Me and my kiddo

Me and my kiddo

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tool Box: Social Stories

Everyone who has experienced parenting a toddler knows about their adherence to routines.  You change one little thing and the shrieks reverberate, "NO! NO! NO!"  It's supposed to be the way it was before.  Well, kids with autism tend to keep that adherence to routine much longer.  The concretes are much more part of their world.  For example, I'll never forget when my husband was painting something in the garage and I needed to park in the driveway for a few days.  Every day, for a full week, I dealt with a half hour of ballistic crying when I returned home with my son.  The car belonged in the garage.  It was in the nature of the universe for him (part of the metaphysically given ).  This was as traumatizing as it would be for us waking up to find a leopard print sky, almost any concrete (including the car's location) was part of the essential stability of his world.

Hmmm, what to do?  How about pre-setting a routine?  Enter "social stories", one of my most useful tools in my parenting tool box.  There are a huge variety of social stories based on the individual needs of the child, but I found this summary of the essentials:

Social Stories are a tool for teaching social skills to children with autism and related disabilities. Social stories provide an individual with accurate information about those situations that he may find difficult or confusing. The situation is described in detail and focus is given to a few key points: the important social cues, the events and reactions the individual might expect to occur in the situation, the actions and reactions that might be expected of him, and why. The goal of the story is to increase the individual’s understanding of, make him more comfortable in, and possibly suggest some appropriate responses for the situation in question. "

I know autistic kids aren't the only ones who deal with exasperatingly admirably persistent traits. Even those children who aren't officially "slow to adapt" can find more ease and comfort when they get a heads up on what's coming.  This is an awesome tool to make parenting life easier!  My best success has been with my dentist social story, so I'll review that one here with bracketed comments and a few of the pictures:

So, we start with a basic title: How Cameron Goes to the Dentist
[Pictures of the sign, the front door - setting the visual memory of what he'll see]

"Cameron has teeth."
[Naturally, we need to start with the kid's context.  A nice happy picture is good here... gotta see those teeth :)]

"We try to keep Cameron's teeth clean at home, but sometimes we need to go to the dentist to get them very clean.  This is Cameron's dentist's office." [Pictures of waiting room and front desk]

"After we get to the dentist's office, we go into a cleaning room."
[Picture of room with hygienist, looking for that rich setting of concretes.]

"Cameron sits in Mommy's lap in a special chair."
[More setting the scene, familiarizing with the context - another happy picture is good.]

"A dental hygienist gets teeth very clean.  Amy is Cameron's dental hygienist.  She uses a special toothbrush to get teeth clean."
[Pictures of Amy and the tooth brush]

"Dentists take care of teeth.  Dr. Walker is Cameron's dentist.  After Amy gets Cameron's teeth clean, Dr. Walker looks at them to make sure they are healthy.  Cameron needs to open his mouth very wide!"
[Picture of the dentist]

"Cameron gets a special toy after Dr. Walker looks at his teeth."
[Picture of toy box]

Voila!  We read the book over and over.  We point to the pictures and talk about his teeth, what happens in each place and in what order.  I answer any questions he brings up during the reading.  Finally, the pre-set routine allows comfort, smiles, and a much more pleasant experience for all concerned.

Taking my son into the dentist changed drastically.  Previously, we'd talked about it and reviewed the plans and he'd made it to the cleaning room and had maybe two teeth cleaned  before all the new input of the situation was too much and he'd start crying with distress.  (That was three visits spaced over a year.)  After the social story, we walked in and he was all grins checking off the boxes in his mind.  We arrived and he pointed out the signs and the door, just like in his story.  We walked in and the waiting room / front desk were already familiar.  His hygienist came out and he knew: who she was, where we were going, and that his only job was to keep his mouth open.

