Our journey in the Autism Spectrum

ABA and positive parenting

It was when Henry was 4 years old that we got the medical diagnosis of autism. It wasn’t so much a shock as it was an overwhelming wave. We began O.T., integration therapy and speech therapy almost immediately and we started looking at his preschool to screen for an educational diagnosis. I tried to read as much as I could about autism therapies, attended conferences and workshops. There are a lot of “therapies” out there. I knew that beginning a therapy program earlier rather than later was important. I also knew in my gut that whatever route we chose it would be essential that it fit with Henry’s personality and learning style. Also, realistically, it was going to have to fit in with our families lifestyle and personalities as well. If we couldn’t have the consistency at home as in a therapy setting, over the long haul, and as we all know, this haul is LONG, what good would it do? A few seemed they could be quite helpful. Many had that “too good to be true” feeling about them. And still others had “sham” written all over it. In the small print, between the lines…in invisible ink. I was trying my best to educate myself so that we could make an informed, intelligent decision on what might best help Henry. It was terrifying.

Our pediatrician, who diagnosed Henry, encouraged us to call a local autism non-profit organization for help with programs, additional resources, therapies, etc. (And, yes, it was our general pediatrician that worked with us. We do not have a neurologist, or a behavioral pediatrician, or a psychologist. We just have our amazing general pediatrician and for that we will be forever grateful to him!) It took me a year to make the call but finally, this is how we found the ABA program that changed our lives!

Yes, applied behavior analysis (ABA). It POSITIVELY changed our lives.

Applied behavior analysis is defined as “the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement in behavior.”

What I loved about our experience with ABA was that it “merged group instruction with guided observation, one-on-one sessions with the client and coaching of the parent or other caregiver.  Parent training was not just about teaching skills to the child, but teaching us parent how to best understand the child and the nature of their disability.” (learn more about Easter Seals Midwest and their programs here. ) I got to practice what we were learning right along with my son. Together! For two weeks my husband and I were coached, supported, and encouraged by our certified trainers. It truly was a mindfulness-based parenting approach in an ADAPT (Active Discovery and Participation through Technology) type model.

I learned to really see my son and learned how he processed things. Our communication was immediately improved. This program taught us HOW best to communicate with Henry and in turn, he learned how to communicate with us! Easter Seals Midwest’s program most certainly went beyond discrete trial teaching! (learn more about ABA and discrete trial teaching here.) Once we were able to communicate, Henry’s world began to open up to us and our world opened to him! It was, and still is, hard work. It takes continual practice but with this we’ve been able to slowly generalize these skills into everyday settings.

We are almost 5 years out from our initial 2-week parent training. Henry has been in mainstream school since Kindergarten and is going into 4th grade in the fall. Henry has autism. He will always have autism. That’s a part of who he is and we never want to change him into someone he is not. What we want for him is to be the very best Henry he can be. As he grows up, there will always be new challenges, new anxieties, new difficulties in his path. Because of what all three of us learned in parent training, Henry is not just aware of his feelings but can identify them and verbalize them. He has acquired wonderful coping and communication skills, all which continue to evolve. He is able to adapt and generalize these skills into his every day life and learning. He is happy. He is healthy. And he has very proud parents that are positive of his success!

ABA and positive parenting~it truly is what’s inside the program and inside us that makes all the difference.

#positiveparentingday

This past Friday my kids had a half day for their last day of school. To celebrate I offered to take them out to lunch. After minimal debate and a 2 out of 3 challenge of rock-paper-scissors, Culver’s was the winning choice.

As we sat and chatted about the last day and plans for the summer, a mom at a nearby table with a young girl and boy were enjoying lunch as well. Both children were very well-behaved. They were slowly finishing up and as they were gathering their things to leave, the little boy darted over toward our table and plucked a french fry from Henry’s tray and popped it in his mouth.

It all happened so fast that I don’t think the mom even noticed until Henry exclaimed, “My fry!”

