Friday, January 28, 2011

Elmo Cake and No. 7

My nephew's birthday and my daughter's birthday are very conveniently on 24th and 25th of January respectively, so we often do a little thing for them on Australia Day (26th January for all you non-aussies :) - it's a public holiday for us!). This year, I made a simple Elmo cake for my nephew.

Everybody loved it and raved about how good it looked. This suprised me a little bit, because it was so simple to make. I can't see any work in it that requires any meticulous use of skills or talent. I didn't even have to carve the cake into any shape! But they all said it was very effective and kept asking how I got Elmo's 'fur' to look so good. I guess I take alot of the stuff I have learnt for granted now. Elmo's 'fur' was made using a grass piping tip. It's an icing tip with several holes punched through it. Nothing greatly scientific. But I suppose if you don't know about it, then it's just something really cool! I was just very pleased that they liked it. My sister stuck a no. 3 candle in Elmo's mouth and we all sang 'Happy Birthday' to the birthday boy. He was just toooooo cute. He loved all the fuss, and the cake and the candle, and nearly burnt his lips off getting so close to the flame to try and blow it out!

As for Miss Jane, I told her that she could have a small cake this time as I am planning to do a party with friends for her later on when the school year starts. She asked for a no. 7 - fantastic!... I thought. Quick and easy.

Both cakes were marbled vanilla and chocolate with vanilla buttercream (just tinted different colours). Miss Jane asked for jam in the middle of hers, so the no. 7 got jam too.

Obviously, my little Miss Jane turned 7 this year. But last year, I noted down some of the hilarious things she said. Kids say the darndest things you know! ( - hey, wasn't there a show about that on TV at one stage? Haha!). Anyway, she came out with some pearlers that often left me scratching my head wondering how the heck she came up with such an idea. Here are some of the best ones:

How does the weather come? (Ummm... well.....)

How do donkeys get babies? (I choked on my juice, but my husband anwered her with a perfectly straight face "Why 'donkeys', Leila?"

Do dogs really say 'bow-wow'? (Err....)

How does the egg get a yolk in there instead of a chicken? (Oh dear, I see us having 'the talk' a little sooner than I anticipated!!!)

Why do ladies have to wear bras? (This one was in the middle of a large department store, right as a man was walking by us in the other direction!)

Mum, what will happen if you take a light bulb off and put water in it? (WTH?)

Mum, if a fairy gets a mozzie bite, will all their blood be gone? ... because they're so tiny! (Bwahahahahahahahaaaa!!!)

So, hahaha, how would you answer her questions?


Thursday, January 20, 2011


I have seen many benefits as a result of my little man attending childcare. But one that I can pinpoint with certainty is the way he has become so much more inquisitive and interested in toys and games around him. In a recent post, I mentioned that he loved his new magnetic drawing board that he got for Christmas from my mother. Well, it seems he is beginning to generalise this concept to other things, which is so fantastic to see.

After giving him some time to enjoy the magnetic board, I brought out some chalk and a duster, and introduced him to the blackboard. He took to it straight away! I looooove this so much. It tells me that he was able to broaden his understanding of what it means to 'draw' - that it is not limited to the magnetic board, but can be used with other things too. So far, he hasn't been very keen on crayons and paper, but I don't think it will be long before we work up to it.

His fine motor skills (or lack thereof) do tend to create problems for him. He is still unable to hold a spoon correctly - he grips it with his whole hand kind of like the way a baby still in the learning stages would. The same holds for his grip on a crayon or pencil. As I stood watching him explore the blackboard, I began to notice him adjusting the way he handled the chalk and duster. I cannot begin to say how much joy this brought to me.... that right before my eyes, he was learning and working things out for himself. In the pictures you can see how he changes the way he uses the duster, and how he moves from two hands needed to manipulate the chalk, to one hand and a reasonably correct grip.

Two hands to manipulate the chalk ... and lots of dots! He loooooooves drawing dots for some reason.

Working out a good grip on the chalk - I like this because it is exercising his fine motor skills.