With a digital camera, a half hour at the computer, and plenty of the normal parent-child reading time, these stories have been powerful tools.  On a side note, they were an absolute hit in his pre-school classroom as his classmates loved the series too!  His classmates learned how Cameron goes to the doctor, makes popcorn, practices karate, and learns swimming.  I haven't needed as many social stories in Kindergarden (moving on to social contracts since his context has expanded - a different post to come), but I just wrote a social story today about going out to recess.  That will be a new skill for him since he hasn't mastered controlling his body around other children in active situations.  We've laid the ground work for him to understand the cognitive issues (body language, rules for personal space / games, etc.) and now it's all about practice.  The social story lets him practice in his mind beforehand and gain comfort with the setting and concretes involved.

Any time a young child is dealing with a new situation that could be challenging, this is a potentially useful tool to keep in mind.  Certainly, we can't visit every place before hand, take pictures, and teach our children what to expect, nor would we want to deprive them of the opportunity to learn how to adapt to the unexpected.  We can help the young child grow in their comfort with different situations though and thus nurture their development toward handling those situations on their own.

If you're having a challenging situation where a social story might help or you have tried this, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.  My goal is both to share knowledge and gain from the parenting experience of others.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

An Ode to Zelda

I couldn't have had a more leisurely holiday and Zelda for the Wii has been the key.  My husband and son are absolutely mesmerized!  So, the day before our holiday party... I had four hours to roll dough and toss apples and happily tinker while they enjoyed a quest filled with quality father-son time.  Our holiday was fully festive with presents and a small feast for six guests and lots of cozy visiting time.  Now, it's the day after and I'm getting caught up on house and home to-dos while they're Wii focused again.  It's been so leisurely and pleasant and, whenever they take a break, I'm more than ready to have some play time.  While Andrew slept in this morning, Cameron and I even finished all the thank you cards together.  I'm feeling like power mom!  It's amazing how much you can do with some concentrated time breaks!

Other notes to share:

This week's delightful Objectivist Roundup:

and, the best of this week's "cute antics":

• yelling "Want to see me drowning!"  (Um, no!  This was his gleeful way of communicating that he was going to hold his breath under water.)

• coining new playful insults with calling me a "tickly gosh" and "Mrs. Trombone"  (I was wounded to the quick :) )

• telling me a sample of my 85% chocolate went to his dumpster

• asking "Why do M&Ms only have one m on them?" 

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Terminology: The Thinking Brain

I think my husband first came up with the terms "thinking brain" and "feeling brain" about two months ago.  My immediate response was unease as this seemed to establish the idea of a mind-body dichotomy (  Cameron has absolutely latched on to the terms and really likes talking about his thinking brain and sighting examples of when he's used it well.  For example, he recently got sealants on his teeth and was absolutely crowing about how strong his thinking brain had been because he knew it hurt a bit but was better for him in the long run.  I love seeing that pride in his accomplishments.  He also seems to love the idea of exercising his thinking brain, making it stronger, helping him become an airplane engineer (latest passion, he's moved on from wanting to be a circus acrobat)!

So, we've done lots of talking about how both "brains" are important and all the wonderful things that feelings offer.  He is so intensely joyful and has no difficulty grasping that feelings are good too.  He also understands, at some level, that feelings are not thinking i.e. they just happen and need to be evaluated before action.  While we're working with these terms, I'm curious what language other Objectivist parents have used.  If exercising their brain, making thinking stronger, or somehow pinpointing the cognitive issue has come up for other parents, I'd love to hear how you've handled the issue in the comments.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Top Three Parenting Books

I had to start this post after midnight because the ideas were spinning in my mind and I just couldn't get to sleep!  Think I'm having fun?  :)

1. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

These ladies have it down for communicating skills in an easily accessible manner.  I haven't found any book that so beautifully teaches a parent how to keep the joy in parenting.  I also love their book Liberated Parents, Liberated Children: Your Guide to a Happier Family which is much more of a principles-in-action book.  I recommend doing what I did (by accident).  I read the "How to Talk.." book first (the more abstract presentation) followed by "Liberated Parents..." (concretes in an accessible, storyish format).  Finally, I re-read the "How to Talk" book again which really cemented everything together.  It reminds me of Peikoff ( talking about shuttling from the abstract to the concrete and back again.  In applying the principles of this book, I have taken the authors' advice and copied their "quick reminder" pages.  Each week, I review the principles from this book (and the other two I'll mention).  I then identify an area where I think I can improve or an example of an instance that week in which I utilized a particular principle.  I find this highly helpful in making sure that I'm maintaining principled parenting.

