Saturday, December 30, 2006

electronics -- to view, or not to view

That is the question.

And the answer's not simple. Well, I suppose if you're the "no TV" type of parents, it's a simple answer -- you just don't own a TV, and voila, no problem. However, I happen to like TV. I don't watch a lot of it, but I do enjoy a couple of shows (like, um, LOST!), and football is just NOT an option for me, it's what I live and breath for this time of year (GO PATRIOTS!). I used to be an absolute baseball nut, but the Redsox 1986 season did me in on that sport. I've not been able to shake the football fever though, nor do I have any desire to. I also love (LOVE!) watching movies on video/DVD. LOVE it, I tell you. Don't do it often, but when I do, well, I LOVE it.

So it just seems a little bit of a stretch to convince me that my kids shouldn't watch and enjoy TV too. Mind you, I can't stand child-directed advertising, so we never actually watch TV per se (as in, we don't turn on TV stations to watch -- in fact, we only get 2 stations, and not very well -- we don't have cable). But we've got a pretty extensive collection of kid videos and movies on video and DVD. And above, you can see a photo from about 10 minutes ago, of my two boys enjoying a DVD movie they got for Christmas ("Ice Age: The Meltdown").

RDI says no electronic media if it causes obsession problems. That was certainly the case for us with Video Games -- we had to sell our PS2 system when we started RDI, because it was obvious that Jacob was having problems with it -- he'd play the same game over and over for hours, often SCREAMING while he was doing it. Wasn't too much of a stretch for us to chuck it out. And we never did let him get involved with the computer beyond simply typing on the word processor. Even today, a half an hour of watching even someone else play video games while visiting will throw him into dysregulation. Truly, video games are poison for Jacob.

But to toss out the videos -- that was a whole 'nother ball of wax. True, initially Jacob seemed a bit too involved with them, in that he wouldn't come away from the screen if we asked him to. But that seemed to be an RDI stage problem -- once we'd mastered Stage 1, he was readily coming away from the screen to do other activities with me. So we determined that watching videos was NOT an obsession for him. In fact, he didn't ask to watch TV very often, it was more a family thing (we'd all sit down and watch the TV together), or a keep-the-kids-occupied-for-half-an-hour thing if I needed to get something done that they couldn't be involved in.

One argument to be made against videos was that Jacob was scripting from them excessively -- memorizing lines and repeating them constantly. But it wasn't just TV he was doing that with -- it was books and converastions he heard as well. My solution to that was to amass as large a collection as we could of both kid videos/movies and books, so that at least it wasn't the same lines over and over, and so that we weren't repeating media with him very often (with the number of videos we have, there's no need to watch the same thing twice in a 3 or 4 month span). That worked pretty well to keep my sanity at a usable level.

The situation becomes a little more complicated when you add the Enki Education view into it. Their claim (and it's backed by studies, and just plain makes sense to me!) is that watching TV causes damage to the Vestibular and Proprioceptive systems, by providing lots of visual input without any vestibular or proprioceptive input. Am I damaging my children by letting them watch TV? Enki says no to TV, except on very sparing occassions for an educational nature program. My thoughts are a little more moderate -- yes to TV, but in small, infrequent doses.

Most days we don't have any time to watch TV anyway. But on the days that we're home for large chunks of time, Zoo Boy will occassionally ask to watch something. Jacob almost never does. I think Zoo Boy is being prompted by the TV being right in the living room where they are playing, so I'm in the process of moving the TV out of our main living spaces. (As soon as football season is over, that is. Just another month!) I have a feeling that removing the TV alone is going to cut their viewing time down to just about nothing. We do, as a family, watch a couple of Spongebob Squarepants episodes in bed as part of our family time at night. Honestly, I'd prefer that we didn't (not that I don't adore Spongebob -- I do! -- I just think that TV before bed isn't the greatest of ideas). But it's such a part of our bedtime ritual now, and my kids don't have any sleep problems, that I am hesitant to change anything up right now. And since some days it's the only screen time my kids get, I'm letting it slide for now.

So, like everything, I guess whether or not to watch TV (or play video games, or allow computer time) is going to be a personal family decision, based on how the family members respond to it. I DO think that less screen time is best. But I also think that a little bit of electronic media isn't always a bad thing. Like with everything else, moderation is fine, UNLESS it's actually damaging. Certainly there are many RDIing and/or Enkiing families that choose NO electronic media, and I have no doubt that that's the right decision for their family.

Friday, December 29, 2006

sensory integration and Enki Education

Getting back to the Sensory Integration topic for a bit, I wanted to talk about what Enki Education has to say about it, mixed in with my own thoughts on the topic. Since the Enki curriculum is based on child development research, it is inevitable that it is going to include Sensory Integration in it's program, since the development of a child's sensory system is basic to their development in other areas. (If the child isn't processing the world properly, then their brain is not going to function properly, which is going to be a major problem during an educational program.)

Enki first looks at how young children were raised traditionally, say a hundred or more years ago. There was a lot of manual labor, even for the very young. Travel was by horseback or wagon or on foot. There was lots of hauling -- water, animal feed, supplies, cooking materials, building supplies. Mucking out the stalls, grooming horses, cleaning out the chicken coop, plowing the fields were a daily part of life. Washing the laundry was a very physically involved activity. So was putting food on the table -- milking the cow, churning butter, gathering eggs, plucking chickens, kneading bread, stirring stew. Sensory Integration was built into those kids' daily lives automatically, nobody had to think about providing "heavy work" for them, it happened naturally, daily. Vestibular and proprioceptive stimulation occured all day, every day.

Now think about how the kids of today are raised. When they need to travel, they are strapped into car seats in smooth-riding vehicles. Vast mileage is covered in no-time flat, and children are pummeled with visual input without any vestibular or proprioceptive input. The same is true of watching television or movies. And there's just not much opportunity for kids to participate in "heavy work" -- food comes from the fridge, often pre-packaged and ready-to-serve. Laundry is tossed into a washing machine, a button is pushed, and voila, you're done. What has replaced all that natural heavy work? Nothing, in most cases. And is there any wonder Sensory Processing problems are on the rise? And I'll take it a step further -- if unable to process their world properly, wouldn't these kids be more prone to other developmental problems, such as ADD and Autism?

There's a concern with Tactile feedback as well (which is the third important "base" sense). Traditionally, kids were raised with a minimum of pre-constructed toys -- they played with sticks and rocks and other natural things they found hanging around the farm, balls of wool yarn, leather and wooden items. What toys they did have were made of cotton, wool, and wood. Those natural substances give back a tactile experience that is very different from the touching of plastic (which is what most kids' toys today are made of). The Enki materials also suggest a core feeling of disconnectedness with unnatural substances. But whether or not you believe that, certainly the experience of holding a rough piece of wood in your hand is different than holding a smooth plastic toy.

In any case, Enki suggests mirroring as closely as possible the way young children were raised back before Sensory issues were a concern. Toys made from natural materials, no TV, minimize car travel, provide plenty of "heavy work" that at least immitates the work kids used to do (but why stop at just immitating it -- why not just DO it?). Enki goes a step forward, providing sensory activities right in their curriculum, which is a good idea, considering that not many of us out there are really living like the pioneers did. And it makes sense to me that for a kid with actual problems with Sensory Processing (like Jacob), there's a need for even more (the professional involvement of an OT trained in Sensory Integration Therapy, or at least a solid at-home Sensory Integration program.)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

the potty thing

(Here's the kids in their new dress-up costumes that they gave to each other for Christmas -- aren't they adorable??)

Ok, that's the cute part of this post. The rest of this is going to be a down-and-dirty, more information that you probably want, long and droning, and quite probably whining, rant about our potty training woes. Here goes.

I'm actually not sure where to start with this. I guess with where we're at NOW and I can fill in the backstory as we go. I hope it doesn't end up being as confusing as one of those movies that flashes back and forth so much that it loses you by the 3rd scene....

TODAY in our potty training adventures, Jacob is wearing pull-ups during the day, and diapers at night. He's peeing in the toilet (usually upon prompting, but he's generally holding his urine until we prompt him, and occassionally will take the initiative to go himself to the potty). He's peeing in pretty much ANY toilet (sometimes with a bit of cajoling), including public bathrooms, which is a nice generalization that I know a lot of folks have problems with. (Well, with their 2 and 3 year olds at least....) He is pooping in his diaper or pull-up still, but I'm so happy about the peeing thing that I don't really care right now about the pooping.

Here's some history: when Jacob was....oh gosh, I guess about 2 1/2 or 3, he started having some major constipation problems. I don't think it had anything to do with actually BEING constipated, I think he didn't like the sensation of pooping, so he was purposely witholding his poop, which gets you into a terrible bind (quite literatlly!), producing stool so large that it's very difficult (and painful!) to pass when your body finally insists upon it. Needless to say, we had a lot of cramping, screaming, nigthmares over this, which went on for a good year or two -- enemas (the evil "e" word) were involved, and none of us were happy with that. I researched all the possible ways of dealing with this "naturally", and there just wasn't anything that worked for us -- we either couldn't get the substance into him (oils), or there was no way to control how much of the dose he took (metamucil mixed with his drinks) and the results we saw were too hit-and-miss to be helpful, or the stuff we did manage to get into him just didn't seem to have any effect.