From dots to lines - 'round and 'round! I adore those cute scribbles *hearts*

He starts off using the duster with the flat of his hand - obviously this is not going to be very efficient, but at least he knows what to do with it!

Wait a sec..... he is using his other hand to hold it steady while he guides the duster with his fingers. I realise this makes no practical sense, but as I watched him work, that was indeed how he was using it. Definitely a step up from trying to 'wipe' it around the board though!

Yay! He finally figures out the best hold on the duster and uses it like a pro - rubbing out anything his sisters try to draw on "his" blackboard haha!!

Beautiful beautiful scribbles :)

These beautiful scribbles are worth more than Monet to me *hearts*.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Family Night

Saturday night is 'family night' at our place. We get takeaway and a couple of DVDs and sit down together for the evening as a family. Obviously from a social perspective, our son doesn't get into it so much. He isn't really interested in movies and it is hard to get him to actually sit down to eat. He often walks around us and poaches food off his sisters' plates. - which they very graciously tolerate! He climbs up onto the couch behind us, tries to put himself on my lap and will generally do anything but sit down at his spot, eat his portion and watch the movie.

It doesn't matter too much to us. We do encourage him to sit down and eat, but the fact that he is exposed to this sort of situation on a regular basis is enough. We are certain he will learn from it anyway, so we don't force him into anything. (We realised very early on that forcing him to do anything usually just backfires). But he has learned what the white packages and bags mean, and he has learned what it means when I rearrange the lounge room to accommodate dinner in front of the TV. Although he doesn't directly socially engage with us the way the other kids do, he does get very excited and seems to look forward to it.

On one family night recently, as we were setting up for dinner, he ran off and came back with a little pink chair/step that the kids use around the place. He set it down at his regular spot at the table and sat down for his dinner. He did this all by himself with no prompting from us! Too cute :)


Friday, January 14, 2011

Lightning McQueen Cake

This was for my nephew Stefano, for his second birthday. I was so privileged to make this cake, it truly was an honour. I think that of everything I have made so far, this one tops them all. On the night before the party, I stayed up the entire night finishing it. Went to bed at 8:50am for 1 hour, then got up and got ready for the party. I haven't pulled an all-nighter like that since I was in uni, but it was so worth it. He is so worth it. Unfortunately, the weather turned out to be seriously, disgustingly humid, so the icing was melting and became very sticky. I'm surprised the cake held up as well as it did given the circumstances! The worst that actually happened was that the spoiler on the back of the car wilted, and you can see that clearly in one of these photos.

Left side view. Photo was taken at home before the cake ventured out into the elements.

Right side Left side.

The rear spoiler drooped from the humidity. I was very disappointed.

Yep, they hacked into it LOL. Chocolate cake with cookies & cream filling. A delicious combination.

Hubby and I were trying to work out how much the cake weighed, because when I came to put it into the cake box, I found that I couldn't lift it, and had to get him to help! (Lucky he was home that day, he was actually meant to be out at the office). We worked it out as weighing around 13kg. I'm not kidding. It was ridiculously heavy! The bottom tier was a 14 inch cake, and the car measured 12 inches long.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011


If you're a regular reader of my blog, you would have met my son by now. If you haven't, this is Erik. Erik has Autistic Disorder (AD), and the official diagnosis was only in March last year (2010). He is 3 years old.

This is one of Erik's cousins - my big sister's boy - Christian. As you can see, Christian has Down Syndrome (DS), also known as Trisomy 21 (T21). DS happens when a mutation occurs on chromosome 21. Any baby can be conceived with this, but it is not actually genetically transferred as such (ie. from parent to offspring and so on). However, the chances of this mutation increase with maternal age. My sister was only 33 when she had Christian. He will be 3 this month. He is only 5 months younger than Erik.