2. Raising Your Spirited Child Rev Ed: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
Cameron is intense.  This book just nails the refraiming issue i.e. looking at a behavior or trait in its positive light.  I review several segments each week, but here are two paraphrased items that give the gist of what I'm trying to incorporate in my parenting.

An intense spirited child needs to hear phrases like:
You are enthusiastic.
You are expressive and lively.
You are very upset, but you are a problem solver and will figure out what to do.
Being intense does not mean being aggressive.
I'm wondering if you are feeling anxious, angry, sad (or whatever the emotion might be).
Your body gets very excited.

When intense kids hear these messages over and over, they are able to turn them into "I" messages and tell themselves:

I am getting upset
I'm going into the red zone.
I can be angry without hurting someone.
I am really excited.
I like being enthusiastic.
My blood is starting to boil.  I need to step out of here.
I'm feeling crabby.
I experience very strong emotions, but I don't have to let them overwhelm me.

A persistent spirited child needs to hear phrases like:
You really stick to things that interest you.
You are committed and decisive.
You know what you want.
You're assertive.
Your friends will never talk you into trouble unless you want it.
You are independent and capable.

When persistent kids hear these messages, you can give them the words to help them adapt:

That was a surprise!
That's not what I expected.  I need a minute to recover.
I'm having a tough time with this change.
Can we talk about this?
May I please have one more minute to finish?
I'm having trouble making this transition.
I just need to read two more pages and then I'll be ready to go.
Let's go over the plan for today.

I think this book helps any parent take that step back and reframe a child's actions, but it's especially important for those of us with "spirited" children, those who are "more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent, and energetic".  Seeing a child as persistent, instead of stubborn, helps one pause in pulling out the hair to see the value in the trait, articulate that, and thus quell the urge to shove one's door-blocking child help one's dear child to see themselves as possessing positive traits which they can use as assets.

3. Learning as we Grow: Enriching Education for Students With Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders by Nicole Beaurkens, Erin Roon, and Courtney Kowalczyk.
This book focuses on education for autistic children, but there  is one really golden skill that has universal appeal i.e. prompting in a way that gives children the greatest opporunity to develop their own thinking and problem solving skills.  They have a key sequence, from least to most parent centered, which has been so helpful to me in nurturing my son's growth.  Paraphrasing again:

1. Verbal comment about the situation (I see a yogurt bowl on the table.)
2. Indirect verbal prompt to think about possible solution / action (I wonder what you might do about being out of paper.)
3. Verbalize solution you might use (If I was missing a friend, I might write them a letter.)
4. Provide two options (Will you be rolling out the garbage tonight, or are you planning to set an alarm for the morning?)
5. Direct non-verbal prompt - make sure you have the child's attention by moving closer and getting on eye level  (Point to the students lining up for lunch.)
6. Direct verbal prompt with nonverbal ("Get a piece of paper." + point to the tray)

Automating prompting in this order takes lots of practice, but it has been so powerful and rewarding to see my son pause when given the chance and do the thinking.  This is the fun of parenting!   They're thinking and learning and becoming that independent person!!!  (Have I mentioned how much I love this job?!?)

There is another bonus idea I love from this book; creating a competence journal.  The idea is that children can fill this journal with notes, pictures, school work, any examples of success and refer back to it when feeling down.  Learning is hard work and entails multiple failures for every kid and I love this idea of having a treasure trove of positive memories that they can eventually maintain on their own.

