Woofless in San Jose

I have to admit that as a non dog lover, Thatcher has won me over. His behaviour is so predictable and he is so eminently trainable. He is even tempered and for a puppy, very quiet. For some while I believed that he was a dud because he did not bark, at all, ever. My knowledge of dogs is sadly limited to a handful of unpleasant first hand experiences with vicious guard dogs in South Africa, as well as the wee yipper that lives next door. Of all the things that I know about dogs, one thing for sure is that they bark.

It took some while for him to find his bark and when he finally did, it was so loud, deep and throaty that we all collectively jumped out of our skins. We now all know the occasions when he is likely to bark:- when a stranger enters the property, through the gate, not casual passers by, squirrels, but he’s learning not to, when someone treads on him by accident or when playing with his doggy or human pals.

Quite restrained for any member of our household.

With this in mind, our family enjoys our usual noisy dinner, together at the table one sunny Californian evening. Thatcher lies inert in his bed whilst we discuss fearful things. Who is fearful of what and when and why? It is a heated debate. Each person believes that their own fear is genuine and justifiable, whilst everyone else’s is ludicrous. There is very little common ground. It is probably the first time we have ever managed to be able to have such a discussion, since more usually the mere mention of the trigger word would produce mass meltdowns and abject hysteria.

“I’m only really scared of Black Widow Spiders, not other arachnids, just the Black Widows.”
“Snot fair to pick on one spider!”
“I’m think I’m afraid of pain, personal pain. I have a very low pain threshold.”
“How can you say that when you’ve had four kids Mum? The only thing I’m afraid of is dolls.”
“Dogs? You’re afraided of dogs?”
“Not dogs! Dolls.”
“I can understand that,” adds her husband, “I’m afraid of masks……creepy.”
“Dey are not creepy. Seagulls are creep me out!”
“Nuffin is scary excepting for death.”
“It’s chaos of for me, that’s what I’m afraid of,” adds the head of the household although he addresses Thatcher, not the general company at the table. Thatcher lifts his nose as his ears prick up and tears out of the room, through the kitchen into the family room where he begins to bark, frantic. The boys canter off after him to see the cause of the commotion in the back garden.
“What is it dear?”
“A giant!”
“A giant?”
“Itza ball.”
“What?”
“He is being afraid of dah ball.”
“He’s not afraid of balls! He’ll play catch for hours, he never gets tired out.”
“No! He’s afraid of the ball.”
“What ball? Which ball?”
“Dah one…….dat did be came over dah fence.”
“Oh……it’s great to have such good neighbours. You really need to be more careful where you throw them dear.”
“No.”
“No what?” I put down my knife and fork and go and do what I should have done in the first place.
“See…….dat is not being our ball.”
“My what a windfall!”
“No……not a windfall……a ball fall.”


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Two and a half baths

Which half would you like?

It's one of those little American oddities, a few words that are completely incomprehensible.

You can read it on a page, you can say it out loud, the net effect is the same. What on earth are they on about now? But that was in the good old days when I was a fresh faced immigrant. Years have now passed and I am far wiser. Non-Americans will be pleased to learn that Americans do not have diddy little baths. This is America, the land of big, bigger and the bestest.

Many moons ago in England, I lived with my family in a tall Victorian terraced house. Tacked on the back of the house as an after thought no doubt, was the bathroom. The bathroom had a bathtub, a toilet and a hand basin, but not very much else. It did have a deadbolt and a lock with a rusty old key the size of my small hand, but you needed the strength of a rugby player to shut the door, let alone lock it. All five of us were good sharers and privacy was non existent.

If we were really desperate, there was always the option of the old lean to toilet in the back yard next to the air raid shelter.

This original toilet was there before the bathroom was tacked on.

It was a place only for the brave.

I am, and always have been, a cowardy custard.

Hence I have little sympathy with the current generation of children in my care when it comes to foibles.

When it comes to foibles, which it usually does, their father has one, a foible that is to say. Every morning he shaves in the bathroom next to the kitchen. The bathroom has no bath and is the same size as a crampt cupboard. Standing room only. As he froths and shaves, rivulets of water run down his hands and forearms to collect on his elbows and then drip onto the linoleum floor. Two little puddles of dribbles, every day. This is no great hardship. What is great hardship, for me at least, are the blood curdling screams from my son, every day, when he decides to use the bathroom and finds his path blocked by his dribbling father.