Sometime after his Autism diagnosis, we asked the Pediatrician for help. She prescribed Glycolax (also known as Miralax), which forces water into the large intestine, making for mushier, easier to pass stool. (The mushier the stool is, the less sensation it provides, and the harder it is to retain.) We messed around a lot with the dosage. We messed around a lot with trying to wean him off of it. We struggled with our own demons about it -- we are a very firm NO MEDICATION sort of family, to be giving something like this just felt wrong. We read reports of Miralax causing a bevy of problems -- including being implicated as a possible contributing cause of Autism (then again, what isn't....). For a couple of years we tried everything in our power to try to get him OFF the Glycolax. But the truth of the matter was that pooping was SUCH a traumatic experience for Jacob, which only was made worse by our efforts to reduce or discontinue his meds, that we finally threw in the towel in favor of trying to get him OK about pooping again. A year or so later, he no longer seems as traumatized about it, and now actually tolerates us suggesting that SOME DAY he'll put his poop in the potty too.

One thing that helped us come to grips with this was when he was tested for Celiac disease. I haven't talked about that yet, and I will in detail at some point, because Celiac is something that I think every parent of a child with Autism should be aware of and have them tested for (and was something I'd never even had on my radar before it was pointed out to me by a woman with several kids with both Autism and Celiac). Jacob does NOT have Celiac disease. But in the process of having him tested for it, he had a complete rectal exam by a Pediatric Gastroenterologist. (Don't think THAT wasn't a fun experience.....) She was very reassuring about the safety of the Glycolax product, and the importance of the product in the scheme of helping these kids get over their bowel trauma. She explained in detail (with illustrations!) how the product pulls water into the large intestine, and graphically explained how it would be very rare -- except in the case of an actual allergy to the product -- for it to cause any undesired side-effects or lasting problems. I left that appointment committed to continuing Glycolax long-term -- all my guilt about it was left in that office. I no longer have any plans or schemes or dates to start weaning him off. I'm going to trust my gut as to when the time is right. And that certainly won't be until years after he's using the potty for ALL of his toileting needs.

The peeing on the potty is fairly new to us. For years the child wouldn't even set foot in the bathroom -- the room was just too overwhelming for him. Around his 4th birthday, I made a big effort to get him at least sitting in there regularly, on the toilet on an insert, since he was too big for a small potty seat. He almost never had any success (I think he peed there a total of 3 times over the course of the next year and a half), but we rewarded him anyway by letting him read books there. I read about every potty training method imaginable. Most of them I instinctively knew would cause more problems than they would solve. The only one that seemed even somewhat doable was a reward-based system, but Jacob was totally non-bribable -- there was just nothing that he wanted enough to motivate him to actually pee in that toilet.

Salvation came in a marshmallow form. My Mom, ever the optomist, stuffed Jacob's Easter Basket this past year with all sorts of candy that he had no interest in eating. But one of the items was Marshmallow Peeps (she figured I'd eat them in any case, as they were a childhood favorite of mine). Imagine my surprise when I walked in her living room to see him stuffing his face with them, making all sorts of horrifyingly satistfied sounds while doing so. He ate the entire package before I even knew he was doing it, and had a predictable tummy ache that night. But that hooked him on Marshmallow peeps. I hit all the post-easter sales and stocked my cabinets full of the disgusting treats, then told him that every time he peed on the potty, he could have one. Suddenly we had peeing on the potty once or twice a day! When, after a couple months, we'd worked our way up to several times a day, we started varying up the rewards -- sometimes a peep, sometimes a piece of hershey's chocolate, sometimes a few M&Ms. Eventually we started dropping the treats, and now he only rarely ever asks for one, using "I peed on the potty" as a catch line to ensure his success at getting one from me.

We still have to conquer getting him to go to the potty when he needs to, rather than when we tell him to, and we really need to get him to initialize that first morning pee, as he gets up a good hour before Zoo Boy and I do most mornings. And, of course, there's the whole poop thing still ahead of us, but we'll get there. The fact that he's wearing pullups -- and keeping them dry! -- during the day is satisfying enough for me, since it took us 2 years to convince him to try something other than his standard diaper (hooray for RDI stage 5!!). He's been wearing underwear over his diaper/pull-up for a year now, since Santa brought him a package of underwear in his stocking last year. He's yet to let us just put the underwear on him with out the pull-up -- even though he's not had a daytime accident in months. But one step a time, we'll get there eventually.

Now, lest anyone thinks that I'm pretty laid back about this, let me assure you, I've had more than my share of trauma over the whole thing. Remember, I've been at this for, well, a long time. He's 6. And Zoo Boy shows NO sign of having any interest in doing anything anywhere but in his diaper. And I have NO energy to deal with it right now. So right now I'm in coasting mode with the whole potty thing. I'm still glowing with victory every time Jacob runs in to use the potty at the McDonald's. He's even using their soap to wash his hands -- which is a whole 'nother story. But needless to say, he and I have both come a long way, baby!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

what we're reading now

Now that I'm all caught up with our homeschooling history (such that it is), I thought it would be nice to post each week about what we're reading. We read the same three stories all week long during our Family Storytime (which occurs at bedtime), usually these are books from the local Library, all of them are preschool-gauged picture books, and are based around our bi-monthly theme. The first book is introduced on Saturday, the second added on Sunday, and the third on Monday (so that they are not hearing more than one new book a day). We read the same books all week because of what Enki Education has taught us about the way young children learn -- they experience the book on a different level each night, at first just openly listening to it, then taking it in gradually, and eventually proccessing it fully (as fully as their level of development allows). We then make the book available for the kids to read and look at on their own for the next few weeks. It's important to us that these books are nourishing both in content and in illustration -- we want books that serve to feed their budding imaginations and fill them with wonder.

Since my family will be celebrating the Christmas holiday together this coming Saturday (the 30th), we're still working on the Christmas theme this week. Here's the books we've chosen for this week's Family Story Time, and a bit of a review on each:

"Who's That Knocking On Christmas Eve" by Jan Brett. A wonderfully imaginative nordic tale of a boy with an ice bear who helps out a girl with a troll problem on Christmas Eve. The 3-part illustrations tell several sides of the same tale at once (great for RDI perspective taking!), and the air-brushed background pulls it all together. Just fantastic for budding imaginations!

"The Animal's Christmas Carol" by Helen Ward. This is a gorgeously illustrated verse about the night the animals spoke, and what they said. Despite not being a Christian family, we love the Nativity story and tell it frequently this time of year -- there is a magical quality to it that really grabs our kids, and a generosity of spirit which is our emphasis at Christmas time. This book captures the wonder and cooperative, giving spirit of the season, set in the stable on that magical night in Bethlehem.

"Nicholi" by Cooper Edens, illustrated by A. Scott Banfill. This is Zoo Boy's favorite book of the season, and I can see why. During a traditional Christmas Day snow carving festival, a gentle stranger, dressed in beautiful robes, arrives and carves a magical sleigh and reindeer, which he then uses to take the children of the town for a ride through the sky. When the ride is over, he and his team mysteriously vanish, leaving behind only the harnesses and Nicholi's clothing. They leave it to the children's imagination to identify who that myseterious strange may have been, which fits in with our RDI work just fabulously.

Monday, December 25, 2006

christmas past and present

Christmas 2000: Jacob was 2 months old. I have a photo of him in his bouncy seat surrounded by presents. Pretty funny, actually, but hey, we were new parents and pretty excited about the holiday! We didn't bother with a Christmas tree, but my mother had made him a stocking.

Christmas 2001: Jacob was mesmerized by the Christmas lights, so despite the fact that we weren't going to get a tree, we did, and decorated it just with lights. He spent hours staring at them. He was new to toddling, so we kept the tree out on our deck.

Christmas 2002: I was pregnant with Zoo Boy, Jacob was walking, we had a gate around the tree to protect it, and Jacob spent 2 hours on Christmas morning opening and closing the door of the Blues Clues refrigerator that came with the playset we gave him. At my family celebration, The Map Man and I alternated spending time out of the room with an overwhelmed Jacob (who missed the first hour or so of the festivities because he'd fallen asleep in his carseat and we were afraid to wake him). This was before we realized anything was "wrong". He enjoyed the "christmas concert" put on by his cousins (mostly small kids playing toy instruments very badly), sitting in my lap, clapping his hands, and saying "that was good!" (a scripted sequence he'd memorized from a video) after every "song".

Christmas 2003: Just a few weeks prior to Jacob's diagnosis. I really don't remember anything from that Christmas, I had other things on my mind. I do know that at his 3rd birthday party two months prior to that, he spent over an hour putting a card in and out of an envelope. I suspect Christmas was much the same.

Christmas 2004: This was a couple months after starting RDI. As in the prior several years, it took us hours to get through opening just a few packages. Once opened, he'd focus on that one toy for over an hour, before finally being convinced to open another present. This was the year that he had an ugly burn below his lower lip in every holiday photo, from biting into a hamburger that was too hot (and which he was oblivious to). At The Map Man's parent's house, he jumped up and down flapping his hands while watching his cousins playing.

