The Puzzle Piece

Ya’ll know about all those “National Day of (insert random thing here)” holidays that they announce for novelty’s sake on the radio and those one-a-day calendars? Well, today happens to be National Puzzle Day.

Do you know about the puzzle piece being the recognized symbol for Autism awareness? Here’s some information about it.

– In 1999 it was adopted as the UNIVERSAL symbol for Autism Awareness.

– The puzzle pieces themselves represent the complexity of the Autism Spectrum.

– The different colors of the puzzle pieces usually seen on ribbons and logos represent the diversity of the individuals that have Autism.

A lot of agencies use the puzzle piece pattern in logos, merchandise, etc. because of all of these reasons. When I was having a graphic designed for the “Take That, Autism!” logo it was a no-brainer for me to have it include multi-colored puzzle pieces.

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In case you weren’t aware, the puzzle piece used to represent Autism isn’t received well by everyone. Some individuals argue the following:

– use of the puzzle piece can imply that individuals with Autism are confused or incomplete

– it implies that there is a missing piece when many individuals with Autism don’t feel that their lives are missing anything.

In fairness, if you go back a few decades from the 1990’s when the first puzzle piece was used to represent Autism for an Autism society in the 1960’s, it was done so with a graphic of a weeping child on top of the puzzle piece because “children with Autism are always suffering.”

I have an opinion on the debate.

I think that what the puzzle piece perhaps implied 50 years ago versus what it represents today has evolved. I feel that a puzzle piece is part of a larger unit. Each piece comes together and unites. If I look at a graphic of interlocking puzzle pieces, I feel like I’m look at a picture of unity. And I can’t argue against unity. Ever. I also hope that in 15 years, when my son sees these puzzle pieces that represent something he will have to work harder because of everyday for the rest of his life, that if I have raised him well, he will simply think, “How great that my mom worked so hard to find a group of people that could put all the pieces together for me to get me where I am today.”

Also, there are a lot of other things going on that bother me more than what a puzzle piece could or could not be interpreted as. I really feel a push for everyone to use people-first language. I had someone comment on my Facebook months and months ago, “I didn’t know you had an autistic son.” Honest reaction? I prickled. I rolled my eyes, let out a breath, and simply replied “Yes, I have a son who happens to have Autism.” I also have trouble with the emphasis of and the need to assign low, mod, high functioning levels that have inconsistent and fairly arbitrary criteria that vary from one association or governing body to the next. Lastly, I’d love for the push of using the term “pre-verbal” versus “non-verbal” in more conversations with parents of little ones. Prognosis is almost impossible to predict at the preschool age- using such definitive and severe terminology is- in all honesty- just something else for us to obsess and worry about and then we’re more likely to simply not do ANYTHING because when you have a child with special needs, you have to fight hard not to feel defeated. Let’s not feel defeated by lexicon before we ever get a chance to get off the ground. There’s a quote that I read years ago that likely is my favorite quote of all time that I think works well here:

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”

– Albert Einstein

In summary, the puzzle piece for Autism has a rich history. And as with anything, it will never satisfy everyone. This mama supports the use of the puzzle piece and the ideology is currently represents, but I also respect the opinion of those that might not.

Regardless, I think we’re all really just looking forward to the day when the only puzzle pieces we really need to care about are the ones that get lost under the couch, because that will signify that we have been successful in uniting our children.

Have a good day, everybody. Do a jigsaw puzzle or two!

Chinese New Year Craft

There’s two things I love: 1) when things are festive 2) a theme. So, I love holidays with holiday themed decorations, activities, and outfits.

Today is the Chinese New Year! So, I thought we’d do an activity.

Now let’s be real- my kids didn’t know our January 1 New Year so they definitely don’t know that it’s the Chinese (or Lunar) New Year. However, daddy’s been gone all day and NO ONE HAS NAPPED, so we needed something to entertain us. I decided on a craft!

2017 is the Year of the Rooster. We may not know what New Year’s is yet but since we live on a farm- we DEFINITELY know what roosters are ūüėČ

I decided we were going to do a simple painting activity. (Silly mama- there’s no such thing as “simple painting” by yourself with a 3 and 2 year old simultaneously!). I’m into using untraditional items to paint with to provide different sensory experiences and found an activity online where we could paint with forks to make it look like feathers, so we gave it a try.