The bulk that blocks his way isn't the hardship. The hardships are the two puddles. It would be easy to step over the two puddles located closest to the sink, especially if you only have child sized 13 feet and are on your tippy toes, or easy for some people. Other people pogo on the spot and scream, loudly, every day.

Many people, would learn that if you encounter the same problem every day, it might be a good idea to find an alternative solution, preferably a quieter one. Other people need help finding solutions. It is hard to find a solution when you can't hear. Generally speaking, it is hard to hear if you are screaming your lungs out.

All too often, I find myself just looking at him. I have to remind myself that he has an 'on' switch and an 'off' switch but no dimmer function, a period when he could think and work out an alternative. It's an all or nothing approach to life. The absurd can sometimes seem ironic. It is quite sobering for me to realize that this is not a child having a hissy fit or a meltdown, but someone struggling with a gargantuan obstacle, a puddle that might just as well be Niagara Falls. It's tempting to giggle, a nasty habit that I seem to have acquired over the years.

Instead, I wait a moment to see if the frenzy is spiraling up or down. If it's on the up and time is precious, I have no option but to scoop him up and cart him off to the loathed toilet down the hall. If it's on the down, then we have the opportunity to repeat the sequence, to find an acceptable alternative, every day.

Maybe one day, he'll step over this hurdle all by himself. Just as with so many of the other foibles. It won't disappear but he will find other ways of coping all by himself. Maybe soon.


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Engineering perfection

Two of my four children to not like the 'great outdoors.' [translation = my autistic boys] In order to overcome, or at least ameliorate this obstacle, we have been working on a campaign to desensitize them. [translation = since each was able to walk]

Timing is crucial, but that aside there are many other temptations available to the wily parent. [translation = deviant] I select my lures with great care, ensure that everyone has protective clothing on, [translation = sunglasses, baseball caps, clothing to the wrist and ankle] add preferred snacks in a shady corner and I'm just about ready.

I run through my check list. What might I have either forgotten or overlooked? Nothing. Perfection has been achieved. [translation = everything is in my favour] I gather the troops and advice of forthcoming proceedings. Two faces scowl back at me. [translation = it's still a transition and we hate transitions] My daughter skips out into the garden and calls to her brother's with glee. [translation = an added bonus] “Hey, come and look at THIS guys! It's awesome!” The boys step out in the garden with caution, I lag behind a second or two to grab a couple of extra, extra towels for security. I hear them through the open window.

“ooo, what is it being?”
“I fink dey are dancing!”
“Squirming more like!”
“No, no, no, dey are makin dah babies! Look dere bodies, dey are wriggling, wriggling, wriggling!”

I dash out into the garden, tripping over towels, to see all three of them in the glaring sunshine, not in the shade. Not in the carefully designed spot that I have been perseverating upon all day.

They peer into the open bag of Bonemeal, that I accidentally left out in the garden a couple of days ago during my latest planting spree. I take a step towards them, gingerly.

“ooo, looky, looky, looky! Dey are all whitey!”
“No, no, no! Dey are not white dey are creamy translucent.”
“They're pretty slimey!” [translation = reciprocal speech is when you respond appropriately and on topic in response to what someone else has said rather than going off on a tangent of your own e.g. Pokemon are winners]

I take another step closer, jam my sunglasses onto my nose and take a deep breath. I peer, with half closed eyes at the contents of the bag. I can hardly bear to look. I know I should have put it back in the garage. I should have been more careful watering. I should have closed the bag, sealed the bag, put the bag in another plastic bag to avoid sogginess. I can feel my stomach heave.

“I'm gonna be calling mine 'Jiggle' and I'm gonna be writing his name wiv curly wurly 'G's.”
“I'm gonna…..name him…….trans, trans, trans,….George cos he's a very curious one.”
“They're too many to give them all names guys!”

I watch the surface of the bag ripple. What is the conversion rate of one 10 pound bag of organic Bonemeal to wildlife?

