know what time soccer was meeting this morning!


Friday, April 15, 2011

My Daughter's Version of Entourage

When my daughter was 3-years old, she constantly pretended to be characters from books and television shows. At first, we thought it was really cute! We didn't think that for long. She started to pretend to be these characters constantly and would get angry and tantrum if we dared to call her by her (gasp) actual name!

After the autism diagnosis, the psychologist who diagnosed her told us that this type of play is call scripting. While it might look like she's playing in an inventive way, she wasn't. She was just recreating what she's seen or read. We had to actually teach her how to play using her imagination.

Now, almost 3 years later, the scripting appears to have totally gone away. Except she now has imaginary friends that she plays with. At first, I thought these friends were playmates that she invented to fill the void of being an only child. I thought that she was getting so social that she needed the interaction with other "friends."

While this might be true to a degree, I found out that my daughter's "endless" amount of imaginary friends are actually characters from books and television. So, instead of pretending to be these characters, my daughter is now pretending to be playing with these characters.

One day, I found out that her "friend" that she was playing with at the moment was Squidward, from Spongebob Squarepants. I thought that this was an odd choice since she had recently told me that she didn't like Squidward very much. When I asked her why she chose to play with Squidward when she didn't like him, she first looked embarrassed that I would mention that in front of "him." She then explained that she had no control about what friends would pop by. They would just appear.

I guess living in her world is like being a young movie star in this world. At least, that what it looks like on Entourage.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Writers at Spongebob Should Be Shot. Or Given a Medal. I Can't Decide Which.

My daughter was dying to see a particular episode of Spongebob Squarepants. Her friends at school were going on and on about it. It had something to do with a roller coaster. So, I searched the Tivo listing to see if there were any upcoming episodes about a roller coaster. My daughter saw the title name which was something like, New Roller Coaster in Town, and she said that wasn't the episode. I insisted it had to be and recorded the episode for her.

When we watched it, my daughter became really excited at one point and yelled, "This IS the right episode. Cool!" I was in a state of shock because the name of the roller coaster was "Fist of Pain." I'm not kidding! The characters were all talking about riding the "Fist of Pain." Many. Many. Many times during the episode. They actually gave the amusement park the roller coaster was located in a hand theme to "explain" the name of the roller coaster. They had hand flags around the park, for example. Great cover!

According to the information on my TIVO guide, the show is rated for ages 6 and up. Ahem. I'm sure the writers laughed their asses off when they develop children's programming with phrases like that thrown in.

After the show was over, my daughter told me that she thought the name of the episode would be "Fist of Pain" because that's what her friend said was the title on her Tivo.

It's really great to know that the first graders at school are talking about the "Fist of Pain" during their recess and lunch breaks.


Thank you Spongebob writers! I'll send you my therapy bills!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Baby Blues and More--A Repost

It's that time of the week again! Time to link up with Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday. We finished the alphabet last week, and I was going to take a break from this meme. I can't quite do it just yet though! Today, we can repost any of our old ones or come up with any letter we want to write to.

I want to do a repost one that I did over the summer. I published this post on August 25th, 2010. We were taking a break from the alphabet and writing about different colors. This was my blue post.

Baby Blues and More

I waited so long to have a baby! First, it took me forever to fall in love with the right guy and get married. Because of this, I didn't have my daughter until I was 38 years old. Considering that I had never changed a diaper before having my daughter, I had no idea what I was getting myself into! I found myself to be incredibly depressed after the birth. I did have some problems at the end of my pregnancy and had to have my baby over 4 weeks early to prevent her from being stillborn (we got incredibly lucky on that one). Because of this, my daughter had to spend two weeks in the NICU. It was so hard leaving the hospital without her! In addition to all this, my mom was having health problems and had a series of surgeries scheduled, so she wasn't able to come out to help me with the baby.

