I Notice That You’ve Noticed

These days, when I’m out and about , I notice that you notice. You notice that there’s something different about my son. Because he’s 4. He’s not a little kid anymore. Plus he’s also the height of a 1st grader so that makes it extra confusing. Regardless, you notice that he’s quiet or that he needs a lot of redirection or that we step out for a few minutes sometimes to have a sensory break. Because when he was younger it was easy to blame him not looking at you or saying “hi” from the shopping cart on him being tired. But now, he’s too big to sit there. So we take two carts. And daddy and Ari shop from one and Caleb and I use the other to play. Nothing in particular. But we stay in one spot and just simply practice being in stores and doing things typical families do and I understand how we have to go about that looks a little different.

Did you see us at Fenderz and notice that Daddy had to take Caleb outside two times to walk around in the grass while we waited for our food? Thanks for not prying or judging but simply offering him a pack of crackers and extra crayons. But did you also see us this past Saturday at El Parral and notice how we sat nicely from start to finish and didn’t mind waiting or sharing our food with sissy? We have successful days and we have challenging days. But we never stop going places. Because we won’t learn and grow if we’re home bound. And I have developed a strong ability to have blinders to people around us when we’re out so don’t bother shooting your judgy eyes my direction because I won’t see them. I’m too busy helping my kid.

We’ve taken up residence at the skating rink recently. Caleb and his sister like it there. I like it there. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t feel like we stick out like a sore thumb when we’re there. The music from the DJ booth is loud and you can’t talk over it so no one notices that he’s quiet. He laughs and plays games in the arcade like other typical kids. But mostly, I love that he’s the youngest one out there skating without help because it’s hard to find things when we’re around typically developing kids that he’s the best one at. And it’s not a contest. It’s never a contest. It’s a marathon, not a sprint- I know and believe all of those cliches. But I’ve gone 4 years watching everyone else’s kid lap mine developmentally and it’s nice to see mine rocking it. That’s fair. Yesterday we skated for an hour and a half and for that time we were out on the rink, it felt like Autism was locked up in the rental locker with our tennis shoes. Sometimes, it’s nice to just have a minute to breathe.

So, ironically, the skating rink, with it’s loud music and flashing disco lights, is where we find our peace. I don’t notice people noticing anything because there’s not much to notice. And it’s ok that eventually we turn in our skates and walk to the car and sometimes have a tantrum because all of a sudden we stop and realize that we’re tired and thirsty and that’s a lot to have to process and communicate for a kiddo like mine. And we go back to being noticed (especially by the cashier in the Wendy’s drive thru as we try to order Frosties while Caleb screams from the back seat). But it’s easier to turn everything back “on” when we got 90 minutes to skate away our worries while Katy Perry serenaded us at the roller rink.

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I hope your family has its own happy place too 🙂

Love, Autism, and roller skates,

Erin

Peer Interactions and Autism

While it may not be terribly evident in how he interacts with his sister sometimes, Caleb does in fact LOVE other children. I found that this is typically true out and about in the community though and not so much on his home turf. When someone has come over to play here he tends to continue to want to do his own thing but will tolerate another child doing their thing too. But he seems to know that when we go out and about, that that is EVERYONE’S turf and he is consistently so much more social. Add that to the list of why it’s imperative to get Out and About with your child.

Here are some tips for helping children interact and communicate with children with Autism in inclusive settings. Be it school, home, a pumpkin patch, the grocery store- it all applies!

1.) Teach them about non-verbal communication.

Saying words is not the only way people communicate. Children with Autism may use gestures, point, or even want to lead another child somewhere to show them something they would like to do. Let your child know that this is the same as when they use their words to tell you something. Using pictures or a speech generating communication device is also the same as your child using their voice to some children with Autism. Caleb is going to start using AAC and I’m excited to help encourage him to use it with other kids when we go out!

2) Help them try to be patient.

The mixed language delays and auditory processing difficulties so frequently found in children with Autism can make it difficult for them to process verbal information without visual support. Help your child be patient in saying something another way, demonstrating an example, showing a visual, or simply allowing more processing time for a response.

3) Pre-teach. 

Children with Autism may have sensory processing deficits that make them sensitive to certain sounds, textures, smells, etc. Or these sensory needs may manifest themselves in sensory seeking tendencies such as excessive movement, heavy work seeking, etc. Explain to your child that another child may have trouble with loud noises or need to have opportunities for lots of movement and relate it back to them having something they don’t like or a way they prefer to do things. Kids are smart and pretty empathetic little creatures if you give them the information and an opportunity.

4) Let them know they’re acknowledged…even when they think they’re not.

Let your child know that kids with Autism sometimes have difficulty with eye contact. It may be hard for them to understand that if someone isn’t looking at them, that they’re still listening and still want to engage with them. Children with Autism will also sometimes look towards a communication partner’s face but maybe not directly in their eyes. Often, they are looking at a speaker’s mouth as it helps them by providing a visual cue to what’s being said to help them process information.

 

Now I want to share some “Did You Knows?” with you about interactions between children with Autism and typically developing peers:

– Peer Mediated Instruction and Intervention (PMII) is an evidence-based practice for children with Autism.

– PMII programs benefit children with Autism in generalizing social skills they learn in school and therapy to real world settings.

– They also benefit typically developing children by increasing tolerance of peers which can lead to a reduction in bullying.

(Source: Indiana Resource Center for Autism)

 

If you have the opportunity to let your child play and interact with a child with Autism, take it. If you live near me and are looking for an opportunity….it’s coming your way 😉 As always, lead your child by example. If you demonstrate patience, tolerance, and acceptance, your child won’t be far behind.

Love and Autism,

Erin

 

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 🙂

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!