New Year’s Resolution diet – a book review

Dietary Interventions in Autism Spectrum Disorders: Why They Work When They Do, Why They Don’t When They Don’t.

By Kenneth J. Aitken,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU02_.jpg

Available from JKP and Amazon.

There is a great deal to praise about this book: the format, the style where science is both readable and comprehensible, the facts, the theories and claims, and a hefty dose of reality.

The author makes it clear from the beginning that his book not a weight loss book nor does it tackle the behavioral issues in food avoidance.  The fact that he guides the reader to Ernsperger and Stegen-Hanson [Just Take a Bite] assures me that knows what he’s talking about.

What I found most alarming was the startling information about how very few studies there have been about dietary interventions and even more shockingly, how small the sample populations were – just 237 candidates for the CF-GF diet – and how many people do you know who have adopted this diet?  Furthermore and more worryingly, the candidates are self reporting their results, or rather to be more accurate, their parents are reporting the results.

At the beginning of 2011 many people will be considering dietary interventions for their autistic children, in which case, this book is a must read.

It has been my opinion for quite some while that since so many of our children have appalling diets that just about any addition to their limited quota must have a beneficial effect.  I used to envy other parents embarking upon some new miracle diet with their children while we pushed a Goldfish cracker around the plate and washed it down with his second food, milk, with the hope that at some time during the next 24 hours we’d manage to persuade him to eat dessert, maybe a single raisin, his third ‘food.’  But of course that was a long time ago.

I would love to claim sole credit for my desensitization and multiple exposure plan of intervention, but unfortunately there are many other reasons for his improvement: therapists, teachers, aides, life, growth and the passage of time.

You can also read a very insightful interview with the author at JKP blog where I’ll share one of his best quotes:-

“Personally I don’t believe we should be waiting on the Holy Grail of a wonder treatment for everyone with ASD, however appealing this may seem to some. Some people with ASD symptomology neither need treatment nor want it.”

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My Parent has an Autism Spectrum Disorder A Workbook for Children and Teens Barbara R. Lester

A Book Review

This is a great book for anyone starting a journey of discovery following a diagnoses of autism.  It may seem curious at first to know that an adult, and in this case a parent, has been diagnosed with autism, but it is becoming far more commonplace than we might ever have imagined a few years ago, which makes this book especially timely.

Written with teenagers and young people in mind, Barbara writes with a casual, warm and approachable style which avoids being patronizing.  When she uses a term which may be unfamiliar to her audience, she also includes a simple definition of the word which greatly helps the flow and understanding of the reader.

The book is divided into chapters covering the primary issues which will be of interest and importance to any young person trying to understand their parent.  She writes sympathetically to both parent and child discussing many of the common concerns and worries of young people to aid understanding and empathy.

I particularly liked the style of worksheets in that they are brief and on point.  Also the idea that both parent and child work on the same questions and issues should be illuminating for both parties.

Barbara illustrates the text with examples of her own experiences with her ASD father which helps clarify the condition and provides ample proof that she has lived through, survived and thrived what many others are also experiencing.

My only issue with this book is the usual one:- how to reach the people who most need it?  In this particular instance, that may prove to be a diplomatic nightmare.

The books ends with a brief discussion about the stigma associated with autism but the finale, for me at least, was a worksheet where both parent and child can list their strengths – although there should be an extra blank page to allow for a run on : )

You can check out Barbara R Lester here.

Available from JKP.

I’m just about to try out one of her apps from itunes on depression since it’s a subject I know nothing about and have two candidates in different generations to practice upon.

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The new fashion fiend

Generally, clothing of any kind has been largely superfluous to our lifestyle. Originally, the only thing that mattered was texture.  Anything else was immaterial. But recently, priorities have changed.

“I can’t wear that one–it makes me look fat.”

“This one’s jolly don’t you think?”

“I can’t wear that one– it makes me look ugly.”

“This one’s nice and soft, here, feel it.”

“That one makes me look like a dork.  I want this one.”

“No dear. You can’t wear that one–it’s ripped.”