Here’s what you need:

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– printer/painting paper

– construction paper (we painted onto the printer paper and then cut it out and attached it to construction paper for a background because printer and painting paper gets flimsy).

– googly eyes

– glue (I forgot the glue. Don’t be like me).

– washable paints (I also suggest non-toxic because as I found out, when you give a 2 year old a fork she’s used to eating with to use as a paintbrush, it’s gonna end up in her mouth at least once).

– disposable forks

I started with Caleb and showed him how to dip the fork into paint and then make strokes on the paper with it. He required a lot of hand-over-hand to complete our picture because guess why? He simply didn’t like it. He likes art, he likes crafts, but apparently he likes to eat with his forks, not paint with them. Fair enough, man.

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He hung in there and gave me a little on the paper for each color and then I released him to do what he’d been trying to do since we sat down to start painting……

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………steal all the silverware.

Now you know I don’t want to waste all that so Mr. Man just set himself up to do a functional silverware sorting task tomorrow.

And no worries because whenever Caleb doesn’t want to do something, there’s always a little sister who’s ready and willing to take his place! So, Ari and I finished it for him.

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After it dried I drew (I use that verb generously) a rooster onto the paper and cut it out. Caleb did return to help me glue the eye on and glue it to the construction paper.

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It wasn’t our most successful artistic endeavor but we did practice fine motor control, got some sensory input, and were exposed to new language and new directions to follow so I’ll take it!

Next year is the Year of the Dog. We have 4 of those. I think we can find a way to be more successful with Lunar New Year 2018 ūüôā

 Check out my Pinterest board for more Sensory Painting Ideas!

Ari

If you checked in yesterday, you know I introduced you to the awesome Ms. Holly. You can get a little background on my husband and I here. And of course, you get to read about Caleb alllll the time. (Especially if you guys are friends with me on my personal page on Facebook- ya’ll know I have an incessant love for my kids and my cows).

But there’s one more important person I’d like to tell you about.

Caleb’s little sister, Ari.

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Ari just turned 2 a few weeks ago. She’s a fiery red-head who loves animals, playing dress-up, building blocks, and Disney princesses. Her favorite food is macaroni and cheese and her favorite place in the entire world is at gymnastics class, which she goes to every week.¬†A typical 2-year-old little girl.

Recently though, I had it in my head that there may be more to know about her. When I first got pregnant with Ari I wasn’t worried about her potential future development because Caleb was only 9 months old at the time and I hadn’t had concerns about Autism with him yet. Later into my pregnancy with her, those concerns about Caleb came through the back of my mind but still weren’t solidified even when she was born when Caleb was 18-months-old. When Ari was a few months old I realized exactly what we were working with and even though I knew having a sibling with Autism put her at a greater chance of having it also, I thought “she’s a girl- the incidence rate is lower in girls so I bet I won’t have to worry about Autism with her.”

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Naivety at it’s finest. Sometimes when we’re worried about something we’ll talk ourselves into things.

But I didn’t worry for a looonnggg time about her. I remember sending videos of her to people with the most beautiful and hysterical reciprocal laugh while she played in the bathtub and at 6-months old imitating some awesome consonant-vowel-consonant -vowel sound combination. So, I was certain it wasn’t ever going to be something I would have to worry about.

At her 18-month check up, however, I asked her pediatrician if he saw any signs and symptoms of Autism with her. The thing with Caleb is that his development is¬†disordered.¬†His expressive and receptive language skills are developing in an atypical way. And while Ari wasn’t necessarily where I expected her to be, she always ended up doing the things she was supposed to be doing, it just took her more time. She seemed to be operating more on a¬†delay rather than a¬†disorder.¬†Still, the knee-jerk reaction to call it Autism because her brother had Autism was hard to fight. Her pediatrician said he didn’t see any signs and symptoms of Autism in her. He even said, “now that you bring it up and I’m¬†looking¬†for it in her, I still don’t see it.” Her pediatrician is amazing. We love him. But a mama with a worry is a fury to not be stopped.

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So I asked for a referral to a Developmental Pediatrician (after researching the best one I could find across two states) anyways.

