CSSBS&SSSS*: Day One & Two

* Camp Stimey Spring Break Sensory & Social Skills Special Session

School is out of session for spring break, which can only mean one thing: Camp Stimey is IN SESSION.

I have all kinds of plans to work on our social skills and social thinking this week, along with a bunch of fun sensory things to do.

Day One was a little bit of a disappointment. Or rather, Day One was a completely successful Day of Preparation and Tedium. We went to speech therapy (social skills!!!) and then we came home and played some video games (crazy sensory input!!!) and I took a nap (um, I got nothing).

But then we went to the grocery store (social skills put into practice!!!). Jack and Quinn happily and socially hung out in the little car cart at the store, while Sam whined the entire time about wanting to sit down.

Unfortunately there were five reasons he couldn’t sit down:

1. He is far too huge to cram himself into that little car cart.

2. He is far too huge to sit in the little seat at the front of the cart.

3. We were, you know, at the grocery store.

4. Jack and Quinn are waaay more unpredictable than Sam is at the grocery store and there is no way I was about to release them into the aisles of the store while Sam sat in the car part of the cart. A little lot of whining was a small price to pay to not lose the little ones.

5. I wasn’t about to give in to the WHIIIIIIIIINING!

Then Alex came home and we had a big fight (what not to do with social skills!!!).

Day One, fini.

Day Two was better. Here’s a hint as to what Day Two consisted of:


What? You need more? Okay. Here’s this:

Why, yes, we did go to a store dedicated solely to the sale of Peeps and Peeps-related merchandise.

Yes, Day Two was Peeps at National Harbor Day!

For the social skills part, we went with my friend E and her two kids. And, yes, our whole point in going to National Harbor was to go to the Peeps store. We sort of figured that the rest would work itself out. I gotta tell you, sometimes those we’ll-just-figure-it-out-when-we-get-there trips are the best. Today? Case in point.

The Peep store was fun, except for when I bought a pound of bulk Mike and Ikes and then Sam dropped half of them on the floor immediately after I paid for them. Fortunately, the cashier was super nice and let Sam replace them free of charge. I imagine that must happen a lot there.

I think the best part of the day was the sculpture on the beach at the Harbor though. It is called The Awakening and it is made up of five separate pieces put together to look like a giant (or, if your kids have just seen Percy Jackson, Poseidon) rising up from the sand.


Watch out, Jack! He’s coming for you!!!!!


Clearly, the best part, however, was climbing all over Poseidon’s face.


I made sure to act the adult though. Per usual.

Yes, I did tell Quinn to pretend to pick the giant’s nose.

My kids kind of hogged the giant’s mouth. Maybe they’ll grow up to be dentists.


But they weren’t above visiting the less desirable parts of the giant as well.


No, Quinn, you don’t high five with your ass.


It looks a little like the hand finally got Jack, doesn’t it?


While Sam was slightly less into the sculpture, he brought on the sensory part by experiencing the wind. And, no, this photo I didn’t stage.

You know it’s coming…“KING OF THE WORLD!!”

But Peeps and sculpture cannot a whole day make. We stopped for lunch at a burger joint where both Jack and Quinn put the ketchup bottle from the table into their mouths. Bllleeeecccchhh! *shudder*

I took the offending bottle to the counter, but it got me thinking about how often stuff like that happens. To my ketchup bottle. That gets left on the table. For me to use. Oh, right. And I was bummed out about the germs my kids got from the bottle too.

Right next door to our lunch zone was the Launch Zone, which is a mini precursor to the National Children’s Museum, which is slated to open in, like, 2013, juuuuust after my kids age out of children’s museums. The Launch Zone is basically a one-room space for kids to whet their little science-y appetites.

Here’s Sam doing science:

Or, you know, coloring a picture of an Easter bunny.

This next photo is a little closer, right? Here is Jack doing science.

Or, you know, stamping animal tracks on a piece of paper.

Oh, here we go! A magnifying glass. We have science!!

If a magnifying glass is involved, it’s automatically science.

After this, we had to bodily wrestle Jack away from the sand on the beach, which is his particular favorite sensory thing.

Day Two? Fresh air, candy, and art for four hours FTW!

Coming tomorrow: Supah Social Day! Now With Sleepover!

