Friday, February 23, 2007

Linkin', linkin', I've been thinkin'

"It's a Major Award!"

The very talented Bubandpie has awarded me the coveted Thinking Blogger Award. Okay, so maybe not coveted, as it is actually just a meme posing as an award. It's almost embarrassing that it means so much to me, but there you have it.

As a designated Thinking Blogger, I am charged with the task of linking to five other bloggers who make me think. This is not as easy as it sounds; I read a lot of bloggers who make me think. Many of them currently have links on the main page of my blog.

Here are five who don't:

1. Gretchen from gretchen's blog: I read a lot of blogs written by parents of children on the autism spectrum. Many of their children have shadows of similarity to Bud, but Gretchen's Henry consistently reminds me of him. Bud and Henry seem to be following a similar developmental path, and Henry is the one child I find myself comparing to Bud. Posts like this make me think for days.

2. Liesel Elliott from Dante's Inferno With Children: I love that Liesel writes with a real pseudonym and not a blogger pseudonym like RockinMamaBabe or, you know, mom-nos. I love the photography; I love the posts that read like fiction but probably aren't; I love the soul-searching posts about her childhood; and I love this one - which is really just a post about the nature of thinking itself.

3. Her Bad Mother: Somehow, linking to a blog that regularly gets 80 comments per post and on which I faithfully lurk but never surface feels a little like asking George Clooney to the prom, but, honestly, this piece about posting pictures of our kids has had me thinking for a week. It hasn't changed my own posting decisions, but I really value her perspective.

4. Vicki Forman from Speak Softly...: This is another blog on which I am a committed lurker. Many of her posts, both here and at Literary Mama, have made me think, but this piece absolutely blows me away.

5. Zilari from Processing in Parts: Through Autism Hub I've been introduced to number of great bloggers who are autistic. Zilari is one of them. Her posts are introspective and thoughtful, and she investigates issues in depth. Posts like this one not only make me think, but also make me a better parent.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Aloha day

Saturday was an "aloha" kind of day. Bud had a great time at Carla's Hawaiian-themed birthday party, and I could just leave the story there - "He had a great time." But, really, it was so much more than just a great time. It was aloha.

According to Wikipedia,
The word aloha derives from the Hawaiian words alo, meaning "presence," "front," "face," or "share"; and ha, meaning "breath of life" or "essence of life."... Over the decades the word aloha has been used in reference to a complex state of mind called the Aloha Spirit or sense of aloha. The Aloha Spirit is often described as a sense of care and hospitality to those around as well as respect for their personhood, even in the face of stressful environments, occasions or people.

Bud negotiated the crowded party beautifully, connecting with children and separating from them as he needed - eating pizza with his friends, but standing at the counter instead of crowding around the table; joining the hula activity by taking pictures with his digital camera instead of dancing; stepping into the kitchen when the living room got too busy, and into the living room when the kitchen got too busy.

Bud's friends were terrific. They engaged with him but gave him space, having already figured out that they will be most successful if they initiate brief, concrete opportunities for interaction - "Bud, will you take my picture?"; "Bud, can I take your picture?"

Carla herself was remarkable. Despite the fact that it was her day to be center of attention, she went out of her way to make Bud feel special, too. She chose his present to open first, and ooh-ed and aah-ed with the other girls about the Polly Pockets and Littlest Pet Shop toys inside. Later, when everyone moved into the kitchen for cake, she sought us out and said to me "I really like the present Bud gave me."

"I'm so glad," I said. "Bud picked it out himself."

"He's a really good present-picker," she said. Then she walked past me and over to where Bud was taking pictures, and said "You're a really good present-picker, Bud."

"Yeah!" he said from behind the camera.

As the party was wrapping up, I had a chance to chat for a minute with Carla's mom, who, it turns out, is an as-yet-unpublished writer working on her MFA in creative writing. We discovered quickly that we have a mutual writer-friend. She told me about a book that she thought might interest me. And she explained that she's in the process of opening a "writer's studio," the plans for which are still evolving - perhaps a writer's workshop series, some seminars and writing groups, a space for people to come and write in a conducive environment. Perhaps, in other words, exactly what I might be looking for.

A short time later, with ten minutes to go before the party's scheduled end, Bud came to me and said "It's time to go home now." I told him we could go, but that we'd need to say "thank you" to Carla first. Bud walked directly to Carla and said, "Thank you, Carla. I had a great time at the party." I explained to the room that it was time for us to go, and we exited to a chorus of "Bye, Bud!"

As we pulled out of Carla's driveway, I asked Bud, as I often do, if he'd had a hard day or an easy day, and without hesitation he replied that the day had been easy.

When we got home from the party, I downloaded the pictures from Bud's camera. I found a number that captured the spirit of Carla's party as I experienced it.






