Me and my kiddo

Me and my kiddo

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Video Games: In the Screen Zone

Should there be an adult imposed limit?  I feel unease sometimes when my intense kiddo gets hooked on a game and it's an every-spare-minute kind of thing.  During these times, his hyper-energetic body is still for hours.  I've been keen on allowing him to develop self discipline.  I'm very consistent regarding getting his responsibilities addressed first, so I don't have a challenge there.  My goal here is to review and make sure there are no concerns that would indicate a need for intervention.

• I notice that his concentration has improved and that he does turn the Wii/computer/iPhone off if given enough time (often hours).  That tells me he is capable of noticing, at some point, that he's tired of the screen time.
• He is particularly captivated by a game where there is a story.  These games are different in that they are often played with my husband and last six or more hours (Zelda, Myst, Riven).  In these cases he directs my husband and thus he can move his body more, plus there's the whole positive of interacting with Daddy.  I don't see any issues with sleeping or excess energy after these episodes.  He is jazzed with the story and will gladly tell anyone about what he's figured out with Daddy.
• "Experts" recommend minimal "screen time" as a health issue.  My son doesn't have any weight issues.  His ability to concentrate and focus has been improving.  While he is physically still during video-game times, he is highly energetic at other times and doesn't seem to lose self control more after long sessions.  His energy level just has more of an active/quiet swing instead of a medium active constancy.
• Video games seem to help my son foster persistence in fine motor activities.  While he may go off to college unable to tie his shoes, he is passionate about improving his skills on these games.
• The graphics are rapid, flashing and un-natural (causing some kids to have seizures).  Un-natural does not necessarily mean damaging.  Again, I'm not noticing any negative physical consequences from extended screen time.
• There is inappropriate material on video games which can correlate with aggression.  We do not have television and thus all video / video games are intentionally purchased / known to us.  So, those games with gushing blood, beating up policemen etc aren't among his options.
• Video games can be highly educational.  He has expressed occasional interest in mathematics, vocabulary, and typing games.

While I might prefer a more equal ratio with other activities, I don't want to set an artificial limit unless I can show the need.  (Regarding setting limits, this is a great post from a friend about the "Life, Limb & Rights Principle.")  As I've been thinking about this issue, I've found many more of the positive aspects of video games came to mind.  When my son was younger, we did have a half hour of screen time limit because it just seemed to consume him.  He'd zone out and seem to lose the ability to disconnect.  While it can take awhile, I think he has that ability now.  He'll get up and leave these activities.  Nurturing those skills of self perception and control will serve him well and I judge them as more valuable than a consistent activity flow.  So... I'll continue to turn over my phone when he wants to play "Angry Birds" (the one that has captivated all his after-school free time for a week)!  It's good to pay attention to these Mommy feelings and figure out if there is a real reason for concern or just a mistaken response.  My conclusion, in this case, makes it much easier for me share in gleeful smiles without any nagging worries :)
Intently playing while I wrote this post!

Writing down some of the clues to figure out the game's mystery.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Guide Dog Play

I just said good bye to a blind friend and her guide dog after a lovely visit and... my son fell in love with "shaking hands".  It took him a bit to get the hang of things because dogs don't shake hands like people, but it was pretty cute to watch him try!

Other things to share:
This weeks Objectivist Round Up.
Cute antics:
• while having trouble eating an apple, he commented "It's like eating a submarine."  (??? He clarified it's big and hard to chew.)
• hearing a grandfather clock and insisting, "There must be a church nearby."
• sorting good from bad apples in the back yard, he called inside "What about oxidized apples?" (Dad's been teaching him about rusting and Cameron wasn't sure if the brown apples joined the ones with holes in the trash pile.)
• breaking into song at our neighbor's house, "I'm getting married in the morning... Get me to the church on time."  (Um, ya, an ironic choice to pick from his repertoire of old musicals.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Jonah Days

It seems like I've been hearing about a run of Jonah Days (with friends) and it made me think of how I juggle all the MUST requirements of being a mom when I'm sick, miserable, cracking, near either a full scale CABOOM or an inglorious KERSPLAT!!!  I'm sure that's never happened to other moms, but, just in case, I shall share what has worked for me.