I took her into North Carolina to see a Pediatric Developmental Psychologist who would test her over the course of 3 separate sessions so that whatever his conclusion ultimately was going to be, we would be able to have good faith that it was the right one.

At this point I had already decided that she¬†probably had Autism. With her brother, once the conclusion was reached, there was never any uncertainty. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and talks (or doesn’t talk) like a duck, then the duck has Autism. I will admit though that there was always enough of a sliver of doubt with Ari that I was only comfortable telling my closest of confidants I was taking her.

But that didn’t last long because in the spirit of awareness, I posted on Facebook what my concerns were and that I was taking her because I decided I had lived too much denial and seen too much denial in other people for this not to have the potential to help someone who may be going through the same thing. I don’t know if it ever did, but I hope so.

Back to her evaluation. I filled out all the preliminary paperwork as one would if they had already decided on a diagnosis (and also wrote a 3-page developmental addendum cause I’m a crazy lady) and sent it all in. We went to the first two appointments which were intake, “get-to-know-you”, and general developmental testing appointments. Then it came time for that third and final testing appointment. That was the day Ari was going to be given an Autism-specific developmental test. It was Halloween Day. I remember thinking, “today is going to be a day of tricks, not treats.”

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The morning before I left for that appointment was a hard morning for me. With Caleb, I got to get to the point of knowing and accepting Autism at my own pace because I realized it on my own. I had control because¬†I¬†led everyone else to enlightenment about him, nobody else led¬†me. But now I was at someone else’s mercy. All I could do was sit and wait and let someone else tell me what was going to happen. Despite whatever confidence I may have displayed about it all in person or online, that morning I sent Ms. Holly the most worried-mama texts I’ve ever sent because no matter who you are, it’s a lot to take in.

So, with a nervous pit in my stomach, we drove to North Carolina at 7 in the morning. A few hours later, testing was complete, and I asked the psychologist his preliminary thoughts on where we stood after 9 scheduled hours of appointments with him. And do you know what he said?

“She doesn’t meet the diagnostic criterion for Autism. After formal and informal assessment, my impression is that she is not on the spectrum.”

Out of all the things I prepared for, do you know that I didn’t prepare for “what if she doesn’t have Autism?”.

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So, I left feeling relieved. I felt excited, I felt at peace, but most of all- I felt so¬†glad that we had made the decision to go to the doctor. Because do you know what would have felt worse than the worry I felt until her appointments concluded? The feeling of having¬†ignored¬†my gut and the¬†guilt of having buried my head in the sand because I was embarrassed, worried, or scared of the “what-if’s?”.

I promise you all-¬†I get it. I have a child who I was worried had Autism and did. I also have a child who I was worried had Autism and didn’t. I’ve ridden that roller coaster of emotions on loop. What I hope I accomplish by sharing our journey, however, is that you find a way not to let the worry part of things paralyze you. I’m not an Autism expert and I’m not a parenting expert. But I¬†am available. To anyone who ever needs me to be whether it’s in a personal or professional capacity. I also have a wine fridge and a coffee pot so if needed, we can settle in and make a day of it.

Now that all of those feelings have been properly processed, I find myself having confidence in the opinions of her pediatrician and developmental expert. While she does have a language delay, I see that she imitates so much more with so much less effort than her brother. And she spontaneously has productions that are beyond where he is presently. Her sensory system is integrated, there’s an absence of stereotypical behaviors, she doesn’t have to be taught social games, she reads and reacts to our tone and facial expressions so well (which I love even when it results in a pouty face and crying breakdown like she lost her best friend when I tell her not to do something), she points and tries to comments, sings, and understands so well and so much.

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In an effort to be fully transparent, I will tell you that she did get a diagnostic code for a general neurodevelopmental delay and that it was brought to my attention that we can not conclusively rule out that prenatal events that happened to me did or did not have a developmental impact on her. One may reason that when a pregnant mother has focal seizures, grand mal seizures, a subarachnoid brain hemorrhage and hemorrhagic stroke, that the consequences may extend beyond herself. Honestly, I don’t really know. For someone who¬†needs to know exactly what I’m working with at pretty much all times, I have done a surprisingly small amount of research into this- mainly I think, because at this point, I’m just thankful we’re both here.

