Friday, November 20, 2009

Catching up

It's been a rough time. I was sick (with the flu, then a severe and tenacious sinus infection) for 2 1/2 months, which really taxed the whole family. I didn't feel like doing anything but resting, and Hans took some time off to let me do that, but he needed to be at work, so for the most part we muddled through. I was crabby and I'm sure that affected Jack. Plus I didn't have the stamina to take him to the playground or our usual haunts.

In addition, we had a really rough session with psychologist who had been (is no longer) treating Jack and advising us. Although Hans does not see it exactly as I do, I felt attacked by the doctor, who said if we had followed his advice about starting speech therapy and a hiring preschool aide for Jack 3 months ago, he would be in a much better space today. I felt particularly hurt by these comments because no one has a magic pill or treatment for spectrum issues. As parents we do our best, make decisions that feel right, learn from our mistakes, and move on. While both Hans and I do not disagree with the doctor's assessment, I feel the doctor was quite defensive and did not display appropriate empathy. We are grateful for the assistance he provided in the beginning of Jack's treatment, but believe we need to find someone familiar with spectrum therapies in our area, alternative treatments (some of which we found and are described below), and schools which might be a good fit for Jack in the future. We didn't get that from this doctor so are now searching for someone to help us in this way. The break between us and the doctor occurred at a particularly low point for Hans and I (Jack was a little freak that week) and took a while to recover from.

So I'm not sure how much of that family stress rubbed off on Jack, but he has had long stretches of oppositional behavior, whining, and general pain-in-the-assishness. I realize that parenting has its up and downs, but these downs were really quite low. This past week, though, I am feeling at about 80% health-wise and Jack has been much better. He also seems to have gone through a brain growth spurt; he is writing letters and numbers with increased confidence and skill and now reads incredibly well. Just this afternoon he insisted on reading "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish," by himself all the way to the end, before we could leave for preschool. He sometimes reads himself to sleep at night too.

Let's catch up: I don't remember much of mid-September to mid-October I was so sick. Once I started feeling semi-human again, Jack and I had some really strong growth experiences together. One day we went to free-play at Pump It Up (an indoor inflatable bouncy house chain) and I was worried it might be overwhelming for him -- lots of kids and noisy to boot. But he loved it. We traveled down to the beach at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve a few times and although we always missed low tide, we had really peaceful and fun trips. Jack has asked for a friend from school to come over and play and each time they get together Jack is a little more social and cooperative.

Our preschool field trip to Lemos Farms (which I wrote about previously) seemed like a giant step in the right social direction. Two weeks later Halloween rolled around -- another event which was challenging last year for the whole family. This year Jack coped with a very crowded preschool Halloween party -- he didn't engage with other kids much, but he didn't get shut down either. He was excited about Halloween and trick-or-treated quite capably through our neighborhood.

Preschool has been up and down. Jack's definitely paying more attention to the other kids, but he hasn't yet figured out how to deal with angry feelings well -- we've had a few times when he's hit a kid and one (knock wood) biting episode. We've brought in an aide for him, a very nice, bright woman who we hope will assist Jack in social situations. More and more Jack is willing to play pretend games that don't (or hardly) involve letters and numbers, like donut factory -- his aide will attempt to pull kids into his activities and vice versa.

Last week we started speech therapy. His speech-language pathologist was impressed with his speech understanding and usage -- it's at about a 5 year old level (she had to stop at 5 because he was getting bored). She found his speech difficult to understand, so we'll approach therapy focusing on individual sounds and then moving on to speaking more slowly and clearly.

A class at Project Commotion is another new "therapy." This San Francisco non-profit offers martial arts, Capoeira, and "classes that incorporate movement, tumbling, sensory activities, and play," for "children with autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing disorders, cerebral palsy, and trauma." The class we take is like Acrosports for spectrum kids. Jack does find it challenging, but his instructor really knows her stuff, and I'm hopeful PC will be a good outlet for Jack's energy, as well as a safe place to explore social connections.

For fun we started swimming in one of San Francisco's warmest pools. Jack loves the warm water so much we go twice a week. It's great to have one more exercise outlet now that our pre-winter rain is starting.

Coming up: Thanksgiving. Jack is excited because he knows the time between Thanksgiving and New Years is eggnog season and he LOVES eggnog.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pumpkin patch, one year later

There are no photos from last year's pumpkin patch field trip. I've found I don't take pictures in the midst of despair. In retrospect, it was probably one of the warnings signs for us, that Jack was different from the other kids in his preschool class. After all, there they were, jumping in the bouncy houses, petting goats, laughing.... And there we were, in extreme distress: Jack overwhelmed and shut down, me, overwhelmed and angry. Other than a quick foray into a bouncy house, Jack refused to do anything else. Reluctance morphed into tears and screaming, so we went home. He was so exhausted that he slept on the trip back from Half Moon Bay.

