Advanced Culinary Skills

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Prompts Fade to Nudge

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Survival of the Fittest

One of the many advantages of having an excessively large family is that it provides ample opportunity for me to exercise my powers of delegation.

I leave my daughter and her partner to mind Nonna and the three siblings, a two to one ratio, whilst I rush off to the supermarket to feed the hungry hoards. Within 30 minutes I’m back, fully and efficiently re-stocked for possibly another 24 hour period. Predictably enough, the house is in chaos but that does not deflect me from my mission.
“Right! I want every one of you out on the drive way to carry in a bag into the kitchen…..except you Nonna, you’re excused.” Three small people blink in disbelief, “you want to eat, right?” I add encouragingly.
“I am not liking yur disgustin foods.”
“Never mind that, it’s your new job.”
“Jobs is for adults.”
“Nope, not around here. This is how it works. I shop for the food. Daddy pays for the food, you do your work by carrying the food inside the house.”
“I cannot be doing dah working chores today.”
“Really. And why would that be then?”
“Because I am dah weakest one.”
“Rubbish! You’re as strong as a cat.”
“But my cat body is being too empty of the good foods for the giving of the energy.”
“Fair enough. I’ll just have to eat the three catering cartons of Goldfish crackers on my own then.”


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Autocue – spoonfeeding

Sometimes it seems as if we have been going to occupational therapy forever, certainly more than five years. Together, the boys had 13 hours of different therapies a week up until the time that I had jaw surgery.

At that time we dropped everything except for the two double therapy sessions on a Wednesday afternoon, double occupational therapy and double speech therapy because Wednesdays are a half day at school. Their “father” took them during my period of recouperation. It gave him a far deeper “understanding” and greater “involvement” such that when I had recovered and was ready to take up the reins again, he decided that he’d prefer to keep taking them himself.

These days I take them occasionally when his schedule doesn’t allow him to go, like when he is abroad on business. Hence when Wednesday looms, I am secretly dying to see how their session will pan out with their father away. I’m uncertain what kind of routine they have developed, independent of my input.

In the past it was a great struggle because it was a transition and because therapy was hard work for them. On arrival, they used to enter the waiting room and then I would prompt them to tell their therapists that they’d arrived using the intercom. This meant pressing the button and speaking clearly into the audio box simultaneously. They used to have to use the step to reach the box on the wall, but they are considerably taller now. Each step took a great deal of prompting. On completion I would prompt them to remove their shoes and socks and stack them on the shelf. This also took a great deal of prompting, times two.

These days, they have had many years of practice, many years of prompting. I am keen to see how they will fare.

On arrival at the waiting room, one runs to the window to take a peek into the studio and the other flops onto the sofa. I wait. I observe. There is no further movement from either of them, nor any words. I wait. I observe. I sit on my hands and then put my elbows on my knees with my hands over my mouth. I wait. I observe. It soon occurs to me that I will wait for ever and that there is nothing to see. No action is likely to be forthcoming. I feel suddenly quite saddened for no apparent reason. There are lots of reasons that could cause sadness, but none of them are present, but still, the inertia drags me down. Just like other children they dawdle and are easily distracted. Just like some other children we have the ever present hurdles of inertia, ideation, sequencing and a serious lack of executive function regardless of the label.

I feel a tiny tickle at the back of my brain, deep in the depths from my years of speed reading to track down useful clues and tips. I became a butterfly reader immediately following their diagnoses, hopping from topic to topic, the brief overview and the summaries, gleaning the finer points but missing the big picture in crisis management. There are many tomes just on this one topic:- introduce the new behaviour, positively reinforce the new behaviour and then ever so gradually fade the supportive reward system. It is the fading of both the reward and the prompt that engenders independence. Without that final step they become reliant upon the prompt.

There again, there’s always the possibility that it’s nothing to do with autism, merely tired kids.


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Extraction by fair means or foul

I decide that I no longer care for Amazon's packaging system.

It has degenerated from 'open with a pair of scissors and collapse the box with a cleaver,' to 'open box with a chain saw.'

I have struggled to extract the contents for some minutes but avoided drawing blood.

My youngest son presents himself before me, amid the carnage of the semi opened packages. He pauses to gain composure and then makes his announcement.
“Look mummy! I am choosed my own cloves.”
“Indeed! And you put them on your body too!”

I cheer, as wonder how he has managed to squeeze himself into clothes put aside for the rag bag. Not only has he physically grown three of four inches since he last wore that ensemble, but it would appear that he also branches out into other pastures new. It is a rare moment to witness, when your child does something willingly, independently and successfully. Not even a prompt. I remind myself, again, that this is what independence looks like. It may not be my version but it's still undeniable. I admire my corseted son and his cheesy grin for a job well done.