Christmas 2005: This was the first year that Jacob seemed to "get" Christmas. He fell in love with the idea of Santa Clause, and actually got close enough to Santa on an impromtu visit at a local light display for me to get a picture of him. He wouldn't sit on his lap, mind you, but he stood next to him and actually spoke a few words to him in response to my prompts. We wrote a letter to Santa, and he was thrilled to wake up Christmas morning to discover that he'd come and brought him what he asked for. He sat at the kid's table at Christmas dinner with his cousins, eating his cheese and crackers in lieu of what was being served -- but he SAT there, instead of with us at the "big table" or with him at the kid's table. It was a wonderful Christmas!

Christmas 2006: All I can say is WHOA. Jacob 100% "gets" the whole Christmas thing and is a full participating part of it, no scaffolding or assistance needed. He wrote his own letter to Santa, and sat on Santa's lap (during a planned visit) chatting to him (and left with a wave and a "thanks Santa!"), chatted with Mrs. Clause and some of the elves, making real, albeit simple, conversation with them. At Christmas dinner he participated in excited, reciprocal conversation with his cousins at the kids' table (still eating Cheese and Crackers instead of the meal, but actually offering to share them with his cousins). During our "concert" he sang and participated as enthusiastically (maybe more so) as anyone there. Upon opening his first present this morning, he asked what it was (a block and marble run), and when I explained it, he exclaimed "Oh! I LOVE that kind of toy!" When I asked him if he wanted to get it out to play with it, or open another gift, he chose picking another gift to give someone else: "I'll pick a present to give -- here, Mommy, here's one for you!" He helped Zoo Boy set up his new farm play set and the two of them spent a good part of the morning engrossed in pretend play. I heard no scripting. I saw no stimming. There was only a little boy engrossed in the spirit and fun of the season. I guess I can check off the first item on my Christmas wish list!

Here's wishing you all the very merriest of holidays!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

no advice, please

Oh, gosh, I don't know how to say this without sounding like a total witch. So I guess I'm just going to say it. Hopefully nobody will take this personally, and will understand that I'm just feeling particularly vulnerable about this stuff. Here goes.

I LOVE that people want to offer me advice, that they want to share what worked for their kids, that they want to help ME.

But I don't love getting advice about things we're having trouble with. First of all, I've read about it all, trust me. Most of it doesn't work for my kid, much of it has caused more problems than it's solved, and some of it is not supportive of our RDI program, so I would never try it to begin with. Secondly, I'm TOO EXHAUSTED to try anything new right now -- I already have some "answers" to some of our problems that I've just not had the energy or resources to address yet. I would love to hear what worked for your kids, truly I would! So in the light of, "here's what we did", please feel free to share. But please, PLEASE, don't tell me that I should try this or that or whatever. To me that feels like pointing and criticizing my "mothering inadequacies". Even though in my head I know that most of the folks who offer me advice are doing it from a "good" place, in my heart it wounds me, makes me feel defensive and inadequate. I don't want to feel that way, nobody does.

I truly believe that I am doing the absolute very best that I can for my kids. I've put a lot of effort into researching all the possibilities, have implemented what I can, and will implement what else we need when I am able. I write here to share where we're at and what has worked for us. I'd love to read about what works for you. But I try not to presume that I would know what would and would not work for anyone else's child. Please show me a similar courtesy and assume that I've researched the options and am doing my best.

Believe me, when I want advice, I'll ask for it! In the meantime, let's just stick to open sharing. I think that's what will best preserve all of our feelings of adequacy.


After the personal trauma of posting about our eating woes yesterday, I couldn't handle talking about potty training quite yet. So I chose to talk about teeth instead. I'm not sure that's any less stressful. But I feel like if I get this all off my chest, maybe I can just post a week's worth of happy holiday chatter after this. Or maybe I'll be in this morose blogging mood for the remainder of the winter. (I can hear the collective groan!)

OK, so, we all know that kids with Autism and the Dentist is not exactly a match made in heaven. In fact, we avoided it for years. We built up a steady, progressive dental care program at home, and Jacob really came to enjoy tooth brushing and us messing around in his mouth in general. He would run screaming from dental floss, but we figured if we brushed thoroughly twice a day, at his age, what difference would it make. (I don't remember flossing until I was in my teens, and I was cavity-free until about then, and I wasn't even GOOD about brushing -- same with The Map Man, tho I'm guessing he was more attentive to his teeth than I was to mine.) I figured we were made-in-the-shade -- good genetics, good tooth care plan, why bother with the dentist.

When he was 5, I decided it was time to take him in -- that's the age my sister first took her son in, and we'd had a year of RDI under our belts, so I thought maybe Jacob could handle it if I found the right dentist. I located a Pediatric Dentist who has a grown son with Autism, and has many, many clients that have ASD -- AND that had an actual Autism Protocol. I liked the sounds of that! We tested him out with Zoo Boy (who DID have significant dental problems due to a congenital defect in his tooth enamel), and were impressed. We discussed Jacob with him and set up an appointment.

In March of 2006 we brought Jacob in for his first actual appointment. In January we had brought him just to play with the toys in the waiting room, and in February we met with the hygienist that works with the ASD kids, and she gave him a tour of the "special room" where he got to play with the chair, and the dental implements. She sent him home with various and assorted pieces of equiptment for us to familiarize him with at home. Methodically over the next month, we prepared him for his dental visit. We switched him to an electric toothbrush, we got him used to us touching his teeth with the scaler, we got him drinking out out the straw that sucks water away from his mouth (what IS the name of that thing??).

What I wasn't prepared for was just how successful this approach was going to be, or how truly skilled with kids with Autism these folks were. Armed with his own Tigger electric toothbrush, they swept him away from me the moment we stepped in the office, making it clear that I was to have NO part of this. I sat with massive trepitation on the edge of my seat, waiting for screams and crying from down the hall. What I heard was giggles, shreiks of delight, and laughter. 45 minutes later, the dentist came down the hall with a slew of digital photos showing a very happy, joyful Jacob having the time of his life while they examined, cleaned, scaled, and polished his teeth. HOW did they do that??? I was just amazed. And grateful. And relieved that our dental cleaning program had resulted in no visible cavities, tho the dentist warned me that until he feels comfortable taking x-rays with Jacob (he didn't want to push it this visit), he wouldn't know for sure if there was anything going on down deep. I brushed it away, jubilant in the positive exprience he'd just had. They sent him home with a book about his visit to the dentist, with pictures of him, the hygienist, and the dentist. It became one of Jacob's prized possessions. Every time we drove anywhere near the office, Jacob would talk about his friend the dentist and all the fun things he did there. Every time I mentioned going back at some point, he got excited and talked about how much he liked going to the dentist. Heck, I'd wished we'd taken that approach to his Doctor's visits (which NEVER go like that!).

The dentist had reccommended that we come back with Jacob every 3 months, so that he remembered his positive experiences and that we kept on top of anything that might develop in his mouth. But, here's the thing -- we don't have dental insurance, and this guy is EXPENSIVE. Well worth the money, mind you, but EXPENSIVE. And, um, we're broke. Beyond broke, actually, we're in debt beyond our wildest nightmares. Spending money for a dentist with a kid with a healthy mouth just didn't seem like a wise use of our widening debt load. So, we didn't.

Flash ahead to this past week. I tell Jacob we're going to the dentist, and he does backflips of joy (well, not literally, but he's pretty excited about it). He RUNS in, can't wait to get to the "special room". They review his picture book with him, whipping him into a frenzy of delight. Off he goes with his "friends" for his cleaning. The dentist comes out in a bit to yell at me for not bringing him back every three months like he told me to, but that everything looks good, and that they're in the middle of doing a flouride treatment on him (without my permission, mind you, which irked me a little, but in retrospect I probably would have allowed it anyway, since Jacob will not let us use Flouride toothpaste on him -- but still, if you're going to load a kid's mouth up with a controversial poison, don't you think it's a good policy to ask the parent's permission first??). He said he wanted to get a couple of x-rays too, if Jacob would allow it, and tried to send me on a guilt trip for not bringing him in every 3 months LIKE HE SUGGESTED so that he could have prepared him for the x-ray room and proceedure. I refused to feel guilty, and he went back to work. They got the x-rays no problem.

After the appointment, a happy, singing Jacob came skipping back down the hall to play in the waiting room. I chatted with the hygientist, she said everything looked great, and that they wanted to schedule him for sealing of his 6 yr molars, as they are particularly prone to decay, and we certainly didn't want Jacob to have to have cavities filled. So we started setting up the appointment (scrambling in my head trying to figure out where THAT money was going to come from), when the floor fell out from underneath me.

From the other room, the booming voice of the dentist "Wait, this kid's got two cavities." I became paralized with fear. My breathing grew short as he came out, showed me the two ugly spots, deep between a couple of molars. He explained that they are not permanent teeth, but the location required filling, since they could effect both the bone growth of his jaw, and the development of the permanent teeth beneath. They were going to be involved proceedures, with novacaine. They'd do the sealing of the six year molars in a couple weeks, and decide, based on how he tolerates that, what the course of action will be. I choked back tears as I schedule the sealing appointment, whispering "but we've been so good about brushing". The hygenist said "It's not lack of brushing that causes those types of cavities, it's lack of flossing". ARGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

I recently had a lot (and I mean a LOT) of dental work done. While sitting in that chair for hours at a time every week for over a month, all sorts of sensory insults going on inside my mouth, one persistant theme kept running through my brain "Thank heavens this is ME and not Jacob. How would he ever be able to put up with something like this", the whole time patting myself on the back for being so attentive from the start to his dental care, waiting for the right time and the right dentist to work with. Building up all those positive memories of the dentist office.

