Visual accuity and ‘Jimmy know alls’

It's my fault, I shouldn't have called him at just that moment and then he wouldn't have become entangled in the chair. I wasn't paying attention to him, so as he walked towards the kitchen, my calling his name like that put him a step or two off course. He is unpeturbed by yet another set of multiple bruises and would be the last to cast blame in my direction. My arms encircle him at the kitchen counter as I check for damage, “what you are wanting anyways?” he asks, brushing off my ministrations. I am impressed that he is following through. So often when you ask either of them a question it doesn't penetrate the first time, or the second time for that matter. If you start a conversation [translation = exchange] you need to be persistent to extract an answer. Rarely if ever, can I recall him prompting me to finish what I started. I blink and try to remember why I called him over in the first place? Ah yes!

“Look I wanted to show you this!” He looks at the three little plant pots.
“Dey are light Chartreuse or maybe dey are pale lime.” Indeed they are. His interest in assigning the correct colour definition to all facets of his life is a challenge for me. [translation = limited palette]
“Yes, but can you see what is growing in them?” He peers, he thinks, he speaks.
“I know! It is dat time of year again!”
“What time would that be dear?”
“It is dah time of year to grow sticks.”
“Pardon?” I am distracted by a bevy of birds squabbling over the bird feeder, but try and remain focused.
“Last year you grow sticks when I was a little guy. Now I am a bigger guy and it is time to grow sticks again.” Fancy him remembering that!
“That's right. Now look closely, what can you see?”
“Er I see free lickle smokey black sticks.”
“Good. Anything else?” He peers and squints and squirms trying to come up with an acceptable response.
“Maybe you are giving me a clue?” Great problem solving!
“Can you see a little green shoot perhaps?” He looks from me to the pot and then back to me again to tell me solemnly, “I can see dah little aubergine shoots wiv dah forest green bumpy little leaves.” [Tranlsation = eggplant or purple]
I resist the urge to grasp his skull to my bosom, “you are absolutely right, what great eyes you have.”
“Now I can go?”
“Er sure. Where are you off to?”
“I need my electronics, er dah cable for dah power.”
I open the cupboard door and peer at the jumble of cables searching for one particular adapter in a sea of entangled wires, “Sorry dear, it's not in here.”
“It is, it is dere, look!” I look. I see a big messy mess, “nope, I think we must have left it in the other room.”
He sighs with one hand on his jaunty hip, shakes his head from side to side, amateur dramatics in action, “ okay, okay, okay, I do it by myself.” With that he clambours up on the counter and retrieves one cable of the many, deftly.

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Unprofessional Umpires?

I zip up to the office at school:
“I was just wondering when they were going to start?” I ask the school secretary.
“I don't know hun but I sure hope it's soon for your sake.”

I pull a face, because at recess [translation = break time] my little guys are at sea. It has long been recognized that an autistic child often has the toughest time when the structure [translation = scaffolding] falls away and they are left to their own devices. When you observe an autistic child in a special ed classroom facility, you could be forgiven for wondering what on earth half of them are even doing there. However, one glance of the same children at recess, will confirm that any label attached to them is entirely accurate.

For my guys, recess used to mean cowering in a corner , head covered and bleating. For the other, the sensory overload manifested itself in aggression and violent outbursts. Neither child, nor their peers, fared well. Their behaviour also impacted the rest of the school. [translation = mainstream kids] Overall, this was not a happy situation for anyone.

To be fair, I'm not sure of their proper job title, but ‘umpire,’ [translation = referee] is a good enough approximation for me. It captures the essence of their job's responsibilities; they have to ensure that everyone plays fairly. [translation = Marquis of Queensbury's rules please] They don't constitute a professional body of working people, [translation = no recognized paper qualifications] and are generally referred to as Yard Duty ladies. But at the same time, I can see that this title doesn't really give full credit to their status in my eyes.

It's like waiting for the return of the cavalry. These volunteers accept a minimum wage, to spend an hour on the play ground and teach social skills, amongst many other things. It's also called 'lunch duty' here abouts, but it's not about eating, it's about children interacting with one another. There is a great deal of interaction between the children but a great deal of it is inappropriate. The children need the expert guidance of the facilitator, so that the children can learn to make better decisions, better choices, that a stick is not the best method of persuasion and that there are other more effective tools, such as words.

For those children that don't have a great many words, or lack the confidence to attempt to use them, the volunteers are their with on the spot help and encouragement. They are their to reinforce those first tentative attempts, to praise and reinforce, their trials and tribulations. Those children would be the special ed kids, often autistic kids. These women, are in the front line, or the line of fire, depending upon your bias.