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Without Alice by D.J. Kirkby

DSM IV and the creative writing force

This interview is loosely based upon our old fiend the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders edition IV – [a rivetingly fun read, probably just before DSM V is published] and some of the more crass things that people sometimes ask out loud.

Here I am ‘interviewing’ DJ Kirkby about the creative writing process that produced her most recent novel called “Without Alice,” and she graciously shares with us the benefits of her experience.

The blurb reads, “Meet a man who you will love to hate until you learn to love him.”  If you win this giveaway, let me know if you do?

1.    Everybody knows that autistic people are emotionally stunted, incapable of empathy and can’t put themselves in someone else’s shoes – so how do you?

I’m glad you warned me that these questions had an element of sarcasm in them or I would have been quite shocked to be asked questions like this by yourself.  We are, of course, quite capable of empathy.  I think that we tend to use it in a more subtle and practical fashion (for example; ensuing that steps have been taken to ensure that  the person in need of empathy will not come to any further harm first and foremost) than neurotypical people might and therefore it may not be as obvious to those who are looking for displays of empathy from people with autism but should be immediately obvious to those on the receiving end who are likely to be those who know us well.

2.    You’ve started pretty late as a writer, is that because you’re autistic?

I actually started writing as soon as I could string a few words together to form sentences. I wrote my first story when I was six years old and found that it was a good way to try and explain how different I felt from everyone around me. So I do think that being autistic does define me as a writer as it definitely shaped the way I write.

3.    Autistic people are so single minded that they can tune everything else out – doesn’t this fact give you an unfair advantage by comparison to the average writer?

Erm, yes it does as long as writing is my current favourite thing to be obsessed with. However, when I find a new interest then writing takes a back seat for a while in favour of the new obsession.

4.    How come you’re not an engineer or a computer nerd if you’re really autistic?

Because I find engineering very boring…though I do have to confess to being a bit of a computer nerd. Autistic people are all individuals just like neurotypical people and therefore we all have different areas of interest and hobbies.

5.    Were you diagnosed by a real doctor, one with qualifications, certification and expertise in autism?  Or are you self diagnosed?  What do you think about people who self diagnose?

I was diagnosed by Dr Gould at the Lorna Wing Centre for Autism which is the diagnostic centre for the national Autistic Society UK.  However, I think that there is nothing wrong with self diagnosis if it helps the individual understand themselves better and to be able to put more effective coping mechanisms in place.

6.    I’ve heard that ‘female’ autistics ‘present differently.’  Is there any truth to this?  In what way might this be applicable to you?  In what way[s] has this affected your writing style?

I’m sorry but I don’t understand this question. My son and I are both autistic and we are very similar.  This could be because he is my son or for some other reason. I don’t think it has any effect on my writing style though but a psychiatrist might tell you different.

7.    Do you have a commercial advantage as a writer claiming to have autism?   What do you say to people who accuse you of exploiting the condition?

As far as I know I am the only autistic novelist though there are many people with autism who write poems, stories and non fiction. I don’t think there is a commercial advantage to this, in fact I think it is more likely to put people off buying my books seeing as autism is considered to be, in part,  a communication disability. Regardless, I am proud to be a person with autism and will continue to tell people even if it means they may be less likely to buy my books. I am happy to say that no one has ever accused me of exploiting the fact that I am autistic and I do wonder why anyone ever would want to.

7.    Where do your ideas come from?

I’ve spent my life studying people around me to try and pick up clues of how to behave in a more neurotypical manner and this observation is also great writing fodder

8.    How did you handle rejections of your work?  Which worked for you better – perseverance or unrealistic optimism?

I don’t like rejections but did get some.  Luckily I had more positive feedback on my writing over the years and this encouraged me to keep on writing and submitting my writing.

10.Do you think that a solitary writer’s life is ideal for you since you have Asperger’s Syndrome?  If you’re on your own then no-one will notice the lack of all those multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction surely?

