Jun102011

Hooray for summer school

R. started summer school yesterday.  She is going to a different school, and she has to leave 40 minutes earlier.   The school is not that far, I could drive there in less than fifteen minutes.  So I called the bus company to ask why the trip was so long.  They said that 100 students were going to the school, so there were more kids to pick up in the morning.     I told them that I wanted to know where the bus was driving from the time my daughter gets picked up until she arrives at school.    They transferred me to the manager.   I’ve learned that when dealing with the bus company it is better to tell them
you are driving my non-verbal baby to school and I’m nervous rather than treating them like they are incompetent or screaming at them.  The manager told me that he could not tell me the route for security reasons.   So I told him  that her afternoon trip home during the regular school year takes 40 minutes, and she has to go to a neighborhood on the other side of the city.  I did not want her taking that route in the morning, during commute hours.  He finally told me that the bus only had pick-ups and drop-offs in our neighborhood.

Usually there are only kids from R.’s pre-school class on the bus.   I was worried that the elementary school kids might be rowdy or loud, but so far they all look too sleepy to get into any trouble.  It is a little premature, but I think I have met the best school bus driver on the planet.   He actually gave me a business card with his cell phone and the main bus number, and told me to call him if R. is going to be out.  He asked for my cell phone number and told me he would call me if he is running late.  I fought the urge to hug him.    Generally the bus is on time, but every few weeks we go through a patch of lateness.

I’m going to wait until next week to go to see the class.  I’d love to see it right away, but I know I would be a distraction while she is getting acclimated.   That’s one thing I hate about the start of a new semester.   She was in a really good mood when she came home yesterday, and that is a good sign.

We were funded for some respite hours and used a babysitter for the first time last weekend.  She works as an aid in a kindergarten SDC class.   It is kind of pathetic, R is four years old and this is the first time we ever left her with someone not related to us.   It went really well.  R. was in a great mood when we came home, she was hugging on the babysitter and I could see evidence of lots of playing.  I’m sure we will use her again, but one of our ABA therapists said she is available for babysitting, so I’m going to use her next.

May302011

Just a quick update

Summer vacation is here.   Friday we went to R.s classroom for an end of the year party.  The teacher made a slide show of all the pictures she took all year and showed it to all of us.  The kids liked watching it, but I think they liked the cupcakes more.

We also had our monthly ABA team meeting this week.  We decided to wait until after summer school to start all day potty training.  I’ll admit I kind of pushed for the delay after thinking about it a bit.  We have taken such a slow approach to potty training – we started in November, and she is just now up to sitting for two and half minutes.   It hasn’t even been a week at that length of time.  She was so aversive to sitting at first, and progress has been pretty easy lately.  I think it is worth waiting a few weeks and using that time to gradually work up to the five minutes like we have been doing.

R. never pointed.  In the past year she started pointing at things in books and naming them, and she also started using my finger to point.   Now she is pointing on her own.  Not all the time, but enough to be incredibly useful.  It kind of looks like she’s acting on a stage, her whole body is invested in the pointing motion and she gives me an expression that seems to say -hey I’m pointing pay attention.

Yesterday R. said to me Want chicken.  She won’t each chicken in any form, I could not think of a toy, so I just repeated it back to her with a questioning tone.  Want chicken? Then she said, Want chicken!  Bock bock! So I bocked like a chicken.  What a strange thing to ask for….

May252011

App review- My Play Chef

My Play Chef for the iPad is a fun cooking app.   You can cook pancakes,  pasta and cupcakes and you can make sandwiches.   Each food item has its own set of interactive ingredients.


You tap the egg and it cracks, swipe the butter and it slices, you can tilt or swipe the measuring cup of flour or other items and it pours.   When all the ingredients are in the bowl you stir them and then the batter gets poured into a cupcake pan and put in the oven.  After they are cooked you can decorate them to your hearts content.  There’s plenty of colors of frosting and decorations.  R. is partial to purple.


The pancakes have similar ingredients, but a frying pan shows up instead of an oven and you get to flip the pancake.   When it is cooked, you can add toppings.


You get to select what type of pasta you want to cook.  R. always chooses spaghetti.  The water in the pan “boils” and you “dump” it into a colander.   Like the others, you can add toppings after it is cooked.


R. likes to assemble the sandwiches, she will slice the bread, add all the meats and cheeses, and pull off a lettuce leaf, slice tomato and onion and then she’ll add all the condiments.