I was immediately grinning, trying to reassure a stricken Henry that we did, in fact, have plenty of french fries to share. The other mom looked horrified and immediately started apologizing even though I told her it was really ok. We understood because we like french fries too!

She asked her son to say he was sorry and this sweet little boy said, “I’m sorry. I know better.” I told him thank you for apologizing but it was okay. Then Henry surprised me by offering the boy another fry!  He took it and ate it with such joy. Then he held out his hand and said, “May I have more?”

Henry was on it and quickly offered him two more fries which the boy happily gobbled up. This mom looked so relieved and we struck up a brief conversation about kids, picky eaters, french fries and ice cream. I mean, we were at Culver’s after all. I totally get it!

I was so proud of Henry handling this situation with such grace. This had the potential of throwing my boy for quite a loop! Henry not only held it together but was able to turn his shock of a stranger grabbing food off of his plate into generously sharing with this boy!

After we left, I began to wonder, if there was some kind of moms-of-special needs-kids connection that this other mom sensed. You see, her boy had several characteristics of having Down syndrome. While you can’t always “see” Henry’s autism, it is obvious that something is a bit different in his speech and mannerisms if you watch and listen to him long enough. Had she noticed?

I admit I had been watching this other family all the while we were there. I was impressed how self-sufficient that young boy was; eating neatly, cleaning up after himself. All under the careful watch and only minimal instruction from his mother. Now I wonder if that mother had been watching us too. (Obviously, her little boy had been. Well, at least our fries were in his sights.) Usually I don’t concern myself with what other people think, though I do want to always want my kids to show good manners and courtesy toward others! I can only hope we left as positive an impression on her as they left on me!

And they like french fries and frozen custard!  That must mean they are good people! Right?!?

Frozen custard and french fries

[Ed. note:  I originally wrote this piece in 2011. Four years ago! Now it’s 2015 and  today I saw a post by the wonderful and amazing John Elder Robison sharing information on a new book coming out by Steve Silberman called NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. I felt it necessary to revisit this post (with minor edits) to hopefully get people thinking!] 

There are so many things I wish, hope and dream for my son; so many things for each of my kids, which includes not only Henry but his two “typical” sisters. Of course, I wish for them to be happy, productive, good citizens. I feel that is a given. So, aside from that, what do I really wish for them?  Henry in particular? I wish for them to be accepted for who they are, as they are.

This is not to say that I don’t want programs and therapies specifically to help my son. I do! As many as possible with a lot of options and opportunities.  This is also not to say that I want or expect the world to accommodate my son’s differences completely. He needs to learn outside his comfort zone too. This is how we grow. There would be room for research, of course, for those looking for new therapies, for a cause, for a “cure”.

What I am looking for is a world that will accept him, understand him, and still want to know him, to like him, to value what he contributes to the world. All of that despite that he doesn’t think the same as others. He sees the world differently.

How can we accomplish this? Where to begin? Education. Education. Education. Education for teachers. Education for our kids’ peers! And with this education comes mentoring for our kids. All kids! How awesome would it be if ALL teachers were special education teachers?!?! Wouldn’t ALL of our kids benefit from that? I know my littlest “typical” girl does! She was a model student in an integrated special education preschool class. It was a wonderful experience. We all learn differently. How amazing and different our world would be if we ALL had a special mentor growing up! This, ideally, needs to start EARLY.

I would love to see my son in an environment where sometimes when he feels he must make strange space noises or talk to himself, those around him, his peers, will be okay with it. They would understand and not think anything of it. He would have opportunities to walk away from a group project or game when it simply becomes too much to interact or be close with others and be welcomed back when he is ready to continue contributing to the group. A place where everyone feels comfortable and everyone’s differences are accepted.

This subject is so important, so vast. We have much work still to do. But perhaps, for those who run across this blog, it will get them thinking and sharing and collaborating. Perhaps someday we will no longer have to put the word typical in quotes when referring to some of our kids. No more “NT” kids. All of us would be considered ND. Neurodiverse. The new “typical”.