I think saying that writer’s live solitary lives is  stereotyping. Some do but many don’t. I prefer to be less sociable in real life but can be quite social on line on sites such as facebook and twitter.  I don’t know if that is just the way I am or because of autism or a bit of both.

11.Do you have any friends or appropriate peer relationships such as a writing mentor?  If not, is this because of your Aspergers?  Would you like to have such relationships or are they unimportant to you?

I have a few friends and they are my friends because they are willing to tolerate long periods of exclusion from me and my life.  Like i said, I’m not keen on going out socialising and I also hate talking on the phone.  Which means I communicate with my friends by email and text even though they live in the same town as me and I go out with them only very occasionally.  Usually to a restaurant…I’m easily bribed with the promise of a good meal.

12.I know you have a family life but what makes your family different from normal families?  What shared interests do you have as a family or do you all do your own thing?

Our family isn’t a lot different from other families except that we keep to ourselves a lot more.  We spend a lot of time together.  We all enjoy eating outside, gardening, working on our allotment, being at the seaside (though we go to a beach that almost no one else uses), working on our allotment, playing with our pets, gaming, horse riding (youngest son) rugby (middle son) football (husband and two older sons) reading and so on.

13.When writing, how much of your inspiration comes from your personality and how much from being an autistic person?  Is it possible to separate the two?

It is impossible to separate the two. I have to be very careful when I am editing in order to ensure I have enough dialogue in my books to satisfy the neurotypical readers so that I am showing rather than telling the story.

14.Would you describe yourself as lacking social or emotional reciprocity? If yes, then how can you write about it so well?  Is it all in your imagination?

Yes I am  instinctively less forthcoming in that area and have to make myself behave more neurotypically  when at work. I write about it well because I am a registered midwife and have spent countless hours supporting women and their families through the most complex and important  times in their lives from early pregnancy to the early postnatal period during which times I have been able to observe their interactions with each other.

15.Would you agree that your writing has become an encompassing preoccupation?  Do you think your writing is abnormal either in intensity or focus?

I would say no more so than any other writer.

16.Do you have a writing routine?  How strictly do you stick to the schedule?  How do you feel if something interrupts your time-table?

I write in the dark hours when I know everyone else is asleep and therefore I wont be interrupted.

17.Does your writing interfere with your work or other social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning?

Yes, sometimes, especially if I am trying to meet a writing deadline.

18.Did you have a normal childhood?  What would be your definition of normal?

I was raised by a hippie mother in the wilds of the Canadian West Coast.  I would say my childhood was normal to other s in the same situation and that would also be my definition of normal – normal is being the equivalent to the majority of those around you.  I am normal when I go to my adult autism group.

19.Does anyone else in your family have similar deficits?  If so, how will knowledge of their condition affect their careers?

Many people in my family have similar traits.  They are most definitely not considered deficits in our family. I think my son has the best opportunities available to him as he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when he was 6 and so he has his whole life to learn how to work with his autism and find different ways of doing things in order to achieve to the same level or way beyond those in his peer group.

20.Do you feel shame or embarrassment about having a mental disorder or do you feel empowered now you have a better understanding of who you are?

Being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome was one of the most life enhancing things I’ve ever experienced. I have never been embarrassed to be autistic though I do get frustrated with people who seem to believe it is a cop out or an excuse.  I never use it as an excuse but I do sometime use it as a way of explaining why I behave the way I do.

21.How long does it take you to complete a book and how many times do you rewrite it?

It took me 2 years to write the first draft of my first novel and it looks like it will take me about the same for my next one.  I blame this on the fact that I work full time and doing so often drains me emotionally to the point at which I am incapable of writing. The rewrites seem endless but are worth it if it means that the end product is something which can be enjoyed by my readers.

22.Do you plan to keep writing or are you bored of it now?

A very good question. I plan to keep writing but am aware that I could become bored with it at some point.  At which time I will, of course, promptly drop it and move on to something else.

23.Do you have any overlapping/underlying diagnoses such as OCD or ADHD or anxiety?  If so, in what way do these conditions affect your writing?