First, what is a Jonah Day?  One can certainly imagine the biblical Jonah was not having the best day when hanging out in the belly of a whale, but I first heard the term "Jonah Day" from one of my favorite literary characters, Anne of Green Gables.  The basic idea is that everything has gone wrong and the person in question is thoroughly frazzled.   Here are some quotes from the chapter "A Jonah Day" which is actually in the sequel Anne of Avonlea.

"It really began the night before with a restless, wakeful vigil of grumbling toothache. When Anne arose in the dull, bitter winter morning she felt that life was flat, stale, and unprofitable.
She went to school in no angelic mood. Her cheek was swollen and her face ached. The schoolroom was cold and smoky, for the fire refused to burn and the children were huddled about it in shivering groups...
[Horrible school day where she both disappoints herself by loosing her temper and winds up with literal fireworks exploding in the classroom when she tells a student to put a package in the furnace which she thought contained forbidden sweets.]...
Anne, by what somebody has called "a Herculaneum effort," kept back her tears until she got home that night. Then she shut herself in the east gable room and wept all her shame and remorse and disappointment into her pillows. She wept so long that Marilla grew alarmed, invaded the room, and insisted on knowing what the trouble was.
"The trouble is, I've got things the matter with my conscience," sobbed Anne. "Oh, this has been such a Jonah day, Marilla. I'm so ashamed of myself. I lost my temper... I feel that I have humiliated myself to the very dust. You don't know how cross and hateful and horrid I was..."
Marilla passed her hard work-worn hand over the girl's glossy, tumbled hair with a wonderful tenderness. When Anne's sobs grew quieter she said, very gently for her,
"You take things too much to heart, Anne. We all make mistakes but people forget them. And Jonah days come to everybody... This day's done and there's a new one coming tomorrow, with no mistakes in it yet, as you used to say yourself. Just come downstairs and have your supper. You'll see if a good cup of tea and those plum puffs I made today won't hearten you up."

Anne during her Jonah Day
(Anne of Avonlea film, highly recommended.)

So, whatever the set of trials, a Jonah Day indicates they've passed beyond the normal and are testing the coping abilities in a rather spectacular way.  What to do?

1. Perspective
When I'm experiencing a Jonah Day, the first thing I try to do is keep my perspective and often through using humor.  I try to smirk and wonder "what next" because I know I'm going to find this hysterical in anywhere from a day to a decade.  It takes the edge off the wallowing, adding that touch of the comic, and places the focus on a future fun / action i.e. no extra attention for the misery.

2. Critical Actions Only
What MUST get done?  This is sooooooooooo much easier now that I have a six year old.  Toddlers, babies don't care so much if your body aches and making their meal saps whatever energy a virus has left you with.  The key point here is to be ruthless with identifying the critical actions and letting the rest go until you're in a better physical/mental space to do anything without spitting nails or melting to goo.

3. TLC
This is a glorious chance to both accept and self-bestow Tender Loving Care (TLC)!  When I was a nurse in the hospital, I would literally tuck patients in, snugging the blankets close around them.  My patients were moms desperately worried about the child growing inside them, anxious about a million what-if questions... It is in the most trying times that a little TLC goes a long way to give strength and comfort.