…where ridiculous resides and because I always seem to take the long way around a story:

My little dude is funny. Except, after BDC taking him shopping for new sneakers tonight, and finding that his feet are quickly reaching my size (he’s only 8!), he’s not truly” little”. Though I will probably refer to him as my “little dude” for the rest of his life. (So, Henry, you have been warned.) But I digress.

Later in the evening I walked upstairs to corral the little (see, I can’t help myself) chameleons to bed while BDC worked on getting pictures off of my phone and into my computer. Because sometimes I’m technically challenged.  Anyway, it’s a cool evening so the windows are open and our attic fan is running. When I got to our bedroom (because the kids have claimed it as their own and are watching TV in there)  I smelled something strangely odorous.  Like perhaps there was a dead animal nearby in our neighborhood, or more accurately, right outside our bedroom window.

The following conversation ensued.

ME: *scrunching my nose*  “What smells in here?”

Of course, I try to identify it and find the source.  I go over to our window to see if it’s stronger there. You know, sort of like, “Oh this milk is sour! Taste it!” Only in this case I was inflicting this upon my own olfactory senses.  Again, I digress.

As I am unable to discern where said smell is coming from, I turn back to the kids.

HENRY: “Heh, heh!”  *said devilishly*  “That must be me you smell.”

ME: “YOU smell?”   *then I realize I can’t remember the last time Henry had a bath*

HENRY: “Yeah, come smell me.”

* again with the sour milk…?  I move hesitantly toward him.*

HENRY: “Dad and I were trying some man cologne while we were at Kohl’s.”

ME: “Oh!”  *laughing*  “Did you really?”

HENRY: “Only two kinds. Smell.”  *he pulls his t-shirt away from his neck so I can get a good sniff*

ME:  “Hey, that smells pretty good!”  *said with a bit of surprise*  “That’s not what I was smelling a second ago.”

HENRY: “Ohhhh, yeahhhh!”  *nodding his head, giving me the smooth-move-finger-gun motion and an attempt at a wink*  “Dad should get two bottles of each and I should get two bottles of each for four bottles and I should wear this twice a day.”

Well, on the upside, I wouldn’t smell that dead animal smell with Henry bathing in two different types of cologne twice a day.  Although, we  probably would all end up not being able to smell anything after that, rendering any kind of scent a moot point.  (I did mention the long way around, right? Keep reading. It’s almost the end. Really.)

By this time I’m getting the kids tucked in their beds and of course, Lucy has chimed in on the conversation.

LUCY: ” Henry, you can’t wear that!”

HENRY: “I might wear it THREE times a day!  Maybe even FOUR! Ok, maybe just two. I can SO wear it, Lucy.”

LUCY: *laughing*  “Ewwww! No you can’t Henry!  You can’t even date yet.”

HENRY: *matter-of-factly*  “Well, that is true.”

ME: “You don’t have to date to wear good smells. Remember, Henry, you used to wear Mad Hatter? And you really liked that.”

HENRY: “Well, yeah.  I should probably wear man cologne more often. You know, because a man likes to smell good.”

*shaking my head. Good gods, how did I land on this planet and with these kids?!? *

So, there you have it. Because honestly I don’t know how to end this ridiculous story about an equally ridiculous conversation. But it made me so happy to see my kids laughing and being utterly serious and silly at the same time.  For me, that’s reason enough to take the long way to cologne.

Riding Shotgun

[ alternatively titled: the Rabinowitz Bubble Revisited]

Today is officially our first full day of summer break.  I haven’t written much over the last several months.  Well, let’s be honest.  I haven’t blogged at all.  I’ve really missed writing here but for me to write something down it takes time, quiet, and a lot of emotional and mental energy; none of which I’ve had much of this past school year.  At least regarding autism.

I’ve also had trouble coming up with something to write about.  All-in-all it’s been a pretty “typical” year for the Rabinowitz tribe.  Yes, autism still lives with us.   Autism has challenged us.   And, in the moments when I’ve watched Henry try to connect with some of his peers or not be able to do an activity because of bugs, autism has also broken my heart.  But that’s normal for us; the way things just…are.  I’ve written before about what I call The Rabinowitz Bubble.  That’s where I’ve been living this past school year.

