For Fellow Helicopter Parents

The debate ranges on about high functioning and other points along the spectrum, but some issues remain the same, regardless of which point you pick.  We know who we are even without everyone telling us, but we carry on.   We hover ever ready.   One day, perhaps, we can ditch the prompts, in the future, but for now we know our job is to intervene, preempt, reinforce those neural pathways and forge a firmer footing until they become second nature.












To be fair, I feel pretty much the same when it comes to anything labelled ‘easy open.’

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An Armageddon of Aliens

Let me just say to begin with that if the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes in the morning would be an army of multicolored aliens advancing  towards me from out of the wall….

…….it would not be  good.

However, as I am wont to say, all too frequently, ‘people like and dislike different things.’

These little guys are Pikmin, not to be confused with pacman and they  have the power of positive reinforcement.  Or rather they will be once we have managed to instill the ability to send an empowering message to their leader.  Visualization is critical here as well as lots of practice.  Each wee Pikmin, will chant and cheer.  No doubt they will need to be replaced with something more age appropriate in due course, but for the time being we use what works, and what generally works best is the current fixation, [a.k.a. enthusiasm] Pikmin rule our world.

At least they’re non-violent and keep up a continuous stream of happy little giggling noises.  [Which can become irritating to grown up people who lack a sense of humor.]

The villainous Water Dumples can be defeated with their carnivorous tendencies.

You may worry, as I  do, that filling their little heads with all this nonsense, may do more harm than good.  Surely this kind of rubbish merely clutters up their brains which should be packed with more helpful information.  And you may very well be right.  However, first and foremost, they must reach the age of majority and still be alive, and hopefully happy, or if not happy, at least not suicidal.

Although we seem to being attacked by the same troubles in a couple of generations.

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Science Camp and Social Stories

I’m told it’s a fifth grade rite of passage, but I can think of many other descriptions. Last year I remember “reading” about it and thinking, never in a month of Sundays.. and now it’s nearly here.

Now it’s nearly here, although we’ve been preparing for over a month, the levels of anxiety are palpable.

To list the deficits would be demeaning and fail to encompass the magnitude of the challenge.

There are lots of parents with young autistic children who are struggling to learn basic skills: dressing, toileting, feeding, talking. They’re not thinking about Science Camp – why would they? I certainly never did. I was a miserable skeptic before they arrived – it’s genetic. Such things as science camp seemed completely unobtainable, barely struggling through the average 24 hour day. We had more social stories, step by step guides and numbered sequences than I can count, some tailor made, others from the school, all designed to address the dreadful deficits.

They cover the practical –

How to tie your shoes, [a vast improvement on ‘where to hide your shoes.’]

They tackle the subtle –

How to be a good friend.

We also have a vast number of fringe topics –

Words – why they work
Clothes – why we need them
Food – the ultimate life insurance
CPR for the under 5’s [to ward off fear of imminent death and empower]
International flights are not necessarily fatal
Big Ben – what to do about bullies
Field trips are in the category of ‘fun’
Traffic, a survival guide
Recess and other alternative forms of torture
Bubbles, what is this thing called personal space?

But children grow, quite often in spite of us, making leaps and bounds we never envisaged. Inexperienced parents, like me, toss the old social stories aside once mastered, only to have the same issue re-appear, sooner, much later, or in a whole new format.

The practicalities loom large but it’s important for me to remember that although some tasks are difficult to accomplish physically, there’s an awful lot else going on inside his mind. A certain degree of stress and anxiety can motivate – too much and it’s paralyzing.

So would a social story help with this situation? Yes and we have one, fully and comprehensively designed by his speech pathologist at school – quite brilliant – but is it enough? Sadly no.

So whether you have a non-verbal 2 year old [been there, done that] or a tantruming 5 year old [ ditto], or a OCD 7 year old [likewise] believe you me, Science Camp is coming, it’s compulsory, there’s no escape.

What to do?

Many parents have transformed themselves into cheerleaders of the ‘you can do it’ variety – no matter how ineptly. Over the last year in fifth grade, this attitude is mirrored by the school, of the ‘step up to middle school’ variety. We’re all on the same book if not the same page – rise to the challenge, but fear and doubt lurk about. Our children are much more astute than they’re credited – they can almost smell it and I’m sure there’s something in my tone and body language that gives me away. I need something concrete as much for myself as for him and that’s when I remember.

I remember the ever growing hoard of social stories, a box load of abandoned hurdles and pitfalls, each of which has been overcome. If we need proof he can do it, what better body of ever growing evidence could we have? A veritable treasure trove.