So, I hope you guys don’t mind reading on how Ari’s progressing in addition to her brother. I’m pretty fond of her and think you guys will be too ūüôā

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“Though she be but little, she is fierce.”

–¬†Shakespeare¬†

Clothing Vocabulary Activities

On Sunday we talked a little about self-dressing and I gave you some links to help troubleshoot any dressing difficulties that your child may have. I also talked about Caleb’s need for some work on clothing vocabulary as he ran around trying to put his sister’s pants on as a shirt.

So, after getting my Pinterest on, I made a fun activity that we’re going to test run today that targets expressive/receptive language skills and fine motor fun. (Oh yes- fine motor exercises are most def FUN!).

Here’s what I made to help Caleb out (the idea for which I straight up copied from Pinterest ;)):

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Here’s what you need:

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– Mini clothespins (less than $2 in the craft aisle at Wal-Mart)

– Box of any kind- plastic container, shoe box, etc. The one I used came with some plastic food toys that the kids got.

*Insider Tip: We love Melissa and Doug toys in this house. Most of them come in nice wooden boxes. I don’t keep the toys in them because there are no lids but always save the wooden boxes….one would be perfect for this.

– Sticks. For real. I was gonna go outside and take some from the yard but then found wooden dowels in the craft section that happened to be the perfect height for my clothesline for a whopping 74 cents (still Wal-Mart) so since it was even less effort than going outside, I went with that.

– Parachute cord. $2ish dollars. Again, craft aisle at Wal-Mart.

– Craft felt. I got a¬†pack of 12 for $2.88 but you can buy individual sheets for 23 cents if you’d rather. You could also use construction paper but it won’t be as durable. (Can you guess where I got it?)

Clearly I need to give a shout-out to the Stuart, VA Wal-Mart.

Assembly is pretty straight forward. I didn’t even bother with glue and legit just taped the dowels to the box.

Cut and tied parachute cord.

Drew and cut clothing.

Added clothespins.

Easiest activity ever.

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Here’s how you can use it!

Receptive Language: identifying colors, identifying clothing items, identifying prepositions (in the box, on the line, over, under, beside/next to), identifying size and comparatives (get the big/small shirt, find the longest dress), body part vocabulary to identify where each article of clothing belongs, and following directions (1,2,3, however many steps!).

Expressive Language:¬† labeling colors, clothing items, and all the prepositions and descriptive concepts I mentioned above. ¬†Also responding to “where” questions to identify where we wear each item. And don’t forget requesting (I want the _____), and commenting.

Fine Motor Skills:¬†¬†hand strengthening by pinching the clothespins open. These are small so it won’t take much effort to open them but try hanging up some yarn across some dining room chairs and have your little one practice hanging up actual clothes with regular sized clothespins. Strengthening the muscles in the thumb and pointer finger will help get ready for writing!

And a million other things, certainly, but this is an awesome place to start!

We have something else planned to entertain ourselves with today, also. Monday I posted on the Facebook page that I found a sweet clothing game for $3 in the bins where you first enter the store at Target. I broke it out last night to see how I could adapt it to a 3-year-old with special needs and was pleased to realize that very little would need adapting. Here’s what your $3 investment will get you:

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– 36 pairs of brightly colored underpants

– 4 laundry trays

  • – a stand-up washing machine
  • Also, I was anticipating that since the game was so cheap, that I’d need to laminate flimsy pieces but everything is made of really sturdy cardboard so it’s good-to-go.

Here’s how to use it:

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You turn all the underpants over and then randomly select them to fill up your tray (or you could skip that step and just put some on your child’s tray). Spin the spinner and if you have that color underpants, you get to put them through the washing machine. If you land on the bubbles, you get to holler out “WASH MY UNDERPANTS!” and the player has to fill back up their tray from the washing machine’s stash. I think Caleb will need me to make him a visual for what to do when he sees the spinner on the bubbles. If anyone is interested, I can upload what I come up with! Just let me know.

What you’re targeting:

Receptive Language: identifying and matching colors, following directions, identifying quantity concepts (who has more/less/most/least)

Expressive Language: labeling colors, labeling quantity vocabulary, commenting/requesting, pronouns for my/your turn

Pragmatic Skills:¬† waiting for someone else’s turn, impulse control, being a good sport

Fine Motor: pincer grasp to get the underpants off the tray and into the washing machine (no OT cheating by sliding them off to the edge of the table!), strengthening/coordination spinning the spinner

That’s a lot ya’ll could accomplish for just $3!!!!!