They're there to mix them up, the typically developing children [translation = normal] and the special ed children [translation = those weirdo kids]. And there's no danger money on offer here. Before the volunteers materilize to take charge, the special ed kids are struggling and the mainstream kids are avoiding. But once the umpires [translation = facilitators] arrive, they ensure that they negotiate. They explain and guide them, each day, every week, throughout the year, until by the time the summer arrives a whole host of new friendships have been developed with their help, and a buffer zone of tolerance protects all the children.

Unprofessional umpires they may be, but for me, they’re more a group of unsung heros.

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Attitude is everything

I am not much of a ‘count your blessings’ type of parent; far too wishy washy and sentimental for me. I leave such opinions and attitudes to be flaunted by my American fluffy bunny type of chums.

However, I do know that many persons adhere these kinds of flagrant flights of fancy, and it may just be, that some pals would care to indulge their tendencies. [translation = weaknesses] If this be the case, you may care to flutter over to “Saint Cloud” and get your fix for the day.

Warning – the management does not in any way endorse or positively promote woolly thinking or fanciful philosophies

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Tell it how it is

My pal plans to visit me, the recouperating invalid. I glance out the window to see the road filling up with rain, a river. I hear the whiz on my neighbours sprinkler system as it spouts into action, because we are in California.

When she arrives I am busy scrubbing the toothpaste smears off the sofa. I drop a tea towel over the petrified banana that I found under it and wonder how much of a failure the current 'fruit' campaign is in reality? I resolve to turn myself into a fruit bat and seek out 6 weeks of fruit in all the usual and less usual places. I try not to be distracted by thoughts of junior and rain and meltdowns and cabin fever. [translation = he is allergic to rain.]

We sit at the table we I sip tepid coffee gingerly and attempt conversation as my elastic bands twang.
“I thought you had cleaners once a week?”
“I do, but that's a top to bottom affair. I have deal with the day to day, or minute to minute deluge.” I remind myself that I probably don't have to worry about the 'whole' fruits as they'll just turn into raisins, it's more the sliced and diced versions that will transform themselves into black, furry mould. I sniff discretely to see if I can detect fermentation? I pay attention.
“I thought you said most people lose weight? You look the same? Sort of.”
“I am the same, 6 to 8 bottles Ensures that. It's just my face is swollen so I look bigger.” Junior has arrived at the table and waits patiently to tell me something. He is holding his nose, pinched between his index finger and thumb. I know that he wishes to register a verbal protest about the stench of the coffee, as the acrid fumes are offensive to him. I am so heartily impressed with his social skills, by not interrupting that a warm glow envelops me.

“Yes dear? What do you want to tell me lovey?”
“I am here to be telling you somefink else.” I disguise my confusion with a gentle smile. ”What is it dear?”
“I am not talking to you, I am talking to her,” he points at my pal with his other hand, his finger tip dangerously close to her eye. It is hard to tell who he is addressing because his body isn't orientated to anyone or anything in particular.
“I am saying dat mummy is dah fat one like dah Puffer fish. Not dah Goldfish because dey are being thin in dah face, you see, like dis!” He sucks in his cheeks, concave and purses his lips. I ignore my pal and her giggles. My enthusiasm and warmth for him wanes.

Thanks for the clarification Matey.

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Straws and Camels

In San Jose, an urban area, our contact with camels is a pretty rare occurrence, unless you are of a zoo frame of mind. Our exposure to straw is also limited. We generally only experience quantities of straw during October. This phenomenon is closely associated with the festive season of Halloween and Thanksgiving.[translation = Autumn] More often than not the straw is bundled into rectangles, baled. The only other time that we are deluged with straw, is during the non-secular period of Spring break, [translation = Easter] where bunnies, eggs and nests are the main attractions. The eggs evoke straw production of an artificial nature. It comes in a variety of colours and configurations. Other than that, we are pretty much straw free, which is just as well for those delicate creatures who have an aversion to prickly things. [translation = tactile defensiveness]

Two of my children are of a literal frame of mind. They have trouble with idioms, amongst other things. Hence, the phrase 'the straw that broke the camel's back,' causes no end of trouble for us parents. The problem arises at random times of the year, quite often when we are in a non-straw season. It's odd how often you hear it. It's frequency of use was not on my radar screen. Now it is. I could probably do with a little advice from one of those literary types with a big brain, such as “Kristina.” There’s bound to be a Greek god that could make some kind of memory impact.