After having the baby, I found myself crying all the time. My husband encouraged my OB to prescribe me anti-depressants, which I initially didn't think were necessary. I didn't have a firm grasp on knowing how much of my depression was due to a case of the baby blues and how much of it was due to my mother's health problems. We did some research on the medication, and it didn't seem like the right thing to do. Because my daughter was born a little early, she had a hard time staying awake for feedings, which is a big reason why she had to be in the NICU. A lot of her feedings had to be delivered via a feeding tube. A side effect of the anti-depressants was drowsiness for the newborn. This was something I didn't want to increase.

I couldn't understand why I wasn't happy. It was a miracle that my daughter wasn't stillborn. Having a baby was something I wanted for so many years! Yet, I felt like the world's most inept mother. Nothing seemed to come easily! When breast-feeding finally seemed to be working, my daughter became extremely bloated and started projectile vomiting. It turned out that she was unable to digest the proteins in my breast milk, so I had to follow an elimination diet. I wasn't allowed to eat anything containing dairy, soy, nuts, peanuts, eggs, fish, and shellfish. When my daughter was about 8 weeks old, my mother passed away. I was a mess!

What helped me a lot was a phone call. A woman I hardly knew called me to make sure the baby blues weren't getting the better of me. She was a wife of a coworker of my husband, and she was a family therapist. Initially, I had assumed my husband asked her to call me since I had gotten so crazy. She assured me he didn't. She called me because the same thing had happened to her, and she wanted to help me. In fact, she was so moved by her own experiences that she pursued her Master's degree in counseling because of it. She did her thesis on older woman becoming moms. Out of her universe of over 30 women who were over 30 years of age, every single one of them felt exactly as we had: inept and the world's worse mother. Women who have excelled in the workplace and had so much independence have a harder time adjusting to motherhood. We're not use to being so out of control of our environment. Add in the lack of sleep and the hormones and look out!

After having this phone conversation, I felt the great weight of depression leaving me! All I needed to hear was that I was normal--I was not alone in feeling the way I did. I honestly was on the verge of going on medication! All I needed to hear were those simple words--"You are not alone!"

Not long after that, Brooke Shields came out with her book on postpartum depression, "Down Came the Rain." I didn't read the book, but I remember being so thankful that this topic was out in the public domain! I'm sure it helped many women understand that they weren't alone either! Maybe this helped some women to avoid medication, like me! Maybe it encouraged other women to get medication who truly needed it! I think it was great that Brooke Shields took a subject that was taboo and got people talking about it! Fantastic!

This summer, unfortunately, has seen a few cases of mothers murdering their children with autism. It has raised the ire of mothers on the parenting boards screaming for justice for the poor murdered children. I'm sure there will be justice. But to me, the real story is what drove these women to commit these horrible acts of violence. I really think there are a lot of parallels with postpartum depression. True, there are no fluctuating hormones, but there's also no end in sight for these mothers and other mothers raising children with severe autism. I used to attend a support group for mothers of children with special needs. I heard stories of how they had to change diapers and shower their 13 year-old boys. How they had to deal with their children hitting and biting them. How they had to deal with their children never being able to talk--never being able to say, "I love you." How their children had endless tantrums because the world was just too light or too noisy for them. How they had to deal with decreasing state budgets that meant less respite support. I honestly don't know how these women managed. It was heart-breaking to me.

My daughter is extremely high-functioning. We have no doubt that she'll be placed in gifted classes and will attend college someday. She's capable of having friendships with her typical peers. We even have hopes that over time, she'll be so high-functioning that she won't be considered to be on the spectrum anymore. Nevertheless, I had to deal with my own depression at times. This was mostly an issue before we had her diagnosed and had interventions like behavior therapy that helped her so much. It was hard dealing with her tantrums. She'd cry if I made a left turn while driving, but she wanted me to make a right turn. She had endless tantrums over weird, mundane things. It was really hard to cope.

What do mothers do when their children show no sign of progress? What supports are in place to help them? Apparently, more needs to be done. Oh yes, we can describe the mothers who kill as evil and horrible, but does this prevent other cases from happening? I think we need to come up with ways to help women before problems begin.

