Sunday, June 29, 2008

Practical Socialization

I have long felt that while supporting Buddy Boy in his socialization skills by taking him to socialization classes was a good thing, that he got just as much good (and perhaps more) from the times I have taken him to McDonald's Play Places. When I take him to a Play Place, I try to let him go out and negotiate for himself, just giving him some tips ahead of time, reviewing casually some things afterward, and intervening (and sometimes hightailing it out of there) only as necessary.

While Buddy Boy's great little surprise the other day is a "one off" for now (we're back to standard conversation mode), he did up and demonstrate a skill yesterday I haven't seen him do before.

We took our annual outing to our local park's carnival that they hold every year in June. We have to pass this fair getting to our house, so there's really no way that we can just forget about taking the kids.

Buddy Boy has always wanted to go on some of the "big kid" rides, and this year he's tall enough to qualify to ride. We went in the late afternoon. It was a pleasantly cool day for this time of year around here (about 76F/24C), and while there were some people there, there weren't a lot of older kids there yet (I imagine they all come out after dark, just like we did when we were young).

The first ride Buddy Boy wanted to go on was this one "The Egg". It's kind of like a ferris wheel, but you can lock the car so it goes upside down. Because of the way the seat belt is configured, they won't let you ride it alone. We happened to run into one of the counselors from his school, who was there with her daughter. We asked her daughter if she wanted to ride on that ride, and she said yes. So we had Buddy Boy ask her if she wanted to ride, and they rode it together.

Next Buddy Boy wanted to ride on the ride pictured up top that flips you upside down (over and over again-I think it's called "The Whiz"). This is neither my nor Liz's cup of tea, and again the ride would not let anyone ride in a car single. There was no one else waiting to ride, so we told him he could wait for someone else to come along who wanted to ride. Next came the part that surprised me.

Not wanting to wait all day to ride, and seeing a couple of older kids walking by, Buddy Boy started going up to them and asking them if they wanted to ride on this ride with him. I was flabbergasted. This was something I've never seen him do. This is the kid who doesn't know the names of most of the kids in his class (even by the end of the year), who I only extremely rarely see approach other kids at school functions and the playground, and hardly says a word if someone approaches him. Yet he initiated contact, made his wants known, and successfully persuaded another kid to ride with him on the ride (with the other kid supplying his own tickets-no bribe involved).

He not only did this once, he did it again when we returned to "The Egg" ride for another go.

Now Liz was not as impressed as I was. She quite rightly pointed out that these interactions were more in line with going up to a shop counter and asking for something (which he has done before), and not really actual give and take conversational socializing, making small talk and all. But I was impressed none the less.

I am reminded of the old joke that is often attributed to Winston Churchill:

Churchill: Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?
Socialite: My goodness, Mr. Churchill... Well, I suppose... we would have to discuss terms, of course...
Churchill: Would you sleep with me for five pounds?
Socialite: Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!
Churchill: Madam, we've already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.

The fact that (with sufficient motivation) Buddy Boy demonstrates that he'll initiate conversation with strangers (kids his own age, even-much harder for him than adults) gives me hope that he already has the essentials for achieving success in high school and beyond. I just have to help him identify the right motivation.

One other surprise. While I was getting him into bed he said "You know that Black girl that I rode the ride with. It was nice of her to ride with me. And she was kind of cute." I was amazed. Someone that wasn't blond? Who would of thought?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Planning Ahead

buy one of these here.

In looking thru my past posts, I realize that Buddy Boy and autism are the subject matter for the majority of my posts. Since autism is but a portion of our lives, I thought I might share a little story of something that happened with Sweet Pea yesterday.

Out of the blue, Sweet Pea asked Liz who picked out the stones (headstones) when you were buried. Now no one's died recently, and I don't think she's watched something about people dying lately (I don't think they kill off characters on the Cartoon Network). So I don't know where this came from. So Liz responded with our usual "Why do you ask?", to which Sweet Pea responded that she wanted to know whether you picked out your own or someone else picked it out for you.

Liz responded something to the effect that a person might make arrangements ahead of time to pick one out, but often the person's family picked out the stone for them.

"Well I'm picking mine out right now. I want a Princess stone."

I wonder if I should tell her that they can make headstones from pink granite?