“ooo, I love dah little guys!” he guffaws with laughter and slaps his knees.
“I fink we could, we should, we might …..be putting dem in the bo, box, er……aquarium so dat dey can be our new pets!”
“That's a great idea! Good job! I hope Rascal and Unis like em too! I hope they won't eat em like the lizards. Perhaps we ought to put a top on this time. What do you think Mom?” she looks at me expectantly.

If they think I'm going to have a tank full of maggots on the dining room table, then think “again.”


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Perseveration – what it is?

A very good question. Go to the top of the class. I can offer you a dictionary definition – or the various definitions as proposed by the experts. They make for a good starting point. However, they reflect the ‘discipline’ of the expert. The cognitive expert’s version differs markedly from the behaviouralist’s version and so on.

How about -‘Persistence of a verbal or other behavior beyond what is apparently intended, expected or needed.’ from “Behavenet.”

Or we could use “Wiki’s” version – ‘Uncontrollable repetition of a particular response.’ We could try something more medical in it’s terminology, but for current purposes, we have enough to work with, more than enough.

I have two versions to offer. They have a common element – repetition, otherwise they differ. Both of my boys, do this. They do it in different ways from each other. They each do it differently this month/year/ day, from how they did it last time around. It is essentially a moving target that often reflects the ‘stage,’ whatever that might be, at any pin prick in time.

Take the repetitive phrases, little ditties gleaned from the cosmos, that they repeat in a loop, sometimes for many hours; ‘to infinity and beyond,’ ‘Elliot…..idiot,’ ‘ I am not a number.’ Here, we have echolalic [translation – repeat as in an echo] tendencies, which complicate the picture.

What about the fixations or special interests? “ I am a train, not a boy, not a toy, not a girl, not a lamb,” with the elements of rhyme, meter and rhythm. Autistic children often fixate on a narrow subject that infiltrates any number of aspects, if not all, of their lives. Trying to dissect different elements may only confuse you further.

How about we try slipping in the tick or the stim? Stims and tics are terms used as shorthand to describe ‘self stimulatory behaviours.’ Many of us are familiar with hand flapping, flickering fingers and oh so many more variations on a theme. Many parents get in a great tizzy about these habits, in part because they are so noticeable to other people. The child with a hand down his diaper will only attract a moment’s attention. Not so the 7 year old, or older child. The child who whizzes around making train noises, repeating the phrases of the ‘Thomas the Tank engine’ books by the Rev. Aubrey, is a more subtle version. People may notice, but it’s ‘cute’ in a three year old. In an older child the same habit marks him or her in the public eye. But he’s word perfect, so it that echolalia instead?

There again, we have the OCD factor – ‘trains are busy, trains are fast, I am a train, no I can’t eat trains, eat nothing.’ The fear factor, the phobia, special interest or fixation can all play a role and confuse the picture, especially if you are not an expert. It’s hard to determine what you are witnessing, which makes it more difficult to decide what, if anything, to do about it?

Logical, very logical thinking, is a factor that plagues the ineffectual parent, frequently. A small incident of no particular significance can blow up into a major factor without warning.

Strangely, I have lots of photographs of my children having meltdowns. How could that possibly be? Why would I have a camera in my hand at such a time? Because the few seconds of delay in a digital camera, for an autistic child, can mean the difference between a photographic opportunity to capture a sweet memory and the moment of self destruction. The hair trigger, is aptly named. But I digress.

What about the child that tears his clothes, shreds and rips them? Would that be tactile defensiveness or sensory integration issues, or both? Probably, a millinery problem for the parent. What if he sucks his clothes, chews them, bites them? Is that oral defensiveness or the sensory complications? But what if he rakes his skin, pulls his hair, bangs his head, pinches himself to leave welts? Is this different or the same? For us, these have been passing phases, severe when they first manifested themselves, but less so, during the next visitation period. They come and go, which makes them closer to stims. Perhaps?

Does this help? Probably not. If it is of any use at all, it is merely to illustrate, as always, that autistic children [and adults] exist on a spectrum. There is no one size fits all.

So let us leave aside the definition of the indefinable. What do you, as a parent, do about it? Well if I knew the answer to that I would be doing a much better job than I am! All I can say, is that whatever you call it, however you define it, it exists and you need to deal with it. When these little flurries occur, you have several options depending upon whether it is of a destructive nature, be that physical self mutilation or mental self mutilation. If your child is hurting him or herself, for me, there is no other option than to intervene, distract, redirect or cuddle. If it is ‘mental’ [translation – “I am dah bad one, I am stoopid, I have a bad brain] the choices are the same.