But there was another series of pictures that Bud took at the party - a series striking in its artistry, capturing aspects of the party that only Bud saw, that only Bud appreciated, with imagery that simply takes my breath away.


















Aloha.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Poetry in motion

They just don't come any cuter than Bud.

This morning I attended the first-grade poetry reading, a Valentines Day event that had been postponed earlier in the week because of inclement weather. When we entered Bud's classroom, we found all the desks pushed to the side, the chairs lined up for the audience of parents, and a space cleared on the carpet for the children to take the stage.

Bud stayed close - but didn't seem anxious - as the room filled up with children and parents. While the rest of the children took their places on the carpet, Bud slid onto my lap in the front row. His neurotypical friend Michael - also not inclined to perform in public - slipped into the seat behind us, next to his mom.

The program included songs and poems performed by the children solo and in small groups, with a couple of numbers from the whole ensemble. Bud sat happily, smiling as he watched his friends, applauding enthusiastically after each performance. When the time came for his assigned poem, the one he's been practicing at home for weeks, the other children in his group formed a line on the carpet. Ms. Parker turned to us, and before she finished asking "Bud, would you like to join your friends?" he was on his feet and rushing to stand just behind his group.

His group recited the poem - a call-and-response rhyme with a complicated meter - while he read along silently behind them. When the poem ended, he bounded back joyfully to where I was sitting.

A short time later, the program called for Maddi to sing a solo. There must be some history here that I don't know, because Ms. Parker once again turned and asked Bud if he'd like to come up. Bud jumped up and joined Maddi, and while she sang a sweet song about chicken soup, Bud stood next to her, waved to his friends and flashed a "thumbs-up" to the audience. When the song ended, I let out a loud whoot as the rest of the parents applauded politely. Bud ran into my arms and bowed repeatedly as the applause continued.

When the program ended, Ms. Parker asked parents to help get the desks back in place, and suddenly the room was filled with noise and movement. Bud's friend Kelly dashed across the room to where Bud was standing. "Bud!" she cried, "You did a great job!" He hugged her, then turned to look for me in the swarming mass of parents, desks, and children. I suggested that we take a break and go to the bathroom, and he readily agreed.

When we emerged a minute later, the room was still loud and buzzing with activity, but one girl, Jamie, stood patiently outside the bathroom door holding sound-blocking headphones, one of the tools for self-regulation that Bud has available in the classroom. Jamie held out the headphones and said, "Bud, would you like to use these?"

Bud murmured a "yes," took them from her, and slipped them over his ears.

"Thank you, Jamie," I said. "You are such a good friend!" Jamie smiled as she walked away.

Bud had a wonderful belated Valentines celebration with his friends. And I don't know - I could be wrong here - but watching Kelly and Jamie today... well, something tells me that I'm not the only person who thinks that they don't come any cuter than Bud.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

For Roo

In a recent comment, Mamaroo mentioned that her son Roo enjoys looking at Bud's photography. Fortunately, Bud has been taking lots of pictures recently because he got a Fisher Price digital camera for Christmas. Here, then, are some recent favorites - for Roo.









Sunday, February 11, 2007

Muffin man

The other night, Bud announced that he wanted to make muffins. I told him that it was too close to bedtime to make real muffins, and that he'd have to make pretend muffins instead. He agreed, and dashed off to the kitchen, where I heard him rummaging through the cupboards and humming to himself, but I decided to give him some space and see what happened.

"Come see, Mama!" he called after a couple of minutes. I went to the kitchen, where I discovered that he had added all the necessary ingredients to a large mixing bowl:

Then he stirred:

Lined his muffin tins:

"Poured" the batter into the tins (he didn't explain, but I imagine this was prompted by observing that ingredients look different after they've been mixed together):

Put them in the (cold) oven and set the timer:

Then got the oven mitts to take them out when they were done:

Here is the finished product:

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Tense moments

I pay a lot of attention to the evolution of Bud's language, not just because language acquisition has been one of his greatest challenges and not just because his language skills seem to be an indicator of his development overall, but also because, when you come right down to it, I'm just a big old grammar geek.

I've written previously about Bud's use of the phrase "What did I did?" to call our attention to something he's done. As has sometimes happened with other phrases, "What did I did?" has come to have a variety of meanings for Bud. Sometimes "What did I did?" means "Do you recognize my achievement, and will you shower me with praise?" Other times "What did I did?" means "Can you tell me the words I should use to describe the thing that I just did?" Still other times "What did I did?" means "Are you aware of this thing that I did... and am I going to be in trouble for it?"