I am extremely anxious and now have high blood pressure which I am sure is a direct result of a lifetime of worrying and fretting. I don’t think it has any effect on my writing as I don’t seem to feel anxious about that. The book signings and public appearances that follow on from having a book published do make me feel very anxious though.

24.Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

That an autistic person can write a novel.

25.Would you have anything to share or advice to give to other aspiring autistic writers?

Write it

Edit it

Share it

Learn from the criticism as well as the praise

Believe in yourself


Thank you Denyse for sharing that fascinating incite.  So, as you can see, Denyse has achieved the impossible; remained calm and resolute in the face of adversity.

You can visit Denyse at her old blog or better still go to the new site or buy Without Alice  available from Punked Books or from Amazon.

I have one copy to giveaway so make sure to leave a comment and I’ll contact you later if you’re a winner.

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Learning About Friendship by KI.I. Al-Ghani

This book concentrates on children with Asperger Syndrome and High-functioning Autism, and is designed to address many of the difficulties these children experience with friendships.  However, even if your [and my] children have not yet reached this stage of development, the book can still be a useful tool.

The book covers ten different scenarios.  Each chapter starts with an explanation to the adult, parent or carer and raises awareness of some of the common pitfalls.  This is then followed by a social story to illustrate how they can be overcome.  I enjoyed both aspects of these scenarios for several reasons.

Firstly, the explanation told me that the writer knows what she is talking about rather than preaching from on high.

Secondly, it is apparent from the text that her intuitive approach works–she gets the quirks and triggers–in that although you are working on one particular skill, there can be lots of other issues that interfere with the main plan.

Thirdly, she reveals parental errors in a kindly manner.  We know our mistakes, or some of them at least, and she understands why we made them.  To illustrate:- a child has an obsession and the parent literally buys into it.  We end up buying far too many dinosaurs, Thomas paraphernalia and Legos, because as she says, and I quote “a special interest may have been just the key needed to unlock the delay seen in the acquisition of speech and language.”

Fourthly, she used our childrens’ most common obsessions in the social stories – which is a great short cut for us parents as we don’t need to re-write them to fit our children – thank you!

Fifthly, [and this is one of the main reasons I would recommend this book] although as I already said, it’s designed for high functioning and asperger children, many of the social stories are easily adaptable for other children.  Here, you may be doubtful, but I am sure I can convince you by examining one story in particular, the second one- Spit and Chase.  This tackles the issue of children using inappropriate strategies to get attention.  It addresses the underlying behavior which results in spitting.  Here, the children involved are able to speak, but it could just as easily be the case if they were non-verbal.  It’s easier to unscramble the cause of a particular behavior if a child can communicate with words, but it’s not insurmountable if there is no speech.

We may think that some children may not be ready for such material but the underlying tenants described in the social stories are certainly applicable to both of mine, if in a somewhat simplified format and has certainly helped me formulate an approach for the future.

As a final note it would be remiss of me not to mention the illustrations that accompany the stories which are clear cut, black and white line drawings – perfect for my guys who always [used to] had a hard time with photographs of real people and color pictures.  They’re a wonderful and useful addition that complement the stories rather than detract from them.  It wasn’t so long ago that there were whole shelves of books which were off-limits because the pictures triggered all kinds of unpleasantness.

You can see more of K.I. Al-Ghani’s work over here at Kay’s slot at Jacketflap.

And you can buy your own copy from JKP or Amazon as well as her other books.

And lastly, for any of you budding authors out there, you might find it helpful to check out Marni Wandner’s Sneak Attack site which helps people promote their cause be that in the performing arts or other endeavors, such as book promotions, which I came across having read Monica Holloway’s Cowboy and Wills, which I’ll be reviewing shortly, a jolly good read.  And Marni Wandner – she’s a real ‘out of the box’ thinker.

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My Child Has Autism, Now What?

By Susan Larson Kidd published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers Inc.

This slim volume is an ideal first read for parents and carers of children who have just found out about autism.  Susan Larson Kidd’s book demonstrates her years of experience in a forthright manner, avoiding jargon and with many practical examples, hints and tips.

