Sunday, September 18, 2011

Land of the Great Willow Tree

Once upon a time, there was an elven princess who was called by her loved ones Princess Skink-In-Pink. Like many other young princesses, Princess Skink-In-Pink longed to set out from her kingdom to seek adventure, so she donned her magic elven willow-wood circlet,

and put another magic elven willow-wood circlet upon the head of her sister, Princess Iraq...

and another upon the furry head of princess Brandy (because dogs totally dig wearing magic willow-wood circlets, you know).

Together the group set forth to seek adventure in the Land of the Great Willow Tree.

It was a long and treacherous journey. A mysterious voice whispered to Princess Skink-In-Pink, telling her an amazing secret...  she would need a hand to get to the high reaches of the Land of the Great Willow Tree.

Great elven huntresses as they were, Princess Skink-In-Pink and Princess Iraq had soon hunted down located and chopped off liberated a hand from an unsuspecting passer-by (who apparently no-longer needed it).

Upon reaching the high reaches of the Land of the Great Willow Tree, Princess Skink-In-Pink and Princess Iraq were more than a little incensed to learn from yet another annoying mysterious whispering voice that there was not enough adventure in the high reaches of the Land of the Great Willow Tree to make the princesses content, so the princesses told the voice to put a sock in it and went to dance around the great fire.

And why, you may ask, was this fire so great? 'Cause it was made by the great Queen of the Elves!! Yeah, baby - I got fire skillz!

And so it was, while dancing around the great-yet-not-so-big fire, the the princesses heard a voice in the wind which began to whisper, "The adventure you seek..." and the princesses put their hands over their ears and yelled, "La la la la la la la la la la, we can't hear you!" and that was a good thing for if one constantly listens to mysterious, whispering voices telling them to do crap, it's probably time for an MRI... and a straight jacket...

And so, of their own accord (or at least the accord of the boring old King and Queen), the princesses set forth to search out adventure in the deep, dark bosom of the earth. Luckily there was a teenage guide available to lead the way.

Within the earth, the princesses saw things that hung down...

and rather interesting-looking things that stuck up...

Things that looked like teeth...

    And some cute, little fuzzy things that they were told eat bugs and not princesses...

And at long last, the princesses reached the underground Pool of Dreams. The princesses said it was cool and then yawned.

And they wandered deeper and deeper into the earth until...

...Princess Brandy yelled "Run! It's that creepy dude from 'Scream!'"

It wasn't, but you can see how she may have gotten confused... and seriously, you really DON'T want to run into anything that even remotely looks like the 'Scream' guy in a place that dark!

But when the princesses looked up and saw the Salem, Virginia fault line running above them, they knew that they had found adventure... and a really bad place to be during seismic activity.

It's not my fault!

And so they left the earth's bosom and once above ground, found ways of warming the chill of the caverns from their weary bones and floppy ears.

And the Queen of the Elves called upon a higher power to grant her strength and stamina to raise her adventure-seeking princesses well...

and was rewarded with bunny ears.

With adventure achieved, Princess Iraq was unsure she was ready to rest. She asked the Queen of the Elves if she could take a Tarzan-style leap off a picnic table and swing from the sweeping willowy strands because it looked like fun.
"No," said the Queen of the Elves. "I'm afraid those willowy strands will not be able to hold you." Not believing the Queen of the Elves, Princess Iraq leapt any way, catching an arm-full of willowy strands mid-flight...  

"CRACK!" The branch from which those willowy strands grew, fell from the heavens (or at least from the tree) casting poor, rebellious Princess Iraq down onto her skinny little arse. With baleful eyes, Princess Iraq said, "It broke!" to which the Queen of the Elves replied, "Uh... yeah?"

Feeling badly that her willful little imp damaged the beautiful tree, the Queen of the Elves proclaimed that the lovely branch filled with willowy strands should not have died in vain, so in true Na'vi style she sent a quick prayer up to the Gods, ("Oh thank heaven nobody saw that!") and wove the willowy strands into a basket proving that she really was the Martha Stewart of the wilderness!

And then it was agreed that enough adventure had been found by the elven princesses, so the toadstool was packed up, the last s'mores were eaten and the elven family loaded up and journeyed home where Princess Iraq had a melt down and Princes Skink-In-Pink had a bath.