"What did I did?" is a question in the simple past tense: it indicates that his activity has been completed. However, in recent months, as Bud's language has continued to develop, he's started playing with tenses and we've been hearing the question earlier, while the activity is still in progress: "What I'm doing?"

Fittingly, with questions like "What I'm doing?," Bud is moving his language forward by using the "present progressive" tense.

In the past week or so, he's been playing with a new tense by using the helping verb have, or, more accurately, the contraction 've, as he did on Monday when he asked me, "What you've got?" and this morning when he tried a new form of "What did I did?" and asked me "What I've did?"

As I drove to work this morning I tried to remember the name of the tense that uses "have," but I couldn't come up with it. So, this afternoon I pulled out my handy reference guide and looked it up:

What I've did? = past perfect tense

What you've got? = present perfect tense

Past perfect. Present perfect.

My hunch is that pretty soon he will have mastered it all.

And for those keeping score at home: that makes the future perfect, too.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The party's on

I spoke with Carla's mom this morning, and any anxiety I had about Bud going to Carla's party has melted away.

I wasn't sure how to ease into the conversation, so I just plunged right in when Carla's mom answered the phone. I introduced myself and thanked her for inviting Bud to the party. I asked if she knew Bud, and she said she did.

"And," I said, not sure how to proceed, "Do you know that he's autistic?"

"Yes, I do," she answered. "I mean, I don't know what his autism means for him exactly, but... Carla really wanted... well, she invited everyone in the class, and she... I do know about his autism, and you're a much better judge of whether or not... but I think that Carla and Bud have made a really nice connection, so..."

I began to realize that she wasn't sure why I called, and that maybe "do you know that he's autistic?" might have come out sounding like "why in the world did you invite him to a party, you insensitive clod?"

"No, no..." I stammered. "I think Carla and Bud really do have a great connection. He's very fond of her and he's delighted to be invited to the party... I just... uh..."

I could hear her voice relax on the other end of the phone. "Well, as I said I'm not sure what Bud's autism means for him exactly. Carla says that sometimes noises bother him?"

"That's true. Some noises. Sometimes."

"It could be loud. We're going to have a Hawaiian-themed party and we're going to learn the hula - Carla's idea - so we'll have music, and there will be lots of kids, but it's only the kids from class, so he'll know everyone. And we'll have pizza and cake and games. I don't know how that would be for him, but if there's anything we could do to make it easier..."

"Well, he's usually pretty good about knowing his limits. I explained the party to him - that it would be at Carla's house, that lots of kids would be there, that it would be noisy - and he didn't hesitate. He really wants to go."

"That's great!"

"Do you think... Would it be okay if I stayed there with him?"

"Oh, of COURSE! I was going to suggest that. That would be great!"

"Then you can definitely count us in," I said, finally exhaling as I wrapped up the conversation. "Bud is really looking forward to it."

That's the truth. Bud really is looking forward to the party.

And, now, so am I.

Just calling it like he sees it

This morning as we were getting ready to head out the door for school I knelt down to help Bud zip his coat. I looked up and saw him gazing lovingly at my face. I smiled as he reached out and stroked my cheek gently.

"Mama," he asked sweetly, "What you've got?"

"I don't know, honey," I answered softly. "What have I got?"

Bud met my gaze and answered dreamily, "Wrinkle face."

Drat.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Have podcasts - will travel

This afternoon I took a long drive to have lunch with some of my dearest friends. In preparation for my drive, I downloaded some podcasts from iTunes that made the traveling almost (but not quite) as enjoyable as the lunch itself.

I listened to, and enjoyed, last week's edition of NPR's This American Life. But the highlight of the trip was Episode 32 of Autism Podcast, which features Dr. Steven Gutstein, founder of Relationship Development Intervention (RDI). I've seen Dr. Gutstein in person, and I think he's brilliant. His perspectives on autism, human development, and parenting make intuitive sense to me. I believe in RDI because it, too, makes intuitive sense. But, mostly, I believe in RDI because I think it has been - and continues to be - transformative for Bud. This podcast gives just a glimpse of Gutstein and the RDI philosophy. It's not a lengthy interview, but it's a nice place to start if you're looking for more information about the program. You can download it for free from iTunes, or listen to it at the Autism Podcast site.

And while you're there, you may also want to listen to another of my favorites - Episode 43, which features Kevin Leitch: autism dad, blogger, and founder of Autism Hub.

Friday, February 02, 2007

It's party time again

When I opened Bud's backpack after school today I pulled out an envelope addressed to him. It was an invitation to Carla's birthday party.

This is Bud's first invitation since he went to Clay's birthday party more than a year ago. Despite the fact that Clay's birthday was a smashing success, I've got some anxiety about Carla's party. I don't know Carla's parents. I don't know if they know who Bud is. They may have invited everyone in the class. They may not know about Bud's autism.

