Monday, January 31, 2011

Shorties: Wokka Wokka Wokka!

Hiya hiya hiya folks! I've got some jokes for you and they are funnyyyyyyy...

Ryan and I are at my parents' house.

M: What's Daddy's name?

Ryan: Stuart!

M: What's Mommy's name?

R: Meredith!

M: What's Grandpa's name? Grandpa ___?

R: Lee!

M: And what's Grandma's name? Grandma ___?

R: TREE! (he grins and his eyes twinkle in that mischievous I-know-I'm-up-to-no-good way that I love)

M: What?!?

R: Grandma Yellow Flowers! (he looks out the window) Grandma Sky! Grandma Clouds! Grandma Squirrel!


Ryan is drawing. I've been asking him to think of something that's usually red and to draw it; draw something orange; draw something yellow... We get up to green, and he decides to draw a tree: a green cloud-type circle.

M: Where's the trunk?

Ryan adds a sideways line that curves up at the end.

M: Huh?

To clarify, Ryan trumpets like an elephant.


Ryan is eating a bowl of dry cereal. Every once in a while, I try introducing the concept that one can pour milk on cereal and eat it with a spoon; this usually results in spitting. I gave him a bit of my cereal and milk on a spoon, and he didn't gag, so I thought he was ready to try some milk in his bowl.

M: Do you want to try your cereal with milk?

Ryan (enthusiastically): YES!

He then grabs a handful of dry cereal and plunges his whole fist into his glass of milk.

ps: He tasted the wet cereal in his hand, promptly spit it out, and complained that his hand was wet.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Being Autistic in China, with a nod to Amy Chua

Everyone's been talking about Amy Chua and Chinese vs American parenting.  When I read her description of Chinese-style mothering - drilling academics through repetition, limiting opportunities for social development - one of my first thoughts was that China would be the perfect place to grow up with autism. What autistic kid wouldn't thrive in a society that values routine and order over playground skills?

So I did a little reading, and my hypothesis fell flat.

In China, autism, or "the loneliness disease," has been recognized as a disability since 2006. In a nation of over a billion people, there are only 100 doctors specializing in autism. Children with autism and other "abnormalities" are not allowed to attend public schools. There are a handful of special education facilities in major cities, but none in rural China, so most kids on the spectrum must be home schooled by parents who have little understanding of autism, and little access to the wealth of information available to the rest of the world on the internet. Parent training programs are expensive and have a year-long waiting list to enroll; special schools can have a two-year waiting list.

There is great shame attached to having an "abnormal" child in China. Such a child is considered unable to contribute to society, unable to care for his parents in their old age. And because they are considered burdens from early childhood, most individuals with autism never get the opportunity to develop to their full potential and become productive, valued citizens.

I am so grateful for the opportunities that my child will have because he had the providence to be born in the United States in an era of relatively-high understanding of autism spectrum disorders and the social value of people with autism.  And I pray for the future of kids like mine around the world.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

He's a good little monkey, and always very curious

I frequently tell Ryan I don't speak Monkey, but, actually, I do.

Ryan's talent for echolalia extends beyond his species. He frequently quotes Curious George cartoons - the monkey parts, not just lines spoken by the human characters. If George makes requests or asks questions with an ooh-ooh-aah, Ryan will use these monkey words as his own script for making demands of me.

"Ooh aah?"

"Sorry, Baby, I don't speak monkey," I'll tell him. "Can you ask with people-words?"

Don't tell Ryan, but most of the time, I know exactly what my little monkey wants. His nonverbal communication skills are excellent. Between the pointing, the inflection, and my own encyclopedic knowledge of the cannon of PBS Kids, I can easily interpret Georgian requests for snacks, computer games, the location of toys... 

Now, how can I use this skill to take over the world?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I am in no mood to take care of you

Roller derby is still on winter hiatus; I go back to practice in February.  Derby had become my primary stress-control outlet, which has made for a long, cranky winter.  Going to the gym provides a little exercise, and eating Cheez-its and playing sudoku is nice, but it's no substitute for the catharsis I get from skating and smacking my friends around.

Ryan is getting over some nasty virus, which turned him into a pathetic little lump for five days.  Stu has caught the bug and is in full Man Cold mode.  I am trying to ignore my symptoms so I can take care of Ryan.  Now that the boy is healthier, he has the energy to throw some wicked tantrums - and it's taking all my energy to manage them.  I've instructed Ryan to take care of himself so Mommy can get better, but he's refusing to follow my orders.

The only things getting me through this week are Diet Coke and looking forward to a skating party I'm going to next week.  Maybe I'll get to hit someone!

Monday, January 10, 2011

You'd Have to be Crazy to Shoot People

Like everyone else, I was saddened and disturbed when I learned about the recent assassination attempt and related deaths and injuries in Tucson.  It goes without saying that one would have to be crazy to shoot 20 people - including a young girl - because of some strange ideology about the New World Order and illiteracy and immigration.

What little information has been reported on gunman Jared Loughner paints a picture of a young man with schizophrenia.  I don't know if Loughner had received any clinical diagnosis, but various reports describe his inappropriate and threatening behavior in school; his distrust of government and belief in conspiracy theories; and sudden changes in his personality over the last year.  I'm no psychiatrist, but I think all of these things would be consistent with schizophrenia.