In my case, I've been impressed that every single interventionist that has been through my door has pulled me aside at some point and asked me how I'm handling the stress of the situation. They've all stated the importance of "me time." Because my daughter has done so well, I've found the stress and depression quickly went away as well. I'm lucky! Regarding the mothers who've committed murder, I can't help but wonder if anyone had taken the time to ask them how they were doing and provided them the help they needed before they murdered their children. Something tells me they didn't have any kind of support--any kind of safety net to help them out. That's terrible, and of course, the ultimate victims were their children.

This shouldn't happen in our society.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Revisiting Childhood

One of the great pleasures of having kids is being able to revisit the things you loved when you were a child! Many of the television shows I've grown up with are still on the air, but modernized for today's kids. A while back, my daughter and I watched the "new" version of The Electric Company. I loved this show as a child! I found myself comparing the new version to the old one quite a bit. I was especially saddened to see that they updated the theme song to make it more modern. I thought it was really awful! Why mess with perfection, right?

I'm probably showing my age, but when I was in elementary school, there was no TIVO or DVD players or even VCRs. When you wanted to watch television, you had to watch whatever program was available on the eight channels that were available. I don't even think television had programming 24 hours a day then! I remember programming began at 6 in the morning and ended some time well after my bedtime.

During rainy days at school, the teacher would turn on the television so we could watch during recess and lunch. The two shows I remember watching at school were The Wheel of Fortune and The Electric Company. It felt so decadent to watch television in the classroom with all of my friends. We had so much fun!

The other day I was surfing on the internet when I decided to search for the old theme song for The Electric Company on Youtube to share with my daughter. I found two versions, both that I remember pretty well. I'm sharing the very original version just because it's hilarious! I love the 1970's vibe! My daughter really liked the original version much better than the current one! That's my girl!

Seeing the old theme song, and knowing that Morgan Freeman was one of the stars of the show back then made me curious to see what other talent was involved! During its six year run, the following people were involved for a significant portion of time: Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno, Mel Brooks, Bill Cosby, and Zero Mostel. Many of these folks were already pretty famous during this time.

I remember being so surprised when the show ended its run after 6 years. It seemed like it was too good to go so soon. Considering the talent that was behind it, I'm still surprised!

What shows do you treasure from your childhood?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Wretches & Jabberers

I watched a movie tonight called "Wretches & Jabberers (see this link for the website). It's a documentary that was released last year that I've never heard of, and I'm sure that the vast majority of you haven't heard of it either. It's an amazing documentary about two adults with severe autism who have learned to communicate through typing. One of the men, Larry, is an artist. The other man, Tracy, is an autism advocate. He wants to get the message out that people with severe autism are intelligent people who have problems with communication, but have normal thought processes.

In the film, Larry and Tracy travel to Sri Lanka, Japan, and Finland to attend forums to spread their message. In each of the three places they travel to, they meet other people like them. Needless to say, they make a huge impact in the conferences, not only with the people trying to learn more about autism but with their counterparts in the other countries. In particular, they meet Naoki in Japan. Naoki is a 16 year old boy with severe autism. While he is a budding artist and has published 10 books already, the Japanese education system will not allow him to attend school, so his mother home schools him. Tracy teaches him about advocacy, an idea he has never heard of before. When they meet in person and exchange ideas, it really fires Naoki up in a way he hasn't been before.

In Finland, Larry and Tracy meet two young adults who live in a group home, Henna and Ankki. Henna was the first person to master communication through typing in Finland. She spends her days doing pretty menial office work. Ankki is a clearly brilliant young man who is entirely misunderstood by the people trying to help him. They don't seem to be aware that this man, who is a talented writer, is capable of reading and make him use pictures to communicate. When Henna and Ankki meet Larry and Tracy, it is a truly eye-opening and life-changing experience for them.