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Drones – message received and understood

A chum of mine, [translation = British] refers to her daily life with her autistic child as 'Groundhog days.' This refers to the film where the actor repeats the same day of his life, again and again without apparent end. Parents of young children often repeat the same life lessons until they are acquired, but for autistic children the process may take longer.

Last summer one of my boys had a chance encounter with a bee. The bee and my son were outside the house, in the garden at the time. [ translation = a rare event, now sadly, all the more rare as a consequence] The bee did not attack him. As my son floated in the pool so did the bee. The bee was in it's last death throes when they happened to come in contact and it stung him. My usually silent son, made known his condition. Fortunately he removed himself from the pool prior to his quite reasonable meltdown. [translation = otherwise he and the bee might have come to the same untimely end]

He survived, the bee did not.

Thereafter, again quite reasonably, all insect life became untrustworthy. [translation = a source of fear] Although he has endured many hours of vision therapy, his ability to accurately determine what something 'is' varies. [translation = if in doubt, stay well away] Our daily meltdown count was still quite high a year ago. This additional trigger, began to make life unbearable. [translation = Summer produces a higher incidence of fast and slow moving creepy crawlies and flying insects]

Something had to be done.

Sometimes, logic doesn't work. Fortunately for me, one of my sons is keen on rules. [translation = reflects the need to place order and form on chaos] In such situations, the best thing to do is lie. I highly recommend it, especially if you have already used up ALL the usual arguments in your favour.

……….. …… …. .. .

“BEE!!! BEE!!!BEE!!!”
“Yes, it is. Tiny bee, big you. Who is most scared?”
“ME! Bee! Bee! Bee!”
“Do you know that there is a rule about bees?”
“Rule?” Aha! The magic word. Now what is the rule? Think of a rule! A helpful rule. The right rule. A rule that will work and not backfire and make the situation worse!
“Yes. The rule is…… know how a bee dies after it's stung you?”
“That's one rule. But the other rule is….. that……every person in the world is only allowed to be stung once per lifetime.”
“That is rule?”
“Indeed it is. Everyone knows that rule. I have been stung, Daddy has been stung and now you have been stung, so you will never be stung again. Otherwise it wouldn't be fair. Would it?”
“Stung is dah same as sting?”
“Correct! Good thinking!”
He looks at his sister and brother, “they are sting, er stung…er…stunged?”
“It their turn sting?”
Oh dear! I dither, hoping that other small people are out of earshot.

Overall, he is dubious, but placated. Bee phobia diminishes considerably. [translation = over time and with the changing seasons]

We move forward a year to a day when a wholesome looking young lad and his crew come to deliver my replacement sofa. Spring has sprung and the Spearmint bush in the front garden is a glorious mound of white spiked blooms. If you look more closely or open your ears, it is easy to note that there may be as many as a hundred bees labouring away. Mr. Wholesome is engaged with the removal of several miles of plastic wrap from the furniture.

My son observes him from the front door, half in and half out. [translation = keen to make a new friend, fearful of an old enemy] Mr. Wholesome's attention is drawn to the buzzing noise. His eyes are of additional assistance and track across to pin point the location of the sound. At the moment that his brain registers the bees, his body ignites as he stumbles back to pin himself to the white picket fence. [translation = the effect of a burning bush] My son reacts also and flees, for a second. [translation = a perfect reflex to perceived danger] This is the same child who walked into walls that he didn't notice, would not reconise me if I took my glasses off or wore anything other than blue jeans and a white t-shirt, and has a high pain threshold.

His better nature catches up with him. He gallops over to Mr. Six Foot Two, cowering but not impaled near the fence. “It's o.k., it's o.k., it's o.k., don't be worrying, they are not be harming you!” As he says these words he approaches Mr. Wholesome on soft feet. [translation = the same way come close to an injured animal] “It's alright now, I'm here, I'm here, I'm here,” says Master Four Foot One. Mr. Wholesome's gaze flicks between the bush and the boy as he wraps his arms around himself. His biceps pump and flinch, whilst his knees quake. “You can be dah brave one now. Look at you. Tiny bee, big you!” [translation = with appropriate hand gestures to assist a potential visual learner]

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A fate worse than death

I busy myself in the garden whilst spouse supervises inside. It may be only February but Spring has sprung. Tender shoots have shot. I pause to admire a ladybird.  Oh the delight of living in California! Then I step on a snail. Tender shoots and gastropods at the same time. I drop the secateurs and dash inside to execute plan B.