However, sometimes [translation = often] they are calming, harmless, positive. If you have a non-verbal child and they repeat the same sentence for 40 minutes or more, it may be intensely annoying but it’s strengthening they jaw muscles. [translation – and they’re having fun] It is harmless, it is calming.

Depending upon what they are perseverating on, I find it helpful to think of the behaviour as a minor skin rash. You treat the condition according to it’s severity. If it itches you scratch it. Often it is an unconscious reaction. If it’s a warm day you scratch it more often. Maybe at night, it doesn’t itch at all, or when you’re swimming. Sometimes it’s really itchy and you have to franticly scratch away, you may even bleed a little, but it will form a scab. I don’t want the scab to turn into a scar, by doing this too often, but scratching an itch every so often, doesn’t seem quite so awful as many would have us believe.

Sometimes, it is not calming. Sometimes it is the eye of the storm, accelerating. This can be a fearful experience. [translation = for the parent] But it is meeting a need. One parent may take a child out to exercise, exhibit some sporting prowess to release the tension. Another parent must stand by and watch the eruption of the vortex, so that the child may experience peace, expended. Intervention isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. [translation = good]

When you witness your naked child hurling himself against a glass door repeatedly, as well as all the other direct incidents I’ve mentioned already, I tell you truly, that it is difficult to think ‘deep proprioceptive input’ and ‘how can we achieve the same result is a less destructive manner?’ If one is slow, deliberate and determined, whilst the other is a fizzling firework let off in the house, I may be the one person on the planet who understands that you may just want to throw up your hands and weep in defeat. [translation = especially if they do it at the same time] But I think you’ll find, that there are far more people around with similar experiences than you might expect.

I wish that there were easy answers and that I could point you in the right direction, but unfortunately, direct experience does not necessarily result in accurate data.

But how am I so different, with my little quirks and foibles, the need to have things ‘just so.’ The temperature of my tea, made in just the right way. The song that seeps through every brain cell, that I cannot turn off, that drives me to distraction but I cannot stop, although I don’t ‘voice’ it.

What about you? Do you have your rituals? Is your nose out of joint [translation – bummed] if your commute is disrupted? Bummed [translation = annoyed] by the lack of ‘signal’ from your cell phone in a dead zone. The unreasonable manic driver who cuts you off, that you would gladly hang, draw and quarter, so long as you didn’t have to meet him face to face, or his family. When swear words [translation –cuss words] rile up like bile in your throat but you refrain from articulating them aloud.

Maybe you don’t throw a hissy fit, [translation – meltdown] because you’re an adult and have learned what is, and is not acceptable, but the gut reaction is the same.

They are all a variations on a theme, maybe a trapezoid peg in a quatrefoil hole. Or maybe, the other way around?

This is a useful site with lots of “practical suggestions.”


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Ursaphobia – whatever next!

[translation = Bear Phobia]
I stagger to the help desk lugging two over sized bags of library books, with the two that 'won't scan' tucked under my arm. The librarian peers over the brim of her bifocals at me. I return the favour. I read the question that she has formulated in her mind but is too polite to voice; 'she's never gonna read those in a week! Whose is she tryin to kid?'

Each week I zip into the library and hurl a random selection of books into bags, check them out and zap back to the car with a seven day supply of bribes to remain at the dining room table, or distractions from the horror of what's on the dining room table depending upon your viewpoint.[translation = food]

She's right of course, I won’t read them all. I will attempt to read them all, but there will be a significant percentage of the books that will fail to meet requirements with one or more persons. Obviously I avoid all books that have teddy bears on them as that is guaranteed, even now, after all these years to strain my son's powers of tolerance. Whilst there is always the possibility that a teddy may lurk within the pages, at least it's not there bare faced on the cover, to taunt and torture him.

Now I know what you're thinking – 'what has she been doing all this time? How old is that child now? 7? Seven and a half, and she's still not managed to diminish the bear phobia?' As usual you are absolutely right, but I've been trying to desensitize someone else to other things, not necessarily more important things but more encompassing things, like weather, food and temperatures. In the great scheme of things, the latter are more difficult to avoid, whereas teddy bears aren't quite so all pervasive.