Autism Unexpected: When Autistic Behavior is Misunderstood

 

Parents of children with autism often have a difficult time going out in public. It can be hard to manage a special needs child’s wants, needs, and reactions in an unpredictable environment. It can be hard to teach your child about social skills while you are in the thick of trying to control their unconventional behavior. But one of the hardest things to deal with is the looks and the comments that other people give your autistic child when they are just being themselves.

This behavior often keeps parents of autistic children from going out in public. For many of us, it is easier to just keep our kids home than to have to endure other people judging them based on their disability. It is kinder to keep our kids home so they don’t have to see and hear the way uninformed and unkind people look at them and talk about them.

A recent post by blogger Smockity Frocks has sent the autism blogosphere into a tailspin. Many of us see the looks, mumbled comments, and unpleasant attitudes from strangers around our children, but wonder if maybe we’re being hypersensitive. Maybe these strangers aren’t really judging our children. As is evident in Smockity’s post, “In Which Smockity Considers Jabbing a Ball Point Pen Into Her Eye” (which she has since taken down, but is available through Google cache), we are not being hypersensitive.

The post is a blow by blow account of her children’s encounter with a young girl in a library. Her description of the child’s behavior is so clearly that of an autistic four-year-old and a caregiver who was trying to positively reinforce turn-taking skills. Instead, Smockity saw a badly behaved little girl flapping her arms and saying repeatedly, “I’m being patient,” and was anything but. Knowing children with autism, I believe that girl was really trying hard.

The post itself is very hurtful and the comments are worse. People responded with praise for this blogger for not making a scene. They praised her for her restraint. They laughed at her wit in making fun of a young girl. They suggested that the caregiver should have apologized to Smockity. Once parents of autistic children started to chime in, the blogger responded defensively, closed comments, and then subsequently took down the post.

It was painful for me to read this post. Just the other day, I was at a museum. My kids were not completely thrilled with the exhibit and were a little bit boisterous, but nothing out of line. Jack, my autistic child, was wiggly and enthusiastic. He squeaked a little, he jumped up and down a little, and he did a little twirling. He tried to get close to the exhibits. Trust me, I was on that kid like glue to make sure he was behaving correctly. But my definition of “correctly” and yours might be different.

There was a trio of older people whose path we kept crossing. At one point I saw one of them make a face and mumble something under her breath. It sounded like, “out of control.” I tried to assume the best, that maybe I had misunderstood and that she wasn’t talking about my child, who was not being bad. He was being autistic.

I thought of this while reading Smockity’s post. To hear her not just judge this child, but to make fun of her repeatedly (sample quote: “The flapping intensified until I thought we all might witness the first recorded occurrence of self propelled human flight.”) makes it clear that I am not hypersensitive. There are people out there who think Jack is bad. Who think I am a bad parent. Who don’t want him around. That’s not okay with me.

I want to make something clear here. I do not believe that autism is an excuse to misbehave. I expect all three of my children to behave themselves. There are behaviors that I insist on and when they do something I do not approve of, I speak to them about it and I discipline them for it. Just as with any other child, there are behaviors that I allow and there are behaviors that I don’t. I am trying very hard to raise children who can operate appropriately in society.

Just as you would not insist that a person with Parkinson’s disease should not have tremors, you cannot ask a person with autism to behave in a manner that is not consistent with his or her neurological makeup. Not to mention that there are some behaviors that my children haven’t mastered yet. We are working on them, and they are a work in progress. I refuse to apologize for my son, who acts in a developmentally appropriate manner, even if that manner is not what the public at large expects.

I emailed Smockity, and she was gracious enough to get back to me. She has received a lot of hate mail over her post. While I agree that her post was insensitive, I suggest that hurling insults in either direction is not the way to create autism awareness. Just as we want our children to be treated with respect, we should treat all people with respect, even those with whom we disagree.

She did not respond to a further question I had, which was this: I asked her if she were put in this same situation today, would she look at the child differently than the last time. I don’t know if she will. I hope she does. I hope that she and her readers—and the world at large—grows to understand that our children, who may not have an easy disability to watch, are still good kids. I hope she and others can learn that our children deserve the same respect as any other person, and that just as we rightfully accommodate other disabled people with things such as ramps, we should accommodate our autistic members of society with understanding and a lack of judgment.

To do otherwise is unfair—not just to people in the autism community, but to all people. Our kids (and adults) have every right to live in the world with typical people. Not only that, but they have so much to offer the typical world. Keeping them isolated from society helps no one.