This year my expectations were low. Two days after an extremely windy rain storm, the day was warm and sunny. I hoped for a pleasant drive to the pumpkin patch, a quick tour through the pumpkins before Jack got overwhelmed and we headed home. It didn't turn out that way.

Maybe because of the recent storm, the patch wasn't packed with preschoolers. There was a pleasant amount of pumpkin pickers and lots of buddies from preschool. Almost immediately Jack asked to ride the "train" (an engine pulling faux train cars) and we did to his delight. Then he bounced in the bouncy houses. I asked him if he wanted to watch the ponies. When we got there he said, "I want to ride one!" He stood in line patiently, tolerated being lifted up and placed on the pony, and rode contentedly. I watched in delight, nearly crying, as he reached down to the pony and gently pet him. "Soft!" he said.

After another train ride and a second pony ride, we gathered with the other preschool families for lemonade and cookies. Then a quick group portrait and it was time to go home, pumpkins in hand. When we were getting in the car Jack said, "mommy, can we come back here again?" I said yes, asked him what he liked best. With a sweet smile on his face he answered, "riding the ponies."

I know he's not "cured." We struggle on a daily basis. But our pumpkin patch visit was a wonderful gift, perhaps a glimpse into the future, to a time where Jack will continue to embrace new experiences with joy. A future full of ponies; who can argue with that.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

In the blink of an eye, a month goes by

We were on vacation: one week at home, then one week at Camp Mather (bliss).
Jack went back to preschool after the summer break.
We took a quick Labor Day weekend trip to Louisiana.
We came back and 2 of us (the oldest 2) got very sick with the flu.
Just now digging out. Everyone is mostly healthy, although I am still coughing.

I hope to write something next week.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Two sweet things that make me smile

Jack says:
An animal active at night is nocturtle
The county south of San Francisco is San Matato

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Carrot bread for preschool snack

This has been a big hit at Jack's preschool. It's easily doubled.

Carrot bread
4 ounces (3/4 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
4 1/4 ounces (3/4 cup) white whole wheat flour
1/2 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
5 1/4 ounces (3/4 cup) turbinado sugar (or regular granulated)
12 ounces (3 1/2 cups) peeled grated carrots (shred them with a food processor if you have one)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a loaf pan.
2. In a medium bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a mixer bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, and oil. Mix to combine, then add the flour mixture and beat on low until incorporated. Add the carrots and stir one more time. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir by hand to incorporate the carrots.
3. Spoon the batter into the pan and bake about 1 hour. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean when done.
4. Let cool on a rack about 15 minutes. Unmold and cool completely. When the bread is cool, wrap in plastic wrap overnight.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Work=change and change is good

Vestibular, proprioceptive, sensory integration, crossing midline, pincer grasp, motor planning... all big words pertaining to therapies for Jack. Although the words are intimidating, thankfully the "work" is not, because it's all play-based. Here are some of the strategies we're implementing for his autism:

Playgroups: At least once a week either Hans or I take Jack to a professional supervised therapy playgroup with other autistic kids. These playgroups are always an interesting and unpredictable mix of personalities and autistic traits: some kids are overreactive, some underreactive, some respond to stress by flicking the lightswitch up and down or slamming doors, some by seeming to go to sleep. It's sometimes tricky to get these kids to interact, but when they do we've witnessed some good social growth.

Occupational/sensory therapy: Our home-based work can be just about anything -- on a daily basis Jack manipulates playdough, moonsand, laces with string, builds with blocks and legos and train tracks. These assist with fine motor control. Outside he plays with the hose, draws letters and numbers with chalk, blows and pops bubbles. These two books (Starting Sensory Integration Therapy and The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun) have lots and lots of new ideas we'll be trying in the coming weeks, like bean bag tossing, pounding with hammer and nails, playing with shaving cream, balancing on a wobbly beam... enough ideas for months.

Motor planning (and self esteem): our best therapy is bike riding. Jack is so good at it and enjoys it greatly. We do it every day, for miles at a time. We're pondering purchasing a full-size trampoline; they are pricey but I think he would get a lot out of it (and I've always wanted one).

Soon we'll be starting speech therapy, floortime work with a home helper, and occupational therapy with an expert, so we'll get lots of new ideas.

It's hard to believe that we've only been working on his issues for less than three months (I had to double check the calendar because I didn't believe it myself). How has Jack changed?

