Sunday, July 29, 2007

Autistic Planet

I've been reading lots of wonderful posts lately about Jennifer Elder's new children's book, Autistic Planet. Estee has good things to say; so do Kyra and Gretchen. Here's my take.

Autistic Planet is a picture book geared to children 6-10. In it, a little girl with autism makes a sphere out of clay and tells her friend that she has made "the planet where I'm from." She goes on to describe what makes her "planet" different:

People work in offices, where
Every seat's a rocking chair

We don't do something one time, when...
We can do it over and over again!

In brief rhyming couplets, the book addresses a full range of issues that are instantly familiar to those familiar with autism: sensory integration, limited food preferences, echolalia, hand flapping. But because these quick references seem to presuppose a familiarity with autism, I found myself wondering about the book's target audience. According to the dust-cover flap, "this book will be much loved by children, particularly those on the autism spectrum." I only have Bud as a point of reference, so I'm not sure how other children on the spectrum would react, but I think that in order for the book to resonate with Bud, he would need to recognize himself in its pages, which would require that he 1) recognize that he does many of the things in the book (uses echolalia, flaps his hands when he's excited, etc.), and 2) recognize that most of his peers do not do these things.

I may be wrong - I could certainly be wrong - but I don't think it has occurred to Bud that either is the case. I imagine that this level of self-reflection, self-assessment, and comparison with others is in Bud's developmental future somewhere, and that Autistic Planet could provide some of the fuel to get that process in motion - but I'm just not sure that Bud needs me to hurry him along to try to get him there. But, then, I also imagine that by the time he gets there on his own he may consider himself "too old" for rhyming picture books like Autistic Planet.

I thought, too, about Bud's neurotypical peers, and about whether or not this book could help them understand Bud a little better. I think that it could, if it were used well - but only if it were used well. Those of us who understand the many ways that autism manifests can quickly recognize that "And at the end of every day, we flap our hands and fly away" is a sweet reference to self-stimulatory behavior. But I don't think that Bud's friend Kelly, who is familiar with Bud, but not familiar with autism per se, would be able to make much sense of it on her own. On the other hand, I think it would provide a great jumping-off point for a conversation guided by a knowledgeable teacher or parent who wanted to help her understand, and who could fill in the blanks to help her to make meaning of it.

Ultimately, I think that's my overall assessment of Autistic Planet: it is a rich tool and a wonderful conversation-starter that could be helpful for children both on and off the spectrum. It exudes warmth and humor and it frames autism as a difference instead of as a disability. But for it to be most effective - for its warmth, humor and philosophy to really make a difference - it should not be a book that sits on the bookshelf in hopes of being stumbled upon; instead, it's a book that begs to be used intentionally, to be built into a curriculum, and to be presented thoughtfully, in the right way and at the right time, by older, more experienced guides.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Dear friend

At Bud's school, new classroom placement is distributed to students in their report cards as they leave the building on the last day of school, so there is very little opportunity for kids or parents to compare notes and figure out who will be where in the coming year unless they run into each other during the summer. So, like the rest of the soon-to-be-second-grade families, we've been keeping our eyes out for Bud's first-grade friends when we're out and about in town to try to get the scoop on how his second-grade classroom has shaped up.

As I've written before, Bud's first grade classroom was magical. The other children were big fans of Bud, and he returned their affection wholeheartedly. If the whole gang of them could have moved together to a new classroom, I would have been downright delighted. What we've discovered as we've talked to friends around town, though, is that most of the other children from Bud's class have landed in one of the other three second grade classrooms. Parents are speculating that the mix is intentional, so that by the time our children have made it through to the regional middle school, they will know all of the other children from their own elementary school. And, honestly, I trust Bud's team implicitly and I know that they had a hand in pupil placement. I'm certain they have created a good nest for Bud, so, really, my worries are few.

But one child we haven't run into this summer is Bud's very best friend from first grade, Kelly. Kelly is the child who greeted Bud every morning when we entered the classroom. Each night, when I asked him who he played with at recess or ate with at snack, hers was always the first name I heard. So, naturally, I wondered where Kelly had landed in the second-grade shake-up.