Every time that those words are uttered, we have to launch into a lengthy explanation, usually the same explanation. The word 'straw,' for my two is linked immediately to 'drinking straws' rather than the farm variety. It's only one idiom of many that they have difficulty with.

I am in the midst of recovery from the latest explanation, when spouse arrives home unexpectedly for a supper designed for 2 and a fifth small people. I tinker and stretch the menu whilst we chat.

“How about we watch one of those thingies tonight since you're back?”
“What thingies?”
“Er, you know! Oh, a CD.”
“Isn't that what I just said?”
“Which one?”
“Oh the funny one.”
“Which funny one?”
“You know, the period one.”
“Oh don't be so obtuse! You know, the period drama, set in the thirties.”
“The English one.”
“Which English one?”
“Oh, what is it called again, the one with ‘what's his face’ in it.”
“Oh……that man, the one you like, the comedian.”
“Jack Dee?”
“No! Rhymes with 'pie.'”
“Er, Bill Nye the science guy?”
“He's American you clot, and anyway he's not funny.”
“Well actually……”
“Oh do come on! The one you bought me for Valentines Day.”
“Oh, Jeeves and Wooster! Why didn't you say that in the first place?”

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The Neverending Misery of autism

Or why I never answer the phone when they’re home! Warning – lower volume on your computer or insert ear-plugs, as misery can be very noisy.

How much misery can you take?

That’s it, I can’t bear it any more! Did you notice they all had clothes on! Everybody DRESSED at the same time! They almost, sort of dressed with very little prompting. [but I couldn’t show you that bit = censored]

They listened to verbal instructions! She has such a way with words. Can you hear me weeping, wailing and gnashing my teeth?
[O.k. maybe not the last bit.] Who needs speech when you can have giggles?

Hope that your day was as splendiferous as our.

Early Intervention is pivotal.

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Actuarial skills – 57 varieties

If your home houses a picky eater, you may find yourself spending an unnatural amount of time with fictitious conjectures into the future. [translation = my own food fetish] If your picky eater is also autistic, then the problem magnifies itself into catastrophic proportions. In my son's particular case, he is the worst kind, worse than a picky or fussy eater. He is a neophobe. That's right, he's afraid of neo's. “What pray?” I hear you cry, “is a 'neo?'” For current purposes, we'll say that it is something 'new,' which means that he is phobic about eating new things.

A neophobe eats less than 20 different items of food. Currently, he eats 9 ‘foods,’ a considerable improvement on he previous 3 foods, although it has taken us 3 years to reach this staggering pinnacle. Parents should note that it is cheating to count different varieties of Milano cookies. It is cheating to count different brands of cookies that are like Milano cookies, but hopefully cheaper. It is cheating to count Saltines or other crackers. Why does he have such expensive tastes? Who was the idiot who first gave him one of those biscuits? [translation = cookies]

Yes, life is very unfair for the parent desperate in the desire to re-catogorise the primary food groups of the world. If you can call 'cookies' a food 'type,' [please?] then, whatever configuration they might take on, they still only count as ONE.

For the sake of the mathematically challenged, such as myself, I feel it's safer to round up, to be cautious. Certainly more optimistic than to round down. So lets say that he's six years old, give or take a couple of months, so that's not too much of a stretch. Hence if a six year old manages to consume one new 'food' during a three month campaign, this would mean that, all things being equal, during the course of a whole year, four additional foods would be added to his diet. Ergo, by the age of 18, projecting forward, we might reasonably expect that he will have achieved a diet of 48 foods. If we add those foods that he has already managed to acquire during the prior six years, and we must, 'add' that is, that would reach a grand total of 57 foods. Could that really be possible? Maybe I should ask “Mr. Big brain,”, but since he is also a Brit, I think that automatically disqualifies him, as ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’ ain’t gonna cut it.

I glug another bottle of Ensure, strawberry flavour, to nourish the body, if not the soul. If I continue to consume my current 5 flavours of Ensure, I guarantee that I will die of terminal boredom. Why are there not 57 varieties of Ensure? Would be possible to survive on 57 flavours of Ensure for an additional 12 years?

However, such projections as to his future gastronomy, fail to take into account risk; risks of failure, unexpected hurdles that can't be overcome, which wouldn't be a very thorough job.