And now that's all about to be undone, because of a lack of flossing. And of course, now Jacob is perfectly happy to have me floss his teeth. A little too late....

As I walked out of the Pediatric Dentist's office, feeling numb, the dentist's voice trailed behind me "you may as well get used to it -- he's got big teeth inside a small mouth, there's going to be a lot of orthodontic work in that kid's future."

Friday, December 22, 2006

the food thing

I figure it's time for me to post about some of the skeletons in our closet, lest anyone thinks our life is a walk in the park at this point in our Autism Remediation program. The two biggies for us are food, and potty training. I'll tackle the food thing tonight, and if I manage to survive talking about that, maybe I'll post about potty training at some point too. Though I may need a few weeks (or months) to recover from the trauma of talking about food....

The food thing. This has been one of our predominant nightmares throughout the past 3 years of our lives. Just the mention of dinner invitations, the words "snack provided" on program descriptions, or an offer to get together for lunch, causes me to have a moderate anxiety attack. I specifically arranged for our little homeschooling co-op to meet between mealtimes. I've avoided lunch dates for years.

The problem is that Jacob only eats a small handful of things. It has nothing to do with being "picky", or "spoiled", or any number of other suggestions (mostly implying poor mothering on my part) that people freely offer if the topic comes up (and trust me, I try to avoid the topic coming up at all costs!). It has to do with Sensory issues. And Autism. Though at this point it's more a Sensory thing and less an Autism thing, even though it's much easier to blame it on the Autism. I've found in general saying "he has Autism" gets us out of a lot of uncomfortable situations. Or rather, it did, back when he obviously had Autism. Now that it's more subtle to see, most folks just think I'm crazy. Maybe I am. I'm definitely food-phobic! I just wish that translated into ME avoiding eating so much, instead of the opposite (stress-eating, one of my personal demons).

So, anyway, here goes, I'm rolling up my sleeves and laying it all out on the table for anyone who cares to read this. Here's what Jacob currently will eat (and note, it has to be EXACTLY as described, down to brand and variety name, otherwise forget it):

Orange Juice (Tropicana pulp-free with calcium)
Bananas (though only if they are VERY ripe)
Apples (on occassion)
Froot Loops (dry, no milk)
Cheese and Crackers (Wispride Spreadable Cheddar and Red Oval Mini Stoned Wheat Thins)
Oatmeal Cookies (Archway, NO RAISINS)
Graham Crackers (Honey Maid regular variety)
Yellow Cake with Vanilla frosting (we can get away with a bit of variety with this one!)
McDonald's Double Cheeseburger, plain
McDonald's French Fries
McDonald's Vanilla Shake
McDonald's Vanilla Ice Cream (frozen yogurt)
Dunkin Donuts Old-Fashioned Donut
Rold Gold thin pretzels
Hershey's milk chocolate
M&Ms plain
Marshmallow Peeps (you know, the disgusting Easter candy)

He'll also nibble other kinds of chocolate, and some other kinds of cookies, and will claim to "like" them, but will refuse to actually eat them.

So, reading through the above list, you will see that there are only 3 things that we can possibly make a meal out of. So we serve those three things every day, and here they are:

Breakfast: Banana, Froot Loops, Orange juice

Lunch: McDonald's Double Cheeseburger, Fries and Shake

Dinner: Cheese and Crackers, Orange Juice

Now, we DO mix in a really good liquid vitamin and mineral supplement (Brainchild Nutritonal's Spectrum Support II) with his Orange Juice twice a day (it's supposed to be given 3 times a day, but we do the best we can, and we figure twice is better than not at all!). And we mix rice protein powder in his spreadable cheese. The lunch doesn't thrill me, but since the cheeseburger is the only animal protein the kid'll eat, I go with it anyway. If only they'd drop the trans fats at McDonald's I'd be a much happier mommy.

(Incidentally, on a side note, I was the sort of pre-mommy who swore I'd only ever feed my kids organic foods, and that McDonalds' food would never pass their lips. I've lived to eat those words -- pretty much literally. Honestly, I feel like McDonald's has kept my child alive, and I am eternally grateful for their existance. So don't judge me for feeding it on a regular basis to my kids....until you walk in my shoes....)

For desert after dinner, we have cake that we make from a Duncan Hines (or whatever) yellow cake mix, but we add 2 TBSP rice protein powder and 2 TBSP ground flax seed. So it has slightly more nutritional value than "just" cake. We tried mixing cod liver oil in the frosting, but we just couldn't get that to fly.

The other items on his "will eat" list we try to rotate as snacks depending on the day, with the exception of the McDonald's icecream, which we have pretty much every day after lunch (given that there's actually calcium in there and the boy won't drink milk).

As you've probably guessed, eating over someone else's house is pretty stressful for us. Well, for me. I don't think Jacob's really notices too much (unless he's teased about it -- someone commenting on his food is enough to make him refuse to eat anything, and has happened to him more than once), so long as I bring along enough food that he will eat. But it's meant that he's had pretzels or graham crackers for dinner if we've stayed on the spur of the moment, which opens up my parenting skills to all sorts of criticisms. It's a constant sore topic with me, and one of the few things that I'm quite sensitive to. And it continously amazes me that people don't seem to think I see them rolling their eyes, or hear the comments they whisper to each other in the kitchen while getting dessert or coffee.

At this point, I'd like to bring attention to something. One of the most touted myths that gets thrown at me on a fairly regular basis is "no kid will starve themselves to death". This is always said by some mother who "knows better" than I do, and thinks I can "fix" Jacob's food selectiveness by just not offering him anything but what *I* want him to eat. Well, I have a newsflash for people that hold to this theory. There are a small number of kids who WILL starve to death rather than try something new. I suspect most of them have ASD. My kid is one of them. I have proof.

So anyway, to wrap up this long-winded, defensive rant about my child's eating habits, I just want to say that I am trying VERY hard not to worry about the food thing. He's getting all the vitamins and minerals and protein he needs. He eats enough of a variety of food to not need tube-feeding (and oh boy, do I EVER feel for the folks who have had to go that route!). There is a sensory eating protocol that I do plan on trying with him next year, but right now my plate (HA! Bad pun!) is too full and I've got all I can handle, the thought of starting yet something else is too overwhelming at this point. So I'll continue to muddle along the way I am, fending off criticisms and dirty looks from people who don't understand and possibly don't want to.

But now you all understand. So thanks for reading this. And if anyone wants to get together for lunch at McDonald's, we're available!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

fall 2006 homeschooling, solstice celebrations

Our late December theme has been the celebrations that take place around the solstice. This year we've focused mostly on Christmas, because it is what our families all celebrate, although given that today is Yule, there's been some activities based around that this past week as well. We'll do more with Yule in the coming years, but we thought one holiday was enough chaos for this year. So we've been reading books about Christmas (those that focus on simple celebrations, focusing on the "magic" of the season), singing Christmas and winter songs, decorating the house for the season, decorating Christmas trees, picking out our own tree (we'll decorate it tomorrow, we only put the lights up on it until after Yule), sending out holiday cards, wrapping holiday gifts, driving around looking at Christmas lights, attending a presentation of The Nutcracker. Oh, and watching the Christmas TV specials that we grew up watching, which has been fun and nostalgic for us.

There, I'm all caught up with homeschooling stuff too! Whatever shall I write about now?? Ahh, don't worry, I've still got PLENTY of stuff to say, on RDI, Homeschooling, Enki Education, etc. It'll be a long winter, I'm sure I'll be able to fill it with no problem!

fall 2006 homeschooling, snow is coming

The first half of December was spent doing things related to the snow we were starting to see, though not as often as we would have expected for this part of the country at this time of year -- for the most part it was a very mild December. But there was enough flurries and squalls to get the kids in the spirit, and we read stories about first snow, early winter, shortening days, and chilly nights. We shopped for snow boots and pants and hats and ice skates. We sang songs about winter and snow. We talked about all the fun we'd have in the snow when we finally get a big storm. We caught snowflakes on our tongues, made and followed tracks in the snow. But mostly we spent as much time outdoors in the unusually mild weather as we could, talking about how once the snow came, we'd be spending more time indoors.

fall 2006 homeschooling, giving thanks

The second half of November's theme was Thanksgiving and giving thanks. We read stories about the first thanksgiving, and pretended we were Pilgrims on the Mayflower or Native Americans bringing food to the big feast. We learned and sang songs of thanks. We cooked a really big meal and shared it with our family . We talked about the things we are thankful for.

fall 2006 homeschooling, getting ready for winter

Ok, so the photo doesn't correspond, but this is a picture from a Homeschooling Group trip to a nearby Firestation. One of the firefighters gave a nice program on fire safety to the kids, then we got the grand tour of the fire house and all the trucks and equiptment. The kids got to sit in a couple of the trucks and try out some of the equiptment. It was a really cool morning.