Her ten chapters or steps give a broad overview of many of the pivotal issues that parents and children face, the realities of daily life, right down to the basics.  How basic?  The first chapter covers sleeping, eating and toileting, so yes, it’s a lot to cover but often, certainly for our family, that’s exactly what we needed, somewhere to start, right back to the fundamentals.

This is why I like this book so much because as the title says, ‘my child has autism, now what?’ that’s exactly how it feels at the beginning and how Susan Larson Kidd describes that emotional response in her introduction.  Many parents are completely overwhelmed and do what I did—hit the internet for information with thousands of entries, become distracted by the adverts down the side claiming cures by everything from chelation treatments to snake oil—and experience anxiety.  We’re buried in information, too much.  We need a primer and a starting point and that is what this book provides.

I also appreciate the style of the book and phraseology.  I don’t know if this was deliberate or incidental, but it works, it comes across as empowering.  For example, the second chapter:-

Step Two:  Help your child by using visual supports

There are many other ways of describing the topic but this conveys a different message entirely.  Not only that, Susan then goes on to explain why visual supports are helpful.  Then, she gives a whole host of practical suggestions that do not involve spending vast quantities of money on fancy specialized and expensive equipment.  It’s a ‘can do’ approach which avoids so many pitfalls that can snare the unwary.  It’s easy to forget how vulnerable parents can be when they’re children are first diagnosed, and I would take issue with the chapter on biomedical interventions but any writer on the subject of autism is obliged to address the matter.

She provides any number of useful websites, which is also helpful as I can remember being directed to similar sites or finding my own, only to discover that I’d inadvertently connected my computer to a virus or adverts.  I particularly liked the PEC site where you can design a schedule for free [very important the free] as long as it’s for your private use.

Throughout, the book is sprinkled with illustrations and examples which help drive a point home, clarify concepts and de-mystify complex issues.  But if you need any further convincing I would draw your attention to one short paragraph.  In my copy it’s on page 86, where Susan Larson Kidd tells me that she is crazy and provides an example of her craziness for me, the reader, to assess.  Her example tells of an autistic child in pre-school who hits.  She then goes on to describe the different strategies that the professionals adopt to address the problem—a visual which says ‘no hit,’ accompanied by a symbol. Why might this approach be a mistake? –she asks.

It seems like a solution, why would that be crazy?  There are rarely right or wrong answers in autism.  Wouldn’t that be a good way to start?  To be fair, I mis-quoted Susan.  She didn’t really say she was crazy, just that some of the things she sees professionals do [and I expect we parents are guilty too] drive her crazy.  If you are the parent of an autistic child, maybe you can see some of the pitfalls in this approach.  I can now, but I don’t think I would have done a few years ago and that’s why this is such a great book, because it makes us think about what we do and how we do it.  This is a book that helps parents understand the underlying issues so we are better able to help our children.  It gives us a starting point, what to do, how and why.

And if you want to know the answer, you can buy the book from JKP or Amazon but I’ll give you a hint in the meantime–we need to ask ourselves ‘why’ the child is hitting, ‘what’ the hitting tells us and ‘what do we need to teach the child to communicate instead?’  Now that’s my kind of crazy – thanks Susan.

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Multiplying factors

I step out into the kitchen– my skills in the gentle art of persuasion begin flag – I need a deep breath before starting the other three double digit multiplication sums. I estimate that if it’s taken us one hour to complete six questions, it will probably take another five and a half life times, squared, to finish the last three.

My daughter peeks out at me from a curtain of hair, ear-buds firmly in place, so she yells in a friendly manner, “Wouldya like me to finish him off for you?”


“I mean…shall I help him with the last ones?”

“Would you dear?”

I can’t disguise the leaking pleading in my voice to my twelve year old.

“Sure. You make supper I’m starvin. And I am so sick of salad.”

What a deal.

What a break.

My savior, and dinner’s salvation.

Time to cook.