This is Giuseppina, another one of Erik's cousins. Everybody called her Josie. She is my little sister's daughter. Right now, she is with the angels in heaven. She passed away Christmas Eve morning 2008, less than 2 weeks before her 2nd birthday (which happens to be today, hence the extra little post after this one!) She was around 8 months older than my son, so if she were here today, that would make her 4 years old. She had a neurological disorder, which the doctors could not find a name for. Rather, her diagnosis was a collection of symptoms. Pontocerebellar hyperplasia was one of them. She had poor/ degenerating myelination of the brain and neurological cells. She suffered seizures, chronic vomitting, optical blindness (ie. her eyes probably did work but her brain could not process the information), gastric problems, breathing problems, excessive phlegm...... There was alot of other stuff going on that I probably don't even know about too. My sister doesn't tend to talk about it much. Josie never made eye contact with her mother, never could speak, could not control her movements, never walked, sat, or even held her own head up. You get the picture.

And this little fellow, also Erik's cousin, is Josie's little brother, Stefano. He will be 2 years old next week. He has the same condition his sister had. He is also terminal, but right now, he is still with us and has celebrated his second Christmas (although he ended up in hospital for it), and plans are being made for his second birthday party too! This is a very big deal for my family.

None of these disabilities, except for Josie and Stefano of course, are related. They all have genetic or chromosomal origins - even in Erik's case, the evidence for genetics is strong, though not conclusive. Yet none of them are related to the other. For some reason, we have alot of disabilities among the children in our family. In fact, four out of the nine grandchildren born to our family have a disability. That's almost 50%. The first 4 are all fine. Since Josie though, every baby except the most recent one has had a disability. Those are crazy odds.

As I was talking with a friend recently, the subject of my family came up and I found myself talking about these precious kids. She had no idea. In amazement and sympathy she said that our family had really hit the jackpot. I couldn't help but agree. I'm sure there are other families out there worse off or even comparable with ours, but I must be honest, I don't know any.

My other little sister (yeah, I have 3 sisters and 1 brother) is a bit worried about having children - and understandably so. At this stage, she isn't married, so children are not in her immediate plans anyway. I think she wouldn't be normal if she didn't worry about it even just a bit, despite the fact that none of these disabilities has anything to do with the other.

At some point, I think everyone in our family has asked the question, 'Why'. Why us? What have we done to deserve such sorrow? Every time we have been faced with a realisation that something is not right, we have wept and wept and wept with grief, completely heartbroken, wondering how much more we can take. Apparently, we can take alot.

Each of us in our own way has come to terms with it though. We consider ourselves blessed and lucky. These precious, amazing children have enriched our lives so much. They have taught us so much. They have changed us so much. They are lavished with love... cherished more than words can say. It's like a filter has been removed from our eyes and we can see how precious and how valuable and how frail life is; that it is to be treasured and that we should make the most of the time we have here. Not one of us can ever look at another human being the same ever again. They have taught us compassion. They have taught us not to judge. Once upon a time, we would barely have noticed anyone else with special needs around.... apart from the odd one or two at school. But now, we seem to notice them everywhere, these precious ones. And in our family especially, we truly have hit the jackpot :)


For Josie

Cherished forever, precious niece.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Christmas Presents For An Autistic Boy

Choosing toys for a child with a disability can be challenging. I think every member of my family has asked me at one point or another what they could buy for the little man this year. He is a difficult case because he simply doesn't take interest in toys - in 'things' - the way that regular kids do. He has specific and narrow interests, and sometimes, even I can't tell whether or not he will take a fancy to a particular thing. I know he likes toys that move, spin, light up and make sounds/music. The problem is, that he might absolutely love some things for a while, but then he quickly loses interest in them; while he likes repetition and patterns, such repetitive toys can become boring for him after a time.

Our SP said something interesting at our last session there. She said that to expand his interests, we need to find what motivates him - what he really likes - and work from there. For example, my boy loves lines Especially when they go in a pattern. He stims on lines. You can often find him staring at the venetians, or going along the bench tops eyeing off the grout lines on the tile splash-backs. Find a toy that incorporates this sort of thing, and you're likely on a winner. Things like a marble race or car race work well, because the items must go along a particular line/route.

