Archive for January, 2011

His brain just works differently

Last school year, my daughter Meg got off the bus one day and looked a little dejected.

She said, “Margie (not her real name) says that Philip’s brain doesn’t work.”

I said, “What?”

“Margie says that Philip’s brain doesn’t work.”

“What do you think?”

“His brain does work.”

“How did it make you feel when Margie said that?”

“Sad and mad.”

“What do you think you could do next time?”

We then began to discuss how Philip’s brain does work, it just works differently.  I was all prepared to move on from this incident until she came home again with the same story.  I talked to Margie’s mom, and she said she didn’t know where that came from.  She said that her explanation is always that people with special needs think differently. (Margie’s mom is trustworthy, and I believed her and still do.)

End of story.  Or so I thought.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. I had Meg and Margie in the car, and Margie once again noted how Philip’s brain doesn’t work.

I said, “Oh, his brain does work.”

She asked, “Does it work at home?  Because at school it doesn’t.”

I went on to describe all of the things that Philip can do… math whiz, musical genius, excellent reader, etc.

Then I said, “His brain just works differently.”


Meg then jumped in and shared all these wonderful things about her brother.

I hope that Meg learned a little bit about about how to advocate. Advocating for my son and others who are different doesn’t mean going on the attack.  To me, advocating means speaking the truth, and educating others on what’s really going on.  As in, my son is smart.  He just communicates it in a different way.

Things I’ve learned from the autism support classroom: Life with Velcro

Bottles "velcroed" to cabinet door

I am a “new uses for old things” junkie. I love finding simple solutions that don’t cost a lot.

When my son was in our local intermediate unit’s preschool, I discovered the wonder of velcro.  First, I saw it used for visual schedules.  For my post on how we use visual schedules, etc., click here.) Little icons, signifying each assigned activity or task, were stuck to a big piece of paper with velcro.  When the students were done with one activity, they would move the icon to a “done” column, where another half of velcro awaited, ready to secure the icon to the board. Wow, I thought.  Little squares of paper don’t get lost!   The little squares didn’t get lost! They were even more secure than magnets!

A paraprofessional told me that she didn’t know what they would do in the autism support classrooms without Velcro.  It was like magic.

I started looking for other ways to use this overlooked wonder! I don’t sew (too much work, LOL) so I use the sticky kind.Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

Storing vanilla and other extracts on the inside of cabinet doors– now I refill the old bottles and recycle the new ones, since the old ones have the velcro on them.

Keeping erasers and markers on a dry erase board

Keeping notepads from disappearing by attaching them to the inside of yet another cabinet door

Notepads secured to inside of cabinet door

Securing my paper accordion files and photo box lids

Hanging pictures on the wall (I was so happy when I found the command picture hanging velcro-like strips!)

Keeping my son’s shoe inserts in his shoes (Industrial strength velcro! Who knew?)

I’ve heard of people using industrial strength velcro to hang heavy items on walls, but I haven’t tried that yet.

I wonder, when I look around some more, what else I will find that I learned from the autism support classroom…

Speaking of visuals…

A quick post to let you know of a free graphic organizer site I just found.  It has what our school would call “graphic organizers” but they call them “thinking guides.”  Wow, maybe a new way to conduct “family meetings”?

Schedules, social stories, visuals make our life with autism easy, er, easier

Morning, afternoon, and evening routines for all three kids

When it come to successful family life, we find that preparation is key.

Preparation means discussing the who, what, when, where, why, how of the event ahead of time.

I find for us preparation has three components: inspiration, perspiration, and the the actual preparation. One time we had a family gathering at a local restaurant. I wondered how I was going to prepare my sons.

Inspiration: write a social story! (This is how it starts– I have to think of the idea or be inspired to do something.)

Perspiration: actually writing the story.  I wrote a social story using Boardmaker, detailing why we were getting together, who was going to be there, and defined our expectations.

Preparation: having everyone read the story. Over and over and over.

Of course, with our family life sometimes I forget or don’t have time to prepare.  Now that I think of it, on this occasion we prepared  on the fly, and the kids read it on the way to Red Robin. It worked, though!

Here is a run down of some other ways we prepare:

  • Schedules—doing evening calendar checks so we know what we need for the next day, or simply following a routine so that we get out of the house on time.

    Morning schedule written by daughter

  • Social stories— how to behave at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, how to ask for a break, and why chores are necessary.
  • Visuals–when we go on vacation, my husband and I do our best to print out a picture of the place where we will stay, places wewill go, and describe things we will do.
  • More visuals–We’ve printed out maps when we are on driving trips, with the routes highlighted. The kids like checking off the towns that we are going through.
  • Chores–The kids also pack their own things, whether it is a back pack, suit case, or swimming pool bag, so they are mentally preparing before we leave.  (I double check, of course… their “necessities” can be quite humorous!)
  • Meetings–Sometimes we even have family meetings to discuss possible activities over a school break, changes in chores, meal planning.
  • Previewing–At school, teachers preview or pre-teach material so my younger son is prepared to go into regular ed.  Works very well! We’ve done this at home too.  The first time we hosted Thanksgiving, we did a trial run with a roasted chicken, instant mashed potatoes, and green beans, complete with the Thanksgiving table decorations.  That Thanksgiving was the calmest ever.