You can save your creations for later in the app or in your photo album, or you can “eat” them.   When you select the eat option, each time you tap on the food a bite is taken out.  R. likes this.  I find it kind of ironic, because she will not eat a sandwich or pancakes, she acts like cooked pasta is a pile of eels.  She will only lick frosting off a cupcake.

I did purchase the paid version of this app.  The only difference I can see is that the free version has ads.   R. ended up on the National Guard website, so I figured I better upgrade it.   At $1.99, it is cheaper than any real play food we have.

There are limited options in this app, you can turn off the music and that is it.   For instructions there is a question mark in the upper right corner.  Pressing that will give written instructions.  I think it would be good to have an option that spoke the directions out loud.

It took about a week before R. could do all the steps herself.  You do have to do things in a certain order during the “cooking” process.   Once she had the ability and confidence to do that, the entire program was fun, not just the decorating.    I think this app is great because it is fun, and it also works on motor planning, fine motor skills and even pretend play.

May192011

Summer of potty training

School ends next week, it seems too soon.   Summer school (ESY) starts two weeks later, it is at a different school.  We will have the same teacher, so that puts my mind at ease.   ESY starts on a Thursday, and they extended the day by fifteen minutes.  I’m guessing that must be some crazy math to limit the number of days of school.

It looks like we will be spending the summer working on actual potty training.  R. can pull her pants and the dreaded pull-up up and down.  She started doing this independently, and she’s quite proud of herself.  I have to thank the ABA supervisor for pushing this.  It has been tedious.  R. has to pull her pants and pull up down and then sit on the toilet for sixty seconds four times in a row.  They started with a full prompt and reduced the prompt in my opinion quicker than usual.  Last week she started doing it all on her own.  They tell her pull your pants down, and then she does.

I never realized just how complicated pulling your pants up can be, we could show her the pulling part, but she figured out on her own that she has to wiggle her butt a bit to get the pants over the pull-up.   I’ve been trying to let her pull her pants up and down on her own, and even when we are in a hurry she “helps”.  She’s trying out her skill on her own, I find her pulling her pajama pants up and down in bed and she is trying to remove pillowcases from pillows.

Today the behaviorist increased the amount of time she is sitting on the toilet to two and a half minutes.   She has not peed on the potty yet, she seems to go in between attempts.  It is kind of obvious that she is holding it.

They want me to start during the two weeks between the end of school and ESY.  I’m supposed to put her in underwear all the time when we are home, and have her sit on the toilet for five minutes every thirty minutes.

We still have to work out the reinforcers.  I have candy saved for when she actually goes (hopefully she will eat it and it won’t get stale first).  We have been giving her reinforcers after she sits.  I’m using some special books she likes and a light up wand.  The behaviorist says that when we go to actual potty training we should not reinforce her for sitting without peeing.   I want to start offering her the books while she sits.  Five minutes is a long time.

May052011

Easy apps for Autism

R. is actually bored with both of these apps, but she used them quite a bit for the first couple of weeks with the ipad.  I think they helped her learn how different apps work and the fact that they are simple to do made her feel confident enough to stick with it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monte Lingual 1 to 10 Lite

This review is for the Lite/free version.  There is an advertisement bar at the bottom of the screen during play.  It does not seem to get in the way.

When the app loads it says tap screen to begin.  This means R. can easily launch the program herself.  There are no ads on the opening page.

The description of the app says that they are using the  Montessori bead stair concept.  There are ten red circles on the left hand side.  Each circle is moved individually to the bar across the top of the screen.   The app is somewhat forgiving, and will pull the circle into the correct spot when you are close. You can also bounce the circles off the opposite side and they will bounce into the correct spot.  The circle makes a popping sound when you remove a circle, and a slight swishing sound if you fling it.  It makes a clicking sound when the circle is put into place.  The red circle turns a different color once it is in place and is labeled with the next number and the program says each number out loud.   Once all ten spots are filled a button pops up offering play again.  It is a bit tricky, but you can select more than one circle and count by twos or whatever.  R. is not interested in that yet.

I think learning how to move the circles helped teach R. how to manipulate the ipad.  There are really no wrong answers or moves, so it provides errorless learning.  The music turned her off initially, but once I learned how to turn it off (press the i in the upper left hand corner) she was interested in the numbers  and was able to do it herself after a while.  You can also turn off the sound effects each circle makes, and the speaking of the numbers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABC Alphabet by Little Sorter

This is a free app.  There are no ads.   On the first page there is a button in the lower right corner that says play.   R. tired of this app before she learned how to use the button.