Anyway, these are the things my little Mr Boy got this year:

A concertina. He likes this one, but took him a little while to warm to it. Even now, he doesn't play with it very much. My thoughts were (as I mentioned above) that he likes things with lines.... he likes the hose on the vacuum, and he likes Slinky's. A concertina is very similar in that respect, but it also makes music (read: annoying noise hehe). I also felt that the push-pull action would be good for strengthening his hands and working those motor skills.

Gears play set. This was something I chose based on what I know he loves; spinning and moving toys. It was perfect for him, since it had the gears and balls you drop through a little tunnel as well. He loves both those aspects of it. It plays music, and the gears on it are compatible with other toys in the series. It also turned out to be one of his favourites this year.

A foam sword. This one ended up in his stocking because he keeps taking the green one for the iToy and I was afraid it might get broken. He absolutely loved the thing (green sword). The one he got in his stocking has been a fitting substitute. He liked it immediately. He liked to look at it (straight line again) and he liked to hold it. Now perhaps we can squeeze in some role play with it too....?

A small puzzle. Totally not interested. Won't even look at it. So much for gestalt learning! Haha!!

A toy microphone. This I bought on advice of our SP. She has one in the therapy room. The idea is to encourage him to make sounds in it - any sounds at all, it doesn't matter. We want him to realise that he can do things with his mouth and his voice. He likes it when we show him what to do, but all he actually does is lick it, haha!

A handheld spinning light storm. This was supposed to go in his stocking but it didn't get delivered in time. When we brought it out and showed him, he was immediately enchanted by those colourful lights. He took it and held it in his hands and just stared at it with a smile touching the corners of his mouth. But I've noticed he doesn't like to touch it anymore. I think this is because it vibrates when it is on, and he isn't too fond of that.

A wind up bug. Came in the same package as the light storm. I am pretty sure I specified the toys to be for a boy, but they sent me girly ones. Oh well. The butterfly amuses him somewhat, but it doesn't make him laugh like the wind-up frog Miss Jane brought home one day last term.

A groan stick. Same package as the previous two things, so again, didn't get here in time. anyway, it makes a 'neeeeeaaaaaaaawwwwwrrrm' sound when you tip it end to end. He likes it, but isn't obsessed with it or anything. Occasionally I will hear it's distinctive noise around the place when he finds it and fiddles with it for a while.

Plastic trucks. We weren't too sure he would take to these, and to be honest, he doesn't seem interested if left to himself. But when someone else plays with them together with him, he smiles and tries to join in. Very good to see. Great for socialising and showing him 'what to do' with toys.

A magnetic light spinner. This was from one of my sisters. Took him a little while before he actually noticed it, but this also has become a favourite. You can often hear him giggling while the thing spins up and down the wires.

A pop-up tent filled with coloured plastic balls. Unfortunately, little man hasn't shown any interest in this whatsoever. But to be fair, we haven't brought it out very much to allow him exposure.

A lot of clothes. Christmas wouldn't be right if we didn't get a bunch of clothes out of it! He might not get it yet, but I do, and I seriously appreciate it. He is my only boy, so no hand-me-downs here for him. He always needs stuff - growing boy :).

A magnetic drawing board. This was from my mother, and it turned out to be a very timely gift! In our last speechie session, the SP brought out one of those drawing boards when I mentioned that he likes to take pens from my desk and fiddle with them. He took to the thing in an amazing way. I've never seen him that interested in drawing before. He drew scribbly circles, rubbed them out, and drew them again and again. He just loved it. It made me so happy to see this, because he hasn't shown very much interest in drawing until now. Little man loves this toy from his grandma - it has turned out to be one of his favourites.

Fifty Dollars. From my mother, for me to get him something from her. She really struggled with finding something for him, although she hit the nail straight on when she got the drawing board. I am considering putting it towards some character bedding for when he moves to his big bed. Maybe Diego, or In The Night Garden, or Wiggles or something. Make it more inviting for him :).

He still didn't seem to get the whole 'present opening' thing. We'd put him on our laps and try to encourage him to look inside the package. But he'd just keep trying to escape. The only thing that seemed to interest him a tiny bit was ripping the paper off , because it ripped in a strip pattern - lines again. But at least he in enjoying most of his presents. Maybe next year he'll get it.