But anyway, the first half of November's theme was Getting Ready for Winter. We read books about hibernation and how animals survive the winter. We hung out bird feeders for the birds. We sang songs about late fall and bears and the coming winter. We took turns pretending we were various animals getting ready for winter.

fall 2006 homeschooling, pumpkins

The second half of October had a Pumpkin theme. We read books about pumpkins, visited pumpkin patches, designed and carved Jack-o-Lanterns, toasted pumpking seeds, made pumpking breads and pumpkin pie, had a pumpkin-rolling contest.

Here's the kids in a local pumpkin patch.

fall 2006 homeschooling, leaves

The first half of October, we had a Leaf Theme. We read books about leaves, sang songs about the change of season and falling leaves, collected leaves on walks, did leaf-rubbings and leaf-collages, raked leaves, and of course jumping in big piles of leaves.

Here's a photo of one of an original "Leaf Man" that Jacob made in our yard, inspired by the book by that name by Lois Ehlert.

fall 2006 homeschooling, apples

Now that I'm all caught up with our RDI story, I feel the need to catch up with our homeschooling story! I'll be breif, it'll only take a few posts.

Our homeschooling program this fall wasn't particularly involved. Keeping in mind that I consider this another "preschool" year for both of my boys, and the main "work" that Jacob is doing is Autism Remediation via RDI and Sensory Integration work guided by an OT, I'm not looking to bring academics in any form into the picture until next year, so much of our day was based on play and fun Master/Apprentice type activities. I did a lot of reading through our new Enki Education Kindergarten Materials, much of which I won't be using until next fall anyway, but I wanted to read about where we were heading, and get started on setting up our day in an Enki-friendly manner, since it's such a good framework with which to base our RDI lifestyle stuff around. A lot of the emphasis on Enki is keeping in tune with the natural environment (which feels pretty natural -- no pun intended! -- to me anyway), so we worked in themes in about half-month chunks.

We started the 2nd half of September by working around an Apple theme. We read books about apples, sang songs about apples, went apple picking, did some apple baking, made some simple apple crafts. This is photo of Jacob preparing apples for homemade applesauce from a recipe in the back of the "Apples Apples Apples" book by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace. Great recipe, very yummy applesauce! We also made apple pie, apple crisp, used cut apples dipped in paint to make apple prints, etc.

Monday, December 18, 2006

our RDI program today

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, right now we are concentrating on Appraisal and Self-Awareness. What we're doing currently isn't neccessarily tied to any particular stage, but our general gist is around Stages 6, 7 and 8. The actual stage work isn't so important at the moment. Give Jacob chances to think about Appraisal and his own opinion about thing is.

I wanted to detail one of our recent holiday activities here, to provide a bit of a snapshot of how RDI fits into our day. (I apologize about the photo not matching -- I didn't take any pictures of the below activity, tho I did have the video camera rolling, so I just included another RDI lifestyle moment -- celebrating my birthday a couple months ago.)

The activity was setting up my parent's Christmas train under their tree. When we first arrived at my parent's house, Jacob had expected the train to be set up already for him to play with, as my mother had promised him the last time he visited. I knew already that my father's back had been bothering him and he wasn't able to set the train up, but I saved that info in order to let Jacob appraise and process the fact that it WASN'T set up, and come up with a solution to the problem.

Jacob immediately looked dissapointed that the train wasn't under the tree, but then looked around and saw that it was in it's box on the other side of the room, and he ran to it and began to take out pieces. I told him that Grampy's back was bothering him, so he couldn't set up the tree, and I wondered out loud what we might be able to do about that. Jacob floundered for a response, and I gave him time to think about it. Then I added a bit of scaffolding: I said "Well, one possibility is that we could just pack up the train and put it away and not use it this year." He immediately rejected that idea (no kidding, huh?), still floundering for a better idea. I gave it a bit more time, then added "or maybe someone else could set up the train for Grampy." to which he almost immediately offered "I'm really good at setting up trains!"

We then discussed whether to set up the train first, or the track first. He chose the train. I pointed out that if we set the train up first, there was no place to put it, but if we set up the track first, then we could put the train on the track (modeling appraisal). He changed his mind and decided that we should set up the track first.

Next, we had to decide WHERE we were setting up the track. Jacob said under the tree (well, duh), and I said "oh yeah, but look, there's nothing under the tree to set it up on." We left a pause for Jacob to think about that (working on appraisal), and then my mom chimed in that she had a sheet to spread, but she needed help doing it. Jacob immediately began helping her spread the sheet, coordinating his actions with her, moving out of her way as she moved towards him, referencing her for directions.

Then my dad suggested laying out all the track pieces to see what we had. So Jacob handed me each piece out of the bag, and I laid them all out on the floor. I then had him hand me all of the curved pieces, then I handed him all of the straight pieces, speaking my thought proccess out loud so that he could see/hear how I used appraisal to decide what was going where. I then moved to the other side of the tree, and he brought me the pieces I asked for by saying "Now I need a curved piece" or "Next comes a straight piece". I made many mistakes (most of them legitimately!), which gave him practice in identifying the errors (more appraisal), and watching me model problem solving for him as I talked my way through the problem. When we were all done, the track was too big (more appraisal work), and we had to take it apart and make it smaller (problem solving). My dad instructed Jacob to put the unused pieces away.

Then Jacob and I collaborated on a sneaky scheme. One of the pieces that Grampy wanted to use wasn't one that I wanted to use. When Grampy was called out of the room for a minute, I handed that piece to Jacob and told him to go switch it with one of the pieces he put away. He immediately "got" that we were being "sneaky" and broke into giggles when Grampy came back into the room and saw what we did, exchanging mischevious glances with me, delighting in our "trick".

We then put the train together, Jacob deciding which car to start with and which came next. The train didn't run right at first, and we did a lot of problem solving with the tempermental track. Then the train didn't have enough power, so we changed the batteries. (Appraisal and problem solving.)

When we finally got the whole thing running properly, my mom came out with a bag of town accessories to go around the track, and she offered pieces to the kids. Jacob took pieces from her and decided where to put them under the tree. (Appraisal and Self-awareness.)

This was two hours of RDI lifestyle, and is a pretty good example of how our current RDI objectives are fitting into our lives.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Stage 6 -- Co-Regulation

In November we started looking at the Stage 6 objectives. Stage 6 is entitled "Co-Regulation", and is described as the child prefering "shared activities where he/she acts as a partner to add variations, while both partners equally maintain coordination through ongoing referencing and regulation". This is the stage that pulls together the skills from all 5 of the previous stages, so it's a pretty important one. And not surprisingly, if the child has had good mastery and generalization of the previous stages, they're going to come into Stage 6 with a lot of the skills already emerging.

I knew early on in the month that Jacob was looking pretty good with co-regulation, but we tested out the various skills with an eye towards making sure he really had them down. We ran races with ourselves and toys, with the rules constantly changing (we took turns changing them) so that our goal was different, our start/end point was different, the way we moved was different (hopping or spinning or rolling). We sang songs and changed them up quite a bit. We marched around in different ways. We built towers together, we built them seperately but at the same time. We built all sorts of stuff together. Throughout everything we did, I kept trying to be "tricky", but there was no tricking him, he did what he needed to do to stay coordinated with me. We were able to successfully play board games for the first time without having to scaffold the rules for him to keep up -- he could finally keep track of when his turn was, which direction his piece was moving, and where he was in relation to the rest of us in the game. Co-regulation is a WONDERFUL thing!

And I did a lot of just sitting back and observing him with other kids. I watched him playing on the playground, dancing at music class, playing ball with his father, playing pretend games with Zoo Boy. This is the stage that I finally saw him start to take an equal role in his interactions with others. Prior to this, his play with other kids was mostly him following their lead. Suddenly, I was seeing him not only intiate the interaction, but he also started running the show on occassion. And the more he plays with other kids, the stronger his Stage 6 skills get. This is the stage where I could finally sit back and enjoy a nice hot cup of tea and bask in the glory of our success!

I think we're pretty much "there" with Stage 6, though we're going to keep on working on it for awhile, while we start looking at Stage 7 objectives. One area he's still having problems with is being able to generate original variations on his own from scratch -- he's able to seemlessly use variations that are "standard" things we've used before, and he can also easily make choices from a list of possibilities, but coming up with something completely on his own is still a big challenge for him. So we need to work through that by strengthening his sense of self (self-awareness) and by working on his appraisal skills (his ability to assess a situation). I'll talk more about how we're working on that tomorrow.

The RDI stages are starting to get a little blurry -- it's becoming obvious how much work we're doing on higher stages without even intending on it, now that his brain is developing in a more dynamic manner, it's opening all sorts of previously obscured avenues, and we're taking little side trips down them all the time. For instance, I can already see how some of our "stage 6 work" has started morphing into Stage 8 (Collaboration) type stuff. At the same time, the RDI Stages themselves are going through a metamorphasis, as the "new" version of RDI prepares to be launched sometime after the first of the year. I don't know all the details, I just know it will be somewhat differently set up than it is now. I anticipate that we'll have to go back and fill in some "holes", so keeping track of stages at this point seems almost silly. And there's enough important RDI work for us to do right now without having to worry about which stage it currently fits into anyway.