While the movie's tone is overall upbeat, it does not sugar-coat the situation that Larry, Tracy, and their new friends are in. It shows their anger and frustration with autism. I didn't get the impression that Larry or Tracy, while both living very busy lives, were actually bringing in much money. Also, it shows that neither man is capable of living independently. Again, they are two men with severe autism.

This movie was totally successful at showing the perspective of people with severe autism. I don't think this perspective has been shown like this before. It's a really important film to see. Now for the bad news: it's a very difficult film to see. Some AMC theaters around the country are having some viewings in April for Autism Awareness Month. Please click on the link above to see if there's a viewing near you. There are some other viewings listed thereafter, but they're pretty limited. I'm hoping this film will get a decent distribution through video and become more available in the future. I cannot stress what an important film this is to see.

I was not solicited to write a review for this film and was not provided a copy of it for these purposes. I'm writing this post because I was truly moved by this movie and know a lot of other people will be moved by it as well.

Do what you can to see it!

Friday, April 8, 2011

I'm REALLY Angry!

I'm really angry, and the anger has been simmering in me for a long time. I'm tired, really tired about hearing how my state (California) is broke and has no money for education. For the past couple of years, our beloved teachers have had to put up with lay-offs, transfers, and furlough days. They have to teach larger classes and less support is being provided to kids with special needs. This can impact everybody in the classroom. This problem is not just in California either. It is nationwide.

What's even worse is that there's a culture that pins the states' budget crises on the public employees whose salaries are paid from tax dollars. Teachers, police, and firemen are being stripped of their bargaining powers. Can we really afford to cut these vital positions? I think teaching a class of kids has to be one of the hardest jobs in the world. Teachers have enormous amount of responsibility, and we pay them squat for the work they do. Quite frankly, we should be providing a lot more resources to give them better pay and training. I think our kids deserve to be taught by well-qualified teachers who have adequate support in classrooms that are not too big.

Considering that states are broke, where would these funds come from? How about from revenue sources such as taxes. Last week, news broke that General Electric made $14.2 billion. Of this, $5.1 billion came from its operations in the United States. General Electric's tax bill for 2010: NOTHING! Actually, that's not entirely true. General Electric claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion. General Electric, while certainly one of the lowest "paying" corporations in the United States is not totally alone in this. According to the New York Times article that broke this story, the changes in tax laws "have pushed down the corporate share of the nation’s tax receipts — from 30 percent of all federal revenue in the mid-1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009."

I think this is beyond appalling! And yes, I'm very well aware that education is mostly funded through state tax revenue while this information is on federal tax revenue. Nevertheless, I'm sure corporations are not paying their share of state taxes either.

I also understand that corporations exist to earn profits. But where is the sense of social responsibility? The lack of it is disgusting. Another recent news story is that the BP rig operator responsible for that horrendous spill last year is giving out their biggest bonuses EVER! The reason? The company, Transocean, declared 2010 the "best year in safety performance in our company's history," and offered president and CEO Steven L. Newman a $200,000 raise and more than $374,000 in bonuses. I guess creating the biggest oil spill in history that cost taxpayers about $10 billion to clean up--not to mention the 11 employees who die--only counted as one incident.

Don't even get me started on the Wall Street firms that put our country into this huge recession that are giving out big bonuses. According to The Economist, "The state comptroller of New York reckons that Wall Street firms paid $20.8 billion in cash bonuses to their employees in the state in 2010." This is a decreased amount from past years, but it still sickens me. Teachers are supposed to give up their bargaining rights while people in private industry are reaping large bonuses for bad performance? Really? This is okay? At our school alone, 3 teachers are going to get RIFed. Our school has extremely seasoned teachers who are outstanding! I think the newest ones (who probably got the pink slips) have been teaching for over 8 years and doing outstanding jobs. This is the thanks they get? Where are their big bonuses?