In early May, when Jack would come home from preschool, we'd ask him about his day. What did he eat for snack? Who were his teachers? What did he do? He would answer each question the same way, "I don't know." We were at the playground one day and three of his classmates were swinging a few feet away. "Who are those buddies?" I asked Jack. Same answer, "I don't know." Virtually all he would talk about was numbers. He had a "hand clock" -- his two hands would make number shapes and he would hold them up in front of his face and count. Constantly. His favored toys were numbers from a puzzle.

Two months later, Jack sits at the dinner table and tells us a few details about school -- maybe one child he remembers having snack with, a project he did with a teacher (whom he will often remember by name), and what food was tasty for snack. On a day after playgroup he will spell a child's name with letters in the bathtub. We haven't seen the handclock in weeks. He does still fixate on numbers, particularly when stressed and at the end of the day, but Jack now has the capacity to talk about other subjects, spontaneously show interesting things to us, and bring a toy for admiration to a visiting adult at home. Instead of playing exclusively with numbers, he plays with just about everything. His old show-and-tell standbys, the number puzzle pieces, have been replaced with a favorite book, one of his nuts and bolts, a small car, plastic animal, etc. While in the past he would most often relate to his numbers as if they were people, he's now moving through an obsession with babies. I can see this drifting toward a better understanding and acceptance of kids as playmates. It's coming, I'm sure of it.

In May, conversations were fragmented and illogical. When asked why, he would be unable to respond, or would say, "that's just the way it works." Now Jack can often respond with reasonable logic. He can now accurately recount the details of a bicycling adventure or explain how an argument started and was resolved.

Jack's sensory awareness has grown. He was previously underreactive -- I'm convinced that's why we've had so many problems with potty training (it's getting better, but most of the time he's still not aware when he needs to go). Now he wanders into the kitchen and says, "I smell something yummy." We have some work to do with his sense of touch, but overall he's more sensory aware.

Only one month ago, when asked to draw a circle he would switch the crayon from one had to the other; now he uses only one hand (usually the left) to complete circles, and is willing to cross midline (this helps to establish the dominant hand and is important for beginning writing).

He can and will throw epic tantrums when he doesn't get his way. But he's learning that a stack of blocks that gets knocked over can be fixed. One favored toy can be shared back and forth with a preschool buddy (he did this yesterday and I thought I would fall over -- He and a friend from school were both grabbing for the bubble bear at the same time and Jack said, "we can take turns."!).

I think his biggest improvement is eye contact. A few months ago he would not look at us unless we begged him to. Then eye contact was brief and perfunctory. Now he looks at everyone and has learned the joys of nonverbal communication -- his eyes sparkle again like they did when he was a baby. When he is fully absorbed in play it can be difficult for him to break away and make eye contact, but overall he is much better.

We still have a lot of work ahead of us. Jack's empathy is not great and this can lead to big blow ups between us, like the other day when I badly cut my finger and stumbled around looking for something to staunch the blood flow while Jack screamed about wanting cherries and needing me to count to 9 RIGHT NOW. Less than ideal.

He is creatively mischievous and tests boundaries constantly. His top trick last week was to remove the running hose from the splash pool and place it inside the house, flooding the bedroom. That was not a fun afternoon. Both at home and school he seems compelled to rather violently dump stuff and then is never willing to pick anything back up. Perhaps encouraging more structured dumping (a small backyard sandbox?) will lessen the impulsive dumps. I have to remember that emotionally he is lagging behind a bit, and also that a little misbehaving is not the end of the world.

We love him deeply and are so happy that the work we've started is already helping. Onward!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

All mixed up

Jack has mostly moved beyond individual foods kept apart. He drove right in to his first burrito (filled with tofu, his choice) and also will eat small bites of chicken shawarma.

As part of our "reward good behavior" plan he's been getting Joe-Joe's (Trader Joe's oreo knockoff) every once in awhile. Hans and I both noticed that the very first time he got one he immediately twisted the cookie apart and ate the filling. When we showed him he could dip the cookie in milk he got even happier.

His favorite beverage these days is half soy milk half juice. He giggles when he drinks it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Another improvement

This morning Jack got himself ready to go to the farmers market.
He took off his pajama top and pants and put them in the laundry, peed without complaining, put on his pants, and put on his shirt (with a tiny bit of assistance -- the boy's got a big head!).

Here's a photo from earlier this week; he was struggling with his pants.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A great quote from Autism Vox blog

From Autism Vox:

"What’s the smartest thing anyone ever said to you about your autistic child?