In the meantime, in celebration of finally catching up to where we are now with our RDI program, here's a photo of Jacob teaching Zoo Boy how to catch snowflakes on his tongue during our first measurable snowfall of the season a week or two ago. Since then it's warmed up to record high temperatures, so that snow didn't last more than a day, but it gave us all a taste of the fun that lies ahead -- this is the first year that Jacob's shown interest in being out in the snow, and there's a whole winter world of fun and developmental opportunities to introduce him to in the months ahead!

Friday, December 15, 2006

social explosion

Late summer of 2006 is when we saw Jacob's big Social Explosion --when his social desire and skills suddenly took off like they were fueled by a jet engine. The kid who was strictly a passive, often disinterested, participant in play with other kids suddenly started to become a real part of interactions, and even started soliciting attention from other kids. Mr. Flexible was ready to try out that new set of wings we'd been crafting for him, and he's been soaring ever since.

Two years before, prior to RDI, a typical scene of Jacob on the playground would look like this: A small group of kids are chasing each other around the playscape, playing games of tag, doing typical kid things. Jacob spins around a pole nearby, pretty much oblivious to anything else going on around him. Or he sits at a stationary game, working on the same game for an hour without lifting his head. Or he repeatedly climbs the same ladder and slides down the same slide. When there is a line for that slide, he stands patiently waiting his turn, hands subtly flapping.

Skip ahead to the same playground, late summer, 2006. Jacob waits patiently for a boy to finish eating his lunch, telling me "I'm going to play with that boy when he's done eating". The boy finishes his lunch and heads in the direction of the playscape. Jacob skips over to join him and says "C'mon, let's play!" The boy gives him a wary look and says "I'm not going to play with you, I don't even like you." Unphased, Jacob says "Why not?" "Because I don't know you" says the boy. "Oh" says Jacob, pondering that for a second, then coming up with a solution. "I'm Jacob!" he introduces himself, then adds an introduction of his brother too, followed by "So, c'mon, let's play". The boys proceed to chase each other all over creation, come up with a couple different pretend games to play, and have a rollicking good time in general, each taking turns adding variations and twists to their play, each coordinating beautifully with the other.

The sequence repeated itself all fall, in variations on the theme of Social Success, with me sitting in awe of the pure power of it.

It's RDI at work. Constantly. Each time Jacob interacts with another child, he builds positive Episodic Memories of having social success, which increases his competence with it, and gives him a base to work from the next time. Each little variation that happens adds to Jacob's database of how to respond to Dynamic systems, increasing his competence in that arena too, making him crave more variation. It's child development. Typical development, the way the textbooks say it should happen (just a few years late, but who's counting?).

The wheels have been set in motion, there's no stopping it now. His brain was busy working on Stage 6 co-regulation activities before I'd even had a chance to crack the book and read what they are. Those neural connections are developing at a rapid pace, all along the right pathways now that we've shoved them over there and held them in place for a bit with all the earlier stage work. Every time he interacts with another kid successfully, he adds to the network of connections that are laying the groundwork for the next several stages of RDI work. Sometimes it feels like I'm just floating along with it, caught in the current like a tiny inflatable raft. And Jacob's holding the lifeline. Confidently, with strength, knowing instinctively that he's at least partially in charge of where we're headed now.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Stage 5 -- reversals and transformations

Coming back down to earth from my new homeschooling obsession, I set forth to examine Stage 5 on my October 2006 video tape for my consultant. Stage 5 is "Reversals and Transformations", and in overly simplistic terms means that the child enjoys massive variations in which things they previously knew to go a certain way suddenly change and don't go back to the original way.

So I set out to see what we might need to work on. We loaded clean dishes into the dishwasher and ran it. We threw clean laundry around the living room and then left for the day. We ate out of dog bowls and fed the dogs off our plates. We shopped the grocery list backwards. We played red-light-green-light in "opposite world" fashion (where the rules were reversed, so red light and facing meant run, green light and back turned meant stop). We played it so that "apples" meant run and "peaches" meant stop (and each round was a different set of rules). We drove backwards around the block. We spent some time saying "good bye" instead of "hello" and vice versa. We spent some time saying "green" instead of "hello" and "red" instead of "goodbye" for awhile. We played baseball with a golf club and a basketball. We made the goal of races to lose. We threw the ball to each other trying to miss. We ate breakfast under the table. We slept in our clothes and dressed in our PJs during the day. We charted out routes on maps, then purposely went the wrong way. We made out grocery lists and never bought a thing on them. We made out grocery lists for ridiculous things. We set out to go to one place and wound up at another.

Jacob thought it all was hilarious and played along readily with all the nonsense, even offering his own transformations. We were done with Stage 5, after working on it for all of a month.

But it wasn't really just a month. I had inadvertantly (due to my own confusion over what was Stage 4 and what was Stage 5) been working on it for pretty much the past year. You know those times when Jacob got upset over my Stage 4 variations? Well, that's because they were really Stage 5 transformations. But in the course of the year, we'd worked our way through that, scaffolded and framed enough to make those new connections in Jacob's brain that we needed, and he now could handle as big a variation as we could throw at him.

We'd done it. We'd turned The World's Most Rigid Boy into Mr. Flexible. In just 2 years we'd transformed a kid that couldn't tolerate even the most basic variation to a real go-with-the-flow, enjoy-life-to-it's-fullest kind of boy. Or, rather, we stripped away that cocoon of inflexibility to reveal the joyful, fun-loving child beneath. The future loomed bright with promise. And Stage 6 was unfolding right before our eyes.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

pretend play -- a young child's work

I'm making a pre-new-years resolution to get entirely caught up on our RDI back-story before Jan 1, so that I can start posting about our daily happenings (which may or may not be of interest to anyone else, but is sort of the reason I started this whole thing to begin with!). So this post is going to sort of re-combine RDI and Enki Education and then I'll switch back to talking about RDI stages and the like for a week or so, then more Enki for a week or so, then hopefully I'll be all caught up! (And will have a tall glass of something yummy to celebrate!)

But before I shift back to RDI, I wanted to talk about all that "pretend play" time in our current schedule. As most child development experts probably agree, pretend play is the developmentally appropriate "work" of the young child. For some reason school systems these days seem to like to ignore that fact, and you hear stories about recess being eliminated in Kindergartener's schedules because their academic schedules are too stringent, there's just not any time for "play". How that makes any sense at all is beyond me, but it's a fact that it's happening. And no doubt is one of the things fueling the huge Homeschooling movement in the US now. Parents just like us are saying "uh, wait a second...." and looking for more developmentally appropriate options for their kids. I can't help but think this will change the way the school systems operate eventually, and I certainly hope so for those kids whose families have no choice but to keep them in public schooling. Fortunately, we have options, and we've chosen the options that make sense for our kids and our family.

So the focus of the daily rhythm for an Enki Education family with young children is going to be making sure the kids have enough opportunity to do their "job" of pretend playing. This is where the RDI comes back into things, because a lot of kids with Autism do not do any pretend playing, and those that do most usually do it in a developmentally inappropriate manner (perseverating on the same topics or items or details that are unimportant to others in general). Via RDI, the "pretend play" time in the daily rhythms would be filled with RDI activities instead -- "play" with an adult coach who targets RDI objectives. As the child moves along the RDI stages, pretend play starts to occur as part of the natural developmental proccess. And at some point (around mastery of Stage 6, from my experience and what I've heard from others), they are able to do pretend playing in a developmentally appropriate manner. At that point (the point we are at now with Jacob), the adult phases themselves out of the "pretend play" picture and lets it develop on it's own. The adult is still present to step in and "help" if needed, but having time to do pretend play on their own or with siblings is critical to the child's natural development at that point (prior to that, leaving the child on their own is only going to encourage more atypical development).

This is also the time that you start thinking about Dyad work for your RDI-participating child. This is when you match up developmentally similar kids and work on the RDI objectives with them so that they are able to generalize all that great stuff you've worked on with real kids in real life situations. RDI families with siblings of similar ages (especially younger siblings) is going to find this pretty easy to do, as the kids will sort of take over all of the pretend play with each other and will be hitting your RDI objectives all day long, getting tons of day in and day out practice. Familes without siblings, or with siblings that are no where near the ages of the target child, are going to have to go out and find the right opportunities with other children. That might not be as hard as it sounds (I know, easy for me to say, we've got Zoo Boy, the world's best built-in dyad partner). There are lots of opportunities in most communities to find situations where there are other kids, and I always target the younger set -- Jacob is 6, but I always look for typically developing kids that are around 4 years old. These are kids that are at the same developmental level as Jacob, so it keeps a socially even playing field, and increases our chances of positive experiences. These kids are Jacob's peers, not same-aged kids, who would blow him out of the water with their social sophistication. Other preschoolers, like him. They are easily found on playgrounds while older kids are at school, at libary programs during the school day (we arrive at the library at the end of the 3-4 yr old storytime session, that way I know the play area will be full of developmentally appropriate kids), at McDonalds for lunch during school days (I avoid playgrounds and McDonalds when school is not in session, because then those areas are jam-packed with older kids.) Most community music and sports programs will allow your special needs child to particpate in their programs designed for younger kids if you ask. Yes, you have to admit to your child having a "problem", but I've found "developmentally delayed" is usually enough without having to go into a whole big Autism explanation, especially since it's pretty hard to "see" Jacob's Autism anymore. I personally would rather shout it from the rooftops and let Jacob have appropriate social interactions than keep it a secret and have him shoved in with kids he doesn't have a fighting social chance with.