So I ask that next time you see a child acting unusually, or next time you see a person who is acting in a way that you consider inappropriate, take a minute to consider that you don’t know the whole story. Understand that there might be factors at play that you aren’t aware of, whether they be behavioral, emotional, medical, or something else. Remember that some disabilities are invisible. But mostly understand that the wonderful diversity of all of our members of society makes our world as a whole better. If we all work together with understanding, compassion, and kindness, we can grow as a people.

If you are interested in reading more reactions to Smockity’s post, please visit Squidalicious or Liz Ditz‘s sites where they are keeping lists of links to posts responding to the original piece.

Jean blogs about all three of her beautiful children at Stimeyland and runs an autism events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont.

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on March 28, 2010.

I Dare You to Not Be Overwhelmed by the Cute

Today I took Quinn to the Playseum, a fun new children’s play space near me. There were many incredible and fun things to do there. Many. But when I was paying my admission fee and the lady told me that there were baby bunnies that the kids could pet, I knew that I would happily open my wallet and give her all of my cash if she asked. Because…bunnies. Baby bunnies.

For reals. It is possible for something soooo cute to actually exist?
This is Quinn trying to figure out how to smuggle the rabbit out of the Playseum.
No, wait. That was me.
Everything seems to be in order here.
Quite possibly my favorite photo in the history of time.
Quinn decided that these two bunnies really liked each other
and mashed their heads together to make them kiss.

After, like, forty minutes, the bunny wrangler put the rabbits away and we were forced to visit the other parts of the Playseum.

This next group of photos is cute too. Not Baby Bunny Cute, but still cute.

There was one room that looked like the kind of room I would imagine a grandma would hang out in. With the exception of the bunny room, Quinn liked it here best.

He’s going to grow up to be an eccentric old man.

Next up was a trip to the grocery store. Why do they complain so much when you take them to an actual grocery store, but they will happily play for hours in a pretend store?


Especially one with honest-to-gosh freezer cases? Without, you know, the freezer part.

Do you think I’m the only one who wonders
how many kids get trapped inside the cases?

I made him wear an apron for a while to accurately play the part of a worker.

This photo would only be cuter if it were a baby bunny wearing the apron.

And you’re never going to believe this, but they had a terra cotta warrior!

This photo is slightly less impressive than the one I lost from the museum.
Something about the scale is off.

So, yeah, all that was fun and all, but don’t you really think we should go back to the room with the bunnies? Amid the seventeen hundred photos of Quinn with a tiny rabbit that I took, I also found a few of him interacting with the other animals that the Playseum had.

Like this dove.

Shortly after this photo was taken, the dove flew away.
Which was kind of dramatic.

Quinn also liked the hamster. Especially after the lady let him feed it pieces of apple. Then we got to feel his cheeks to check out where he’d stashed the food.

The hamster’s cheeks, not Quinn’s.

All in all, a pretty successful afternoon. See? Not every outing is chaos.

And did I mention the baby bunnies?

Autism Unexpected: How Can I Explain Autism to Young Children?

As a parent of a child with autism, as well as two typical children, I have thought a great deal about how to explain autism to other children. Understanding is a crucial first step to acceptance. Fortunately, one mom out there in the blogosphere has done the hard work for me.

MOM-NOS is a blogger with a fourth-grade son who has autism. She recently had the opportunity to explain her son’s autism to his classmates and went on to write the best series of blog posts I have ever read about how to explain autism to young children. This series not only highlights MOM-NOS’ incredible grasp of autism spectrum disorders, but also how wonderful and perceptive typical peers can be. I cannot recommend enough that you click these links and read the posts. If you are interested in autism, I don’t think you will be sorry.

She began by asking the children to imagine that most people in the world are toasters, but that people with autism are hair dryers. Both toasters and hair dryers are wonderful and important, but hair dryers have a difficult time making toast.

Her next subject was echolalia, the repetitive, scripted way of speaking that many autistic people have. I have listened to my own son speak this way for years. Reading MOM-NOS’ explanation for children was eye-opening. She then continued by explaining why he repeated the same thing over and over. It makes so much sense when she likens these repetitive scripts to having a song stuck in your head.

Okay, so now we understand why hair dryer kids speak differently, but why do they need to run in circles and move around so much? Well, have you ever had your leg fall asleep and then had to shake and wiggle to make the feeling go away? Well, what if your whole body felt that way because your senses are so differently attuned and then someone came along and asked you to do math? By the end of this post, you will understand why kids with autism might need extra time to move around. And you might have done a little wiggling and grooving yourself.