Grasshopper Apps, who wrote the app, says that you can learn with sight, sound and touch. A letter is spoken for each colored letter when moved, and it can only be placed in the correct spot.   When attempting to place the letter in the wrong spot the letter bounces back and a bouncing sound is heard.  The number of letters that appear each time vary, and can be customized in the settings.   You can select a minimum and a maximum number of letters to appear from one up to six.

The authors must know all about children with autism, because there are many ways to customize this app.  There is a settings button on the front page.  You can record your own voice and customize all the game sounds -including turning them off.   There are separate settings for the intro music (we turned it off) and success sounds.

R. took to this app immediately, it was one of the first ones she could really do independently.   Sometimes she would just play with the letters to hear the sounds.  She figured out that if you try to move more than one at a time it makes strange echo-ish letter sounds.

May032011

Observing motor group and recess

We went to R.’s school today to observe motor group and recess.  She was excited that we drove her and went into her classroom.

The motor group happens once a week and it is run by an OT and a PT.  It is only half an hour but they do many things.  They started by sitting in a circle and passing a ball back and forth.  They did yoga poses, R. was mostly resistant.  Which did not surprise me, but I have seen her doing some of those poses at home.  Then the kids sat on scooter boards and had to cross the room and match a colored bean bag to a colored mat.  R. can actually do this now, she was aversive to the scooter board at the beginning of the school year.   Next was an obstacle course which included jumping on a trampoline, rolling down a wedge mat, climbing an A frame ladder (something else she would not do at the beginning of the year), walking a low balance beam and throwing bean bags into a hoop.

As if that wasn’t enough, they did fine motor tasks at a table.  Each of the kids seemed to be working on different things.  R. had to use tongs to pick up tiny discs that the OT was holding in different positions, and then she had to put the discs into a cup that the OT kept moving.   She did this really well.  I definitely got the impression R. likes the fine motor portion of motor group best.

Then we went with them to recess.  I watched her line up with her back against the wall with the other kids when instructed. She held on to the teacher’s rope thing with her classmates to walk to the school playground.   She was super excited to have us with her, she was jumping up and down and smiling, and she dragged me all over the playground, showing me around I guess.

There’s a typical preschool at the school, and a steady stream of classes came in and out.  All the teachers seemed to know each other and all the kids, which was nice.
She was a little overwhelmed when there were lots of rowdy kids running around her, but she was also really interested in them – running away and coming back for another look.  She wanted to join a group of typical kids and one of her classmates playing ball in a circle with their teacher.  So I sat with her and helped her play.  She stayed with it for almost ten minutes.   She really wanted to play at the water table, but the rule is that the kids have to wear a smock and she will not wear one.  She did not cry, it was obvious she is familiar with the rules.

The teacher said she is going to work on creating and teaching R. and other students specific play scripts to use with the typical kids.   I think that sounds like a good idea.  I hate to generalize like this, but it really seemed like most of the typical kids would do anything the teachers suggest if it is fun and gave them some attention.

Apr252011

A Behavior plan for the ipad

R. is still requesting the ipad, by saying ipad when it is out of sight.  This skill seems to be generalizing, because she is starting to tell me what she wants for other things when she grabs my hand, as opposed to waiting to say it until she leads me to it.

We’re running into some behavior issues regarding the ipad.  I know we need to be consistent so we don’t create a monster.

Issue 1:   She wants all ipad all the time

She is getting kind of obsessed with it, she demands it as soon as she gets up and throughout the day.  I know that she gets this way, fixated on something new and then the novelty wears off.  So I am humoring her a bit, and letting her use it a bit more than I would like.

Set limits for use – times of day and length of use session
I don’t want to go so far as to set a schedule, but I think having specific times of day that we use the ipad, will help with setting limits.   I also make sure she doesn’t spend hours at a time using it.

Give warning with a specific cue for end of ipad time. Offer transitioning help – music on ipad, new activity.
I’ve been giving her warnings, telling her when whatever she is doing is finished we are all done with ipad.   She usually protests, so I will turn on Pandora and tell her only music on the ipad, and I’ll put it out of reach.  It really is best if I have another activity planned and ready, even just coloring or going out.

Be consistent and firm and acknowledge but do not react to her emotional outbursts.
When I’ve decided it is a “no ipad time” I have to make sure not to give in to her pleading. She has never verbally begged like this before, and it is so hard to say no.   She will cry sometimes and get very angry.   At first I was not sure how to react, and she totally picks up on this.  She’ll scream louder once she senses my indecision.  If I am firm and consistent, she gets over it a lot quicker.