Spouse has plans for two children, so I am left with the short straw. I explain the situation to junior, but he is not impressed with his options; “not dah garden center,” he wails as he runs away at the speed of light. I do not punish merely torture him with this trip. It's not deliberate but necessary, before the slugs and snails consume all green matter that emerges in the garden.

I make sure that he is appropriately attired for such an expedition; shoes not sandals, long trousers, long sleeved jacket, hat and gloves to ensure minimal skin exposure. I throw the umbrella in the car for good measure, as they have hoses in the garden centre and he mistakenly believes that an umbrella will ward off the evils of wetness.

We set off to the garden of Eden which holds more therapeutic power for me than any spa. Junior does not share this view. For him, there are so many things wrong with the garden center that it would be hard to list them all. The potential for becoming dirty or wet is high on the list objections. Because it is outside, there is also the chance that a breeze may ruffle his hair. Plants and soil may smell disagreeable. Flowers, not that there will be many at this time of year, may have perfume. Even if the fragrance is pleasant for most people, for him it is often too powerful.

The ground is uneven with channels to remove excess water, so that little rivers criss cross the pathways. The shelves drip. The hoses and taps drip. There can be beeping fork lift trucks moving palettes around. They move in unpredictable directions. They jerk and spout plumes of black sooty smoke.

I determine to make the exercise as swift and painless as possible.

I stand at the check out queue clutching a sack of slug pellets under one arm, my other hand securely grasps junior’s, as he jitters and skitters in a two foot radius. All of a sudden he stops. A gasp of true awe matches his eyes out on stalks. He cannot talk, but he does point. I look but I do not see. His hands cover his mouth as he tried to contain his excitement. I look again but I cannot see whatever it is that has transformed the torture trip into a treat. A little rain dance of joy starts in his tippy tapping toes and then convulses up his body. He's off at a gallop. I drop the sack and run after him but he stops just as abruptly so that I nearly fall flat on my face. Before him is a big golden coloured ball, a garden decoration I believe.

He admires his warped reflection and grins from ear to ear, “it is dah golden one!” he whispers. I peek at the bottom to find the price and gasp myself. I am about to splutter about the value of a dollar to my six year old as I watch him squeeze his eyes shut, cover them with his hands and then explode in delight again. I put the ball under my arm and return  to the check out and the sack of slug pellets.

The ball is strapped into the spare toddler seat next to him. He lays a palm on the smooth surface to keep it safe on the journey home. He spends the seven minute drive giggling and sighing with adoration. I spend the same seven minutes trying to work out how too explain how a bag of slug pellets could be so expensive to my better half?

I wonder if I could sell him on the idea of it being a lure to get junior to go outside, therapy, but not retail?

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An E Type?

They come in many different models, and it is only now in middle age, that I begin to think that all this psychobabble rubbish, may have something to it. I feel that perhaps I have been unnecessarily narrow minded in this respect, that I should have given the psychobabble option a little more house room. If I had paid more heed to my American pal, the Muse, and her inane ramblings on this topic, then I might be in a better position to understand the nature of the species. For instance, I was under the impression that spouse was a C type, but he may in fact be an entirely different model. They come in many more different forms than I had initially appreciated. There may actually be some A types, but if there are, I have yet to meet one, or if I have met one, they were probably gay. I doubt if it's possible to be an A type and be heterosexual, it's one of those mutually exclusive groups.

So here I am with possibly a C type, or maybe a D type. This wouldn't be that important if it wasn't for the fact that I also have a couple of sons in tow, especially as they are both autistic, and it would be very useful, not to say expedient, to pin them down into a specific category early on in their lives, so that I am better able to ease them towards an A type.

I think of it as my bounden duty to carry out this quest to the best of my ability, my cross to bear, as it were.

But I'm not going to get very far if I can't even identify what I already have. Let me give you a simple example, test the waters and see if I'm on the right track? A woman and her significant other, are in the same room, when she accidentally drops a book on her foot. Books are generally an unrecognized danger in the average family home, and have a higher propensity to act independently that most people appreciate. The book makes contact with the foot causing pain, which induces the woman to exclaim, “oh!” A clear E type.

Assuming that the spouse is otherwise engaged, say with something fascinating on the television screen, the woman automatically expands the initial instinctive exclamation, such that the 'oh,' is followed by 'good grief! That book has come into contact with my foot and I am experiencing pain!” because that is how British people still speak. This expansion zips you straight into the A type. The male of the species, is of course unlikely to respond, mostly because he hasn't heard
anything at all, as his attention is rapt in the programme. So far so good?