Don’t forget to check out my Pinterest boards for more Clothing and Body Part Vocabulary ideas as well as more Fine Motor Activities to do with Clothespins!

Before I go, if anyone has even the slightest interest in doing either of the above activities and would like a communication board made to use if your child is pre-verbal, I’d be HAPPY to make one and post it.

Thanks, everybody!

Getting Out and About

I feel strongly about the need that all children- and especially children with special needs- need to be a part of normal things that families do together. In this instance, something as simple as running errands.

It is far too easy for Autism (and other needs) to make us hermits. Heck- toddlers in general make us want to stay home. But the “big picture” question that it ultimately boils down to is this:

How do you learn how to master a skill if you don’t ever practice that skill in the target setting?

Social story scenarios about going to the grocery store don’t mean anything if you don’t ever go to the grocery store.

Sometimes when we go out with Autism, Autism might bring friends along. Sensory meltdowns, over stimulation, impulse control, communication barriers, etc. These things can make doing typical things with typical communication partners in typical environments challenging, much less when you do new things in novel environments with dozens of unfamiliar people and sounds all around.

I used to be the mom who would scope out local stores after walking in to see if there was anyone I knew there because I knew that despite Caleb’s ability to typically handle being out and about well, there was always the possibility of a meltdown. I used to care what people thought. I used to cringe when strangers would come up to him in the checkout line and speak to him, knowing that there was no way he would respond. I used to say “he’s ready for a nap” or another comparable excuse. What I realized with time though, was that¬†my child wasn’t the only one who needed to learn how to act appropriately when we went out.

Now I throw Caleb in the car seat every week and we go somewhere just for the sake of going somewhere sometimes- just to be¬†with different people, doing different things. I had to put it beyond myself and rationalize that I would never want my child to be embarrassed when he was out because he had a special set of circumstances, so there’s no possible way I can go somewhere and be embarrassed myself. He can say “hi” now but I don’t force it if he doesn’t want to. There was one time at Aldi where a man said “Hi Buddy” to him while we were both picking out seasonal squashes and Caleb looked him directly in the eye and said “Hi” back without skipping a beat and I literally had to contain an excitement level that would have distraught this man deeply and play it cool, picking out decorative gourds for my mantle like it ain’t no thang.

Don’t think I attained my present comfort level because my child has always been eazy peazy to take somewhere. For the most part, yes, I’m fortunate. We don’t have hypersensitivities to loud noises, our sensory seeking tendencies are pretty manageable, etc. But it has NOT always been a cakewalk. It still isn’t. Last weekend Brian and Caleb went into Lowe’s while Ari and I waited in the car (I hadn’t felt like putting on real pants that day, not gonna lie) and Brian had to bring Caleb out to the car with me, go back in, checkout, then come back. The last time we all went to Costco, Caleb and I had to walk out early to the car. I’m not always successful either. I try really hard to make leaving the last resort, but I understand that sometimes¬†it really is that hard. ¬†But you just keep trying. I’ve cleaned up an entire box of Honey Bunches of Oats thrown onto a checkout conveyor belt in the middle of a meltdown. My child has fallen cartwheel style out of a cart trying to get some sensory input moving¬†around. And I’m sorry Kroger, but I have taken an entire stack of the twist ties you close produce bags with and walked around with them in my back pocket to present my child at random times as a fidget toy. Disclaimer- with everything above said, as a mom, I understand also that sometimes you just¬†need to go out without a child. For sanity’s sake. The bliss of having one hand on your shopping cart and one hand on a seasonally spiced latte while you browse the housewares clearance end aisles at Target is MAGICAL.

These days, we use standard behavior modification and quiet book activities (sticker books) when we really need to have something else to do while we wait nicely in the cart and it typically works for us. Some other things you may be able to use and try are:

– snacks

– busy bags/quiet books

– on the go toys/travel games

– sticker books (that’s our go to….it’s the entire reason I shop at the Dollar Tree).

– visual schedule of where you’ll be going

– portable sensory input tools: chewy tubes, fidgets, squeeze balls, etc.