Although we don’t do this consistently as we would prefer, our past efforts have made the present ones easier.  Hotels are not a big struggle now for my boys, as they know what to expect.  My oldest will ask us when we are going to discuss family fun activities for the next break. My youngest will keep us on track—“We said we’d stop for slushies, remember???”

Preparation is key for us.  What do you do to prepare?

The great cleanout: Getting cash for my old books

I’ve said before that life is hectic and I look for things to simplify.  I had the opportunity to pay someone to clean my house (and massage my body), and I am amazed at the difference in my kids.  They are much calmer in a cleaner and more organized house.

So, we continue the shredding, cleaning, donating our stuff in our attempt to simplify this crazy busy household.

I just put a new link on my page: “Cash 4 Books.”  I wanted to share this with you, as it’s been a great “pocket money maker” for me. Also, fyi, this is my first affiliate link, so I do get a referral fee if you do business with them.

Note: non fiction, text books, newer books (2008+) are the most likely to be accepted.

This is how it works:

You enter in the ISBN numbers of your books. The site tells you if they will accept your books and how much they will pay your for them.

When you’re done entering in the ISBN numbers, you can print out a shipping label.  If you have enough books, you get free postal service or free fed ex to their place.

Upon receipt of shipment, they either send you a check or they deposit the amount into your paypal account.

It’s easy.  I heard about them and decided to try it when my local thrift shops were overrun with books and therefore were no longer accepting my book donations.  I’ve made anywhere from $.50 to $7 per book.  I figure that’s better than a yard sale.

Back to decluttering…

What’s next, flying meat?

Who says that folks with autism have no sense of humor?

My oldest son proved that to be false when he moved in with us.  I’m going to let you know about an inside joke.

When Josh first moved in he loved going to the grocery store.  (Dispells another myth, too!) On one of our trips, he “helped” bag the groceries and put them in the cart while I checked out.  He put the green bell peppers in their own bag on the bottom of the cart.

As I wheeled the cart out of the store, Josh started laughing and running. The peppers had rolled out of the bag and were headed toward the parking lot.

“Oh, no, rolling peppers!”  he laughed.

We ran out, collected the peppers, and put them safely in the basket.

“Rolling peppers.  What’s next, flying meat?” Josh picked up a roast out of the cart and began making it fly like super man.

We laughed and laughed all the way home.  Then we came up with other things.

My infant daughter would drop food on the floor.  I’d say, “Falling grapes!  What’s next?” Josh would find something to say.  “Flying green beans?”  Which I’d counter, “There better not be!” And we’d laugh.

We have other jokes, too.  Like those lawyer commercials where they say the name of the firm and then a big “DONG” plays.  Once we parked in a law firm’s lot after hours.

“Look where we are!  It’s Metzger Wickersham!”


Dare I say that we were “generalizing” through these jokes? 🙂

My son’s first job!

I answered the phone.  A familiar voice said, “Guess who got hired?”  And I was so happy I could barely contain myself.  I actually refrained from saying, “I don’t know, who???”

My oldest son Josh had his first interview for a job…. and was offered a position for the summer at our nearby amusement park!

He will be on “sweeps,” which means he’ll be, well, sweeping.  He’ll start out at the kiddie ride section and move around the park as the summer progresses.

We were skeptical about the interview today.  You see, at his mock interview session last week (with the non-profit organization AHEDD), he stopped and refused to cooperate half way through the session.  (I was glad  that his mentors insisted that he think about whether he was serious about job searching, and that services would be suspended until he thought about this long and hard and committed to the process. I believe he needs more people like this in his life!) We did a mock interview this morning. He did pretty well.

He is so excited.  He’s glad he showered, brushed his teeth, clipped his nails, and wore a coat & tie today.  His self-esteem has gone up a few hundred notches.  He keeps going over the company info and has also calculated many times how much he could make in a week.  He’s planning his climb up the corporate ladder and how he’s going to get through college.

As for me, I don’t know what his future holds at the park.  I just am happy that he looked and smelled nice.  I am excited that, when the summer gets scorching hot, the pavement gets sticky, and the work gets to be tedious,  the paychecks will be the best reinforcer ever.

I’m excited about another things, too: his future supervisor told my husband that he has several employees on the autism spectrum and that they are his best employees!

Sure, the work isn’t glamorous, but the gifts and strengths of the individuals are recognized.  Their autism is seen as an asset, not a deficit.

A landmark day: my oldest kid is going to be a member of the workforce, working toward becoming a responsible, successful taxpayer.  Take that, Mr. Therapist.

Wow, I feel old. 🙂

Evil Dr. Porkchop, pasta, and church

I am happy to say that my church has come a long way.

This morning, the topic was managing finances.  The pastor mentioned a website called feed the pig. He explained that the pig was not a person, but rather a piggy bank. He pointed at the piggy banks in the nearby table display, which happened to be located at the front of the room where everyone could see.