Extra Note:
These are my three top parenting books, but they're not the three books I give to a new parent.  I do give the How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk book as my favorite "how to" book.  But, sleep is so precious and precarious during those first months (years?) that my second pick for new parents is Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc. Weissbluth.  While this sleep researcher is not the most lucid writer, I have found the information to be consistently effective (to my great delight) and often counterintuitive (which is why it's a resource I keep handy).  Finally, Going to Sleep on the Farm is a truly delightful book for parents to read with a young child.  The beautiful rhythm of the words makes it so pleasant to both read and hear and the pictures are enchanting as the parent sees so much more than the child, but both identify with this charming bed time story.

So... now it's almost 1:30AM and I've finished the rough draft.  Hopefully, I've gotten enough ideas out of my head to take Dr. Weisssbluth's advice and get some sleep :)

Follow up -
I managed a few hours of successful slumber before I was awakened by something that felt like a giant bug! It turned out to be a puffy winter coat and rough zipper enclosing my child who was decked from shoes to backpack at 6:47AM and pleased as could be with himself for his new pre-breakfast accomplishment.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Tinkering, tinkering...

Ha, ha!  I figured out pictures!  This is my beloved bronze surrounded by holiday cards.  Now, I'll try to fix the holiday letter. [Some success... I'll keep tinkering as I make new posts.]

Holiday Letter

I do the annual holiday letter a little differently, but I think it's one of those things that fits my blog title and speaks for itself :)  I figure that its a good way to review the players of interest for this blog.

Hello to all our friends and family,
We have a kindergardener in the house and a Microsoft employee and hmmm, a happy art owner.  There have been lots of exciting developments this year!  Once again, I've reviewed the year's calendar and come up with a multiple choice quiz.  So, here's a fun review of our news for everyone!  :-)
1. This year Cameron turned:
a) six and had a party at GymStarz Gymnastics
b) sixty and perfected his waltz
c) sixteen and picked a plane as his first wheels

2. Leaving Pelago to work at Microsoft: Live Labs, Andrew has:
a) been promoted to a manger after seven months
       b) contributed a key element to the recently released application      
          ( and bought his first rollerblades
       c) not worked a single weekend day and developed a passion for    
           both absinthe and martinis
        d) learned the ropes of commuting to Bellevue instead of Seattle along with the 
            literal ropes of a local climbing gym (passing his belay test)
e) become a fan of his wife's footsie jamies or all of the above

3.After a bumpy start, Cameron has successfully worked through challenges with the help of both his Kindergarden and special education teachers and spent time outside of school:
  1. perfecting his glockenspiel playing for Kindermusik class and his social skills through a nine month play-group-based curriculum
  2. trying out a soccer group and attending his first day camp (he wants to go to Outdoors For All camp for 10 weeks this summer)
  3. hiking, including exploring the Olympic Peninsula with the help of his new compass from the tooth fairy (two teeth lost and six wiggly so far)
  4. seeing the circus, completing projects in his "office" (above his bed) or a through d

4. Rachel and Andrew took a(n):
a) idyllic, surprise, solo trip each planned by the other
b) online History Through Art course 
c) tour of both Nucor Steel and the Satsop nuclear site
      d) dip into artistic bliss with the arrival of a bronze statue / pastel painting and   
          into our their muscle reserves to climb Mt. St. Helens
      e) pause in our routines for hosting pleasures with visits from blind friends, grandparents, and our in- 
          creasingly vibrant Objectivist social group
f) coffee break on the roof or a, b, c, d and e

5. Cameron and Rachel shared two heart warming trips to Connecticut for:
a) the birth of Rachel's best friend's first child and a joint Holiday / New years celebration
b) hurricane preparedness and bonfire safety

6. Rachel relished mom-hood, her baking passion (mmm, brown butter pumpkin cupcakes with maple pecan frosting), the annual family gathering in California for Thanksgiving / Hanukah, closing the legal nursing business, becoming an aunt, and extra fun with: 
a) watching the world figure skating championships live in LA with her dad
b) writing Cameron's idiom dictionary with all sorts of goofy pictures
      c) learning cheese making is too much work, but making yogurt and  
          jerky are easy staples
      d) hopping her personal jet to sample the world's top restaurants every night
          and sleep till noon every day, or just too content with life to depart for culi   
          nary travels... yet :)

We hope you've all had a wonderful year!
Happy Holidays,

Hmmm, definitely have some figuring out to do on the formatting and pictures, but I'm improving!