We’ve had great successes and we’ve had challenges.  More often than not, I’ve shared small snippets of these on my Facebook page.  And that’s been enough for me.  In our family bubble I don’t feel the need to go into every minute detail of our lives and what living with autism is like for us.  It just IS.  When I think about it, that’s the big part of my not blogging these last many months.  Because really, “typical” is rather “boring” isn’t it.

I’ve enjoyed being “boring”.  As many, many (too many, really) of you know, autism is often a daily, 24/7/365, in-your-face, way of life.  This past school year I’ve been able to scoot it aside, for the most part, and let it sit next to me.  It’s refreshing.  I’ve been able to concentrate more on building a business. (Yeah, that’s a shameless plug. Deal with it.)  I’ve also worked on my fiction, both reading it and writing my own.  I’ve been able to become more involved in Molly’s high school band.  Although, that’s a bit insane of me.  I’ll admit I’m not sure what I was thinking on that one!  And even more crazy for me is, as of 6 weeks ago, I began running.  Well, technically “wogging” (walking/jogging) but still, Runkeeper calls it running.  So, “running” it is because it makes me feel better about the whole madness of it.  I’ve actually been able to go a few hours without thinking about autism at all!  Seriously.  I can hardly believe it myself!  I think I must be learning to compartmentalize it better.

All of this gives me hope that perhaps, some day, autism will take a backseat in our lives.  Yeah, I’m sure at times it will be one of those annoying backseat drivers and even occasionally jump back up into the driver’s seat.  That’s okay.  That’s what it IS.  For now, this summer, I’ll be content to let autism ride shotgun.

 

For whatever reason, though it’s something anxiety related I’m guessing (which deserves a much longer post), as soon as Henry puts on his jacket to wait (inside) for the morning bus he stops talking.  Every morning he asks earlier and earlier if he can put on his jacket.  This morning this is how this conversation played out.

HENRY: Can I put on my jacket now?

ME: *glancing at the clock* You’ve still got 15 minutes until the bus comes.  If you can continue talking with us when appropriate then you can put on your jacket.

HENRY: But I can’t.  It’s a ….thing.

*his new catch-all phrase for whatever he decides he is compelled to do.*

ME: No. It’s not ‘a thing’. You have words. Use them.

LUCY: But not the bad ones, Henry.

…and there you go.

It’s been months and months since I’ve blogged.  The more time that has passed I’ve felt more and more pressure to write something.  Anything.  But what to write about?  I’ve just not been feelin’ it. As we all know, April is autism awareness/acceptance month so, as my first post since September, I thought I’d do something a little different.

In case you are new to my Facebook page and/or blog, I love chameleons.  I relate to their changing colors and camouflage; their ability to  always change and blend in (or not blend in). For me they also represent the diversity in everyone and their spectrum of many colors relates very well to the Autism Spectrum. It’s a whole big jumble of layers of  awesome symbolism! 

Anyway, getting to the point, I thought it would be fun to have my readers and fans share their own diversity; their “chameleon-ness” as it were.  Below is a link for a PDF file that can be printed out and colored. I’m encouraging anyone and EVERYONE to color their chameleons in a way that best expresses themselves.  This is for kids and adults! Anyone! Whether you are on the Spectrum or not!!!

I would love it, if you are so inclined, to take a picture of you and/or your little chameleon(s) and share your creations! I will be accepting pictures all this month of April. You can share them on my Facebook page, A Chameleon in the Spectrum or via my e-mail at inthespectrum@hotmail.com .

Your photos can be of just your completed chameleon coloring page or with the face of the artist as well.  No names or pictures will be used unless permission is given. I thank you in advance for your participation.

This April 2014 let’s all express,celebrate and share our diversity!!!

CLICK THIS LINK TO PRINT YOUR CHAMELEON:  Chameleon Coloring Page

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