Issue 2:   She wants to pick her own apps and they are usually a video or an app she gets stimmy with.

She is not allowed total control of the ipad.  She should say all done when finished with an activity.
We have to totally take charge of the ipad the majority of the time.  We select which apps she plays with, and insist she do at least a part of the activity.   She’ll press the button to exit the app, I’ll stop her until she completes the activity, and then I’ll get her to say All done before going on to something else.

Use preferred activities as a reward.  Tell her first this and then that.
It is usually obvious what she would like to select, so I’ll tell her first do a puzzle and then you can play with the fish pond.   When she spends a long time doing “educational apps”, I’ll let her play around and do what ever she wants for a little while, even it seems stimmy.

Don’t treat the ipad like a drilling machine.  Explore all the different possibilities.
I do try to find things to do that match her mood.  After a day at school and then therapy, she doesn’t always want to write letters in iwrite or anything like that.  But I can usually find something that requires some engagement and interaction on her part, even looking at her photo album, and having me name her classmates and other people in the pics.

Allow her some free time.
We let her do what she likes with the ipad for a little while before dinner.

Issue 3: She wants to use my finger instead of her own to operate the ipad. She has a short attention span at times.

I think these two issues are related, because the more successful she is with an activity, the longer she wants to do it.

Use the easiest apps.
Some apps require less precision than others.  The puzzle pieces go into place if you are in the general vicinity, even iwrite is somewhat forgiving about the lines.   We need to use the easiest apps when prompting her to use her own finger.

Start by letting her use the method she is comfortable with and then physically prompt her to use her own finger.
It seems to go easiest if I allow her to use my finger a couple of times and then say R. do and I’ll physically take her finger and make her do it.   Sometimes she argues and wrestles her hand away, but if I’m insistent she will comply.  I usually have to hold her finger a couple of times, and then I can back off to just putting my hand on her arm.  With some apps she’ll usually go on for a while on her own, but with others she’ll do it on her own for a few times and then I have to go back to letting her use my finger and start over again.  When she can do an activity all on her own she gets so excited and pleased with herself, and she wants to continue doing it.

Have her ask for use of someone’s finger.
I’m going to prompt her to say help, each time she wants to use my finger.  I hope that will eventually help her realize that use of someone else’s finger is not automatic.

Apr232011

What do four year olds watch?

R. has been exclusively interested in Sesame Street for so long, I kind of gave up on offering alternatives.  But lately she really gets tired of watching the same ones.  I get them from the library and Netflix, and copy the ones she likes on to the AppleTV.   She’s kind of bored of Elmo’s World, she doesn’t like the DVDs that are just a collection of Elmo’s World.   I’m starting to run out of new options for her to watch.

Now that we have the ipad and can stream Netflix, I’ve been offering some other choices.   Sometimes I think she is so used to watching Sesame Street on the television, that seeing anything else just seems wrong to her.   She is more willing to at least try some new shows on the ipad.

I tried Dora, she watched one episode and then wasn’t very interested.  I don’t understand the appeal.  Compared to Sesame Street it seems slow and boring.  And the parts that are trying to be educational seem kind of contrived and weird.  I also wonder about the Spanish words- is that confusing to a child who has language delays?

I tried the Backyardigans, Blues Clues,  a few animated movies and a dog and cat movie.  She did not like any of them.  There is one show that we discovered she will watch – The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss.  It is by the Jim Henson Company, so I suppose I should not be surprised.  But each episode is a real story, and fairly involved.  There’s no counting or letters, there is a little singing.   R. is choosing it herself.  She figured out how to find the Netflix icon, and will choose the show from a list of options.

I don’t mind letting her watch the show, it is cute and not too long.  I would like to encourage her to watch some of the shows and movies that other kids like, just to get her familiar with different characters and stories.   The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss seems kind of obscure.

I would appreciate any TV show or movie suggestions your kids like or even that you wish your kids liked.

Apr192011

A letter to NT Parents

I wrote this about a year ago.  I didn’t post it here before because I thought it sounded more crabby than I intended.   For autism awareness month I dusted it off, and posted it to the Mom list that inspired it.

Dear Parents

My four year old daughter has autism.  Maybe you know us.  Even if you never meet us, considering the number of people with autism is currently 1 in 110, you will meet people with autism in your lifetime.

A while ago someone on a Mom list was concerned their child had autism.   I was kind of shocked by some of the responses.  Autism is all the rage now. Really?  Do you think it is trendy and fun to have a child who does not speak?   Is it cool to know my child may never live independently?   Do you think all the children who are being diagnosed are undeserving of the services to help them?