These are the works of art mentioned which have so enriched our lives this year:

Sunday, December 20, 2009


I didn't realize how much I had to learn.  The vast scope of knowledge involved in parenting is overwhelming.  I have read so many books and tried so many different actions and added some real winners to my parenting tool box.  I have also gained a true appreciation for the uniqueness of each child.  I realize how well I've perfected the skills of dealing with my high energy, high intelligence, low sensitivity kid.  I'll never forget vacillating about showing him the video of a live elephant birth and deciding to pose the question to him.  Describing the basics, I asked if that sounded scary or interesting.  The top volume, top energy response was, "INTERESTING!"  (This is not the child to need gentle descriptions or pause more than a minute after crashing himself into a wall.)  I do have a great deal of knowledge about autism as well, but I see that as very much a side issue to my son's development.  His mind his bright and willing to learn and I love being his buddy in the process.

OK, so I'm going to delve into learning about how to do stuff like pictures and underlining and links and all those blog-based skills.  Here's to a new adventure in learning :)

Goals 2 : SHARE

Cameron's budding understanding is so endearing and I like to share that pleasure with my son's "Cute Antics".  Of course, there is also an aspect of capture because I don't want to forget.  These are excerpts from the last few episodes from my updates:

• 7AM.  No kid in the bed.  No kid downstairs.  I found him rummaging in the trunk of my car and was informed, "I'm just hanging out."

• continuing the creative idioms with, "It's raining antlers means it's really sunny out."

• after hearing that it would take two lifetimes to travel to the sun, he concluded, "I'd get bored."

• noting three raccoons running across this road and yelling, "They're scampering!"  (Um, not a usual kindergarden word.)

• when I tried to get him to guess about a some surprise egg nog, we had the following exchange:
Rachel: I've got a surprise for you in the refrigerator that starts with E-G
Cameron: Egypt!
(Naturally, I deliver African countries with most meals, but after E-G-G-N, he got my original intent.)

• smugly saying, "I know you're talking to Daddy about my behavior."  (I was making no qualms about being noisy as I shared with Andrew how Cameron had both used his thinking to figure out the discomfort at the dentist was OK so he didn't hurt more later and had kept his body still.)

• defining a new word - "atackelness" = an attribute of a mommy that is hugging in a position where the child can't extricate himself

• "Lets call it a bang day." (He kept banging his head into things on accident.)

• Calling downstairs, "Make the electricity work!"  After diagnosing the problem, Cameron assured Andrew, "You can do it without a lightbulb."

• responding to one of Andrew's intentionally silly suggestions with a supremely knowing toned and elongated, "Ha, ha." (We were in stitches.  Maybe you had to be there, but just try imagining a six year old saying this with all the haughtiness of a dowager! :)  )

• Drawing Daddy his most elaborate picture yet with the primary focus being two giant eyes with three rings each which he made clear were for the pupil, iris, and sclera.  (Can you tell he asks Mom about anatomy a lot?  Hmmm, it looks a bit like a zombie, but I'd still put is as a cool compliment :) )

• "People are heavy.  So, if too many stood in one place, the ground would break."  (I never thought I'd be reassuring my child about the strength of the Earth in that way!)

• coining the word "rectangle-y".  (It so reminded me of "lightening-y" in Ratatouille.)