So... I hope that's been a bit helpful.  I remember days where a flu had me so low that it took me a half hour to move from the couch to the kitchen and I had a toddler who was learning lots about patience and what being sick looks like!  I remember days where I made so many mistakes that I thought just one more note of a whiny voice would make me lava lady with my home reduced to ashes.  But, I've never been in a place where a Jonah Day touched my sense of life.  A Jonah Day does not have the power to change the nature of my joy in living.  It doesn't even have the power to dampen my spirits unless I let it and being a mom has given me plenty of practice at keeping that grin :)

And... when I'm caught unawares, bowled over, sometimes literally knocked flat in the sand... I try to laugh and to remember how joyous it is to have a child that loves me so much, that  he wants to fire every neuron in his brain with the feeling of being close to mommy.  (From my "Manners for Sensory Seekers" post)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Woo Hoo, The Party's On!

My son liked the new social skills group and decided to invite the kids to his birthday party which means it's on!  (He was so wishy washy about wanting anyone to come, that it was in danger of being canceled.)

Other things to share:
This week's Objectivist Round Up

Cute antics:
• telling the four laughing adults enjoying more complex humor, "Too many jokes for me!"
• informing us, "The sun is huger than a telephone pole."
• referring to my car in a way that indicates he concurs with Andrew, "this big, old piece of junk." (Harumph!)
• asking our buddy in the back seat, "Wanna play a war game in total darkness?  I bet I'd get to your face first!"  (She declined the face poking contest.)
• starting the brainstorming for making the bi-weekly room cleaning more pleasant with, "I could pay you four or fifteen dollars."

After he just pulled off his head gear!  It was drizzling when he walked in, so he covered his whole head with a plastic bag.

This is a description of the social skills group:
Social Language Groups 
Skillfully orchestrated weekly peer group sessions enhance self esteem of elementary, middle and high school aged children as they improve their social interaction skills. These groups foster the ability to make and maintain friendships in a fun and supportive setting. A certified speech-language pathologist implement research based methods via engaging activities to meaningfully facilitate the acquisition of critical social skills such as: initiating and maintaining conversations, turn-taking, using non-verbal language, self regulation, feeling good about yourself, having patience, giving compliements, understanding the emotions of others and negotiating.
Systematically introduced topics build upon each other from week to week. This provides a framework for learning and opportunities for practice. Parents/caregivers are provided individualized feedback after each meeting so that newly acquired skills can be readily practiced and generalized at home. During the session, data is regularly collected and reviewed to guarantee progress.
After completion of each eight to ten week session, parents/caregivers will receive a written progress report that summarizes positive changes made in areas such as: non-verbal communication, giving compliments, accepting criticism, polite interruptions, making introductions, conversational turn taking, conflict resolution, changing conversational topics, asking questions, joining in, losing, being a good listener, etc.

Monday, September 13, 2010

GTD for Kids: Part 1

My dear husband is a Getting Things Done (GTD) zealot.  He ranks it as the second most influential book in his life, right after Atlas Shrugged.  My kiddo is getting to the age where he's interested in longer term projects than getting a foot to his mouth or even ice cream out of the fridge.  He wants... expensive legos or even skills and that takes some planning.

GTD is all about keeping track of what you want to get done and accomplishing your goals as effectively as possible.  That's a lot more complicated for an adult, but the basic skills of capturing ideas, placing them in a trusted system, and acting upon them are worth establishing early.  So... I was thinking it might be good to start that process and that's just about where I am i.e. I am starting the process.

First, we sat down with my son to get all the things that he'd like to be different.  He's a very talkative kid and not at all short on ideas, so this took a bit of time.  As soon as we got a kernel of an idea, we'd write it down and move on though.  Then we asked which of these things he wanted to work on now and which were in a "someday" or "maybe" category.  Voila, we had a project list!  As we started tackling the projects, we looked for "next actions" that he could take.  That wound up with many of the projects getting moved over to the maybe category as he didn't want to do that many things :)  (We also found that some of them spurred new projects as he figured out that a goal had a few parts.)