And they all lived happily ever after because elves (even elves with Asperger's and elves with Down syndrome and elves with ADHD) are immortal...

are we there yet?


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Labeling Children

A comment I read the other day got the gears in my brain turning on the subject of labels.

For years and years teachers and school administrators have been warned about the evils of labeling the children they teach, which I believe has actually resulted in some teachers denying or avoiding labels altogether.

Unfortunately I believe that there has been a fair amount of misinterpretation on this subject, and perhaps it would be wiser to ask people to avoid mis-labeling children. Let me explain:

Going all black-and-white and deciding on day 3 of school which kids are "bad" and which kids are "good" is... well... you shouldn't be a teacher.

Telling a parent (who comes to you with paperwork from 3 separate doctors suggesting a child is in the autism spectrum and requires a certain amount of extra help to succeed) that you don't believe in "labeling children" and would rather just "wing it" until you discover what works for their child isn't a great idea either.

First, there is a BIG difference between a label and a stereotype. Stereotyping a group of people based upon some incongruous collection of almost-similar characteristics is... well... Bad! It is no more sensible to say that "all children with Asperger's avoid eye contact" than it is to say "all girls like to wear pretty dresses to school every day," or that "all white people enjoy elevator music." (Sorry, but seriously... do elevators even like elevator music?)

Labels, when properly given and properly used, can provide a kind of starting point. Raising and teaching children is a little like cooking.

Um... not that kind of cooking...

A recipe for a specific dish would not be passed from generation to generation if it were not somehow unique and special. Most of us don't eat hamburgers each and every night because there are so many other wonderful dishes to sample (...mmmm... hamburgers sound good... ) But if you want to make spaghetti one night, you don't go buy hamburger buns or fire up the grill... unless your spaghetti is a lot different from my spaghetti.

While most meals are fairly straight-forward and won't require you to pull out Grandma's dog-eared recipe folder each time you are ready to make dinner, every now and then you may be called upon to make something special.

That is when the labels become extra-special handy!

Lets just say you've been asked by family members to bring a pumpkin pie to your family reunion. Unless you grow your own pumpkins, most (average) people will run to the store and grab a few cans of pumpkin pie filling as well as the necessary ingredients for the crust-thing you're supposed to put the filling in. (Honestly... what were people thinking asking you to bake a pie? Next year you'll insist on bringing the chips like you did last year... )

So - time to get cooking! But which can do you use?

From this angle they look about the same, but I can guarantee that unless your family wants to be treated to "country-style string bean and potato pie," you'll be wise to determine which can to use by it's label and not its circumference!

When a valid label (endorsed by multiple specialists) exists, it can make for a good starting point. Don't let that label turn into a stereotype and assume that because the XYZ method worked to help Jedidiah learn to talk that that method will work for little Janine just because both children have Down syndrome. Utilize the label to find what mechanics may be at play which could be delaying Janine's speech. Perhaps her narrow Eustachian tubes have caused the inner ear to fill with fluid and she can't hear the words properly. Perhaps she has a slightly larger tongue and can't fully control it yet. The label is just used to know what to look for - not an an entire recipe for success, just as the pumpkin pie filling label just tells you what the can contains, and not how to make a pie, complete with crust.

Same concept with kids with other special needs. Know what's in the can before you try to create a world-class (or a ready-for-the-world class) dinner from it.

So yeah - I totally dig labels. Especially these labels:

Oh thank goodness you reminded me. I'd hate to lose my ability to flip off bad drivers!

So true!

 The message here is clear. To get out of the trunk after unwittingly falling in while loading groceries and then closing the top instead of just climbing back out, pull the little handle installed in there by car designers who kindly assumed that you're a moron, jump out and run to blog about what a stupid thing you just did!

 And my personal favorite:
Ad did you know Andy Warhol was also believed to have Asperger's? 
No wonder his work is so great!

And in other news, we won't need that canned pumpkin pie filling after all!

Our crazy (you know how I am about labels) pumpkin plant has no roots due to the unwanted advances of a hungry chipmunk. Darn critter chewed through the entire stalk when the plant was about 20 feet long.

 Online sources say that a plant can't grow pumpkins without the roots (or the first 10 feet of the main stalk) but apparently our pumpkin plant didn't get the memo. As a mom, I just think you have to believe in a pumpkin... you know? It proceeded to climb up the fence, wind its way through a few times, and then produce a pumpkin! Darn pumpkin is so heavy I've had to tie it to the fence so it doesn't break its own stalk.