And of course, you can work with your RDI Consultant to find another child in an RDI program that would be well-matched for a Dyad or play partner. You can ask on internet support groups if there's anyone in your area with same-stage kids.

The most important piece of advice I can give anybody reading this is to look to the development of typical kids to see what is appropriate for your child during Autism Remediation. Typical kids start by doing parallel play -- that's playing in proximity to other children, but not interacting with them. If your child still stresses out at being near other kids (very common during the early stages of RDI), they are not even ready for that yet. Once they can tolerate being near other kids, do some RDI play activities with your child in the vicinity of other kids. Or let them do their own play (if they will) near other kids. That's parallel play! That's developmentally appropriate! As they move through the RDI stages, they will naturally start to become interested in what other kids are doing and want to get involved with them. Make sure those kids they are exposed to are at that same point in their development -- kids that are only in the parallel play stage are going to reject social attempts, and kids that are well beyond that are going to find your child's first attempts at social approaches awkward and unnatural. But with other kids that are just starting their social awakening too, your child will be free to explore their newfound social interests and experiment along with them to see what works and what doesn't work to connect with these other little humans.

Monday, December 11, 2006

singing through transitions

I didn't need Enki Education to tell me how critical good transitions are in holding together the fabric of our day. I doubt anyone with a child with ASD will question that! Transitions had always been a difficult thing for Jacob, and it's not too surprising to find out that even kids without Autism have some trouble with transitions. A transition is that moment when you "switch gears" and move from one activity/part of the day to the next. If it's done too suddenly and without a chance for integration, it can be a disaster (this is when most tantrums and meltdowns occur). Enki Education suggests a musical approach to make a more rhythmic move through transitions.

I'd actually figured out that singing helps before I came across Enki, and used it for particularly tough transitions -- tooth brushing, dressing to go out, bedtime. But as outlined in the Enki curriculum, I began using songs for many key points throughout the day. The developmental theory behind the idea is outlined really well in the Enki Education Homeschool Teaching Guides, and I'm sure I couldn't give it justice. But it has to do with young children's open intake of their world and their need to have a way to flow from one activity to the next. All I know is that it works!

Here's how we handle transitions around here now (and a little more detail about the flow of our daily rhythms):

--I sing a morning song upon awakening. Usually it's something from the extensive collection of songs on the Enki curriculum CDs, but any song that is beautifully written and that you really like (because you're going to use it for weeks, months, or even years!) can be used -- "Oh what a beautiful morning" might be a good one, for example. (One interesting note -- one of my strongest memories of childhood was my mother singing to my little sister to wake her in the morning. On the mornings that she needed me to wake her, I'd sing to her too. It's one of the few moments of our childhood that I remember being nice to my sister! We love each other dearly now, but we sure didn't get along very well when we were kids.)

--I start humming a song when I intend to change diapers and dress them during their morning play. I sit in the same spot, humming the song, and when the kids seem to be winding down whatever they are currently working on, I start singing the song. One of them (usually Jacob), come over when he hears me start to sing, and I take care of him. After he's done, he takes his clothes down to the hamper while Zoo Boy comes and gets taken care of, then he too takes his clothes to the hamper. (I got that clothes-in-hamper behavior by modeling it to them while singing, they just picked it up on their own eventually -- same with bringing dishes to the sink when they're done eating -- I never have to ask them to do either of these things, they are just a part of our daily rhythm. In RDI terms, it's a good example of a strong Master/Apprentice relationship.) I sing the entire while. For me, I've chosen an Enki curriculum song that I really like (as I have to sing it several times through in the course of this activity, so it's gotta be a song I'm in love with long-term!), but it could be any song. What I would NOT choose is a song about getting dressed. It should be something lovely to listen to that helps them flow through the activity, not something the directs them as to which steps to take. (That was one change I made with the incorporation of the Enki materials -- prior to this when it was time to clean up, I'd sing one of the hokey clean up songs -- you know "clean up clean up, it's time to clean up" Blah!)

--When I serve their breakfast, I sing a blessing song (also from the Enki materials, but you could use anything). I also hum that song (or one of the other blessing songs) while I make their food, but since they often aren't ready to eat when I'm preparing it, I keep it very low and more to myself, to sort of get the idea in their head that at some point they're going to stop playing and transition to breakfast. Their play usually ends fairly suddenly at some point with a need for sustenance, and they'll suddenly be sitting at the table waiting to eat, at which point I'll sing the blessing song and serve their food.

--When I see they are finsihing up their breakfast, and often while I'm working around the kitchen, I start humming a seasonal song of some sort. As they bring their dishes over to the sink, I start singing whatever I've been humming and we load the dishes into the dishwasher while I (or we -- sometimes they join me) sing. As I continue to sing, I move to the living room to pick up whatever has been pulled out during the morning play (to make room for us to do the movement portion of our morning circle when the time comes). The kids either join me and help pick up, or go back to finish their play from before breakfast if they feel they need more time. In either case, I don't say anything, I just continue to sing while I pick up, usually changing songs if they haven't joined me, which sometimes sucks them into picking up with me. But it's not about getting them to pick up -- if I asked them to, they certainly would help, but it also might interupt the flow of the morning and make us feel a bit disjointed -- it's about me getting the environment the way I need to so we can progress with our morning. This is not to say that I never ask them to clean up. Sometimes our late afternoon fine-motor activity IS picking up, and occassionally part of our "adventure" for the afternoon is a thorough housecleaning. Mid-morning is just NOT the time in our household to do that sort of thing -- it's the time to support our morning rhythms.

--We use a song to transition to our Morning Circle. We use songs during our morning circle for movement activities. We sing a song while we dress to go outdoors. We sing a song when it's time to get into the car. Some of them are from the Enki curriculum, some of them are from the Music Together program we attend, some are just songs I grew up with. But I consistantly use the same song for the same transition, it's all part of the flow of our morning.

--There's not much singing during the afternoons, we just don't need it. With our good strong morning rhythm down, the late morning/afternoon sessions just sort of flow along on their own. I do give the kids a "5 minute countdown" when we're transitioning during the afternoon from something they're quite involved with -- I think a song would be better, but I'm a bit uncomfortable just breaking into song in public! I've found the countdown serves a similar purposed (to prepare the kids for the transition), and I think that our strong morning transitions carry us through that portion of the day. When we're at classes, there's no need for that, as the end-of-class transitions are already built into the routine of the class itself.

--Come evening, we're back to our signing transitions again. Singing for dinner, singing for baths, singing for bed prep, singing to start Family Story Time, and finally a lullabye to transition to sleep.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

daily rhythms

One of the first things that an Enki Education family does is to establish a supportive rhythm to their day, which helps to keep everyone feeling integrated. This is different from a schedule, as there aren't time values assigned to the rhythm, it's just a general pattern on how the day runs. It doesn't mean that you never do time-permanent tasks -- obviously, appointments or classes with others require that you stick to some sort of a schedule. But it's the way your day flows from one type of activity to the next.

A big part of the rhythm is staying connected with your kids enough to get through the morning hours, when they have a need for that type of connectedness with you, so that you can put quite a bit of variety into your afternoon without anyone feeling dysregulated or falling apart. I can attest to the fact that if our morning rhythms are significantly disrupted, the rest of the day is a MESS that we're mostly scrambling to get through intact (and flop into bed with a HUGE sigh of relief come bedtime!). Yet, if we stick to our morning rhythms, quite a bit of variety -- even chaos! -- can happen during the afternoon hours, yet we all manage to remain regulated and sane. Then in the evening, it's important to have that connectedness again with the kids so that transition to bedtime goes smoothly.

The Enki Education folks reccommend you start by sitting back and watching your daily routine, and make note of what works to keep everyone on an even keel, what ramps the kids up, what causes meltdowns and breakdowns in the flow of the day. Then you put together a daily rhythm plan based on that, tweaking it as you go.

I did a whole lot of tweaking, and then a couple of massive overhauls, in our daily rhythms, but I think I've finally stumbled on something that support our family's particular preferences and unique makeup. (That's another totally awesome thing about Enki -- you tailor it to fit your specific family, just like you do with RDI.) It suddenly occured to me a week or two ago that I was still trying to make it a SCHEDULE rather than a more flexible rhythm. Once I stopped making it be about trying to fit in all our "stuff" every day, everything sort of fell into place.

So here's our current daily rhythm. I reserve the right for further tweaking as needed.

--Rise and Shine -- we get up, at a time that makes sense to us. Usually this is about 7:00, but that can vary about 45 minutes in either direction depending on when we actually got to bed the night before, and if anyone just needs a little extra sleep. (The Map Man is up and gone to work by 6:30, so he's not a part of our morning rhythms except for on the weekends, in which case I'm usually not a part of it because I'm up and gone to work.)

--Pretend Play and Bed Making -- the kids play with each other while I putter about opening curtains and making beds. Sometimes the kids help me make the beds, all depends on whether they need to be with each other or with me more.

--Diapers, Dressing and Brushing -- As I can fit it seemlessly into their play, I change diapers (they are both still wearing them at night -- Jacob changes to pull-ups during the day, though most times he is using the potty during the day. Zoo Boy as yet has no intention of using the potty.), assist the kids in getting dressed, and do a sensory brushing session with Jacob. Play continues while I feed the dogs and prepare the kids' breakfast. Sometimes I take a shower at this point, if the kids are really into their play and aren't looking to eat quite yet.