– social stories

– noise cancelling headphones

Check out our Pinterest Board for Going Out and About for more ideas.

I once had a family tell me that they hadn’t been all out to eat as a family in over a year because their toddler, who happened to have Autism, had such a difficult time being out in public. So do you know what we did? We met the next week for speech therapy at El Parral Mexican Restaurant. I showed up with a loaner AAC device in one hand and a sticker book in the other and there, for the first time in a year, that child got to go out to eat. I tell you this because 1) if you want me to meet you somewhere and help you and your child go somewhere that is usually difficult, tell me when and where and Caleb and I are there. I’m not an expert but I do get it and things are easier with support at first. And 2) I think it’s a testament to remind people not to judge the parents of crying children, tantruming children, silent children when you’re out. And to certainly not say anything demeaning to them. What I didn’t put on the suggestion list above was “patience” but I promise, we don’t have any of that to spare for sanctimonious jerks. PROMISE. If anything, please tell us we’re doing a good job. At any given moment, we’re giving it all we’ve got.

So today, we have a rematch with Costco. May the odds be ever in our favor ūüôā

Here are some other places we like to go!

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Panera. Note those stickers on the table, ya’ll!

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Any restaurant ever that serves chicken and french fries.

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T.J. Maxx. Yes, believe it- I took him to one of my happy places.

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Festivals, fairs, and related activities of festive fun. This is us on a gnarly coaster at a county fair. And by gnarly I mean that we rotated mechanically in a circle at a speed that generated a slight breeze.

Where do you guys like to go and what helps you all when you’re out and about?!?! You can click “leave a comment” at the top of the post!

 

Quick Tips on Dressing Skills

This weekend we had some less-than-fun farm “to-dos” to tend to so we kept it low key…..and the demands minimal. Because everyone just needs a break sometimes.

Here’s a little bit of what we got into, though. Lately we’ve been working towards more independent dressing. We’re solid at taking our shirt and pants on/off excluding the actual pulling up of our pants. Which is a behavioral roadblock- not a lack of ability. And we have to pull up our pants a lot during the day (we’re potty training- pray for us) which means I get “fussed at” a lot because really- what kind of mother expects her son to pull up his own pants?!?!? We’re also working on orienting our shirt and pants appropriately and putting on smaller clothing articles like socks, shoes, cold weather gear, etc. We’re not tackling snaps, zippers, buttons, whatchamacallits, and thingamabobs in this post because honestly……they’re a whole other beast.

Disclaimer- remember I’m a speech therapist, not an OT……but I believe the “mom” title is where the majority of my credibility lies anyways ūüėČ

Also, because I’m NOT an OT, I for real didn’t even realize that there are developmental norms for dressing (what are there not norms for, really?). *Remember they’re a guide not the rule…don’t make yourself crazy with checklists.¬†So we both don’t look foolish, however, here they are:

Developmental Dressing Guidelines

So, every morning, Caleb and I get him dressed (and yes, your child’s participation will make it take 3094230948 times longer than if you just did it but you don’t want to put your 18 year old’s underpants on him if it’s not necessary so you may as well start now). First off, particularly at this age, I’d let your child have input in what they’re going to wear. I personally do not open up the closet door for 100% free choice in this (cause we can’t wear muscle tees when it’s 32 degrees outside) but I do give him a choice of two shirts to wear. Asking a child with Autism who has verbal language that is emerging versus within normal limits “What do you want to wear?” isn’t going to work. Because there are approximately 89430943897492834 different responses to choose from. Open-ended questions at this developmental level are overwhelming. I have walked away from a full grocery cart more than once due to the overwhelming selection at some places so you can imagine how capacities can’t quite meet demands with that approach. But if you ask “Do you want to wear a dump truck or a rocket ship?” you’re much more likely to get an imitation, response, vocalization, or even a point/gesture towards which one is preferred. Because now, instead of 8943094389792834 different choices, there are only 2. To avoid conversations like these…….

“Caleb, what do you want for snack?”

“Black.”

……use this tactic at snack time too!

“Caleb, do you want chips or raisins?”

*production of unintelligible jargon

*points to bag of chips

I consider that a success!

