Sunday, August 29, 2010

Coloured Rice

Sand and water table, with coloured rice instead.

For his birthday, we got our little man a sand and water table. But as I've mentioned before, he has sensory issues in that he doesn't like touching anything dry or fluffy with his hands. This includes sand. I don't want sand inside the house anyway, and being cold outside, the table would have had to be indoors for now. The solution: coloured rice. It's a bit easier to clean and the vibrant colour is attractive to my son, who seems to like visually stimulating things. I was pretty certain he wouldn't touch the rice either. Several months ago at an early intervention course, they had a bucket full of coloured rice with a few toys hidden in it. My son wouldn't touch it, and actually got a little distressed when pressured to. But still, it is important to help him overcome his sensory issues, and this is one way to do it. We wouldn't pressure him into it, just leave it there for him to explore if he felt so inclined.

Dyed yellow and red - his favourite colours. I knew the colours would mix eventually, and before I could get a pic of each, they already had a bit.

One good thing about my son is that he does tend to observe and sometimes copy other children. This is good! He has learned many things from his big sisters and from his cousins, and I daresay that lately the improvements I have seen are from copying kids at childcare. So we let the big girls play at the rice table too. They made such a mess, grr. But my son did pay attention - which is interesting, because when I tried to introduce him to the table, he didn't seem to be interested in the slightest. He kept looking away, or walking off, or looking at the spinning wheel in the middle instead of the rice. I didn't push the point. I left it. But I know now that this is his way of processing new information. He may not look interested, but he is actually taking it all in. When he is ready and feels confident, he will walk over and just start exploring by himself. And this is in fact what he did!

The next day when the EI worker was here, as we were preparing for another activity, he simply walked over to the table, and picked up a pinch of rice in his fingers, and watched it fall.

I was gobsmacked!

He touched it! Oh my goodness, he really touched it! He even picked some up in his fingers! Amazing!

The day after that, I found him playing at the rice all by himself. Staring hard at the colours and patterns, and giggling as he'd watch the rice fall. I think the visual part of it was very enticing for him... enough to motivate him to overcome his sensory aversion and actually touch the stuff.

You probably can't tell, but as his mummy I can - there is a very slight smile on his face. He is amused.... it's cute! :)

He really is touching the rice with his fingers!

He liked the way the rice looked in the 'channels' on the side, and was pushing them through and giggling to himself :)

Next step, building sandcastles on the beach!!

Here's hoping :)


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Birthday Boy.

Little man turned 3 this week. I can't believe he's 3 already! His babyhood just flew past quicker than a flash. He's already out of his toddler years and moving into preschool years. I thank God for him. He just makes my heart pop with love sometimes.

I still find it hard to believe he has Autism too. I just can't get my head around the fact that he has a disability, that he still isn't speaking - at 3 years old! - that there is still so much he cannot do. I guess when we first found out and I thought he was fairly 'mild' on the spectrum, I really expected him to be saying at least some words by now. But there are none. And there's no way to tell where on the spectrum he is just yet. The fact that I live with this every day doesn't make it sink in anymore .... I still struggle to get my head around it. Words will come, I know it. I just don't know when. In the meantime, other things are improving - which is encouraging! His eye contact gets better all the time. His interest in his environment is starting to pick up a little bit. And he seems to be generally more 'awake'.

Social situations are hard for my boy. Which means that birthday parties don't mean very much to him. It's not like he would play and have fun with friends. He keeps to himself mostly, and to his limited interests.

This year, we went to a play centre to celebrate his birthday. It was just us, and close family. He loved it! He enjoyed himself very much, which made the whole effort well worth it for me.

Started the afternoon in the ball pit. He wasn't too sure about it though.... a little unsteady with his balance, but it was great for working the motor skills!

On the slide with papa... much better fun.

Ready... set... gooooooooo!!!

Time for a pressie - a Mr Potato Head!

He was a little upset about his cake being cut - something I hadn't anticipated.

But by the time he got a piece to eat, he was all good :)

At home after a busy afternoon... he was tired. But we still opened more pressies. Giant bubbles and a Leap Frog Learning Pad from his cousins :)

From us, he got a sand and water table. But he hasn't seen it yet. I have dyed some rice in 2 different colours to use instead of sand and water for now, as it's still too cold to use outside. Also, I'm pretty certain he won't touch sand because of his sensory issues. He probably won't touch dry rice either, but it might be more appealing with the bright colours. We shall see!