--Breakfast -- the boys eat their breakfast while I work around the kitchen. If I haven't showered already, I do it now. By the time the kids are done eating, the kitchen is clean, and they bring their dishes over and load them in the dishwasher.

--Tidy Up -- I pick up the toys that were brought out during the morning play session. If the kids have had enough pretend play, they'll help me pick up and then we'll transition into Morning Circle. Otherwise, the pretend play continues while I do a quick tidy, then I work on household chores while waiting for them to be available for Circle.

--Morning Circle -- I sing a seasonally appropriate song to start the circle, and we begin with a calendar activity where we discuss what day of the week and month it was yesterday and review where we went and what we did (RDI work on Episodic Memory), then talk about what day today is and preview what we are going to be doing that day (again, RDI Episodic Memory work). We then discuss the weather, what it was yesterday, what it is today, including stepping outside to feel the temperature first-hand, then we record it on our weather chart. Then we do some movement/song activities and/or some OT/Sensory Integration exercises.

--Outdoor Play -- when Morning Circle is done, we put on our outdoor clothes (discussing what types of outerwear we need, thinking back to our weather chart -- more RDI work!), and head outside to play in the yard. I'll discuss the type of play we encourage in another post about Enki Education and what they reccommend for play activities.

--Adventure/Lunch -- when it's time to head off for our "adventure" time we wrap up the outdoor play and climb into the mini-van (which we call our "big blue adventure van") and head off. Sometimes we eat lunch on the way to our destination, or sometimes we just eat a hearty snack in anticipation of lunch at a later time. Much of that depends on the day or the planned activity. Our typical weekly adventure schedule is like this: Monday we have OT/Sensory Integration, then spend the rest of the day at my parent's house. Tuesday we have music class, then a community movement program. Wednesdays are currently a playground/play area type thing, although I'm actively looking for the right Phys Ed type program for my guys on Wednesdays, at least for the winter. Thursday is the Library, then a regular weekly lunch and play date with a friend. Friday is our homeschool co-op day, so some days we stay home all day and have our co-op friends at our house, some days we have a long drive to do the co-op at one of their homes.

--Barn Chores -- our general goal is to get home between 3 and 4 to do barn chores -- the timing depends on the daylight available, as this takes about a 1 hour block of time and needs to be finished before dark. The kids help me fill and carry the grain buckets and feed all the animals, then they either climb trees and/or play with their goats and chickens while I muck out stalls, or they help me clean. When I'm done scooping poop, they help me push the wheelbarrow down to the manure pile and dump it. They then carry the empty buckets back to the house for me while I make sure all the gates have gotten latched behind us.

--Small motor/sensory activity -- if there's time between the end of chores and when The Map Man comes home, the kids play with playdoh or the sand table or some other such fine-motor/sensory based activity. Sometimes we bake during this time.

--Daddy time -- The Map Man comes home from work at 5, and plays actively with the boys while I escape to do some emailing and/or blogging.

--Dinner -- we all sit down to dinner (on the nights I'm not working) around 6, or whenever I manage to pull myself away from the computer (sometimes I have to be dragged away, I have a serious addiction problem....).

--Bath time and bed prep -- The Map Man does baths and bed prep while I finish up my computer work.

--Family Story Time -- at some point between 7 and 8, whenever the kids are ready for bed and my computer work is wrapped up for the evening, we light a candle and all climb into the big king-sized bed for our favorite time of day, Family Story Time. We sing an opening song, and read 3 picture books (same books each day of the week, switching them out one at a time over the weekend so there are 3 new books the following week), singing seasonal songs between each one. Then we sing a closing song. We are currently following that up with a short video, though I will talk about the controversy around electronic media, especially at bedtime, in a future post. Ideally, I think it would be better if we DIDN'T do the video. But that's what we're doing right now.

--Bedtime -- after the short video, I sing a lullabye and we both lie with the kids until they fall asleep, then they are moved to their nightime sleeping locations.

--Parent Time -- this is a brand-new thing for us, courtesy of Enki Education's insistance that it's important. The Map Man and I are actually making time to spend with each other. It's amazing! It's revolutionary! It's about time!! And after 6 years of never really seeing each other alone, it's pretty darned addictive -- we're having trouble bringing parent time to a close early enough for us to both get enough sleep to support us the following day, but we're working on trying to control ourselves to just a couple hours. We discuss important items about the kids, the household, the farm. We watch TV shows (LOST rules!), and sometimes movies. We discuss RDI and Enki Education and Sensory Integration. We have adult conversation. We eat decadent desserts. It's truly sinful, I tell you! And delightful!

Friday, December 08, 2006

enter Enki

Fall was fast approaching, it was time to think a little more seriously about this whole homeschooling thing. I knew that Jacob wasn't really ready for a Kindergarten curriculum yet, and of course neither was Zoo Boy at just 3 1/2. All summer long there had been a lot of talk about Enki Education on the RDI-Homeschoolers list. I had been to the website and read through the rather extensive materials there, and while it really resonated with me, it almost resonated too much -- like I wondered if I really needed to pay for their curriculum to make the sorts of things they talked about happen in my homeschooling program.

Fortunately, some of the parents at the RDI Annual Parents Conference in August brought some of their Enki materials along for others to see, including my roommate for weekend, so I got a good sample of reading done of the manuals, and got to see how a couple of RDI-Enki families actually put the curriculum into use. I decided that owning the materials was going to be the best way to incorporate the ideas into our home life. When I got home from the conference, I ordered the complete Kindergarten Curriculum, figuring I could spend the next year reading about it and incorporating some of the basic structure in our home-pre-schooling and planning our K year next year.

I couldn't believe it when an ENORMOUS, ridiculously heavy box arrived a couple weeks later. I had already received a package a week previously with a bunch of CDs (lots of music, a searchable copy of the Guides, and a couple DVDs), letting me know that my order was "at the printer". I nearly passed out with the vast amount of materials provided -- really quite a bargain (me being the barain hunter that I am), considering that the price of their curriculum is pretty much in line with any other comprehensive curriculum.

I started right away reading as much as I could. I put aside a couple hours a day (most days) to read, and even so, I'm still not even through all three of the Homeschooling Teaching Guides (although I'm getting close! ). The thing I like most about this method is that it's more about lifestyle than about individual lessons, and the entire curriculum is based on actual research into child development and learning. (Hmm, gee, what does that sound like? Oh yeah, RDI!!) I love that the Guides discuss the research findings and explain in depth why certain things support child development and certain things do not. (I'll talk more about the details over the next several posts.) It jived really well with my reading about RDI, but it went a big step further in that there is a huge focus on Sensory Integration with young children. (Mind you, this is NOT a special needs curriculum -- it's talking about the importance of Sensory Integration for ALL children -- but because it's a strong point of the curriculum, it's makes it particularly useful for special needs kids, at least Autistic and SPD kids.) I've always felt that Sensory Integration is a critical issue that needs to be addressed along with RDI, so I could immediately see how the Enki Education curriculum was going to be supportive of our Autism Remediation goals, and how it would intertwine nicely with our RDI program. It was the missing piece I didn't even know we were missing, that tied it all together for us.

I'm going to spend the next several posts talking about some of the stuff I've learned from the Enki Education materials, and how we've started to implement it in our daily lives. It may look like I'm ignoring RDI for a bit, but really, since RDI is the way we live our lives, Enki has become the framework we structure our life around. They truly are inseperable around here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

wrapping up Stage 4

So, we made it through a summer of practicing choices and focusing on appraisal and self-awareness. I decided it was time to take a look at Stage 4 again to make sure we were really done with it.

I sat down with the RDI Progess Tracking Form (that our Consultant provided for us -- they also provide them at the RDI 4-Day Parent Training workshop) and read through the Stage 4 objectives. I checked off those that I knew we had mastered. I circled those that I wanted to test. Then I spent the week finding opportunities to see if those objectives were mastered.

For instance, objective S4L is "Optimal Physical Position -- Regulates actions based on activity context and communication success to attain optimal physical posititions relative to the coach." (Now you know why I have to sit down with the objectives and think about them -- too much technical speak! Why can't they just say "shifts positions to keep regulated with coach during variations", which is what it really means?) So I'd set up a few activities to test this:

We'd play a racing game with cars, the idea to get to a destination together. We's start side-by-side pushing our racers, then I'd suddenly veer off course, and he would need to shift his body position to try to keep up with me (mind you, he didn't need to be successful at keeping up with me -- that would be Stage 6 co-regulation -- he just needed to make the attempt to stay with me).

Working on a project together, I would suddenly turn my back on him, he would shift around to get into a better position to work with me.

Unlaoding the dishwasher, I'd hand him items to put away. Occassionally I'd hand items in the wrong direction, he'd move himself around obstacles in the way to get to where he could easily receive items from me.

Check, that objective was mastered. Check, check, check. Over the course of a week or two, I checked off all of the circled objectives. I made a tape of us doing this stuff, I sent it to our Consultant, she agreed that Stage 4 seemed to be mastered and gave us the nod to work on the Stage 5 objectives.