O.k. second example. This time male occupies a different room, out of visual contact, when a loud exclamation, “*&!@#!” is emitted. The average woman, upon hearing this, might say “are you o.k.?” reconfirming A type status. The woman studying human psychology on the other hand, waits. Seconds later, the male appears. He is limping but no words emanate from his being. Now that I am at the advanced stage of study, I appreciate that there might be many other variables contributing to his inability to communicate. For instance, had he dropped a hammer on his foot ,this might compromise his masculinity, his status, such that he would be admitting failure, causing shame. We all want to avoid that!

Alternatively, a small person, who shall remain nameless, accidentally injured him, which means that we cut out the shame / embarrassment factor. Why then, does he not feel the need to volunteer information about the episode? If there is no further response, you're stuck with an E type.

Possibly, I am someone that he wouldn't choose to share with, knowing that he would not receive a sympathetic hearing, that I might scoff or belittle him in some manner, add to his humiliation quotient perhaps? Perish the thought! Would the outcome be any different if there were a different individual present to communicate with, be that an adult or child, friend or acquaintance, human or feline? A response to any of the above would zap you into C type status, or possibly B type, if your response was expansive, appropriate, invited additional questions or in any other manner was indicative of reciprocal exchange. It is all very mysterious.

As a broad rule of thumb any 'oh' that spouse utters, is rarely followed by any further explanation, with the exception of something related to work or computers. This only applies, if when he turns around to see me waiting there, I make it visually obvious that I am waiting. This means that my body and demeanour oozes 'waiting.' It helps if I have an excited and expectant face, as if I am really interested in what he might be willing to share.

Beware. If you find yourself oozing to extract a response, then you are dealing with a C type. If you are ooze free, then you may find yourself in the fortunate position of sharing your life with a B type. When the words finally splutter out in a faulting manner, it is also very important to reinforce this positive step in the right direction. Make sure that you laugh, if appropriate, heartily too, enjoy the joke, whatever it was. [?]

You could practice right now, screw up your eyes, open your mouth 'ha, ha, ha, oh yes, very funny indeed!' I hope your body is chuckling too, although I've found that a general shoulder shake is sufficient to get the message across to B and C types. To ensure that this exchange will be repeated, it must be immediately and positively reinforced. These first tentative steps at reciprocal communication, are the gateway to all kinds of future communications of great value. If you are truly fortunate, it may be possible, given the passage of time, to generalize this skill to other similar situations, such as the physical damage caused by low flying books. Know that your efforts will not go unrewarded and that after many years of careful schooling, you might be well on the way from changing your C type to maybe a B type. If you're lucky, consistent and persistent. This kind of task is not for the faint hearted, you are the mistress of your own destiny.

Meanwhile, I watch his [my] son's progress, from my vantage point in the kitchen. Since he's autistic and has a speech delay, he's probably a Z type, right at the bottom of the heap, the extreme form of the male of the species. I hear a heavy thud as he changes his gait from 'walking down the stairs' mode [translation = vertical descent] to 'walking on flat' mode. [translation = forward horizontal movement] He bumps into the trampolene but recovers, veers into the sideboard but bounces off with merely a glancing blow. He continues in a forward motion but is progressing at an unfortunate tangent, which brings him into contact with the door jam, as usual. The clunk of his forehead covers the quieter impact of his foot and knee. He teeters over backwards onto his bottom, hard. He shakes his head, just like in a cartoon before standing and continuing his journey to the kitchen, or wherever it is that he was going, that he's probably forgotten about by now. Through the virtual mist, my body materializes within his field of vision and he startles. I don't know if he was seeking me out, or any other human being for that matter. It may be mere happenstance, but now that I've appeared, he's willing to communicate with me.
“Hey Mom!”
“Hello dear.”
“You know what?” This is looking hopeful, “what?”
“I um, er, I……” Oh dear, off to such a promising start but he's stumbled at the first fence. This might take a while.
“Well, I was coming down stairs, down, down, er,… I was walking….er,….. and then this wall hit me and I am hurted, hurt, yes hurt, but not too bad, it was an accident, I think? I am o.k. now, it din hurt that much really.” He positions himself in a half crouch beneath me, as I lean over him in a question mark to get a better look at his forehead damage. I lift the hank of hair but his hand reaches up to my forearm, locking my eyes into his, “don worry mom, I o.k., I fine, really!” He pauses momentarily, to check that I comprehend [?] before stumbling off on his own personal business.

Blimey! Where did that all come from? Thousands of dollars spent on therapy and now look, my son has metamorphosed into an A type. In years to come, I'm sure his partner, whoever he or she, may turn out to be, will consider it a sound investment.

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