The fact that the teachers are getting hit hard from the recession and are unfairly losing their jobs is only have of the story. The other half is that our kids will be in larger classes with much fewer resources and a shorter school year. If you think that this won't affect the quality of their education, you're sadly mistaken. How could it not? This lack of investing in our children is not going to yield good results for our economic future. It's going to put us even further behind other countries.

I'm REALLY angry! And you should be too!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I Just Can't Stay Away

I wasn't going to post anything today. I was going to take the night off (yes, I write my posts the evening before and schedule them to publish the next day). I had a really, really long day. I went into work, then co-led a Daisy Girl Scout meeting. After that, I had to take my daughter to her gymnastics class. My husband met us to take her out to dinner while I hit a meeting at her school. I didn't get home until 8:30 pm after being gone for 13 hours.

After making dinner (well, heating up leftovers, actually), and doing the dishes, I watched The Daily Show with hubby. Then I hit the computer. I caught up on reading blogs. After that it was past 11:00. I figured I could skip writing one day. Who would miss me.

And yet, I can't miss a day (at least a week day). I'm finding that writing is helping me wind down at the end of my day. It's therapeutic and helps me find the humor in situations.

The other issue is that I'm beginning to struggle on finding things to write about. Things have been going really well, which is great! My daughter is doing great at school, both academically and socially. This doesn't always make for the best blogging material, however.

So please bear with me and indulge my desire to take a few minutes each week day to unwind and share my happenings here! I really do appreciate it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Zany Brainy!

I'm linking this post to Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday. Every week, I have to write a post that addresses the letter of the alphabet! Today's letter is the letter "Z." That's right, it's the very last letter! I have no idea what I'm going to write on Wednesdays to come! Shudder! For the letter "Z," I'm going to write about my zany little girl!

My daughter is zany! There is just no other way to describe her. Well, quirky describes her also! Quirky probably describes her better than zany does. But the letter of the week is Z, so I'm going to have to say that zany fits her better than any other word!

After our daughter was diagnosed with autism, my husband and I pored over every book and article we could find on autism and Asperger's. One thing that came up a lot was that many kids on the spectrum suffer from anxiety and depression. This especially worried my husband. I wasn't as worried, however. While my daughter tantrummed a lot during this period, she actually seemed like a pretty happy kid otherwise.

Nevertheless, we started consulting with a psychologist who was going to work with us on stopping my daughter's hair-pulling (at the time, she was self-soothing herself by pulling on her hair). We met with her once a week for a month without having much success. I had long noticed that my daughter sucked her thumb as part of the hair-pulling habit. I thought attacking the thumb-sucking would help the hair-pulling. The psychologist didn't agree. She thought our daughter--who was not even 5 at the time--should be put on Prozac to lessen her anxiety. We tried my way first--over the protests of the psychologist. My way ended up working very well! My daughter learned new coping strategies and didn't need to go on Prozac.

I sometimes think the knee-jerk reaction is to solve problems with pills. While some kids really do need the medication, I believe that it should be used as a last-ditch effort, not a first-ditch one.

Wow, I went a bit off topic! Anyway, my daughter is basically a zany, happy-go-lucky girl! Last week, my husband received a call from the school nurse. This is the type of call no parent wants to get. It went something like this:

School Nurse: Mr. D, this is the school nurse.

My Hubby: Yes, what is it? What happened?

(long pause)

School Nurse: Your daughter is walking like an Egyptian!

My Hubby: Huh?

School Nurse: She has her jacket on her head, and she's walking like an Egyptian!

My Hubby: This is what you're calling to tell me?

School Nurse: Oh sorry, I got distracted! Your daughter bumped her head on the playground equipment. I couldn't find a bump or anything, and she seems perfectly happy. Did I mention that she's walking like an Egyptian? I'll put her on the phone.

My Daughter: Hi Daddy! How are you?

My Hubby: I hear you hurt yourself at school! Are you okay?

My Daughter: Yeah! Oops! I'm fine!