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Igglepiggle Cake

A very last minute cake for my son's birthday. I had only 1 day to plan and make it, but I think it worked out ok. This was my first attempt at making a fondant figurine! Little man recognised the character (Igglepiggle from In the Night Garden) and smiled when he saw him, which made me very very happy :D

Hubby thinks he looked a bit stoned, and I think I agree with him hehe. But then again, I think the shows' creators must have been stoned when they made the show!

The cake was chocolate with milk chocolate ganache.... Erik's favourite :). I'm a shocker at cutting cakes, I always make such a mess!

Everything was edible except the ribbon and candles.

....I really need to get some alphabet and numeral cutters though :S


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Late Night.

Last night, I was up until around 2am. I am so tired.

Little man has had a cold - just a regular old sniffle bug, nothing major. All the kids have got it now, but little man is at the end of it. For some reason, he started wheezing and coughing yesterday afternoon. Sounded like asthma, but the doctors still refuse to give a diagnosis of asthma for him. I gave him ventolin regularly throughout the afternoon and evening, not too much, just a little bit to try and take the edge off the wheezing. It helped a bit. At night he wouldn't sleep for wheezing so much, he went hyper. He is normally a good sleeper, and he didn't sleep at naptime, so he should have been dog tired. The laboured breathing was the problem. I gave him more ventolin and waited. Still didn't sleep. At about 1:30am, I had to give him Prednisolone ... it's the only thing that helps. I was able to get to bed at about 2am, when it sounded like he was finally settling. I can't sleep when I know he is having trouble breathing.

I really wish the docs would diagnose asthma so I can get him on a preventer and avoid these situations!!

Oh, to snuggle up in bed all warm and cozy and fluffy, and sleep.... drift away, undisturbed, until I am fully satisfied with rest.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

It's Not Me, It's Him!

Have you ever had one of those times where you realise something about yourself that you sort of knew, but never fully acknowledged for whatever reason?

A few days ago, I realised that I stress alot whenever I have to take my little man anywhere. I mean, alot.

I realised that I become very highly strung. Very irritable. And sometimes, I get very upset when unexpected variables are thrown into the plan at the last minute. Hah... maybe I should have myself checked for Aspergers or something :).

But seriously, I stress alot.

As I sit down to analyse why I feel this way, thinking again that I have a problem, I realise that it isn't all me. It actually does have alot to do with my son. At times like these, I am worrying - justifiably I might add! - about whether or not he will cooperate; or whether he will have a tantrum and make us late ... even just him screaming in the car is enough to stress me out sometimes. It's alot to take when you're already dealing with it for a good part of the day. I won't say he's like this all the time, but the times when he becomes difficult are usually associated with being out and about and the process of getting ready to go.

From the first minute of the day, I am having to coax and cajole him ever so gently. Gently wake him up if he needs to be woken (I hate doing this, he is always grumpy); sweetly coax him out of bed; patiently tolerate his squirming and protests when changing his clothes and nappy; woo him out of his bedroom.... sometimes he won't even come out until I take his hand and walk with him.

To get to the car I have to try and get his shoes and jacket on. He squirms and wriggles and won't stand still. I am currently breaking his pattern for putting shoes on, so he does sit on the couch without too much complaint now. But he slouches. And squirms. And moves his feet so I can't do the laces properly. Then I have to get him to the car....

We walk the same pattern, but sometimes, for whatever reason, he feels something is wrong and won't walk willingly. I have to wait until he's ready. He might stand at the door and stare for a minute or two, until he is ready to move on. When he climbs into the car, he walks up and down in front of the back seat and then stares at his chair until he's ready to climb into it. Then he stays on his knees looking out the back window till he's ready to sit down and be strapped in. I have to be soooo patient, and sometimes that is just so hard to do when you've got time constraints.

Sometimes, it's just all too much. And this is just the day to day routine of taking the big girls to school!

When we go somewhere new or different, I don't know what he's going to do. Sometimes, he is perfectly fine. Other times, he is so upset at the changes, that he just cries and tantrums the whole time. I can't relax. I never know when he's going to do a runner on me either. So I'm constantly watching him... following close in case he makes a dash. People think I'm overprotective and paranoid, even if they know he has Autism. I'm not. But they just don't get it.