I beat about the kitchen but I can’t help but earwig as she takes charge, loudly, as her approach differs markedly from my own – it’s amazingly effective as she tells him how it is.

“Stop shoutin 4 x 7 over an over again! You know it alrighty. You know them all already. Y’just need to shut up and listen to yur brain.”

They sit on the sofa together; she – relaxed with soft open limbs – he – knotted like a pretzel, eyes squeezed shut, teeth bared, laboring to lay an egg, willing the answers to come. It’s agonizing, and that’s just the watching.

I stop watching and annihilate the potatoes.

I listen as her voice takes on a maniacal tone, “Just imagine that each answer is a tiny little chick and if you get the answer wrong…… the chick DIES!”

I drop the potato masher and dash into the family room, aghast, as my son tumbles off the sofa to writhe on the carpet. I open my mouth to speak and notice that he’s chortling, tears of silent laughter. I look to my daughter – “It’s o.k. Mom – it’s his favorite quote from the Simpsons.”

Multiplication 0-12 Flash  Cards

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Sensual olfactory assault

It’s a recurring theme. I’m oblivious early in the morning, still dressed in my robe, as we are, just for a change, behind schedule.

Wednesday’s the half way mark of the week, and therefore attractive to some, because it’s also a half day. The weather forecast predicts coldness and some of us, even thin-blooded Californians, are more susceptible than many.

My son looks through the window to see movement of trees and quivers with wide eyes. His pale, exposed, little, shell-like ears seem to shrivel as his palms cup them for protection from the buffeting wind.

What a pity his new jacket lacks a hood.

As he leaves to go and curl up on the third stair I wonder how on earth we’ll be able to transport him from house to bus, a distance of fifteen yards with several metres of 40 kph blustering winds?

It’s not an easy calculation.

I remember the hat from England, a Plymouth Argyle Football Club supporters’ knit cap. It’s green – the wrong color, but it does sport an icon of a soccer ball and a cat in mid leap. Since felines of all descriptions find favor lately, I decide to give it a go.

I grab a Sharpie in the kitchen and write his name inside. Within seconds I’m through the kitchen, past the dining room, round the sitting room, the hall and two steps up to entice him. I can’t hear the bus engine through the closed window, yet, but it’s on the way, very shortly. I play teasing temptress as I lean over him before ramming it on his head, with my hands pressing the fabric against his ears, capturing the warmth.

“Wot is dat smell!” he asks – more of a statement than a question. I find it hard to recall my itinerary with any degree of exactitude. I examine the options over a period of more than two hours; vat of espresso, unwashed after a hot night, Dial dish wash soap, 409 – killer the germs – solution, new Clorox toilet block, trash bag contents and recycling today, hand soap, laundry soap, as it’s best to start early, mouth wash to neutralize coffee before kiss, is there some kind of preservative in the pristine new hat?

All in all, it’s a veritable nightmare of toxic waste – a cocktail of chemical smells – but which one would predominate……
“I think perhaps….its…?”
“I always love dah smell of Sharpies Mom!”

p.s. How to have a ‘hot night’ when you’re all on your own with your spouse many thousands of miles away, abroad?

Go upstairs, turn off the lights, get into bed and put head on the pillow, pass out, awaken intermittently to find a big, fat, furry, demented orange cat on your head. Bark at cat. Fall asleep again. Repeat.

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You can lead a horse to water

I enjoy every second of my twelve-minute lie in and then dash downstairs at 6:12 a.m. – chaos.

Start calculations – need to arrive at 11 and it’s a 38-minute drive – allow an hour in case of stops, emergencies, getting lost time and Saturday traffic. 5 to 60 minutes for breakfast and clear up. 30 to 90 minutes for dressing to include, socks, shoes and teeth cleaning. 10 to 25 minutes toileting, jackets and entering car with seat belts buckled. Equals 3 hours and 55 minutes – loads of time and time to spare.

It was a definite possibility three months ago so I jumped at the chance – we prepared just in case. Horses are just like dogs, but bigger. Every time they sat on Thatcher, I’d trigger a meltdown, deliberately – ‘look at you! If you can ride a dog a horse will be easy!’