Keeping the food seasonal might help with both establishing realistic goals, as well as minimizing costs, as strawberries in February, even in California, are not to be encouraged. My experiments with spinach and brownies have been a culinary coup, but when eccoli invades the crop, the campaign disappeared down the drain very swiftly. There again, the chance of me getting him to eat a vegetable, let alone something green, is probably still several life times away. I wonder how many leap years there are in the next 12 years? Perhaps I should count in light years?

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Play 'therapy' – Thomas the Tank Engine and his enemies

I have a deep-seated love/ hate relationship with toy trains. It stems from many decades ago when my baby brother turned five. My father produced box upon box of wide gauge tracks and clock work trains, Pre-War. My brother was only mildly interested but I was enthralled, but I was also the wrong sex. Play with trains was restricted to the male of the species. Over time, interest, what little there was of it, waned. This provided the interloper with an opportunity. Under the pretence of 'assistant,' for I was always a very devious child, I would spend hours setting up the track all over the house, and in the garden in the Summer. Maybe his fine motor skills weren't up to snuff, or maybe he was just little, but either way, I was on hand to 'help' with derailed trains, The Flying Scotsman's levers, and boogies that became uncoupled.

Later, when senior daughter arrived, I played out my 'deprived child' delusion on her. Whilst she played with the Brio train set, it was only one of many toys that she enjoyed. I am fairly confident that it was precisely because we disposed of the trains when she was 14, when we came to the States, that we were doomed to make the same financial investment again for the next, unexpected, generation of children.
As it happened, both my boys, like many autistic children, went through an obsessional phase with Thomas. Experts are on heightened alert when it comes to boys and Thomas. I think that the Reverend Wilbert Awdry has a great deal to answer for. He may even be responsible for 'causing' autism, or he might have been, if he had carved the trains, rather than written the books. The accumulation of trains in and of itself, should not be the cause of parental concern.

The lining up of the said engines, in a precise formation, may merely be an indication of neatness. For mine at least, it wasn't what they did with the trains, but rather what they didn't do. They didn't actually play with the trains. This was not obvious to the ignorant, such as myself. The re-running of the stories, scripted, word perfect, following the exact page order in the correct sequence, may merely be indicative of a good memory, especially if you've read the book to them so many times that you're practically word perfect yourself.

They would examine the individual trains with minute fascination, from every angle, be able to distinguish one identically mass produced train from it's fellows. But lets not dwell on the past.

We begin the last day of President's week holiday with a certain amount of angst. I stagger downstairs with boxes of train tracks, my weight lifting exercise for the day. The two large wooden boxes full of wooden trains appears to be invisible. The clomp sound as they hit the deck, does not register with my super sensitive brood.
I creep up to them and break in.
“Are you ready to play trains with me?” Not a good opener.
“Dat is stoopid. I play electronics.” [translation = Gamecube gameboy etc.]
“Not until 5 remember, that's the rule.”
“I am die wivout electronics. I'm gonna kill dat rule!” Ah the price one pays for an increased verbal facility. The disappear to the family room to express their displeasure on inanimate objects. I let the meltdowns run their course until they are ready to accept the inevitable.

I discover that I have become so absorbed in assembling an inadequate and conventional railway system and that 17 minutes has passed. I am alone in my own hallway surrounded by train tracks. I seek out the silent ones. In the family room three heads bend over an un-inventoried electronic device, battery powered. I whip it away and herd them into the hall. I endure verbal criticism in response to my endeavours but there is no physically destructive behaviour. [translation = trash my inadequate attempts.]

I work on the psychological approach that currently has some validity with junior and prays upon his superiority complex. The phase of being the 'winner/first' should most probably be tempered, but occasionally the more reprehensible kind of parent, may exploit it. I demonstrate 'pretend play' with the wrong voice, the wrong characteristics and personal qualities of the train in question. I exacerbate the situation by the use of the wrong name and mislaying the correct primary colour. That is the final straw and I provoke him into action. He snatches Percy from me with a little too much vigour, “hey you! Giv him to me! You are too stoopid to play pretend proper.”

That must be the parental joy of being outstripped by your offspring?

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Addict in part time supervisory capacity

I pop more pills because my body ceased to be a temple with the surgeon's first incision. All the staff express concern for my well being and tell tales of other patients suffering drastic weight loss. I try and pay attention to the dentist's instructions, but I have childrens' timetables to attend to in my mind. I hear the world 'unstable' drift onto my radar screen. Unstable? How does he know that? I tune back in. Oh good, it's only my jaw that is unstable but the sack full of elastic bands should hold everything in place. I have thoughts of it falling off, that I might lose it in my hurry to be off. He scribbles notes on my chart and I'm off before the ink has dried.