My boy doesn't understand the world the way other kids do. It's a big and frightening place for him sometimes and he doesn't understand it. New places often means tantrums and that means that I am occupied with calming him. Usually kneeling on the floor beside him, speaking calmly, gentle words, gentle hugs (when all I want to do is shake him out of it and yell at him to get over it). This usually means I can't carry on a conversation with anyone. Or attend to the baby, or the big girls. It's very full on. And I am so tired of it. I'm just tired of being so on the edge all the time. It gets so draining.

So I guess that is why I stress hard whenever I have to take my boy anywhere. I know what's in store, I know the mental resolve required of me, and sometimes I'm just too exhausted for it all.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tappy's Hammer

A little while ago, when we first realised there was something going on with Erik, we went out to buy him some toys. We did this because he wasn't playing with anything we had at home, and now that we knew the reason why, we thought we should find some toys that would cater more to his particular preferences. After all, can't have him walking around in circles all day now can we? And walking around the house was literally all he did most days.... except when he was tugging at my legs to get me to go one place or another with or for him.

Anyway, one of the things we bought was Tappy the Turtle. Hubby chose it - he is very good with choosing toys for kids. I always seem to miss whereas he usually makes perfectly appropriate choices. I wonder why this is.... hehe :)

Tappy with his head tucked in.

Even in the trolley, my little man was already enjoying this new toy. When we took Tappy home and took him out of the packaging, little man was right into it! Pushing all those shapes down and then grabbing me to tuck Tappy's head back in so all the shapes would come out again. Eventually, we taught him how to tuck Tappy's head back in all by himself. But although he liked playing with Tappy, he never ever used the hammer that came with him.

Until recently.

Over the last couple of days, I have found mr man doing this:

He's using Tappy's hammer!! Yay!

He's using it the wrong way, but I don't really care! See, my little man seems to have trouble making the association between using various implements to achieve things. For instance; using a spoon or fork to eat - took a long time for him to get this, and it is still a difficult concept. Or using a crayon or pencil to draw. He just doesn't seem to get it. It has always been hands and fingers. I wonder if this is a part of the Gestalt thing? I didn't think it was that literal.... I don't know.

But now he's using Tappy's hammer and I'm so happy! It's another small step :).

He also seems to be proud of himself. I really think he knows this is a new thing and is rather chuffed at his new discovery.

So proud of my little man.


Sunday, August 8, 2010


A small one, but one nonetheless!

In our last speech session, little man finally 'got' the PECS! For those who don't know, PECS stands for Picture Exchange Communication System; so little man would give me or someone else a picture to communicate what he wants. Up until this point, he seemed to be very resistant to the idea and needed alot of help to attain the right picture and make the exchange. But this time, he just seemed to get it all of a sudden!


The speechie was over the moon about it. Come to think of it, so was I. So what happened? ... Well... after walking into the room, she (the speechie) presented little man a board stuck with a photo of a certain toy that we know he likes. She also had the main componant of the toy already out on the table. This is so that he knows we are not going to try to take it away, but are going to give him the other pieces if he just does the right thing (give a pic). This was successful! After a few assisted tries, he began to pick up the photo and give to her himself.

When he began to lose interest in that toy, we popped it into the finish box. Then she decided to offer him a selection of photos of other activities that he generally likes. We weren't sure if he would choose one, but she tried anyway, since he has had exposure to the photos before. To our mutual excitement, he did indeed choose one. And not just a random one; he chose his favourite thing!

Even as I write this, I am reliving the sheer delight that this small action of his brought me. 'He did it! He did it!' I sing out over and over in my head and in my heart. We were just so happy.

Over and over he would give the correct picture in exchange for the parts he wanted. She placed the picture on a different part of the board to see if it would confuse him. It did not. She began to add other pictures on to see if he would make the correct selection or if he would just pick any picture. He chose correctly every time. She turned the photo upside down or sideways. He righted the picture and then gave it to her again. He was amazing! He was totally adorable. I think he also was pleased with himself... what a honey :).

He does not do any of this at home though. It seems he only associates that PECS action with the speechie's office. But I think that is partly my fault.... I haven't exactly provided him with a proper PECS board here. We have only had a few pictures stuck around the house for him. The success of this session did motivate me to go out of my way to get stuff to make up a proper board for him. I can't wait to see if it will work!

