Monday, August 23, 2010

Amazed by Silly Bandz

Are you familiar with the Silly Bandz craze?

In our home, the obsession has diminished, but I have a feeling the fad will begin again after school starts up. Even though I think they are ridiculous, I am jealous of the person who thought up these things. What do I know?

I admit, it is hard to even imagine where the connection to Autism and Silly Bandz could possibly be. I assure you, I was just as confused until my son came walking in the door last year with a couple of rubber banded animals around his wrist. They were given to him by a little girl admirer from his class. It was really sweet. The thing is, my son is autistic and has a rigidity about textures. His clothes are always examined for any tags, threads, or scratchy feeling. The fact that he will adorn 20 rubber bands in multiple shapes and colors, travelling up his wrist and arm is short of miraculous!

I am perplexed by, not only his tolerance for the Silly Bandz around his wrist, but his extreme interest in buying more and more and more of them. I am learning that my son is acutely aware of what his typical peers are interested in. Additionally, it is this awareness that seems to be a motivator in trumping his natural behaviors. In this case, resistance to certain textures. He wants to be part of the group and do what everyone is doing. I'm thrilled that he can have such focus when he wants or needs to. Though this is not an actual research study, in which there are two groups of children receiving either a trial intervention method or a placebo, it confirms the benefit of mainstream classrooms and the effects of socializing with typical peers. At least for me it does.

Aside from the acknowledgment that he is trying to conform to the group, I will go one step further and venture a thought that the Silly Bandz are helping my son's sensory system. While the teachers limit the bracelets from the class because of distraction, for my son, the bracelets become an item to "play or fidgit" with during rug or work time. This provides the input he needs to concentrate. Who would have thought? Not me. I don't know much about pressure points, but I think the wrist is one area that can help calm a person. I wonder, could the Silly Bandz provide such a benefit?

I must applaud the Silly Bandz company for taking a random thought, manufacturing the product, and building a following of elementary children. Merchandising the product at the checkout lines are a complete thorn in every parents side, still I must thank them for giving my child an outlet to be like his typical peers. For me, you are as good as therapy.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Research on Autism

A new study found that some traits of autism (specifically eye movements) may be found in family members, suggesting a genetic link. Read more here:

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Welcome "the" Wii

Yippee Kai, Wii!

A couple of weeks ago, my mother came to visit during winter break. Upon "Grammy's" arrival, two wrapped gifts were given to each of the kids to open simultaneously. My son had no idea what was in store for him. As he ripped off the paper, he screeched with excitement:

"The wii!!!...Mom-look, the wii!!!"

A little history: After we came home from Christmas vacation where my son (with autism) played "the" wii, he was hooked. Not only was my son hooked on playing the game, but the entire family was enamored with watching him either play or cheer for others. It is one of the most amusing forms of entertainment. The excitement level he exudes for every player and the amusement he receives from watching the mii (in wii terms, the character you use to participate in all the games), go through triumphs-of passing giant cannon balls and trials-of being bumped off the tight rope and falling to its demise, is like no other experience. It may even sound a little depressing but I can assure you that my son's level of cheering and shear devotion to the mii player is infectious. The family was sucked into his level of happiness.

My son went back to school and shared the story of how he played "the" wii (a term my son invented). In adding "the" as the preface to wii , it is now an endearing term where visuals of my son rootin, tootin, screechin and preachin are attached. Naturally, I would have loved to give him such a gift, but "the" wii is much too luxurious of an item for us. We are on a buy what you need budget and "the" wii is definitely NOT in the budget. I proceeded to seek out sweepstakes in hopes of even the slightest possibility of winning "the" wii for my precious child. Little did I expect that what Grammy came through with is more than an extremely generous gift for us. It is the opportunity for my son to feel pride in his typical peer group.

Scheduling several play dates for my son has been a bit excruciating for me. Even though I know boys are different than girls in interests and nature of play, two hours of entertaining boys is a daunting task for typical boys. Add to that, one boy who will run away at the bat of an eye or highlight other unique behaviors (like screeching or stimming) and it can make me unravel. Their attention span lasts for about 5 minutes. By the time I set something up for the boys to play with, they are on to the next thing. Forget baking or doing projects like sweet, little girls. No way Jose! There has to be physical play, building, knocking down, and throwing involved. Then there was the little problem that my son and his friend never seemed to be playing the same thing. I was quickly wondering what these play dates were actually accomplishing.

I questioned my son's team of professionals, in hopes of learning or discovering something I was missing. I found out that I was missing video games in the repertoire of activities. I was instructed that boys interests revolve heavily around video games and that they often play separate. Knowing this tidbit of information, you can only imagine my excitement (and relief) when my mother gave us a video game! My prayers were answered. "The" wii will be my sons tool to use while working on his social weaknesses. It is perfect! During the next play date, the friend walks in the door and is greeted by my anxious son, announcing that he has "the" wii. The little boy says:

"oh, my mother doesn't let me play wii!"
Ugh!..with a smile.