Someone else said  Your child doesn’t have autism – he’s great! I get that you probably do think a child with autism is quite awful.   But I feel the need to tell you that I think my child is great.  Better than great actually, but I’ll spare you my gushing.

My daughter is a person, she has likes and dislikes and she also has real challenges with communication.   Sometimes she is overwhelmed by sounds and sights around her.  I do my best to keep her away from stressful situations, but I do feel like it is important for her to be able to go out into the community.   If she screams or has a meltdown I will leave with her.  But every once in a while I really need to buy milk or something that can’t wait .   Yes I know she is loud.  Please have a little patience.

You may tell me that only babies have tantrums like my daughter, and if I would just discipline her she would behave.   I don’t expect you to understand that she has had years of behavior therapy.   But I hope that you can understand that part of having autism is immature development.   In many ways, she is like a baby or a toddler in terms of her ability to communicate.

Please don’t get in my daughter’s face while she is in the stroller and tell her she is too big and too old to be in a stroller.   Not that it matters, but she’s not seven like you think.   I’m sorry your world-view is so narrow that the sight of a large child in a stroller offends you.  But it is not my problem, please deal with it on your own time.

I’m going to take my daughter to the playground, and she is not going to act like your children.   When my daughter sees your son playing with a bouncy ball, she wants to play with the ball and with him, but she doesn’t know how to ask.  She will take the ball from him as her way of asking.  I’ll be right there with her, and I’ll tell her the ball is not hers, and I’ll make her throw or roll the ball back to your son.   I’ll admit it must look strange to you, that my child can’t do something so simple as say play with me, and that I have to be so involved with her.  In my fantasies (which occasionally come true) your son would play with my daughter.  Just pass the ball back and forth a few times.  It is a public playground after all.  It is your son’s choice, and if he doesn’t want to play with my daughter, that is fine.     But please don’t give us dirty looks, drag him and your other children away, and tell them they have to stay on the opposite side of the playground from us.   You are teaching your child that it is okay to be rude to people who are different and also that they should be ignored.

My daughter enjoys watching your daughter and her friends climbing on the equipment and hanging upside down.  She also likes it when your son brings his remote control helicopter to the playground to fly.  I know she looks a little strange, her body quivers with excitement and sometimes she’ll jump up and down clapping and and saying yay.   The kids don’t mind the attention, and I keep her safely out of harms way.   Please just let her watch.

I’m not looking for pity or sympathy.  But I do hope for a little patience and understanding.   You will meet people with autism, they will be your child’s classmates and your neighbors.  Autism is not contagious, in fact studies are showing that typically developing children actually benefit from exposure to children with special needs.   I’ve seen this first hand.  It’s never to early to teach tolerance, and that is a gift that will continue to give through a person’s life.

Apr182011

She wants me to go away

R. is talking a bit more all the time.  Her requests are becoming more natural.   For nearly a year we had to verbally prompt each word. Last month she started saying some words if we held the item she wanted up and waited.   Now for most items we just have to wait.  At mealtime she is just speaking up and saying what she wants.  It almost feels normal.  E. and I will be talking and she’ll just interrupt with her demand.   It is just one word, but I’ll take it.

She is also self correcting herself.  She’ll say cookie, bagel, or open, cookie.   She’s saying more words in response to situations, oh no, wow and after years of me working on it – she is saying hey.  I know that sounds like a silly word to be excited about.  But I’ve been trying to get her to say hey or stop instead of crying.

Her echolalia seems to be changing slightly.  Sometimes when she echoes she changes her intonation. It is subtle, but definitely deliberate.

She is very into spending time with E., and she wants him all to herself.  She’s been saying Hey!  What you doing? When I come into the room.   If she is being nice she will hand lead me into another room.  But often she just gives me a shove.  I’ll say, you want me to go away? And she will say go away! I think this is really funny, and it doesn’t bother me at all.

I feel like I’m documenting every second of potty training.  She is up to sitting for eight seconds.  The therapists tell her she will sit for eight, and they say only the first, middle and last number.  R. counts on her own, and insisted on staying until the count of ten once and twenty another time.  Nothing happened, but she was and is happy to sit there.  I’m almost looking forward to summer so we can devote more time to this.

I do have to say that I really hate pull-ups.  They leak like crazy, and trying to do up the sides makes me feel like I’m all thumbs.   Maybe it is because I have so many years practice with diapers.