They’ve conquered ‘fear of dogs,’ and they’ll conquer ‘fear of horses.’

Both the boys have left their warm jackets at school for the weekend – normally this wouldn’t be a problem, seeing as how we rarely venture far from home, and when we do, it’s more likely to be around mid-day when the chill has burned off – today we head out to the wilds of Monterey where they have weather and mud.

Dig out second, old pair of shoes for them both, select favorite snacks as bribes, drinks, check first aid kit, and pack all possibly emergency supplies in the hope of successfully surviving as solo parent during an hour’s drive. Grab camera at the last minute – if there is one single moment of joy I shall capture it for the record.

Watch a woman outside on the road running for her life, otherwise known as jogging – if I could get someone to watch the children, I would do likewise.

We were offered two places at the therapeutic riding center a couple of years ago – the boys weren’t ready. We were offered places again last year – just before the budget cuts. So here we are, third time lucky, possibly.

In the car we try to listen to a CD of Horrid Henry – ‘The Hike’ – written by Francesca Simon and read by Miranda Richardson,* over the din of the boys who scream in the back. I allow my daughter a reprieve, up in the front passenger seat now that she’s only an inch shorter than me. I keep an eye on her – self wrapped, clamped tight and hunched, as she turns her face towards me, “Horrid Henry wouldn’t last five seconds in our household!” Although the boys give every impression of oblivion, they both manage to chime in perfectly, every time the story reader says ‘Stop it Henry! Don’t be horrid!’ My daughter rolls her eyes with exasperation.

“Whadif they won’t talk when we get there?”
“Lets just hope they have their ‘listening ears.’”
“Whadif they say something unfortunate?”
“I don’t suppose it will be anything they’ve not heard before, or a variation on a theme.”
She pushes herself back into the headrest and shuts her eyes.
“I don’t know whichis worse, when they scream or sing that darned song.”
“MANAMANA” is definitely trying, but at least they’re happy.”
“I jus can’t work out how they ever heard it?”
“Neither can I. It’s ancient. From the sixties, I remember my brother, your uncle, singing it.”
“I can still see it. The singer was this dark character.”
“Brown, and very hairy.”
“He was a muppet.”
“Not that kind of a muppet, a real Muppet.”
“What the heck is a muppet Mom?”
“I keep forgetting how young you are. Bit like Sesame Street puppets. I’ll show you later when we get home. Don’t suppose you’ve heard of Kermit the Frog either? Miss Piggy?”
“Never mind.”
“Whadda we gonna do if they make a spectacle of themselves?”
“If they can’t make a spectacle of themselves at therapeutic riding stables for differently abled children, where can they?” I beam.
She giggles and flutters her eye-lids – wicked.

Arrive at the stables, late, with two screaming children – doesn’t give the best impression of our family. Vomit noises emanate from my youngest – farm fresh air doesn’t suit everyone, “dat is a worserer smell dan my bruvver!” He falls out of the car, wraps his arms around his skinny rib cage, and tippy toes off like a top, in the general direction of the office. His older brother staggers in the same direction, hunched like an ancient, as if every limb drags half a hundred-weight of potatoes. The pre-teen looks on, aghast, but is quickly distracted by more interesting eye candy – horses.

One whole hour of introductory, orientation.

We drive back home – the boys are out cold in the back, mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted.

“That was funny,” she giggles.
“When he said to the lady that the horses had x-ray vision and shot laser beams at him.”
“She didn’t bat an eye-lid though did she!”

I ponder.

I think of the many, many hours my daughter has endured in waiting rooms as her brothers were tortured by every conceivable variety of therapy known to mankind, while she would salivate at the window, hoping for the chance to share a few moments occupied with similar activities. She’s been short changed for far too long, just like all the other children in the Siblings book I read last week.