I don't know if Loughner had been diagnosed with or treated for any mental illnesses, but his former classmates and professors have told reporters that they had concerns about him - serious enough concerns that his college suspended him and send a letter to his parents stating that Loughner could return to classes only if he'd first "obtain a mental health clearance indicating, in the opinion of a mental health professional, his presence at the College does not present a danger to himself or others" (reported here and elsewhere).

What social supports are in place for mentally ill adults?  What supports should be available?  Schizophrenia often does not manifest until adulthood, so individuals with schizophrenia may not have the obvious path to services that, say, a child with autism going through the public school system would have.  How can we help families recognize the signs of psychosis in their grown children so they can steer them toward appropriate treatment? 

Obviously I don't have enough information or expertise to make recommendations for the Loughner family, but this tragic incident should remind us all to look out for our loved ones.  If you notice odd changes in someone's personality or suspect psychosis, get involved, even if the family member in question accuses you of being part of the conspiracy. 

Here is a list of symptoms of psychosis:
  • Abnormal displays of emotion
  • Confusion
  • Depression and sometimes suicidal thoughts
  • Disorganized thought and speech
  • Extreme excitement (mania)
  • False beliefs (delusions)
  • Loss of touch with reality
  • Mistaken perceptions (illusions)
  • Seeing, hearing, feeling, or perceiving things that are not there (hallucinations)
  • Unfounded fear/suspicion
You can learn more about schizophrenia here.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Little Slice of Heaven

Monday was perfect:  an absolutely tantrum-free day.

Ryan's first ever tantrum-free day.

I knew it was going to be an unusual day because when he climbed into our bed at his usual 6:15am, he crawled under the covers and went to sleep (and let me sleep) for half an hour.  Every other morning, he jumps on top of me, orders me to turn on the light and open the curtains, and plays with Stu's alarm clock.

Many of Ryan's tantrums follow a pattern: predictable trigger, escalating anxiety, slamming himself into a wall, whining like a monkey, insisting he has hurt himself and needs 100 kisses to fix it. 

On Monday, we didn't do any of this.

Monday morning, he played happily with his toys.  When I told him it was time to get dressed, he got dressed.  When I asked him to try going to the bathroom, he walked there - he didn't collapse in a heap and do the backstroke down the hall until prompted to do otherwise.

When I announced it was time to head down to the school bus, Ryan put on his coat and walked out the door.  I didn't have to drag him down the hall or order him off the floor in front of the elevator.  And when he got on the bus, he didn't launch himself headfirst up the steps.

After school, he did not whine and beg to play on the computer.  Instead, he helped me with errands around town.  We giggled and sang and chased each other down the sidewalk.

And at bedtime, brushing his teeth did not require my tricking him into going to the sink or scraping him off the bathmat.  We just...brushed his teeth.

He stayed calm and self-induced-injury-free all day.  He was huggy and sweet and cooperative.

It was perfect.

We may never have another day as perfect as that one, but now I know Ryan is capable of holding himself together for an entire day, and this gives me tremendous hope.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

All Aboard the Acela Express

A friend from my old playgroup came to visit the other day with her five-year-old son.  Ryan and Lucas were never best buddies - Ryan once took Lucas out with a football tackle in defense of a disputed toy.  As a neurotypical child with an older brother, Lucas is more assertive than Ryan and significantly more adept at defending his own interests.  But on this day, they pretty much kinda sorta played together.

Lucas built an elaborate train track and told us all about the Acela Express (according to Lucas, the Acela Express goes from Virginia to New York at a rate of 160km/hr on the straight tracks and 90km/hr around curves, and holds 60 passengers - 20 per car).  Ryan pushed a couple of engines around, then, as is his preferred method of playing with trains, started to connect all of the engines and cars together as one way-too-long train.

"No, it's too long!" Lucas warned.  "It will derail when it goes around the corner!"

Ryan kept connecting all the cars.  Lucas kept separating them.

There was a scuffle.  Ryan stepped on Lucas' back.  Parents intervened.

My friend suggested the boys take turns controlling the trains.  She tried to interest Lucas in some alphabet magnets; Lucas made several well-thought-out arguments as to why Ryan should be the one playing with the magnets. 

When Ryan finally settled in with the magnets, Lucas hovered over his shoulder, suddenly regretting his choice of toy.  Lucas spelled a word with magnets, and Ryan read it.  Ryan spelled a word, and Lucas read it.

Then Ryan saw his opportunity to be the train master; this caused Lucas to instantly lose all interest in magnet letters.

The differences in these boys' play skills were vast and fascinating to observe.  There were the linguistic differences, of course: Lucas can form complete sentences, express complex ideas, ask and answer questions; and Ryan can not.  There were obvious motor planning differences, too: Lucas designed and constructed an intricate airplane out of Legos; Ryan's Lego creations never get more complicated than single-brick-wide towers, and he doesn't always push the blocks all the way together.  And the degrees of imaginative play involved can not even be compared.

But this is the most interactive playdate we've had in a long time.  It lasted two hours, and resulted in no bloodshed and relatively few tears.  I thought it was a tremendous success.