Side note: The little boy did end up playing. It is still not easy but, with my son's whimsical wii attitude, I am still smiling.

***Wii tip: If you have kids who like to impersonate you (and use your mii), like my guy does, it might be good to attach a password. Currently, my son enjoys using his step grandfather's mii. He is bald, with glasses and it looks ridiculous. I have to admit, it is one of the joys of watching my son and "the" wii. By the way, my son also set up a mii and named him GOD. He likes to be GOD as well.

Thank you Grammy! Thank you, "the" wii!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Baby Einstein videos: educated my autistic son

Baby Einstein, I'll vow for you!

Don't we have greater problems to take care of in this world? Yes, our children are our most valued possessions, but destroying the reputation of a brand, like Baby Einstein, that (in fact) does not harm our little ones is crazy. Our tax dollars need to go towards keeping pedophiles off the street, terrorists out of our country, and executive honesty in corporations. PLEASE, ENOUGH ALREADY!

I have read other mommy blogs about this subject with great disappointment. I will not even give the links because that would only promote their theories and make me a hypocrite. The recent NY Times article infuriates me. I ask these mommy's and the legal system creating this hoopla: Don't you think that the parent, not companies, should harbor the responsibility of enforcing the recommendation of the the American Pediatric Association...that a child under 2 should not watch any television? You have the power parents! If you don't want your child to watch television, then don't turn it on.

In regards to the previous claims that the Baby Einstein videos is falsely promoting its videos as educational. Are you kidding me!? When you were young, did you (and I'm speaking to today's parents) know the sounds of Mozart, Beethoven, or Bach? Did you realize the makings of Van Gough or Monet? Did you know the sections of an orchestra? Oh, I forgot to mention...did you know any of this by the age of 3? It is proven that music and visualization work different areas of the brain. Introducing these to children at an early age creates interest for future endeavors.

Truthfully, I don't want my child to be an Einstein. What I do want is for him to be happy and have an appreciation of the arts. That is what the Baby Einstein videos create. Michael Clark, Julie Aigner-Clark- I'll vow for you and the precious videos you created. A mother with an autistic child, I received the Baby Bach video as a gift from a friend. At the time, I didn't know there were problems with my son. I just knew he was "sensitive" and demanded much of my time walking, bouncing, and singing. From the very first time I put the video on, my son received the needed feedback (or input) that many children with sensory integration problems seek. He was mesmerized. You ask for proof of the benefits. I'll give you a list relating to the entire family, not just my son:
  • Comfortable: The music provided a comfort for him. Paired with the visual stimulation of puppets, movement, or lighting, his senses were revitalized. Almost immediately, during his time watching these videos, he stopped his fidgeting and his crying. (happiness ensued)
  • Parent effectiveness: The Baby Einstein videos gave me 20 minutes of re-grouping and sanity maintenance. I was able to sit down and eat a meal or wash my hair. You can't imagine what a much needed pick-me-up that was.
  • Interest and therapy: By now, you may be thinking: "she is not a hands on mother or cares about monitoring her child's entertainment" or "she is using the television as a babysitter". WRONG again! Ask any of my family or friends and you will understand the depth of my dedication. My son is autistic, I can't afford to be complacent. Therapists moved through my home throughout the day. I learned from them and worked with them. Then I advocated for my child. I spent (and still spend) hours researching to find the keys to help my baby. I educated myself on the benefits of alternative therapies like music therapy and the sensory system. What I found out is that the Baby Einstein videos provide a priceless service to us all...a type of therapy. I admit my claims are my own and not "research-based". My point, I am not a neglectful mother. I am a well educated, family first, forget-the-wash-and-the- dishes-so-I-can-play-or-draw-with-my-child mom. My claims are my own research, and THAT is good enough.
  • Educational: You say, not educational? I beg to differ. My son (at the age of 6) is learning the drums. Some research suggests that drumming is beneficial to children on the spectrum because of their sensory difficulties. His interest in the percussion (what we call, the Baby Hippo video) helped lead us to lessons. For practicing purposes, the only music I have downloaded on my iphone is that of the Baby Einstein series and music from the drum teacher. Even my husband and I are tuned into the differences of Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach. At any time my son will hear a classical tune he learned from the Baby Einstein videos, he will stop everything he is doing to listen or seek out where the tune is playing from. That is true education.
  • Visual: Pairing visualization with conceptual teaching enhances retention. Add the auditory sounds of these videos to convey a feeling or funny action and this is a home run! We all need to connect the dots this way. A child with autism needs this even more. Typically, an autistic child is a visual learner. Their communication efforts are harbored so it is with visualization techniques that we (parents, therapists and teachers) are able to provide a bridge for them to learn and communicate effectively and without frustration. In their techniques, Baby Einstein is opening up these little minds to a sea of wonderful imagination, music, art, sounds, poetry etc. Explain to me how this is not educating my child?
  • Routine: We all need, kids thrive on it. Each Baby Einstein video is carefully structured so the child can set its own expectations. Knowing what comes next is comforting to a child. They are learning so much, so fast that they seek out routine. The Baby Einstein videos build upon the others so that with each new video, the child still feels secure and a a sense of familiarity.