Thursday, June 26, 2008


photo credit-antony_mayfield
creative commons license

So, we were all sitting and watching a video tonight from the library about slavery during the 1600's in America. It was really well done, and quite fascinating. Did you know that during this time period 20% of the population of New York was African-American? And that Carolina had twice as many slaves as there were whites? I never saw any of that in my history books in school.

Buddy Boy was doing what he usually does, which is add his own running commentary (actually, it's more like interjecting facts he knows-or thinks he knows-about the subject). At one point he says "Mom, I have to tell you what I was going to tell you about before". "Can it wait?" Liz asked. "No, I need to tell you right now." "Is this something I won't like?" (we've been working on trying to get Buddy Boy to filter out some of the naughty words he likes to repeat-usually silly stuff regarding genitals and potty humor). "No, you'll like it." "OK, what is it?" Liz asked. After a pause Buddy Boy said, "That's OK, I won't tell you now." "No, that's OK, (putting the video on pause) you can tell me". "No, mom, I'll tell you later." "Why don't you want to tell me now?"

"Because it doesn't have to do with what we're watching".

I was speechless. This is the kid who loves to ramble and free associate from one subject to the next, and seemingly randomly go back to something he was discussing 3 days ago, and has real problems with taking turns in a conversation. And he had stopped and considered that maybe it wasn't the most appropriate time to discuss something. I've never been aware that he's done that before! Ever!

I thought it was way cool. No out and out prompting, no modeling, just decided to do it himself, out of the blue.

After complimenting him on being so thoughtful, we had to find out what he so wanted to tell us. It had something to do with grapes.

Monday, June 23, 2008


To help celebrate the inclusion of Autism Hub Bloggers at the conference starting today at the University of San Diego, Steve D of One Dad's Opinion has asked for people to revisit a favorite post that they have written in the past. For my part, I have selected this one, originally posted on February 25, 2007.


On Raising Cowboys

...And them that don't know him won't like him
And them that do sometimes won't know how to take him
He ain't wrong he's just different
but his pride won't let him do things to make you think he's right...
from "Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys"
by Willie Nelson

So Yesterday I had occasion to drive 300 miles one way to another city for a function, then after 4 hours, drive back another 300 miles.

I was alone, and able to indulge some of my eclectic musical tastes. I ended up listening to some Cowboy Junkies, the Diner Junkies, and Willie Nelson (an ex-junkie).

Maybe I'm just picking up one of Krisina Chew's habits and seeing autism everywhere. But as I'm listening to Willie singing the above song I heard those lyrics, repeated the track again to make sure I heard them right, and the thought occurred to me, "I'm not raising a son with autism, I'm raising a cowboy".

And I thought (I do a lot of free association and just plain weird thinking while driving long distances alone) "I wonder if the world would understand my son better, and treat him better, if I just told them he was a cowboy?"

Cowboys have a long tradition in America, and despite a few people using the term "cowboy" in a negative sense when referring to President Bush, there is a long and deep tradition of positive attributes being attributed to cowboys. Mention being autistic, however, and there only seem to be negative stereotypes that come to most people's minds.

Cowboys are entrenched in the lore of the United States, with many of them acheiving legendary status.

Most cowboys were men, but some (like Annie Oakley) were female. Cowboys were (and are) generally people who don't talk much, and are rugged individualists. They tend to keep to themselves, and don't much care if others understand them or not.

Cowboys have a code of ethics that is looked up to so much that some have suggested a version of it be used to instill ethical business practices in individuals.

I could see it now. When the school calls to complain about Buddy Boy exhibiting some behavior that doesn't seem to fit the mold they want to put him in, I could just say something like "You don't understand, he's a cowboy." This would be all that I would have to say to convey to them that my son was different, and in a good way.

Rather than expecting him to conform to arbitrary rules they had set up, they would instantly understand (because of the shared cultural knowledge) that my son was indeed different, and was probably destined for greatness. As they had a genuine cowboy amongst their midst, they would fall all over themselvs making efforts to individualize their educational efforts, much as all of society caters to celebrities. They would also expect great things from him, and as many studies have shown, when teachers expect great things from students they tend to get them.