Back to getting dressed. It’s been pretty easy for us because Caleb does not have any sensory sensitivities to getting dressed and learns really well with visual cues. If it’s more of a struggle in your house though, I found some articles that may help!

If your child needs help with the visual perceptual skills necessary for dressing, check this out:

Visual Perceptual Help

If you need to take sensory strategies into consideration when helping your child get dressed, click below.

Sensory Considerations

If your child needs a boost in the Gross Motor Skills department when getting dressed, this may help:

Gross Motor Help

Caleb has clearly enjoyed our getting dressed learning sessions so much that he has begun running around the house finding anything he can to put on all by himself. (And I’m not gonna lie….we maybe need to switch our focus to putting dirty clothes into hampers cause some days there’s a lot laying around he can find to wear. Cause you know- real life).

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Shirt 3 is not really a shirt…..

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Look for a clothing vocabulary activity for me to share with ya’ll coming up as it’s clearly needed.

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Dude- dino pjs over airplane pjs over a Star Wars shirt is an awesome look ūüôā

And, in true monkey-see-monkey-do fashion, Lil Sis Ari now is carrying around stray articles of clothing and losing her ever-loving mind when they’re not put on her. (Cause ya know, it’s been a hot minute since I was rockin’ a size 2T).

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And since you appreciate your sanity you’ll give in and let her wear brother’s shirt covered in what appears to be marshmallow explosion.

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Next week maybe we’ll start learning how to do laundry ūüėČ

Check out some more “Getting Dressed” selections on our Pinterest page!

How We Got Here

I’m Erin. I’m a newly turned 30-something who grew up in a small town in southwest VA, moved away to the “big city” of Norfolk when I turned 18 and spent a decade there doing all sorts of things like………

Meeting a boy.

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Getting engaged to that boy and taking cheesy pictures with some random trees in a pose that no one ever does in real life in color-coordinatedish outfits.

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Marrying that boy and holding on for dear life while embracing his marriage customs.

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Bearing our first child, which happened to be of the masculine variety.

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Then with our degrees obtained, professions initiated, child bore, we decided to move back to the other side of the ¬†state where my family still was and an hourish from where my husband’s family ended up in North Carolina. The only logical way to do that was to buy a farm. So we did. I mean….we’re “do it up right it you’re gonna do it” people. Clearly.

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Then we just trucked along for a little while. We moved here when my son, Caleb, was 3 months old. We did baby things, we did farm things, and we readjusted to the massive system and culture shock that one sustains when uprooting a life and lifestyle and starting over somewhere you’ve never been before. ¬†And during that massive readjustment period I guess the universe decided it would be a good time to have another baby (cause what the universe said and what my period tracker¬†said were NOT the same thing) and when Caleb was 9 months old I got pregnant with his sister. Time passes and it’s the Fall of 2014. My son just went for his 15 month check-up at the pediatrician and was given the “all clear.” But I wasn’t so sure. He was at the lower limits of normal for expressive vocabulary, did a lot of running around the exam room seemingly unaware of his environment, and did a couple of play things that made one of my eyebrows raise up. But, I thought to myself “Erin- he’s 1. Barely. He’s a boy- it’s not crazy his speech is off to a slow start. This isn’t the kid exam room so of course he’s running around looking for something to entertain him. He sure was interested in the screw on the back of that electronic toy but only for a second and then used it appropriately.” ¬†That’s what I told my conscious self. And the Dr. didn’t mention anything so I decided we had passed a test. My gut was hypersensitive to the fact that I work with children that have developmental disabilities- some mild, some profound- all day long and was just¬†looking for something to be wrong.

I should probably mention that I’m a pediatric speech pathologist. Go ODU Monarchs.

At 17 months he was still progressing. Slowly. But still progressing. I had the “A” word in the back of my head. I always had- I was just too afraid to say it out loud. I decided that his babble and word approximations sounded distorted and that I didn’t think he was hearing at 100%. Anyone but me would have said, “Oh, he’s 1. Of COURSE he can’t produce many sounds correctly.” But I knew that wasn’t it at the time- I knew he wasn’t¬†hearing them correctly to begin with.

I should probably also mention that I spent some time on a pediatric cochlear implant team and had a specialized caseload of children with varying degrees of hearing loss before moving here.

So, when Caleb was 17 months old and 2 ear infections deep, I decided I was going to take him to the Audiologist.