Sensory issues are extremely common in people with autism. I have watched my son, as well as other kids with autism, react to noise by covering their ears. Sometimes they even react to the possibility of noise by covering their ears. Read how MOM-NOS made the children understand by equating this type of behavior to what a toaster kid would do in a scary movie.

My son is very attached to me. So is MOM-NOS’ son. (Well, he is attached to her.) My son has bonded very strongly with his aides. It wasn’t until I read MOM-NOS’ post explaining how these adults act sort of like translators and guides in an unfamiliar world that I was able to add another layer of comprehension to why my own son clings so tightly to these grown-ups.

Incredibly, what these children wanted to know about next was how to be a better friend to this child. They wanted to know how to be people that her son would want to hang out with. The beauty and love that these fourth- graders possess and wanted to be able to share is phenomenal. MOM-NOS was able to tell them how to find her son’s interests and use them to talk with him, as well as offering some pointers on how to give her son some extra time to process this talk and respond.

But will her son always be this way, the children wanted to know? Yes, she told them, he will always be a hair dryer, but he will grow and find new ways to make toast with his hair dryer, just as the typical kids will grow and find new ways to do things.

The kids also wondered if MOM-NOS’ son knows he is different. I have told my own son that he is autistic. I want it to be a word that is around him so he is not surprised by it one day when he is old enough to really understand what it means. In her next post, MOM-NOS explained that maybe the fact that autistic children are different isn’t the important point to make. The crucial point is that we are all different in our own way, and that the important thing is to be happy about it.

The next entry is this series is incredible and powerful. MOM-NOS told the kids the way they can help is by embracing differences, their own as well as others’. Create a community where it is okay to be unique. “Take it with you for the rest of your life,” she told them. It won’t just help people with autism—it will help everyone.

This is a lot of information to process, especially if you are a fourth-grader. Did these kids really learn anything? Do they understand autism and MOM-NOS’ son better? Read her final post to discover the wonderful comments and thoughts these young students had after their conversation.

These posts should be published in a book and handed out to every teacher in America. I will be passing them along to my son’s teachers. As I said at the top, acceptance comes with understanding. I think we are fortunate that there are writers, parents and educators who are putting out this information for all of us to learn from.

Jean blogs about her life at Stimeyland and runs an autism events website for Montgomery County, Maryland at AutMont. She would like to thank MOM-NOS for graciously allowing her to write this post and link to her amazing words.

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on March 25, 2010.

My Kids Are Not “Museum Kids”—Or “Out in Public Kids”

I don’t quite know how this shit always happens to me. I don’t think I’m that bad of a mom. I don’t think I’m neglectful in public. I try really hard. My kids aren’t bad kids. They try really hard. Why always the drama then?

My guys and I went to see the Terra Cotta Warriors at the National Geographic Museum today (maybe yesterday by the time you read this). It was a very cool exhibit and I got to go with my friend E and her two kids and also Urban Mama and her little trio.

In an effort to prove that it’s not all my fault that the Team Stimey portion of this trip was a little chaotic, I will now present to you a list of things that went wrong, with the implication that they are clearly not my fault.

1. The exhibit took place in the middle of DC.

2. Our tickets were for 5:30 p.m., a.k.a. rush hour.

3. You try navigating your way to this museum at 5 p.m. what with all the one-way streets and no-left-turn signs. It took me a looooong to time to triangulate in on the museum.

4. At which point I realized that I was never going to be able to find parking and that if I left the block it would take me 16 years to close in on the museum again. It was right there, a half block away from the museum and in the full throes of panic that I saw the giant PARK sign. The sign was so enormous, colorful, and noticeable because the people who run the parking garage are presumably able to use their extravagant fees to keep it up to snuff.

5. Quinn fell asleep during the museum triangulation, resulting in extreme surliness. You might notice that I italicized “extreme.” There’s a reason for that.

6. You know what I remembered at about this time? Oh, right. Shit. My kids are insane, bad at museums, and extra-excitable when five of their friends are nearby.

7. We took a visit to the bathroom and settled in to wait for our friends. At this point, Quinn started to let me know exactly what he thought about everything: “I can’t walk! I hate benches! I want to play Super Mario Bros! I love you, Mom! This place is boring! I want to go home!” I’d like to remind you of two things at this point: (a) We hadn’t yet entered the museum, and (b) Quinn is batshit crazy.