“So when we go next week they’ll be there for a whole four hours. Would you like to stay and watch, or shall we go and do something else, together?”
“You don’t have to stay with them?”
“Apparently not. In fact they’ll probably do better without me.”
“Four hours?”
“Well, probably 3 if we drive half an hour to somewhere and leave half an hour before to get back on time.”
“What’ll we do?”
“What would you like to do? Your treat.”
“Um…a whole three hours? I don’t know.”
“What do your friends usually do on a Saturday morning?”
“Oh. Really? Sounds great. Lego Store?”
“Not without the boys – wouldn’t be fair – wouldn’t feel right.”

I drive a few more miles in silence as I watch her brain whir, from the corner of my eye. I try to think what I did, more than a decade ago? I have no recall whatsoever. Whatever it was, it’s clearly unremarkable.

“I don’t think there’s anything I wanna buy. Anyway, I owe you three weeks pocket money.”
“You do?”
“Yeah. Remember? I bought a pair of Heelies. You subbed me coz I didn’t have enough.”
“Oh. Right. What else would you like to do then?”
“The beach looked nice.”
“It did. Would you like to play on the beach?”
“Maybe. We could pack a blanket. Sit down and be quiet.”
“We could.”

It strikes me that if I sit down, static, I’m highly likely to pass out – I could win an award for sleeping if I ever had the opportunity.

“Could we take a picnic too..…with real food?”
“No Goldfish crackers.”
“Oh go on! You like them really.”
“Spose…..I’ll take an alarm if you like?” she offers.
“An alarm?”
“In case we both fall asleep.”

p.s. I do not endorse this as being either beneficial or curative, be that cat, dog, tortoise, horse, fish or dolphin therapy, although this does appear to be an exceptionally progressive program. ‘Beneficial,’ is more than enough. Anything else is a bonus. There is the remote possibility of a little enjoyment if we’re lucky. Failing that, in any event, at the very least we shall have spent a quantity of time outside the house, otherwise referred to as the ‘cell,’ and expanded our horizons by an inch or centimetre.

* Highly recommended to improve aural processing, [and fun] but don’t blame me if your children acquire an English accent.

A bonus for the digital and tactile challenged person.

Never look a gift horse in the mouth!

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Liam Knows what to do when KiLiam Knows what to do when Kids Act Snitty, by Jane Whelen Banks

This is a small, short book for children, with an important preface for the adults in their lives.

I have had this book in my possession for a considerable period of time. While it’s unwise to over analyze, I’ve been in two minds about the Liam series, for a number of different reasons. Jane Whelan Banks attacks the main stumbling blocks for many of our children – the mystifying world of social skills. In fact, I would describe this as a social story, a entertaining teaching tool.

I know a great many children, on and off the spectrum, who think and behave very similarly to Liam. Jane captures the dichotomy – Liam values his performance talents, which others do not, while other people value different skills, which Liam doesn’t value at all.

Some will interpret Liam’s behavior as acting up or showing off – he deserves to be ignored. Other people may see a child trying very hard to ‘engage’ with other children but who is rebuffed, repeatedly.

Jane concentrates upon demonstrating coping skills for Liam and children like him, as well as developing a logical explanation for the other childrens’ behavior.

A few points to ponder.

Some readers object vehemently to the illustrations, essentially stick figures with splashes of color. There are several sound reasons for this approach: any child can identify with Liam. A long time ago, my children had difficulty identifying with a character who looked very different from them. Additionally complex and elaborate illustrations can distract from the message – picture books proliferate, there are many to choose from. Some children cannot bear to look at faces or pictures of faces or photographs – anything more than a line drawing is unacceptable.

Some readers may suggest they can draw better illustrations and make better social stories themselves – in which case, good for you. However, some people cannot draw, even stick figures. Other people may find there own beautifully illustrated and poignant home-made social stories are ignored by their own children as they do not have the same legitimacy as a published book.

I look forward to future publications as Liam and his family grow.

A note to the publisher – on the next printing, please put the picture of Liam on page 23 in a ‘think bubble’ – otherwise readers may believe it’s o.k. to stick your tongue out at people.

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