My Hubby: Great, Honey. Can you get the nurse back on please? Nurse, she seems just fine. Do I need to get her?

School Nurse: I just wanted to call and let you know what happened. She seems fine, so she can go back to class.

Silly antics like walking like an Egyptian are usual events around this house! The girl is zany, and fun, and I love her sense of humor!

This is one girl who I doubt will ever need Prozac!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

People with Asperger's Can Be Honest. Very Honest!

Many people with Asperger's have a hard time with distorting the truth on any level. This trait can be really nice. For example, I reward my daughter if she has a good day without crying. Many times, I have no idea whether she cried. When I ask my daughter, she'll be honest about it, even if it means she doesn't get her reward.

But there are times when complete honesty can be problematic. Like the time when I complain about being old, and she'll answer, "You are old!" She doesn't understand that there are times when honesty isn't always the best policy.

Last week, I was trying to get my daughter to get off the computer so she could make her gymnastics class on time. She was having a really hard time pulling herself away. A game she was playing wasn't doing what she wanted it to do, and she was refusing to turn off the computer off. The more she tried, the angrier I became, and the more upset she became. I finally threatened her with no computer time the next day if she didn't leave the computer at that moment. This worked, but she cried on her way to gymnastics. When we arrived, she told me that she didn't want to go.

I knew that she'd have a blast and that it would change her mood in an instant. The conversation in the parked car went something like this:

ME: The classes are expensive, and you should just give it a try. If you aren't having fun, you could tell the teacher you aren't feeling well and excuse yourself from the class, and I will take you home.

MY DAUGHTER: (giving me a horrified expression) I can't tell him that! It's not true!

ME: It's true! I didn't say to tell him you're sick--just that you're not feeling well.

MY DAUGHTER: But telling him I'm not feeling well is implying that I'm sick! Oh, never mind, I'll come up with something on my own!"

Of course, she didn't have to come up with any excuses. She broke into a huge smile as soon as she walked through the doors and had a great class!

She's only 7, and she's keeping me on my toes!

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Free Day! Why Did We Spend it with a Rat?

Last Friday, April Fool's Day, turned out to be a free day for my daughter. Her school had the day off as a furlough day. They had the day off in honor of Cesar Chavez, but it was really just a furlough day.

We decided to visit my daughter's old preschool. It was one of the few days that they didn't have off that my daughter did have off. She got to see almost all of her old teachers and the school director. She remembered the teachers she had during her last year of preschool, but she didn't remember anyone else very well. I was surprised because I thought she would remember everybody!

After that, we went to Chuck E. Cheese. I've been promising her a trip to visit the rat for awhile, so I figured this would be a good day to cash in. Upon entering, I saw something that reminded me of a passage in a book I'm reading. The book is called "The Cook's Tour." It's written by Anthony Bourdain about traveling the world for a television show on The Food Network. I think this show predated his No Reservations show on The Travel Channel. Anyhow, in one chapter of the book, he visits Cambodia and writes about the lawlessness that abounds there. Everyone who lives there carries guns and shoots them off pretty easily. Anthony (because I'm now on a first-name basis with him on my blog) describes how every hotel in Cambodia has a sign on check-in that shows a picture of an AK-47 that is crossed out to discourage the hotel guests from bringing in semi-automatics.

Anyway, this is the sign I see upon entering Chuck E. Cheese:

Luckily, we managed to get in without having to give up our firearms! Whew, because that always brings on a tantrum. From me. My daughter has no problem giving up her weapons. We ended up having a great time! The rat himself even made an appearance and threw out free tickets to the kids after making them all embarrass themselves by dancing. My daughter did what she had to do to get the tickets. Actually, I'm impressed, because after the rat threw the tickets to the kids, my daughter did a great job grabbing her share of them. There was a time where she wouldn't grab them if they weren't a certain color. There was other times that she just wasn't fast or assertive enough. She did fine this time.