This was the project list:
Learn how to use bolts to make things
Buy legos
Be a lego expert
Finish typing program
Learn Chess
Earn money quicker
Read expert books
Learn to have jiffier hands
Get first stripe in Jiu JItsu
Learn counting by 2 better
Be able to tread water for one minute
Be able to swim the length of the pool
Learn woodworking
Learn masonry
Learn to drive a car
Start a dog walking business

At first, he picked the first five to work on (after we'd had a long discussion about a dog walking business which got moved into the "maybe" category).

"Buy legos" was broken down into completing his wish list (already done) and earning money.  For earning money there was: walking small dogs, picking up apples from our trees, chopping vegetables, digging up weeds, watering plants, getting the mail, and helping neighbors.  Each option was discussed and moved either to a "next action" step or deferred into the "someday maybe" pile.  (These terms are familiar to GTD readers and I highly recommend the book for both more clarity and as a productivity tool.) Each of the other projects he wanted to act upon were discussed as well.  So... what next.

Today, I went to the store and got him his own file box/ folders and we're planning to make his own inbox together that he can decorate.  I've printed out wide lined paper that a first grader can write on easily, so he'll have a good place for capturing ideas too.

So... that's where we're at so far.  I think it will be great for him to have his own place for starting to work on the skills for being efficacious.  It's very much a work in progress though and I'd love to hear how other parents have taught productivity skills to their kids.

Waiting to learn about trams during our lovely weekend visit to Portland

Friday, September 10, 2010

Musicals Medley

We now have Gigi, Music Man, South Pacific, Hello Dolly, My Fair Lady, By Jeeves, Sound of Music, Slipper and the Rose, Joseph, King and I, Oklahoma, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Singing in the Rain in the repertoire for... name that musical!  My kiddo has been having a blast showing me how hard it is to stump him when I sing pieces of songs or make CDs to challenge him the car.  Fun! :)

Other things to share:
This week's Objectivist Round Up.
Gotta giggle!
Cute antics:
• persistently calling the pawn chess piece, "coupons".

Having just written this post about inferences challenges, I was absolutely amazed when my son managed to figure out these pictures and fill in the appropriate letter!
jo_ peson sitting at a desk (job)
fo_ lighthouse with lines across (fog)
fi_ man with some tools (fix)
lim_ man with a cane (limp)
swif_ person running (swift)

(It's a self correcting Montessori material, the wrong letters won't fit.)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hyperlexia: A Cozy Fit

As usual, I'm keeping up to date on the latest research studies, treatments, and therapies recommended for Autism and, also as usual, rarely do I find myself persuaded that there is enough evidence to change our plan.  Autism is just such a broad category (spectrum), that the term tells you little about the particular kid and his/her needs.  Hyperlexia, however, has been a much more fruitful area for investing my time. (His diagnosis post.)  Of course, kids remain unique, but the advise and resources I find on the hyperlexia parenting list are almost always useful.

For example, I recently read this article which is just about the best summary of the reading issue that I've found.  Here are some key points:

"In his early developmental history, the hyperlexic child is not as alert to social cues as the average child. His gaze following, his ability to establish joint attention and his interpretation of posture, tone of voice, facial expression and other non-verbal cues lag behind his contemporaries. He's not a good psychologist, and he spends most of his time learning about abstract concepts. He has good memory for spatial as well as auditory patterns, and like a little scientist, he sets about investigating his world, and in the process discovers a lot of linguistic patterns, including the relationship between written language and the spoken word.
By the time the average hyperlexic arrives in first grade, he has been reading fluently for nearly three years, but he has only had about two years of conversational practice, because he started speaking late. This means he is ahead of his contemporaries in decoding written text and recognizing the relationship between written and spoken words. But he is years behind in drawing social inferences."