And the tomatoes are beyond delicious. Yes - this is one of ours:

Here are our plants as they attempt a hostile takeover of our neighbor's back yard.

Well - you didn't think that gi-hugo hunk of a tomato came from some sad, wimpy plant did you? These things are so tenacious I've had to cage them all up to prevent them from escaping from the back yard! I'd hate our local police to be forced to put out an APB for runaway tomato plants!  We'd probably find them at the local high school football field where they'd be yelling "you wanna piece of me?" at the varsity linebackers.

Anywhoo... the moral of this blog is: don't fear labels. And: Don't believe everything you read about pumpkins. And don't try to make pumpkin pie with string beans... it probably won't work well.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Do Parents use Special Needs as an excuse for Bad Behavior?

I ran across this little ditty the other day and, as the mother of 3 kids with 3 different diagnosis', found it rather thought provoking.

Views of Professor Priscilla Alderson as seen at

Professor Alderson said that it was often convenient for neglectful parents to claim that a child had a behavioural disorder. She believes that much of the increase can be put down to more flexible interpretations of normal childhood traits, such as restlessness and excitability. In our more gullible age, she says, this becomes attention deficit — which could be solved by engaging more with children and allowing them to let off steam in traditional fashion by playing in parks and climbing trees.
“I recently visited a special school which had 27 children diagnosed as autistic. Of those, only two that I met displayed the lack of eye contact and absence of empathy which denotes true autism,” she said. “Money is behind all this. Pyschologists want the work, and lower the diagnosis threshold accordingly. Special needs is an administrative device describing children who have extra needs from those provided for in the average classroom.
Professor Alderson, 57, who has three grown-up children and three grandchildren, admitted that her eldest daughter had been “difficult”, something she attributes to her naivity at the time about how to be a good parent. “By the time my other children came along I had realised that if you treat children as adults then they will behave accordingly.” 
See article HERE.

So... lemme get this straight. Because Iraq makes eye contact and she is fully capable of going through the motions of showing empathy, she does not have Asperger's? Well hallelujah! It's a miracle - my 8-year-old has been cured! What a wonderful relief!

Quite honestly, I wold LOVE to have Iraq's issues boil down to poor parenting as it would mean I could FIX the problem, but unfortunately for myself and thousands of other parents of children in the autism spectrum, Professor Priscilla Alderson is an outdated, judgmental moron whose views will only add to the struggles we face. (Ooops! Did I just type that out loud?)

It is unfortunate that there are people out there, working under the guise of being an "expert," who know and understand so little about autism. I may not have "Professor" in front of my name, but I honestly believe I know far more about the symptoms of Asperger's in girls than the Priscilla Aldersons of the world.

"I didn't spend 6 years in evil medical school to be called 'Mister.' Thank you very much!" 
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). Laugh at sound byte here.

 That said, I must admit that I DO use my children's special needs as an excuse for bad behavior. For example:
  • I use Iraq's meltdowns as an excuse to let the clean laundry wrinkle in the dryer for 15-60 minutes some days. (OMG!! People are going to think I am an incompetent launderer! The horror!)
  • I use The Skink's Down syndrome as an excuse for the school bus to pick her up at the front door instead at the top of the street (and when I say "at the 'top' of the street," I mean a hill that goes up at an angle of about a 45° for about 2 blocks). We've tried the walk before - she usually walks about 20 feet at 0.1258 miles-per-hour before begging to be carried the rest of the way. I don't want to carry a 30+ lb. child UP the hill every morning... I'm lazy that way, you know.
  • I use the theory that the sum is greater than the parts as an excuse to NOT be an active member of the PTA. Well... that and the fact that my husband doesn't get home from work until after 7:30 p.m. and that I don't trust most babysitters to be able to handle the sum of the younger 2 parts... nor do I trust the oldest part to not distract said babysitter...
  • I use the excuse that my son has ADHD to not make him babysit his 2 little sisters often so I can torture myself enjoy being a regular part of the PTA. I also use the ADHD excuse to make him mow the lawn... there I go bein' all lazy again. *sigh*
  • I use 2 of my children's "issues" as an excuse to bring our dog on family vacations and to restaurants.
So yeah... I'm bad! Seriously BAD!