I drive home deep in thought of weight maintenance, debating whether it would be possible to drink a bottle of olive oil like the chappy in the
At home, all is well. I speak to my children, loudly, kneeling. They all look at me.
“It's off! Cool!” She gives me a hug and kisses my forehead. The boys step closer, cautious.
“Let me see?” he asks, screwing up his face in anticipation, squeamish but braced for bravery. “Oh yes, it gone!”
Junior shuffles forward, covers his own mouth for protection and commands “open it up!” I oblige. “Why you have dah string dere now?”

“It's not string, it's elastic dear.” He ponders, a finger to his mouth in the classic 'thinking' pose. “Dat's good. Den it won fall off.”
‘Great’ minds think alike.

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A Wolf in uncertain attire

Once I have steeled myself to the prospect on an increase work schedule, the sale of the puppy falls through, we have been pipped at the post by some avaricious type. [translation = a non dithering buyer bought our puppy] This gives me time for further reflection and absorb the dire warnings of many of my pals. “Jerry” I analyze my requirements that a dog should provide.

For junior, I need a smallish dog that doesn't jump up and has had it's bark removed. It would be handy if it were also toothless and clawless but I know that is probably asking too much. It should also have enough zip and zing to compete with the energizer bunny.

Senior son requires a dog of a gentle and tender disposition, that would appreciate bear hugs and lots of physical contact. This dog would need to be more of a plodder, perhaps an older dog.

Also the issues of asthma and eczema.

I ignore my older daughter since she is out of the country for the next year and concentrate on the younger one. She has ALWAYS wanted a dog. She is well able to argue her own corner with faithful promises of commitment to feed, play and walk the dog at regular intervals, happy to be honorary poop cleaner. She may have the words, but I suspect that they're hollow. Typical.[!] [?]

Spouse is not keen on a dog. He knows that a dog will mean additional work for me, that is his primary objection.

For myself. Well, let me tell you a tiny tale to explain my innate dislike of dogs. When I was a small person, five, maybe six, we lived in South Africa, in Cape Town. Below Table Mountain, nestled in a suburban district, we lived in an 'all white' area. I learned Afrikaans at school, it was compulsory. It also seemed compulsory for the local inhabitants to guard their little castles with large Alsatians, which they kept on long chains in their gardens. The chain link fences bordering their properties, gave the casual passer by a perfect view of the dogs' slathering, jaws. Their hollow barks confirmed that they were not potential pals to the unwary. One sunny morning, I recall them all being sunny mornings, I walked along the path. [translation = sidewalk] Despite my youth, it was safe in those long distant days, for people to go about their business. 'Protection' was everywhere if you were sophisticated enough to see it.

A large creature, matching the above description, managed to escape his [?] chains, bounded over the fence and chased yours truly until he managed to make physical contact with my right buttock. Fortunately, an adult person arrived in time to disengage the dog's teeth.
What can I say? My body is not physically scarred for life. Despite my penchant for 'whodunnits,' I still cannot watch 'The Hound of the Baskervilles.' Dogs, contrary to popular belief by cat owners, are intelligent. They can smell fear.

This in part, is why the 'dog debate' has continued for several years in an unresolved manner. Anecdotal evidence of the many benefits of dog relationships with autistic children, has tipped the ba in favour of expanding our household to welcome a dog.

Although I have studied the questionnaires, 'what kind of dog is right for you?' with due diligence, I am still in a quandary due to the disparate needs of so many different people. A dog with numerous personalities comes to mind, which need not necessarily be a disorder.

My minds eye can already see “Estee”, the puppy [regardless of ‘it’s’ sexual orientation] gamboling joyously with my children. But at night I have other visions of a middle aged hag, walking a dog alone with a pooper scooper in my left hand.

I know that I need to address the flip side, compose my advertisement for the ‘Dawg Day Times’ – 101 benefits of making your home with us!’ a sort of misstatement. I ignore ‘Truth in Advertising’ legislation, with criminal intent.

As I come back to the here and now, I tune back in to my domestic situation as one of the cat climbs up the back of my leg meowing; spouse is attached to the computer, my daughter watches Animal Planet on the telly, senior pogo's in front of the Gamecube and junior has his Ninendo DS at full volume. I shake out some kitty crunchies for our furry friends.

I quite fancy a stroll outside in the peace and quiet with wolf at my side.

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