The sleeves are tight enough to restrict blood flow. The hem of his T-shirt gradually creeps up. The waistband on his trousers, slowly creeps down. The bikini effect. I wonder if I should suggest a change of attire but don't want to dampen his enthusiasm. It occurs to me, that this may be a gift in disguise. Nudity will be a thing of the past, since he will be unable to remove his skin tight clothing. Now that's what I call a fringe benefit! I'll need a can opener to extract him myself, or maybe a chainsaw?

He sucks in his cheeks and puckers his lips, goldfish style to ask, “why I am not dah puffer fish?”
“Er well, you certainly swim like a fish.”
Or rather a crab! He groans as he exhales and his tummy pops out.
“No! I am meaning that I need to be small, er smaller……fin as dah puffer fish when he is not puffed.”

It would seem that he’s not the only one with clothing “issues.”


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Too much to process

 

From a week or two ago.

As often as not, one becomes so used to the status quo that progress can be a smack in the face.

For us, the issues of time and sequencing are very old friends. This is why we are a household with more timers than the average clock shop. They come in every kind of variety. During the summer holidays I have occasion to use nearly all of them. 8 hours and 55 minutes until bed time. 27 minutes until snack. 8 hours and 25 minutes until electronics. The tick tock of one, fights for attention with the tickety tockety of another one.

Once words emerged and were used with greater frequency, we began an exchange.
“How many minutes until……..?” fill in the blank.
“Look at the timer dear.”
Always the same response, for years. Now during the summer, we add an extra line: “which one?”

Yes, and on and on we go, forever, without end. Yes, they're just like everyone else's children, where we all repeat the same phrases, except the boys ask more frequently. I don't choose to examine the OCD elements and try to remind myself how well their voluntary speech is coming along.

The tick down chart on the window tells them all that there are only 8 days left of their summer holidays to go, until school begins again. Every day, I make a big hoo hah about taking them to the chart, so that they can be reminded of the dwindling days of freedom and avoid shock tactics. An unexpected benefit has grown from this practice. Inevitably, when small people are herded together and forced to keep their own company, tempers can sometimes become frayed. This is especially so as the temperatures climb in August. Fights, skirmishes and scuffles break out at regular intervals.

I think the habit began at the beginning of the holidays as I intervened to break up the latest wrestling match. It was something along the lines of, “if you think we're going to behave like this for the next nine weeks……!” delivered in an unpleasant tone of growing exasperation. Thereafter, the OCD amongst us, would race to the chart to check how many happy days there were left and how many days of war had passed. When the mid point was reached, panic ensued. Every moment must be spent extending the happiness quotient.

Meanwhile, my youngest son hurtles around the house chanting his latest phrase: “Lights, camera, action!” at fifty decibels. This phrase is followed by a brief interlude before he reaches the conclusion, some minutes later: “Cut!” at 75 decibels. This is definitely a new development, one that has my nerves all of a jangle. I'm quite content with the new phrase, it's the surprise ending that makes my heart miss a beat. In view of the fact that he has been using this phrase for more than seven hours now, I should have adjusted to the new sequence, but I'm having a hard time recalibrating my own alert system.

Another alarming development is how he is able to hold a conversation with his Pokemon playmates and siblings, whilst in Pokemon character, and yet still manage to punctuate each exchange with his favoured phrase without pausing for breath or missing a beat. I find the whole experience quite mind bending. I try and imagine having a conversation with someone where I would interject an irrelevant phrase and tack it on the end of anything I said? I cannot imagine how this would impact my ability to keep track of the conversation, to say nothing of the effect on the person you are talking to. I am further alarmed to realize than none of the three young conversationalists are in the least bit perturbed, disturbed or annoyed by this.

I am so wrapped up in unraveling this feat that I miss the rumble.

It is hard to accurately describe what we witness and of course there is no warning, or maybe I wasn’t paying attention. My six year old erupts from the carpet like a rocket, remains air born momentarily, to land seconds later in a frenzy of movement, as if someone had fitted a live bee hive on his head. His siblings roll around with guffaws of laughter at his latest explosion, immune, de-sensitized and entertained. I mine for clues but keep out of contact range. I assess whether he is winding up or down. He charges to the trampolene where he expends a considerable amount of energy for several minutes. A heart warming display of self management. He collapses in a heap, drained and closes his eyes with a sigh, “dats better,” he confirms. I debate whether to ask and risk rekindling a burning ember?

“What was it dear?”
“I fink maybe a dust was being falled on my head.” I am uncertain whether I am any the wiser? I suspect that if you are on heightened alert and over stimulated, that maybe a particle of dust might be enough to trigger an almighty reaction.

I am still contemplating the meaning of life, or at least, the underlying triggers, when the other one distracts me with the same old spiel, “er, um, how many minutes until electron…” he pauses, mid sentence as he often does, before he skips a step completely, “oh yeah!” He jumps to his feet and lollops across the room to the table, with the bank full of timers. His hands reach out and lift the correct one as he says, “look at the timer.”

Other aspects of my life are every bit as “bewildering.”

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