My questions were answered recently when a letter arrived in the mail for Bud. On top of a full page drawing of a girl and her family enjoying a day at the beach were the following words in perfect seven-year-old scrawl:

Dear Bud I am
in Mrs. Connemara's
class Iam wudring
iF you are.

Love Kelly

P.S. Iam having
Fun are you?

I have a
lose toth!

Bud played it cool when he read Kelly's letter, but I could tell he was happy to get it. I suggested several times that he write back, but each time he told me that he'd do it later. Tonight I pushed a little harder, and Bud sat down at the computer, put Kelly's letter next to the keyboard for reference, and wrote back:

Deer kelly
I am in mrs connemarals class. I am wuodering if you
love Bud ps I am having fun are you? Call
193256906788216789 be your Bud

Buuuuup be be be dooooo wop buuuuuuup bee
booodoo seeeeeeeeeeee4wweweweeebrbrbvwioop
qewvxsdooooo buuuup beee beee

I asked Bud for clarification on some of the finer points. Had he left out some words?, I wondered to myself.

"Bud, what are you wondering? 'I am wondering if you...'"

"I am wondering if you love Bud."

Okay. So clarified.

"And 'Call 193256906788216789 be your Bud'? What do you want Kelly to do?"

"Hug me."

Gotcha.

After a bit more clarification, I added notes in the margin to let Kelly know that the long string of digits is a pretend phone number and that the second paragraph is a song. But, the fact is, Kelly probably doesn't need the clarification the way I did. She might guess what each thing is on her own, but even if she didn't, it probably wouldn't matter to her. She'd probably just laugh with recognition of Bud's unique and quirky style.

Because that's just how it is with friends.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Perfect ten

In a recent post on AutismVox, Kristina listed ten ways that she and her son Charlie are alike, and invited other bloggers to do the same. Here, then, are ten things that Bud and I have in common:

1. We have the same taste in music. We don't just like the same artists; the same tracks from those artists, the same melodic turns, the same tempos, the same instrumental breaks, the same harmonies seem to capture us both.

2. We both have an uncanny capacity for remembering song lyrics. My ability is far greater than the average person's; Bud's ability is far greater than mine.

3. We both love road trips. We look forward to the weekends, when "Mom and Bud Days" afford us the opportunity to pack a lunch, pack the car, and head somewhere, windows down and music playing. The destination is rarely as important to either of us as the trip itself. We like to be out - we like to be doing - we like to be active.

4. We are fans of technology. Computers, iPods, satellite radio, TiVo, you name it - we rarely meet a technology we don't enjoy.

5. We both love books and we are both good readers.

6. We both dislike math.

7. We enjoy the outdoors. We like walking in the woods. We like picking blueberries in the summer and apples in the fall. We like spending time at the lake and at the ocean. We like to feel the sun on our skin and the wind in our hair.

8. We like spending time with the people in our lives. We are also comfortable spending time alone.

9. We both have seasonal allergies, and both use prescription nasal sprays.

10. In the summer, we prefer wearing sandals to wearing socks and shoes or sneakers. We also like being barefoot. In the winter, we both wear socks to bed.

Anyone else want to share how you and your child are alike?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

I eight too much

I’ve been watching the Eight Things meme cycle around the blogosphere for weeks, and it seems to have cycled over to me - I've been tagged by Niksmom. Now, in all honesty, I try to respond to tags when I discover them, mostly because it seems the decent thing to do. But I am especially inclined to respond to this tag, not only because I am quite fond of Niksmom, but also because in her tag she called me “ubiquitous”. I am putty in the hands of a word like “ubiquitous.”

So, first the housekeeping. The rules of this meme are:
1. Let others know who tagged you.
2. Players start with 8 random facts about themselves.
3. Those who are tagged should post these rules and their 8 random facts.
4. Players should tag 8 other people and notify them they have been tagged.

And now, eight things:

1. I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately. This is due only in part to the fact that Bud is also having trouble sleeping lately. I know this because on the rare morning in recent weeks when he’s slept past 4:00, I’ve found myself staring at the ceiling just the same. This is highly, highly unusual for me, as sleeping is typically one of my very best things, good times and bad.