Anyway, during the session, I mentioned to her that I had been trying to break a pattern with him lately. He likes to stand up on the couch when I put his shoes on, and totally cracks it if I try to put them on anywhere else. Obviously this is inappropriate, so I need to break this pattern.

'Strange though' I said to her, 'he screams and goes mental over this new way of putting shoes on, so to give him a measure of comfort, I wanted to let him go back to his room and start walking to the car from there as he usually does. But he didn't do it! He didn't even want to. He just went to the car with me from where we already were. It's like the other pattern is broken now too.'

That was when she mentioned he may have a gestalt style of learning. What is that, you say? Good question. One I also asked the speechie:

...Basically, it is where he sees and learns in a 'whole picture' format. So putting his shoes on and then going from back in his room to the car is all part of one WHOLE pattern. By breaking tone small part of it - the shoes-on-the-couch thing, I have inadvertantly broken his whole pattern. No I am not sorry haha! It has turned out for the best in this case.

But that was an 'aha' moment for me big time! This - if it is in fact true - is now a key in my hand to understanding his way of seeing the world. The term was already familiar to me, but since I had forgotten what it meant, I went home and did some thorough research on the gestalt theory of learning. By 'thorough research' I mean I googled it.

Filtering out the technical jargon, this is essentially what I found, in my own words:

To say one has a gestalt style of learning is to say that they tend to see the bigger picture, or to see situations as a whole and understand the way different parts all fit together to make it all work.

One of the websites I found had listed many characteristics of gestalt learners, and I was very pleased to find that many of them did aptly describe my little man. I recommend a visit to Child 1st, which is where I have got the following list from. It has a great post there with alot more detail about what Gestalt learning is for autistic people. But I really love the way they listed the characteristics in an easy to read format, so I copied it to here for quick reference. Some of these I have already seen in my little man and can tick on the list. For other things, I will wait for more obvious signs.

Common Strengths of Gestalt Learners
  • Learns best through movement (tick!)
  • Will focus on whole picture (tick!)
  • Needs emotional relevance to self (tick, tick and tick!)
  • Needs to see and hear the whole image/sound in order to learn (tick!)
  • Prefers not to have step by step directions
  • Works best when understanding the desired end product and intuitively does what is appropriate (tick!)
  • Exhibits good memory for images and whole concepts (double tick!)
  • Might need to close eyes or turn head away from teacher in order to process learning
  • Learns best with 3-D / hands-on (tick!)
  • Needs to move while processing new information, but with very little external stimulation that would distract (tick!)
  • Needs quiet time alone, especially when processing new information (double tick!)
  • Appreciates seeing examples of what is required, hearing metaphors and associations when learning
  • Must be able to see, hear, move and or verbalize the whole context before learning details
  • Needs to learn kinesthetically (using their hands) to process learning
  • Quickly grasps the main idea (tick!)
  • Is often highly intuitive
  • Picks up on the intention and emotion of the teacher while learning
  • Needs to physically process what he is learning

Challenges in Learning for Gestalt Dominant Children
  • Learner will see the whole picture but might have difficulty breaking it down into a sequence of words in order to express what he sees
  • Learner might have trouble explaining how he arrived at an answer once he’s solved it (such as in math problems when directed to show his work)
  • Might reverse or transpose letters or numbers
  • Although he might quickly grasp the main idea, he may have great difficulty in communicating the details in a linear way (logical sequence of steps)
  • May have difficulty with penmanship
  • May have difficulty listening to a lesson unless he is able to look away or shut his eyes.
  • Might have difficulty with fine motor activities
  • May have a difficult time processing new learning and committing it to memory unless he has time to reflect without visual or verbal stimulation

Gestalt Dominant Children Under Stress
  • May exhibit clumsy movement
  • Seeing and hearing details may become difficult
  • May have difficulty communicating
  • May have difficulty listening and remembering
  • Communication between the hemispheres may shut down

When things like this happen - the PECS breakthrough and discovering things about the way your child ticks - it really is like recharging the batteries a bit. The difficult times are many and prolonged, and when that happens, it's easy - very easy - to feel hopeless. It is just so mentally exhausting. These occasional breakthroughs are just enough to keep me going until the next times something exciting happens. And it makes me hope that maybe, just maybe, he will start talking soon.