Ok... well... maybe not that bad...

Me... after 16 years of evil school.
Does this look like good PTA material to you? 
*Don't answer that*

So what do you think? Do you feel that autism spectrum disorders and ADD/ADHD are fig-newtons of society's collective imagination?
Do you think parents use the "special needs" label as a crutch or an excuse for bad parenting?  

Or, like me, do you believe that while there are plenty of parents out there who don't properly discipline their "normal" kids, there are also parents struggling with children who have very real issues? Yes - it can be hard to tell the difference, but you don't have to go to a day of evil school to know that labeling MOST parents of children with ASDs or ADD/ADHD as neglectful, gullible people who don't take their children to the park enough is worse than submerging them in a tank of sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads. Why must I be surrounded by frickin' idiots?
But I digress.

"Help! I'm in a nutshell! How did I get into this bloody great big nutshell? What kind of shell has a nut like this?"

 Yeah... I totally feel that way some days...

Oops! I digressed again. 

So tell me what you think!


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Oh Behave!

What Would You Do?

Imagine this... a new family moves into a house just down the street from you with an 8-year-old daughter who is almost exactly the same age as your daughter. (Not to assume that everyone has an 8-year-old daughter, but humor me for this little tidbit.)

The family seems (note the italics) well educated and friendly, and shortly after their arrival they invite you and your daughter over to their house for a play date. While you are there, your daughter spies some fun-looking dolls neatly arranged on a shelf and picks one to play with. Your new neighbor's child races over, snatches the doll away and *shrieks* "Don't mess up my dolls!" To make matters worse, she then starts crying like she was bitten by a shark or something.

Whoa.. right? The kid is EIGHT YEARS OLD. I mean, what is with this kid? Has the word share never been spoken in this house or what?

So the freaky kid's mom intervenes, and instead of sending psycho-girl to time out,  she HUGS her, holds her in her lap and whispers to her!

 Yeah - kind of like that!

Does this woman not watch Super Nanny? Isn't that like, the opposite of what any intelligent parent would do?

After a while the brat gets up out of her mom's lap and hands your daughter the doll that caused the melt down and heads to the opposite side of the room as if your daughter isn't even there. In hopes of fostering a friendly relationship, you ask the girls if they'd like to play a game of "I-Spy" together with you. Of course your daughter brightens up and is eager to play. The other kid? Totally ignores you...

So again her mother (who you're thinking has less and less in common with you by the millisecond) goes over to her daughter and asks her again if she'd like to play. Kid looks over at you and screams at you, "I am not a spy! Don't call me a spy!"


So you (sort of) calmly explain it's a game and go over the rules and start out, "I spy with my eye..." and the kid interrupts you to inform you that "I," "spy" and "eye" are all rhyming words and then proceeds to list off about 468 more words that rhyme (because you so totally care, right?). Needless to say that not only do you not get to play the I-Spy game, but nobody else can get a word in edgewise.

Well, just look at the time!

You cordially announce that you simply must be going - you know... 10,000 things to do before dinner and all...

The other mom stands up with you and agrees, saying that it's probably a good time to start homework.

As you're leaving, you hear the new creepy-kid start having this mega-tantrum, shrieking over and over, "I want to play! I want to play!" like some sort of whacked-out broken record. I mean, she didn't exactly play while you were there, and now she wants to play? Is it just me or does it sound like she's gotten away with begging and whining to avoid homework a time or two before?

To your horror, the kid shows up at your door shortly after you get home to give back the lip-gloss she apparently stole from your daughter!

Um... wow.

Now there's a great little friend for your daughter, right?
*insert "Oh, like HELL NO!" here*

What would you do?

Do you foster a friendship with this nasty, spoiled, whiny little heathen and her parents who possibly don't possess an ounce of "How To Parent" knowledge, or remain cordial but just "happen" to be busy when they want to play? Do you keep quiet, or do you offer up some creative suggestions for behavioral issues?

I mean, don't we pretty much all know that if a child whines it is because whining has gotten her what she wants? Don't we all know that if a child has a temper tantrum, you don't reward the behavior but put the child in time-out, or take a favorite toy away? It's freakin' 2011 - why would anybody not know these things?

Am I wrong? Have you decided how you feel about this situation?

Doesn't the expression on that face about sum it up?

What if I am wrong?