My apologies to any Europeans reading this. You'll have to get your own legendary figures to latch on to to get the schools (and society) to treat you and your kids better.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mud Therapy

The school year started out great, but got a bit stressful at the end. Fortunately the corollary to "All good things must come to an end" is "All bad things must also come to an end". So the year ended, and we have been getting back on an even keel.

I am descended from a long line of Eastern European farmers. My ancestors were peasants that farmed the land in Europe, and one set of my Grandparents started out in this country as farmers in the middle of Wisconsin.

So working the earth is in my genes, and you would think it would be second nature to me. Unfortunately I have not had a garden in more than 25 years (probably closer to 30). But Buddy Boy (who wants to be a farmer) had been bugging me this winter to put in a garden this year. My sister (who used to live about a mile from us, but now lives about 350 miles (560 km) from us, had Buddy Boy and Sweet Pea assist her in putting in a garden a couple of years ago before she moved. Buddy Boy loved that, especially when they harvested their crop of corn and beans.

So I relented (I actually wanted to do it myself, but was afraid of disappointing Buddy Boy if we didn't succeed in growing anything). I figured even if our crops failed, it would be good therapy for all of us to put in a garden.

The first thing we needed to do was clear an area. We selected an area at the edge of our property, fenced it in (there are tons of rabbits around here), and began to clear the grass. The first thing we discovered is that although the area where we live was once supposedly an orchard, the land is pretty much an equal mixture of clay and rock. It took us the better part of 3 days just to clear about 100 square feet (9.29 square meters). I may not have gardened much lately, but I knew that this plot of ground was not going to grow much anytime soon (I was even surprised that the grass had grown as well as it did).

So after doing some reading online, talking to my sister, and getting a consult from Daisy at Compost Happens (hey, with a blog name like "Compost Happens" she has to know a lot, right?) I decided to break up the top layer of clay and build up a bed of about 4-5" (about 12 cm) of topsoil before planting anything. I also decided to get some stones from Home Depot and lay a walkway down the middle of the garden, to facilitate access for planting, weeding, and harvesting.

Once we mixed the topsoil in and spread it all out, it was time to get something to plant. I figured we'd have a better chance of getting stuff to grow if it was already a seedling, so off to the gardening center we went. We picked up some seedlings of two types of tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelon, sweet onions, peas, strawberries, and some type of herb that was supposed to attract butterflies. We also got some seeds for beans, carrots (I picked some stubby ones that were supposed to do better in clay soil), and broccoli.

The beans seemed to sprout up to 4 inches (10 cm) overnight. The carrots and broccoli have also started to grow, and we even harvested our first "crop", which consisted of one small strawberry that I had to divide between the two kids. We topped the garden off with "Mr. Sun", which Buddy Boy insisted we buy when we were at Home Depot. He's always been a sucker for inanimate objects with faces on them.

Although I think a synonym that should be listed for gardening is "weeding", it's been fun thus far, as well as therapeutic in helping us all work off some excess energy. And with the problem with salmonella in tomatoes, we might even have a cash crop on our hands!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Great Father Dies

Tim Russert, 1950-2008

Tim Russert, known to most Americans as the host and moderator of NBC's "Meet The Press", died suddenly today. He was 58 years old.

He was an icon of American journalism, who asked tough but fair questions of politicians of all stripes. His interviews were always fair, and he never belittled or insulted the people he had on his show. That's pretty impressive, for someone who did it for almost 25 years.

I thought he was just a darn good journalist until I read a book he wrote, "Wisdom of Our Fathers". I received this book as a Father's Day gift two years ago. This was a follow on book to one he wrote two years earlier, entitled "Big Russ and Me". In this first book on fatherhood Russert talks about his own father, who was a sanitation worker and a truck driver, and what a great dad he was. The second book (which I received) stemmed from letters regarding fatherhood that Russert had received from readers of his first book. Russert also sprinkled in some stories regarding his relationship with his own son, Luke.

It was obvious from his treatment of the subject of fatherhood that Russert himself was doing a darn good job of being a father himself. Russert always sprinkled bits about his family into his show and interviews, and it was obvious that he placed great stock on being a good father. His son liked his dad so much that he had himself tatooed with his father and grandfather's name.