2. I am coming out of the closet as a country music fan. In all honesty, I didn’t give country music much of a chance for a long time (probably because I assumed it was out of whack with my political and religious leanings), but last January I had a training weekend with my student staff in which several of our activities centered around music. During the weekend, I discovered two things: a) My staff was heavily into country music, and b) Their music was good. So I started dabbling and trying things out and at some point in recent months I got so hooked that these days it’s almost all I listen to.

I should add the caveat that I am not a fan of all country music. In fact, I am only really interested in a very specific sub-genre of country music – what Yahoo Launch Music calls “Today’s Country,” and what XM Radio calls “Highway 16”: Keith Urban, Billy Currington, Faith Hill, Brad Paisley… within the genre, I’m hard-pressed to find someone I really don’t like.

An interesting aside: Bud has become a fan as well and frequently asks me to add specific tracks to his iPod. His recent requests have included Sugarland’s “Everyday America,” Tim McGraw’s “When the Stars Go Blue,” and his hands-down, all-time favorite, Dierks Bentley’s “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go).”

3. I’ve been peripherally following the storyline of General Hospital since the early 80’s – since before Luke and Laura were Lukeandlaura. I haven’t necessarily been watching GH since the early 80’s, but I’ve been dropping by and catching up here and there for more than 25 years. I’ll go five or more years, then catch word that there’s a great storyline (read: Stone Cates dying of AIDS in the mid-90’s) or I'll find myself home sick some afternoon and I’ll tune in. It usually takes about a week to bring myself up to speed on anything I’ve missed in the intervening years. The advent of TiVo has made this excessively easy. I can easily get some episodes in the line-up, and before you can say "Port Charles" I'm right back in the know - and then, after about two weeks, I'm good to go for another five years.

4. I really like the taste of beer, but I have an incredibly low tolerance for alcohol. I’m typically loopy enough after half a beer that I wouldn’t drive, and on the rare occasion that I actually finish two whole beers, I'm usually fast asleep.

5. Twenty-three years out, I am still in touch with many – most, actually – of my best friends from high school. In fact, I am in touch with more friends from high school that I am friends from any other period of my life. I was one of those people who loved high school – probably because I was lucky enough to find myself in really terrific company there.

6. I was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter disease when I was 10 years old, and I still have a very weird bony bump on my kneecap to show for it.

7. I drove cross-country with two friends from college in 1989. They were dating each other, which didn’t keep the three of us from sharing a tent for the whole summer. Highlights of the trip included Beale Street and Graceland; Bourbon Street and Preservation Hall; the mechanic named Dink who arrived on the scene in Georgia moments after our tire blew out and directed us to one of the loveliest campgrounds of the whole trip; Moab, Utah and Arches National Park; Bend, Oregon; the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota; and the sub-zero swimming environs of Rangely Lake in Maine.

8. The friends with whom I shared a tent in 1989 were married in 1995, and I got the credentials I needed to be able to perform their wedding ceremony. When their son was born in 2001, I was on the scene again and, as such, I have the proud distinction of being the first person on the planet to ever see the top of his head.

I'd like to tag eight bloggers, but I swear that I've already seen tags out there linking to almost every blogger I know. If you haven't had it yet, and you're inclined to share, please do. I'd even be happy to call you "ubiquitous" if it would entice you more.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

I break for music

Because life can't exclusively be consumed by dismay and anger about the current administration, I offer you two great ways to take a break today:

Tune in to footage from the global Live Earth concerts, hear some terrific music, learn some important facts about the climate crisis, and get a glimpse of what life might be like if Al Gore had walked away with the 2000 election,

OR

Get away from it all and watch the funniest music video I've seen in a long time.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Why it matters

Why does the commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence bother me so much?

Watch this and let Keith Olbermann tell you.

Monday, July 02, 2007

On Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, and the growing pit in my stomach

I read part one of this series this morning.

I read this moments ago.

And now I'm wondering if it's time to move to Canada.