But those plans got put on hold. When Caleb was 17.5 months old I got really sick. And by really sick I mean that I sustained a major medical trauma that had an 80% mortality rate while I was 8 months pregnant with his sister. Long story, 1 high-risk C-section and 1 brain surgery later, I had a daughter and a hardcore warrior scalp scar.

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If you’re curious, that’s what it looks like when you’re super pregnant in the stroke recovery unit, what I imagine alien probes would resemble, and an authentic Frankenstein’s monster stitch job for you to use as Halloween inspiration.

So, while I was home for over 3 consecutive months and spending lots of time around Caleb, it became very clear to me that I was right- he wasn’t hearing everything he should be hearing- didn’t startle to environmental sounds consistently, distorted vowel productions, etc. and that he DEFINITELY needed to go to the Audiologist. It also became very clear that going to the audiologist was essentially putting a band aid on a bullet hole because it was about 2% of the problem. I knew he had Autism. I said the “A” word out loud to my husband and family. They thought I was crazy. They thought all the things I had thought 6 months earlier. I’m overly worried, I spend too much time with kids that need help, blah blah blah. So, I just sat on it a little longer.

I was right about the hearing test. So we went to the ENT and got bilateral tubes put in. I watched as they did exactly what they were supposed to do. Caleb startled when the tv turned on, localized sound sources from different rooms, etc. But he had never been deaf. The degree to which he wasn’t hearing optimally did not match the massive expressive language gap that had accrued by this point. And not to be incredibly arrogant, but he’s the son of a pediatric speech pathologist and work-from-home molecular biologist. His language environment was nothing if it wasn’t rich and he had the luxury of all day 1:1 development fostering by a work-from-home parent. Still, I sat on it.

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It wasn’t long after I had gone back to work that I had a day where I just needed it to be known by someone who wasn’t me. I was on the way to a home therapy appointment and called my best friend in Alabama and told her Caleb had Autism- I just¬†knew it. “No, Erin,” she said. “Just socialize him more.” I came back from that appointment and used my lunch break to have the same tear filled exclamations to my favorite OT and my favorite ST to which I was greeted with the same doubt and reassuring words. “Erin, we’ve seen him throughout his development- we would have¬†told you if we saw any red flags.” I went home and told my husband that I didn’t care what anyone else said.

Over half of my caseload had Autism. I knew Autism. I knew my kid. Thus, I knew my kid had Autism.

I declared to my husband, Brian, ¬†that it was time he accepted it because it just wasn’t fair that¬†I was the only one who knew.

I remember feeling angry that people didn’t believe me. I didn’t fault his pediatrician or the ENT for not seeing it because they spent extremely small intervals of time with him and they had no clue about me. But I didn’t understand why my friends and family didn’t see it. Surely no one could possibly think I¬†wanted¬†him to have Autism, could they? I felt like I was being trivialized. I felt like no one valued my professional clinical opinion. And then- I got over myself and realized it wasn’t about me it all. These people¬†love¬†me.¬†They¬†love my child.¬† Of course they’re going to try to talk me out of it because their love for me and my family means they don’t want it to be true. They don’t want him to have something he is going to struggle with forever with because¬†how difficult is it to see someone you love struggle????¬†

So, we accepted Autism and we started working really hard. One day that summer I was mom-bragging to my speech therapy colleague and bestie Holly about how that weekend my daughter Ari was giving fake kisses to my son and everytime she stopped he started saying “more, more!”. I said something to the effect of “MY kid just VERBALLY requested for MORE SOCIALIZATION. TAKE THAT, AUTISM!” accompanied by a very talk-to-the-hand-cause-the-face-ain’t-listening outward palm gesture. Months later Holly made a favorite moments of 2015 list and she reminisced to that July evening and the sass at which I essentially gave a big ol’ middle finger to Autism. I hadn’t realized it was clever or that she remembered. She did and she was right. It WAS a big moment. It was the moment where I went from feeling defeated to feeling like I was going to conquer the world.

And that’s how “Take That, Autism” was born. One humid summer evening, in a moment in which the heat index gave me a little more sass than usual, the fateful words that turned into this advocacy site were declared.

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May our sass and our friends carry us far, fellow Autism mamas!

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