Chuck E. Cheese didn't retreat as he usually does. He actually was very social! He went around to the different games and played them with the kids. He even played skee ball with my daughter and treated her to the game! She had a lot of fun playing with him and checking out the games he did with the other kids too!

After our date with the rat, we went to Borders to spend my daughter's gift card before the store near us went belly up. So far, the store was fully stocked with inventory. However, the children's book section, while having a great supply of toys, didn't seem to have that many books. When I asked an employee where I could find "The Magic School Bus" series, she said they didn't carry that series, and we had to order the book online. While I love e-commerce, heck, I work for an internet company that develops e-commerce software, I'm appalled that a bookstore doesn't carry many books!

That night, as my daughter was enjoying her grapes with her dinner, she thanked me for giving her the grapes still on the stem so she could pick them off. She said that it was the perfect way to honor Cesar Chavez! That's my daughter! She certainly knows how to make me laugh!

Overall, it was a fun day. My daughter had no rigidity issues throughout the day. We were able to enjoy the outing without any tears or meltdowns. It was a great day, even if it involved a rat!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Wow! It's Been a Whole Two Weeks Since I've Had a Parenthood Post!

I guess that's because Parenthood hasn't had a new episode in awhile. This week's Asperger's topic had to do with Adam and Kristina trying to decide whether they should mainstream Max, their son with Asperger's. Before his diagnosis, he was in a typical classroom setting, and it was a disaster! After his diagnosis, they moved him to a different school where he could get more specialized services. On the episode, the school officials felt that Max needed to be mainstreamed.

I was surprised that this was such a huge problem for Kristina. She liked that he was in a "safe" environment, free from bullies. Her husband, Adam, however, wanted Max to reach his full potential which he felt was only possible in a mainstream class.

Is mainstream the best? Is it the only way for a child to meet their full potential? I think that depends on the child. In my daughter's case, we only wanted her in a mainstream classroom. She was academically advanced, had little sensory issues, and her other OT issues were pretty minimal. The large class size did not cause any problems for her. She had to learn to deal with her typical peers and what better place to do that than in the typical classroom?

But is a mainstream classroom right for all kids? Just as autism presents itself differently among different kids, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. A long, long time ago, I did a research study on full inclusion programs for Congress. This was long before I was married and had a special needs daughter myself. In fact, I never dreamed I would one day have a daughter with autism.

This was back in, ahem, 1994. Some members of Congress were interested in learning how different school districts across the country handled full inclusion programs. They also wondered if the full inclusion model would replace the existing model of mainstreaming and/or separate classrooms and schools. Full inclusion meant that ALL students, regardless of their disability, would be mainstreamed into a typical classroom for the majority of the day. There would be no other educational models. To do this study, we shadowed students, observed classrooms, held round-table discussions with teacher and parents of both typical kids and kids with special needs. We went to five school districts across the country.

What we found was that full inclusion would be hard to implement. Students needed to be educated based on their needs. Some students would never do well in a typical classroom setting. I saw horrible things first hand when I visited schools. I saw students with special needs who were being totally ignored by the teachers who were supposed to help them. I met with teachers who told me they were ill-prepared to handle the challenges of five languages in the classroom in addition to students with special needs. The teachers said they had no training and no knowledge on how to help these students. Overall, full inclusion didn't see like a good idea.

That study was done almost 20 years ago. After I had spent 4 months on that assignment I didn't give another thought to the topic until a couple of years ago when my own daughter was diagnosed with autism. What I see around me is a more sophisticated understanding of serving students with special needs. Yes, the funding is low, and we have to fight tooth and nail to get services. But the education models are more sophisticated. Including children with special needs into a typical classroom isn't an all-or-nothing approach anymore. Students with special needs can have higher levels of support. Also, there are wonderful programs that may or may not have a mainstreaming component that meet the special needs of the student.

While the current system isn't perfect, I'm glad to see that full inclusion isn't really on the table anymore. Special needs are not a one-size-fits-all problem, they need a wide range of solutions.