The invitation doesn't say specifically, but I imagine that this is a drop-off-your-child party. Bud is not a drop-off kind of child.

All of this ran through my head as I read the invitation and my brain jumped to the easy out: Maybe Bud won't want to go.

I broached the subject with him.

"Bud, Carla invited you to her birthday party. Do you want to go?"

"Yes."

"The party will be at Carla's house, with all the kids from school."

"Okay."

"You want to go to Carla's birthday party at Carla's house?"

"Yes."

Unequivocal. He's going.

I'm rehearsing the telephone conversation I need to have with Carla's mom: about Bud - that I'll need to stay with him - that I'd be happy to lend a hand with serving cake or doing crafts or whatever, and is there anything I can bring, and oh-my-goodness is he looking forward to the party.

And then we need to go shopping for a present, even though I have no idea what one buys for a neurotypical seven-year-old girl whose favorite word is underwear.

My stomach is in knots just thinking about it. But I'll make the phone call and I'll do the shopping, because Bud's going to the party.

Bud's going to the party with his friends.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Reading and thinking

I've done some interesting reading this week, and it's gotten me thinking.

I've been thinking about this fantastic post by abfh on Whose Planet Is It Anyway?. It deconstructs the "Sally-Anne" marble experiment that is often pointed to as evidence that people with autism are deficient in "theory of mind" skills, or the ability to adopt the perspective of another person. (I wrote about the theory quite some time ago, but have long since dismissed it as an issue for Bud: it wouldn't occur to him to be sneaky if he couldn't imagine how I might respond to his activity.) The post is brilliant and it suggests a reasonable, and much more plausible, language-based explanation for why kids with autism struggle with the "Sally-Anne" experiment.

I've also been thinking about this essay by Ellen Notbohm, which reinforces my thinking about video games and reaffirms my decision to keep them outside Bud's experience.

And I've been thinking a lot about this post about the recent autism special on The View and this post about correlation vs. causation, both from Kristina at AutismVox, which pointed me to this post from Kim Stagliano and this post from Barbara Fischkin, both from The Huffington Post. I actually wrote a long post about my thoughts on these pieces and these issues. Unfortunately, after an extraordinary amount of writing and editing and rewriting and tweaking and rephrasing, I hit the "Publish" button and got an error message telling me that Blogger was down for repair. When it came back up, my post - the one I'd labored to word just the right way - had vanished.

I'm taking it as a sign.

You can read the Huffington posts, and if you've been reading my blog for any length of time you can probably guess my reaction to them. If not, I'll just mention two philosophies that shape my thinking, my actions and, most importantly, my parenting, which might give you a general idea.

The first philosophy is this: I believe that we move in the direction of our dominant thought. Think "I hope I don't forget my keys," and "forget" becomes your dominant thought. By focusing on "forget," you increase the likelihood that you'll leave the house with your keys still on the counter. But shift your focus and think "I want to remember my keys" and you change your dominant thought to "remember," making it more likely that you'll leave the house with your keys in hand.

Think "I hate autism" (or "I fear autism" or "I am exhausted by autism" or "I resent autism") and you move, psychologically and emotionally, toward those dominant thoughts - toward hate, toward fear, toward exhaustion, toward resentment.

Think instead "I love my child" and you move toward love. You move toward your child.

It's clear to me that both Huffington bloggers are smart, insightful writers and mothers who love their children. But I fear that there's an unspoken code in the blogosphere that says that the best bloggers are the ones who make their points with acerbic humor - the ones whose writing is engaging because its tone has an undercurrent that is sarcastic, snide, and derisive. That may be fine when you're writing about George Bush or Bill Clinton: they can take it. It's entirely different when you're writing about your child.

Because you move in the direction of your dominant thought.

I'm not a naive Pollyanna. And I'm tired of reading that I don't understand "real" autism because I have a "high functioning" child. There are some challenges that I avoid discussing on my blog, not because I am trying to sugar-coat the picture I paint of life with an autistic child and not because those issues don't exist, but because my responsibility - first and foremost - is not to my readers, not to my writing, and not to autism advocacy, but to my son: my son, the full, complete, human being who, despite his young age and autism, has a right to privacy and dignity and respect.

Which brings me to my second philosophical belief, which is actually a quote from Anais Nin: "We don't see things as they are. We see them as we are."

It's all about the filters we choose. We let some things in; we leave other things out. The world - autism - our children - writing: it's boundless. We choose to frame it with artificial borders of our own making. The frames are not about the world, or autism, or our children, or writing. They are about ourselves.

So I'm thinking about my filters and frames and I'm continuing to move in the direction of my dominant thought: I'm moving toward my child. No matter what I read.