Yep, that about sums it up!  I do love my little scientist and he just started first grade :)  He came home the other day distraught because when he went to the office with a bloody nose, the staff joked in a friendly way, "So, you punched some one?"  Forget the smile, the friendly body language, the tone... that was an accusation in his book and he was upset. There's a reason my idiom dictionary is now in it's second volume.  My literal guy is learning though and he just sparkles when he uses an idiom... or makes one up for himself :)

"...Hyperlexic children are actually rather good at language. They pick out formal regularities amazingly well. They understand perfectly well how language works, as an abstract system of contrasts -- often better than the average person. What they don't understand is what people use it for! They have a people problem.
In order to help a hyperlexic child, you have to first put yourself in his shoes and find out what he experiences. In many cases, the problem is not with the mechanics of language, or even with the meaning of individual words. The problem is paying attention to the context.

Because it's much harder to learn language without access to the contextual cues, many hyperlexic children experience delays in acquiring language. However, once they do learn to speak, they often speak surprisingly well. Many idiosynracies in their speech are directly attributable to problems with joint attention, perspective taking and reference that changes with context.  They are not so much language problems, as problems of seeing the other person's point of view.
For instance, some hyperlexic children, (though by no means all), have difficulty learning to use first and second person correctly. If the caretaker says: "You want a sandwich?" The child may reply: "Yes, you want a sandwich," referring to himself as "you". The problem is not that the child doesn't understand what the caretaker means by "you". The caretaker uses "you" to refer to the child. The child doesn't see why "you" should mean something else when he is speaking. He doesn't understand that it's a matter of perspective taking -- that "you" means something different depending on who is speaking."

Yep.  I think almost all kids do this, but he was several years late in finally understanding pronouns and it certainly confused peers who tried to talk to him about toys.  So, kids thought he was odd and adults?  Well, most people just noticed the bumps in social interaction (lack of greetings, poor body language, topic changes), but it was baffling for me to talk with a kid who could read eighty page books and use high school vocabulary while talking like a toddler.  I'm serious, at four his vocabulary tested at the level for a 17 year old.

"There is a kind of boot-strapping going on when we read a text, or listen to someone else speaking. We draw inferences about the person's circumstances from what he says, and then we use this inferred context in order to interpret other things that he says. For instance...consider the following exchange:
"How much are the d--n sheep gonna cost?"
"You're outta luck. The price has gone up!" (From Wedding by the Sea).
If you ask the average reader whether the person who inquired about the price of sheep wants to buy sheep or sell sheep, the answer you'll get is: "He wants to buy them." But the hyperlexic child might not be able to draw this inference, even though he knows all the words in the passage and can use them properly as applied to his own life.
How does the average reader know? He can put himself in the shoes of a buyer or a seller, and he realizes that when the price goes up, this is lucky for the seller, but not for the buyer.
If we want to help a hyperlexic child to understand the meaning of "luck" as it appears in the average reading passage, we need to teach him more about people and what motivates them...  For instance, if you want to make sure the child understands the words "deck" [previously referenced as having 3 definitions] and "luck" [previously referenced as based on point of view], one way to do it is to take him out on the deck, bring out a deck of cards, and play a game of chance... It's a social problem, not a reading problem. If we manage to resolve it, the child will benefit in all areas of life, not just reading... "

Ah, well we're certainly working on it :)  It can take two hours to read an Ameleia Bedelia book because of all the perspective changing which utterly baffles him!  It's just amazing to me how delightfully different kids can be and, while hyperlexia may be a bit more outside the norm, it's just one of the things that makes him unique and fun and different and a joy for me to parent.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Jerusalem Artichokes

Yipee, I found these funky looking veggies after months of talking to different grocers.  They're certainly fun, but I probably didn't need to get 20... just a little over enthusiastic :)

Other things to share:
This week's Objectivist Round Up.

Cute antics:
• "I know how to read very uncivilized books." (Um, I'm guessing uncivilized = complicated.)
• musing, if he broke his head from being crushed by my bronze statue, "That wouldn't be right because there would be lots of commotion."
• telling me, "You're as goofy as a grocery store."  (Oh?)
• when Andrew was squeezing me so hard that I said he was breaking my back in two, Cameron yelled downstairs, "It's good exercise, Mom!"