Fathers often are overshadowed in the parenting process by mothers (who are, admittedly, extremely important). I admired the way that Tim Russert reminded people that fathers are important, too. He served as a good role model for fathers everywhere. I am saddened by his passing.

Russert had just returned from a vacation in Italy with his family, which was to celebrate his son's graduation from college.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Buddy Boy's Home Photos

Buddy Boy successfully made his First Communion this year, which we considered a big accomplishment. His most prized gift came from his godfather, Uncle Dave. Uncle Dave got him what Buddy Boy's been campaigning for for quite awhile-a camera.

I've uploaded the first set of photos that I'm making public from Buddy Boy's first foray into photography. These are from around the house, most taken on the first day or two he had the camera. I didn't include ones he made of the family (sorry).

Later I'll upload some ones he took on vacation. In addition to the two shots here, the rest of the photos can be found on Flickr. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Respite, Dolphins, Mummies, and Tractors

Buddy Boy's "Memory Extractor"

I haven't been posting a whole lot lately, especially about personal stuff. Things got really hard for awhile, and it became a combination of not being able/wanting to lay out my personal problems to the whole world (I am basically the silent, keep it in, work it out yourself kind of guy) as well as using all of my spare energy to do my best to keep our family from disintegrating. School's been out for two whole weeks here. And we're finally getting back to some semblance of normalcy.

The school year started out really well for Buddy Boy. The majority of his time was spent included in a regular classroom. Buddy Boy had the best darn teacher in the whole school for his regular class, Mrs. J. His special ed class teacher (Miss E.) worked well with Mrs. J., and pushed for him to be included more this year. Buddy Boy (for the most part) rose to the challenge. Miss E. helped support him for the small amount of time when he was scheduled to be pulled out (for OT and speech), as well as for the few unscheduled times when he had problems in the regular class. Mrs. J. is famous amongst the school's special ed families for her ability to bring out the best in all of the kids in her class. I'm really glad that Buddy Boy had her this year, and sad that he won't have her again next year.

Things went so well for the first several months that I hardly wrote anything about it. I was afraid that I would jinx the good fortune we were enjoying. This was it. This was the year that Buddy Boy would turn the corner on his behavior issues and be seen by his teachers and classmates as a full, valuable member of the class.

The last 7-8 weeks of school things got progressively worse (mostly at school, but also at home). I'm not really sure why. Buddy Boy became upset at the drop of a hat. He refused to do things that didn't bother him before. He lashed out and bit a teacher (which required stitches), and hit another. Liz was literally camped out in the school parking lot, forever on call for when things happened. Some days she was called three times. Several days ended early, with Buddy Boy being taken home.

His teachers looked for causes, we looked for causes. Though Buddy Boy is now quite verbal, he could offer no insight into what was causing him distress. Liz became increasingly distraught, and lashed out at a most convenient target, me. We both felt certain that although this school has been very accepting and supporting of Buddy Boy, that the days were numbered until he was kicked out.

School ended, and we never got "the letter". You know, the official one that says that your kid has been expelled. I am still perplexed, but thankful. This leaves us with more options for next year.

Slowly, ever so slowly, we have gotten back to some sort of equilibrium. It's a big relief that we no longer have the school's sword hanging over our heads (for now). Liz has relaxed, and even gotten some more sleep. We are talking again (instead of snapping and snarling, or even worse, saying nothing). I feel like we're on the same side again.

This week I had time off, which we used to go to Chicago. One of my uncles is dying, and we wanted to see him before he did. He has worsening congestive heart failure which has reached the limits of medical management, and it is only a matter of time. How much is hard to say. This aunt and uncle have always been great to our kids. Even though they don't have a lot of money (due to having had a special needs daughter themselves, as well as lots of medical bills), they have always sent cards with a note and $2 bills to the kids on all major holidays (Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving) as well as their birthdays. The kids love those cards.

Since we were going up there, we took some time to take the kids to a couple of museums. Chicago has great museums, though they can be a bit expensive when you're going to multiple ones. We went to the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum. If you plan your trip carefully, you can take advantage of several free days at the Field Museum. Unfortunately my time off didn't correlate with any of those days.