Philip and I were in the front row,  his favorite spot.  When he heard about the piggy banks, Philip raised his hand.  I got that tense feeling, wondering what he would say, and tried to get him to put his hand down.

The pastor did not “call on” Philip, so Philip stood up, hand still raised,  and walked up to the stage.

“There’s another piggy bank… he’s “Evil Dr. Porkchop!” he said loudly, referencing his beloved Toy Story 3 movie.

“Yes!” the pastor said, and kept right on going.  There were little chuckles in the congregation.  Philip sat down, started drawing in his worship folder, and the rest of the service went very smoothly.

I am already thinking of social stories to write, explaining when speaking to the pastor is appropriate.  At the same time, I can remember a time when I probably would have been told to “do something” about him.  Now, he’s just accepted as part of the family. More and more often, this church family advises me to lighten up.

During our closing song, Philip looked over at the previously mentioned display table and noticed some vases with varying amounts of pasta in them (don’t ask me, I have no idea…), and decided to accompany the musicians by “playing” them with a plastic ink pen.  I chose to “lighten up.”  He kept the beat, being the fantastic musician that he is, following the tempo as it slowed near the end.  He loved hearing the different pitches and being part of the worship team.

Maybe we’ll start thinking about having him be the church percussionist…

Clarinet Capers

“It’s okay, Clary, Daddy will be right back.”

These were the words spoken  by my 10-year-old clarinet student– I’ll call him B— when I told him we were going practice on the mouthpiece and not the entire instrument.

B seemed almost infatuated with the clarinet when he was thinking about what instrument to play.    He named each part of his clarinet: Mouthpiece =  “Reedy,” barrell =  “Barrelly,” upper joint =  “Pipey,” lower joint= “Pipel,” and bell= “Belly”.  I laughed at the last one, like a little kid (“Hee hee, Belly! Hee hee…”) but he wasn’t amused.

Together, the parts make up his beloved Clary.

I named my clarinet, too, when I was his age.  Her name is Clarissa.  Sometimes Clary and Clarissa play duets or even talk to one another between songs.

B really wants to learn the clarinet and looks forward to his lessons.  At first, I would meet him at the door.  When he saw me, he would run to me.  He was ready to get started. Now, if I’m not at the door, he bursts into my house full of expectation.  When he gets close to me, he still becomes a little shy, but quickly overcomes that.   “You can leave now, Dad,” he says. Pretty impressive for someone on the autism spectrum.

“Can we learn a new note today?  Can we do one of the trill keys?”

I reply, “First we’ll go over your lesson, and then we’ll learn something new.”

“Will I get a sticker?” he asks.

“Of course!”


And off we go.

Once my sticker book “disappeared” (which I eventually found in Philip’s room… B said I could “yell at Philip later”) and I frantically looked around for a new reward for B’s playing.  I spied the mini pumpkins, and handed him one.

“Really? Can I keep this?”

“Yep!” I responded.

By the end of the lesson, B earned three mini pumpkins.

“Wait until my dad sees this!!!” he exclaimed.

B is proud when he makes the “wall of fame” at school for practicing at least 5 times per week.  His latest note said, “Good progress!” over the holiday break.  Score!

I am amazed at B‘s excitement over his lessons.  I look forward to our time every week.  I see B growing in many ways– persistence, counting, breathing, hand-eye coordination, just to name a few.  Music is powerful!

I have learned from him, too– how to think on my feet, how to teach in a way he’ll understand, and how to relax and enjoy the wonder of the clarinet.

Here’s to more clarinet capers, and more music in our lives!

No more “T” word–Changing my tag line

A photo I saw on Facebook

Today I was reflecting on my blog, and it’s title.  I decided to change the tag line.

I admit that when I wrote the first tag line, “It’s not all tragedy, there’s humor and hope,” I was being somewhat sarcastic.  I roll my eyes now when I hear autism described in such dark terms.  When my son was first diagnosed, I was pretty much told that my life was over.  How wrong they were!

I decided that since I’ve started to see autism as a difference, and sometimes as a different culture / way of being,  why mention the “t” word? Granted, it took me a while to get to this place, as I mentioned in my first post.  I still do research in to causes, theories, treatments, but no longer at the expense of forgetting that my children are people, not problems. Yes, I did that once.  But no more!

My sons show me such courage when I see them embrace their individuality.  I have learned so much from them, not only about uniqueness and acceptance, but about myself as well.

A friend posted this on her blog, Another Piece of the Puzzle. I think it is a good thought for all of us as we begin the new year and continue our journeys:

Dare to be who you are, and learn to resign with good grace all that you are not and to believe in your own individuality.

I am  reminded to appreciate others for who they are, as unique individuals with a unique combo of gifts, talents, points of view, and abilities.

I pray for others to see all of my children as people who don’t need to be “fixed,” but as children, who have a bright future ahead of them.

I pray that my oldest son accepts himself as he is, and know that he is loved.

I pray that my middle guy will continue to be who he is, to be persistent and true to himself.

I pray that my little daughter knows that she is loved and important.

I pray that I would dare to be who I am, accept my limitations, and believe that I am the person God made me to be,  celebrating my uniqueness.

I think I’ll post this quote on my fridge.