There again, perhaps you fall into the other camp and think – 'oh please! Seven and a half and he's afraid of bears! Get over yourself why don't you!' Yet again, I have rumblings like that myself, but it's a question of degree. I know that his reaction to them is not proportional or rational. It would help if I had some inkling as to what he objects to so strongly, but I don't. I have given due time and attention to the matter, but what with the speech delay, I'm no further forwarder.

As a result, I've just equated it to my own dislike of “clowns.” If I have to admit to “Coulrophobia” a fear or rather an innate dislike of clowns, I’m not really in a position to cast aspersions at others. I can't tell you quite why I don't like them, but there it is. It's not as if he doesn't know a great deal about bears, real ones. Grizzlies, Black, Brown and Polar, as well as more obscure species such as the Spectacled bear, our particular favourite, he has no qualms about. Nope, it's just the Teddy bear variety of bear that he finds so excruciating.

You would think that friendly little chaps like “Winnie the Pooh” would be exempt from this prejudice, but no.

Once home, I turn my attention to a few other trifles; facial expression being top on the list. Social interactions run a close second. Whilst the kiddie winkies are at school I start some serious in depth research on the outstanding matter. The fear of bears shouldn’t really be a social impediment in suburban California, but where autism is concerned, anything goes. For now it whizzes it’s way to the top of the list.

I have always been particularly partial to teddy bears myself. I recall a very special bear, a lemon yellow one with golden velvet ears and paws. It was sent from Hamley’s by my grandmother to my baby brother, all the way to South Africa. My mother would religiously prop the bear up inside his cot. As soon as she left the room, he would fling it out unceremoniously. The bear became mine my default. Perhaps I should consult him? He might have some insight that I lack? There again, I felt so mortified at having acquired the bear by his failure to recognise that jewel of a bear, that when we returned home to England by sea, I spend my paultry savings on a singularly small and unattractive bear, to give to him by way of compensation. Jumbo Jet Tea Bags, as the bear became known, was cared for with great zeal, until he was threadbare and even less attractive than when he left the boutique.

“Watch out for dem bears!”
“See the bear.”
But I’ll start another campaign to address the issue of this “phobia” pretty soon. Afterall, if we’re trying to ‘fix’ food, water and temperatures, what’s one more phobia thrown into the mix?


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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 bahttp://www2.blogger.com/img/gl.link.giflance 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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Other people's irritating habits

I feel that Obsessional Compulisve Disorder gets a bad press. General opinion would have us believe that the behaviours that manifest themselves as a result of this condition, are immutable, whereas this appears to be very far from the truth.

With luck, it soon becomes apparent what these kinds of behaviours are for any one individual. Whilst they will play havoc on your daily life that's not the end of it.

Having identified the issues and developed coping mechanisms, you may feel that all is well, that you have achieved 'steady state,' or equilibrium. Although they've not been eliminated, they're under 'loose' control. This may lead the unwary parent into a false sense of security.

I hoover [translation = vacuum] with the thoroughness of an American dental hygienist, prior to the arrival of the new sofa. I am careful to wind the cable back neatly on completion, so that it is all ready for next time, especially when 'next time' may be only minutes away. Due to the inferior engineering standards in America, I threw caution to the wind, and purchased Superhero Hoover. Although I am mathematically challenged [translation = thick as a brick] even I managed to work out that the annual expenditure on a hoover to replace the broken hoover, was not a sound investment.

I find it interesting to note that for the past few years, I was prevented from using this domestic appliance when junior was in the vicinity. The noise would send him into apoplexy. Hoovering at night seemed like a solution. It wasn't, which meant that this domestic job was limited to junior free hours only. Since he was the youngest, that was infrequently.

It just goes to show how far we have progressed, into a whole new era really. As long as I warn him first, get the eye contact, hunker down on bended knee before my six year old, he grants me permission to hoover. Now, having given him this warning, 'mister clean' has sufficient time to go and was his hands and then hide in his room. Curiously, he no longer hides from the noise. Instead he hides himself from the mental image of the contents of the hoover cylinder.

I knew it was a mistake to tell him that most of the dust was really skin cells, but that's progress for you.

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