The Shedd Aquarium expanded greatly several years ago, and the kids (and us) loved it. Besides exploring several halls of fish and amphibians and watching a diver feed the fish in a huge glass tank, we saw a movie and a dolphin show. The movie was billed as a "4D" movie, as in addition to donning 3D glasses, there were air and water jets that shot out at us at various times, as well as vibrating seats. It was fairly intense from a sensory standpoint, but Buddy Boy hung in there. The dolphins were cool, especially as we got to go up after the show and get much closer to them.

The Field Museum of Natural History is like Indiana Jones' storehouse of everything he ever found on all of his expeditions. Sweet Pea was a little apprehensive about seeing mummies, but did a good job. She really liked the t-rex skeleton they had there, as well as some of the stuffed exotic animals. Sweet Pea also wasn't totally into an exhibit where they simulated you being the size of a small bug underground, but of course Buddy Boy thought it was totally cool. Liz and I enjoyed a special exhibit they had on George Washington Carver, but the kids seemed they could not care less.

We had ice cream and a ferris wheel ride down at Navy Pier, and headed back to the hotel for another night of swimming.

Having spent three days in Chicago, it was time to move on. On our way back home we took a little detour and went to Moline, Illinois. Why would we want to go to a relatively small sleepy river town for? Well, to visit the John Deere world headquarters and pavilion, of course. As astute readers of this little blog may recall, Buddy Boy has a thing for farming equipment, especially stuff made by John Deere.

While I'd love to take the Ferrari factory tour someday, I rather doubt that they'd let my 6 and 8 year old kids crawl all over them, sit in the driver's seat, push pedals and hit the switches. Yet this is just what Deere lets anyone do with their $300,000 combines, as well as their less expensive equipment. There are several pieces of farming equipment as well as construction equipment located both at their world headquarters, as well as their pavilion in town. They also have some antique tractors (which they understandably don't let you crawl all over).

All in all, it's great to be getting back to normal. I don't know what the fall will bring (in terms of school), but for now it's great to kick back a little, relax, and get back into the groove.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Great Place to Visit, But...

photo credit-metrohicKS
creative commons license

Florida is a great place to visit. There's all sorts of things to amuse and satisfy both kids and adults. There's NASA,

photo credit-http2007
creative commons license

Florida oranges,

photo credit-Viewoftheworld
creative commons license

sandy beaches,

photo credit-heather0714
creative commons license

and a park where a somewhat famous mouse lives.

But while one could certainly have a great time visiting Florida with one's kids, it increasingly seems that Florida is not a place one would choose to live with their kids anytime soon. It would seem that Florida may soon have to change their motto from "The Sunshine State" to the "We Hate Kids" state.

Christschool the other day had a great post about the Alex Barton/Portillo case that brought up issues such as the increasing use of police to handle routine school discipline problems, possible inappropriate training of such personnel, and teachers' complicity in ostracizing those who are "different" in their classrooms. This last point was also blogged by Joeymom.

As Shawn pointed out recently, there is a whole system that's at fault here, and not just the teacher (which does not absolve the teacher in any way for her part in this).

One does not have to look far to see other instances where very young children's actions in Florida schools are criminalized, rather than being addressed with behavioral intervention plans. Indeed, some see a "school to prison pipeline" that has developed in the Florida education system.

Given the undisputed facts of the Barton case and the general climate of making criminals out of young students with undesirable behaviors in Florida, I have to agree with Christschool in saying "I believe Alex, too".

I'm on the road right now, and visited with my brother and sister-in-law tonight. My SIL works as a "para" in a 2nd grade classroom. I mentioned the facts of the Barton case to her (she had not heard about the case) using a very neutral voice. She was appalled, as are many good teachers who have read about this case. Yes, I realize that most teachers are great, and really work for the good of all of their students. I also realize that most teachers work under conditions that are less than ideal, without proper supports in place. And that puts a great deal of stress on teachers.

I'm waiting for the investigation by the Port St. Lucie school district, but absent some finding (backed up by evidence) that great portions of Barton's account were made up, I believe Alex.

It's time for Florida to get on the stick, and to stick up for all of its students, not just the ones that are compliant. This means not only rightfully having sanctions on the teacher involved in this case (Ms. Portillo), but also examining the whole education process in Florida and the whole problem with criminalizing school behaviors that have no place in the criminal justice system.