8. Despite the pre-exhibit trip to the bathroom, Jack demands to go potty five minutes after entering the museum. Fortunately the guard sitting under the “no re-entry” sign takes pity on us and allows us to return to the exhibit after I drag one desperate and two surly children to the bathroom.

9. After leaving the exhibit (absolutely no photography allowed!), I got an awesome photo of my kids and E’s kids standing in the one place you can take a photo with a (replica of a) terra cotta warrior. After I got home and tried to download it, my computer ate it and now it’s gone. Gone. Sigh. Gone. I made my own version for you so you could see kinda how awesome the photo was.

Here’s something else I’m bad at: Photoshop.

10. My kids and I went outside to play in the courtyard, because Fresh air! Ducks! A water feature! Fewer people to bump into outside!

Sam & Quinn and Quinn & Sam.
Those sure are some shiny rocks.

11. I’m standing down at one end of the long, thin strip of water when I see Jack at the other end. He looks determinedly at the water and starts running straight for it. My computer also ate the photo of what happened next. But I recreated it for you with this other photo that I took later. Ignore Quinn’s head. And the reflection of Jack (or maybe Sam) in the rock. They are irrelevant to the substance of this recreation. Which is, simply:

Hi, duck friend! Room for one more?

12. Jack was trying to leap across the water. Even from way down at the other end, I could tell that was what he was doing. To someone not tuned in to Jack? It probably looked exactly like he deliberately planted himself in the middle of the water. The kid really stuck his landing.

13. I was rendered speechless. Jack climbed out and then stood there dripping while I both laughed and cried and he explained how he had wanted to jump across. Evidently I am not the only person in my family with poor depth perception and delusions of super abilities.

14. Later, Jack made a bridge with his body. If only he’d chosen this end of the water feature to jump across.


Huh. I don’t think that list helped me out any. I still kinda sound like a lunatic. As do my children.

I was talking to my friend ALW today prior to this whole thing, and I said to her, “Man, there must be people all over this country who think to themselves about me, “That girl is a mess!

Way to prove your point, Stimey.

Kee-razy

I have long considered Quinn to be the most typical of my three children. Which is ironic, considering that he is so batshit crazy.

I can’t even put a link with the words “batshit crazy” because there are far too many to choose from.

Today I took Quinn to a Child Find (early intervention) screening at the suggestion of his preschool teacher.

I Sure Do Know How to Make a First Impression

We’ve had Jack on a waitlist for a social skills group for a while now. It finally came through for us and his first day was this week. I’m particularly excited because the child of a Mysterious Local Austim Blogger (M-LAB from here on out)* is in the same group. M-LAB seems to have her shit together when it comes to therapists and what not. This isn’t the first time I’ve taken a therapy recommendation from her. Plus, her kid seems cool.

Jack was happy to be in the waiting room and happily went off with his group. I was very pleased until the end of the session when the other two kids came running out to give their parents giant hugs and there was no Jack to be seen.

See, Jack was delighted with the therapy room and had no interest in leaving. So I dragged him out and dropped him on the ground. I was standing over him with about a third of my attention on the therapist who was telling us about the session and two thirds of my attention on Jack, who was clearly planning a break for it.

He made his move, I reached down quickly to grab him, and instead of catching his arm with my hand as planned, I caught the side of his face with my fingernail.

Commence with the screaming and the crying and the guilt and the holding on to doorjambs with fingernails and the prying off of doorjambs and, you know, basically the whole scene.

He made me say “I’m sorry” one hundred times. And then he made me say, “I’m sorry for putting your skin on my body.”

He was pissed. Plus it looked like it really, really hurt. My kids don’t use band-aids very much, but Jack insisted on one after the great skin stealing of Two Thousand Ten. Of course, the band-aids I have in my car quite literally pre-date Quinn and feature The Wiggles on them. In fact, they are so old that they still have Greg Wiggle instead of the new guy who replaced him.

Here is Jack in the parking lot of the 7-11 where I took him to get an ice cream bar to bribe him into happiness and forgiveness.

It only kinda worked.

Team Stimey may be loud and buffoonish, but at least you don’t forget us immediately, right? How important are first impressions anyway?

* Thus unnamed because she doesn’t publicize where she lives on her blog.