• spontaneously developing a passion for making games with rather distintive rules.  The pieces usually consist of vast amounts of different colored construction paper with various markings on them.
Here are the rules for the first of half a dozen games he made this week:
1. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10 players can play
2. The two blue tents are the good guys and the white paper that looks like a car is the bad guy
3. First, you flip up one of the rectangle shaped cards.
4. Second, you flip out one of the the square shaped ones with pictures on them.  Try not to flip up a green one becasue the green cards make you start over.
5. You look at the other players' colors.  If you notice they have a green, red, or orange one, the game starts over.  If  you see that they have a bad guy one and you have a good guy one, then try to fight off the bad guy.
6. If the other person doesn't do anything, then do that.  Follow what the other person does with their board.
7. Try to leap on the other players' bad guy with the target you have.
8. You keep on fighting until one of the players gets their person on top of their own pile.
9. Whoever gets the first one on top of the bad guy's pile wins and gets their player back before the other other players get their player home.
10. Whoever wins gets a cookie.
The end.  That's how you play the game.  Have fun playing.
Bonus rule: Babies can't play because there are little pieces that they could eat.

Goals 1 : CAPTURE

I want to capture fun incidents.  Both personal ones like this one from six years ago when we were new parents:

Adjustment Tales...  a new section for us to laugh as we learn.
The star of this week’s installment of “Adjustment Tales” is Andrew.  It seems his mind is trying to make him really aware of baby at night by convincing him that Cameron is in bed when he’s actually in the crib.  But we need a prop for this to work and his brain found the perfect prop to fool the sleepy Andrew... a pillow!  He has held the pillow and lovingly talked to the pillow.  However, I’m afraid I had to stop him when he got out of bed Friday night cradling the pillow and tried to tuck it into the crib with Cameron!  I couldn’t help laughing just a little bit, I know... my turn with come.

... and more general living incidents like this one from three years ago:

"Well, I beg to differ!"  
The window man had directed me to get dry silicone spray to help the sliding glass door slide.  There's this great, old codger at Home Depot who runs the key maker and considers himself top-fix-it-expert.  It just so happened, the silicone spray was under his work bench.  When he heard my intention, he got a huge grin and, with the air of ruling monarch, stopped me with the above statement.  Turning slowly around and settling himself comfortably on his stool, he demanded, "Do you grease your tires?!?!  No!  You don't want the door to slide, you want it to roll!  If you put a lubricant on it, it will slide and wear the wheels unevenly, causing an even bumpier ride.  What you want is steel wool!"  He was warming to his topic, clearly relishing his role as educational expert and ready to expound at length, but Cameron didn't appreciate his brilliance as much as I did.  The key line was growing with disgruntled customers.  His kingly pronouncements made perfect sense to me.  So, I promptly paid for his services in kind.  I expressed my deep gratitude, and while he beamed approval, side stepped round the stool, returned the silicone to the the shelf, and departed under his satisfied gaze.    What an endearing king-of-his-domain :)  
Capturing these incidents helps me remember how much fun I've been having living, both in the immediate sense of that week and when I look back over the years.

Getting Started

I like to play.  I have a very spirited son and I don't think I'm too shy on spunk myself.  As I have gained so much from reading the blogs of others, my goal in trying a blog is to capture insights and share both experience and knowledge.  I have sent out weekly email updates for over a decade, so I think regular posts won't be too challenging and I imagine this blog will serve the purpose of continuing to record and nurture my breadth of joy for living.

Key players-
Me: I have a passion for parenting.  As my career choice, I find improving this skill and relishing the process with a twinkle in my eye is supremely rewarding.  I also adore baking which mostly departs our home to bring cheer to school classrooms and my husband's work (especially due to my new focus on paleo nutrition).  I'm also a nurse, but in the process of wrapping up the last of my clinical practice.
Andrew is my husband of nearly a decade and a computer engineer (  I can't imagine loving him more.
Cameron is my six year old son.  High functioning autism puts no dent in his vim and vigor.  He is solid, exuberant thinking-in-motion.  I adore parenting him, even when his "spirit" is making the air sizzle.