What if I am jumping to some conclusions? Conclusions like that common discipline methods work for every child? Conclusions like that this child was purposefully misbehaving or is spoiled?

But how could I be wrong? Everything I've seen on shows from Dr. Phil to Super Nanny -

in books from Dr. Spock...

 No - not that Spock!                                   That Spock! > the wide plethora of available literature currently available on the subject of child-rearing... they all would suggest my conclusions are correct - heck - they taught me those conclusions!

So what if I told you that this story is a representation of a real situation...

and that I am the other mom. You know... the one who held her child in a bear-hug during a melt-down to prevent her from hurting anyone after one of the dolls was removed from it's permanently-assigned place in an OCD-style line-up.

What if I told you that ever since Iraq was tiny, none of the parenting techniques that supposedly work on ALL children, worked for my middle child? Yeah - they worked great for my oldest who has ADHD. They work great for my youngest who has Down syndrome, but they don't work for Iraq.

You see, Iraq has Aspergers - it's an autism spectrum disorder - and she doesn't learn from experience the way most kids do.

I know that sounds very weird, and indeed it is very weird - even when you've been living with it for 8 years! Iraq's communication issues - both inside her own brain and in absorbing outside stimulus - mean that she gathers information differently than "neuro-typical" (or NT) children. She learns and responds differently than NT children. It means that her actions and reactions are based on something different than those of an NT child... something that can't be seen and something that is very, very hard for others to understand.

It means that no matter where we go and no matter what we do, my parenting skills will automatically be called into question by those who have watched all the shows, read all the books and "know" all the answers.

I will tell you myself that I used to be the most awesome parent! I used all the expert-approved techniques and I had the most well-behaved son! Hooray for me!

Luckily, many parents end up with 2 or more NT children, and if used properly, these techniques work GREAT for those children.

I do realize how hard it is for others to understand how different parenting a child in the autism spectrum is than parenting an NT child - especially if you're lucky enough to have more than one well-behaved NT child. I should also mention that all children in the autism spectrum are different too, and what works for one may not work for another... and sometimes it can take what seems like forever to find something... anything... that works at all.

*I will mention that I took a break (to restrain hold Iraq in a bear hug) just now after she had a melt-down because I wouldn't help her with her homework right that second and then her sister put on her shoe and she tried to stab The Skink with a pencil in retaliation and then started screaming when I told her to take a time out so I had to physically carry her up the stairs (even though I have a bad back) and lay down on top of her until she calmed down so she wouldn't hurt us all and so that she knows she has limits (and so do I) and in order to do my part to try to teach her to fit in with the world she was born into.* 

What? Don't you do that with your kids every day?

At the end of the 15-minute meltdown (sounds like a new workout DVD series, doesn't it?) she wouldn't let go of me, and told me how much she loves me. What? Not the typical response from a child who has just been physically restrained?

I should mention that although I may be doing this a number of times a day right now, that is not always the case. It's just that the school year has just begun - new teacher, new schedule - and Iraq does not do well with transitions or change. Not well at all! Once she gets into her new rhythm, we'll only have meltdowns if there's a new skill introduced at school , on holidays, weekends... or if we're "lucky" enough to go on a trip or something. Yeah - we look forward to those days!

So yeah - - I'm that mom. The one with the kid who has no friends. She still wants to knock on our neighbor's door up the street on occasion, but usually nobody answers. If she sees them through a window, she is told they are about to go somewhere or have an appointment or something. I can hardly blame them. It's tough being her mother, let alone her neighbor with 3 well-behaved NT children.

But it still hurts.

I'm struggling but I do the best I can. We follow the guidelines suggested by our autism specialists (who say - "Yeah - we know. You need to do this but it may not change the behavior. There's not much else we can tell you other than 'hang in there!'"). I do tell the other parents I meet that Iraq is in the spectrum... usually I'm met with understanding nods which soon morph into confused looks. Even when people "know," many still offer advice. Trust me - - we've been there, done that. If it worked, we'd still be there. I promise.

At any rate, I hold on to my sense of humor for dear life. If you need proof, just ask my 16-year-old son. He just got home from school and I asked him if he wanted milk and cookies. His eyes brightened up and he said "Yeah!" I pointed down the road and said, "Great! Me too! The Kroger is about a mile that way!"
LOL! Milk and cookies? I'm just not that kind of mom!