That's my "2" cents!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Autism (Savor Each Syllable)

Upon returning to school this week, many comments about how much my son had grown made their way back home. I didn't think much of it until we tried on a pair of jeans that were WAY to small.

While getting ready for swimming, I told my son that he is growing like a weed. Understanding that my comment was somewhat of a metaphor (the meaning, not the word), he smiled and came up with his own metaphors on growing:

[son, smiling] "Mom, I'm not growing like a weed, I'm growing like a beanstalk!"
My husband and I looked at each other. In agreement, we said, "that is a good one."
[son, still smiling] "Dad, you are growing like a clock!"
Again, looking at one another, my husband and I declare, "yes, that is true, time is ticking away for Dad."
[son] "Sis, you are growing like a flower!"
We can't deny that our daughter gets even more beautiful every day and nod our head with a yes.
[son] "Mom, you are growing like a wreath!"
Confused, I look at my son and say, "Like what?"
[son] "Like a wreath, it keeps going around and around."
After thinking more deeply about this metaphor, I couldn't help but realize that I do feel like I spin my wheels, chase my tail or any other familiar phrase that signifies being in constant motion and going nowhere. That pretty much sums up the life of a mother. Our work is never truly finished.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Savor each syllable, 3

Sometimes, it is not in how it is said, but that it is said at all....

In trying to use the word impossible in as many ways or occurrences as my son can, he goes on a silly rant, exclaiming:

[son], "Mom, you (pointing to me) are IMPOSSIBLE! Dad is impossible. This impossible food is crazy. Dinner is ready for impossible." You get the point. The next 5 sentences all contained the word impossible.

The irony of using this word (impossible) is that we are in a community (the autistic community) who believe that nothing is (yes, you got it!), impossible!

As a parent of a child with delayed development, I am ultra-aware of what both my children say or do. My daughter came out with this precious comment this morning:

Scenario - After getting dressed for the day, two hangers were lying on the floor.

[daughter] "Look mom, I found two hookers!"

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Autism (Savor Each Syllable, 2)

Savor Each Syllable, 2

Slightly apraxic (low muscle tone around the mouth) and with his two front teeth missing, my son (diagnosed as on the autism spectrum with PDD-NOS) makes an observation:

[son] "Mom. Sssssnakes sssslither in the rrriver."
Agreeing, I say, "yes, they do (with smiles)!"

I challenge you to numb your lips with ice (until you can hardly feel them), fold your upper lip over your front two teeth and repeat: "snakes slither in the river". Now you can appreciate the effort of this statement.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Savor Each Syllable #1

The New Year has arrived and I can't be happier. Why? For the most part, the holidays are over! I tried to be that little elf that bakes cookies, wraps presents, and hosts holiday festivities, all the while caroling to the tunes of the season. The truth is, it was too much. As fast as I tried to work, I still ran out of time. Christmas morning came, Santa brought his gifts and I was off making a turkey for dinner. Though my organization provided me some sanity, I still was too busy to even sit for a minute to play crazy 8's or Yahtzee with my kids. I ask myself, how did this happen? I thought I had all my ducks in a row so that I would be able to spend the morning with the kids and make many happy memories.

During 2010, I am going to learn from others. I tend to feel that effort is synonymous with outcome. Another words, you will get out what you put in to something.

For example: I baked dozens of cookies for therapists and teachers as my way of "showing" them my gratitude. The time involved was incredible, but I wanted them to understand my feelings. Again, my extreme effort would equate to an understanding of how indebted I am to them for helping my child, right? WRONG! I learned that writing a note (which I attached to all the homemade cookies) was what made the impact. A box of store bought chocolate would have sufficed as long as that very personal note was attached.

Lesson learned...buying from the store is okay - the effort was in the personal note, not so much in the time spent baking cookies. Another lesson, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Did you happen to see the movie Julie and Julia? It was about a girl who began a daily blog about recipes she tried off of Julia Child's Cookbook. She (Julie, the character) actually tried a new recipe each day for a year. So I was thinking I would do something similar. Beginning today, each new post will be about the words I savor from my autistic son. As a baby and toddler, we never knew if he would ever be able to communicate and when he finally broke through, it is in these words that I savor each syllable.

Savor Each Syllable - January 3, 2010
Picking up the handheld mirror in the bathroom:
[son] "I see my eraflection, mom!"
"You mean your reeflection?", I say
[son] "yes, my reeflection" "
"What do you see?", I asked
[son]"My face."
I didn't even realize that my son knew the word, reflection, much less use it in a sentence correctly. I laughed at his answer, but thought it might be good to start off with, given the New Year. What do I see when I look at my reflection? What do you see when you look at yours?