Said one respondent whose 3-year-old daughter was diagnosed two years ago, 'She is progressing well and although she still shows signs of autism on a daily basis, my wife and I sometimes question the early diagnoses. With that said, someone once told us that whether it is autism or not, she still has some developmental issues which need to be addressed. Concentrate on those things as opposed to getting all hung up on the bigger autism diagnoses.' This comment helped us do just that and feel as though it provided a bit more focus on her treatment moving forward.”

(forgive the punctuation issues -- I wanted to keep the spirit of the post without rewriting it)

I ordered Jenny McCarthy's "Mother Warriors" book today. I refuse to buy it new, but figured I could live with myself if I bought it used, so I did. If you're interested in a review, here's a great one.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Getting logical

This week we've been working on closing circles of communication, cooperation, and logical thinking.

Closing circles is actually pretty easy -- when Jack changes the subject abruptly, we remind him what we were talking about, and encourage him to finish one thought before moving on to another.

To foster cooperation we've been unabashedly bribing Jack. I'll offer him a cookie as a reward if he can get himself at the door for school by 1on the dot, or a chocolate chip for picking up train tracks. The idea here is that completing activities and conscientious behavior increase self esteem. Gradually rewards are eased away and good behavior is its own reward. By implementing rewards we've seen his cooperation improve dramatically.

Jack is smart and can use his words to further his agenda -- I'm happy he has a good imagination, but logical thinking is particularly important to communicate with his peers. A few days ago we asked him to put his bike in the garage and he said no -- that there was a magical door and Veruca Salt (or one of his girls; I can't keep them all straight) was parking her bike in the driveway, so he was leaving his there as well. We don't want to tell him his imagination is wrong, but we do need to move him to true expressions and honest opinions. So we try to start with his (illogical) comments and move them toward reality. "You don't want Veruca to lose her bike do you? Why don't you open the magic door and you and Veruca can park together in the garage." (Of course this little bridge between illogical and logical came much later; at the time we just stood there mumbling, magic door... Veruca Salt... what the fudge?) Another response could have been," Jack, do you not want to put your bike away?" This redirecting takes practice and it's clear we'll be working on it for a while!

Jack got a few nice little self-esteem boosts this week. He's been burning up the sidewalks on his new bike: he can ride quite far and so far he absolutely does not complain or whine while riding. When he's tired he asks us to carry the bike until he's ready to ride again. We're loving that! Jack went on a hike with a girl who just started preschool, and although he was nervous, he enjoyed it, and she seemed to like him. And we got a fun surprise at the post office a few days ago. We had to wait for quite a bit, and Jack was very patient. One of the wonderful post office ladies gave him a lollipop to reward his good behaviour and he has not stopped talking about it!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Keeping busy and positive

I'm learning so much from Floortime therapy, including the importance of my attitude. When I'm tired/crabby/sick it is incredibly hard to engage and make positive connections with Jack. So I'm making a list of therapies that work and inventing new ones to keep us from getting bored. If I do start to feel low, shifting gears seems to help.

Stuff that works:
1. any kind of pretend/make believe that Jack comes up with
2. bubbles -- chasing, popping, and blowing them
3. hide and find
4. beads -- dumping, filling, stringing
5. coin sorting and feeding into piggy bank
6. simon says
7. playdough manipulation, also hiding small items in playdough for him to find
8. wash away -- I write stuff in chalk outside and he washes the chalk off with the hose

Stuff to try:
1. small item sensory, like beads in beans
2. crossing midline games? I wish I could think of some
3. what is it: blindfold, touching feathers, leaves, etc.
4. multi-sensory games -- with a blindfold on, feeling different food items, smelling them, then eating them
5. tell me how (sequencing) -- have Jack tell me how to achieve different physical goals
6. treasure hunt hike -- find items on a hike, then bring them home and make rubbings with crayons
7. obstacle course -- will have to do outside

Overall, Jack is doing great. He has spontaneously played with kids at the playground a few times, engages at his weekly therapy playgroup, and at home creates imaginative make believe scenarios constantly (we made fox-shaped candies in Mr. Willie Wonka's factory after lunch today).

His behavior at birthday parties has become a benchmark for his growth. Previously he would literally lay around at a party, seemingly tired (in truth disconnected), wait impatiently for cake, and then demand to go home. This past weekend at a birthday party he made eye contact with kids, interacted with them, and was quite physically active. When were we getting the kids corralled for cake he asked me if we were leaving after the cake. I said I didn't know; did he want to leave? His answer was no! We almost had to drag him out. Progress!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A two-veggie snack

At Jack's preschool each child's parents are charged to bring snack about once a month. The requirements are simple: enough vegetable, fruit, complex carbs, and protein for 20 kids, 2 parents, and 2 teachers. Protein and carbs are easy -- challah, whole wheat bagels, whole grain biscuits, etc (but never nuts and since some kids are vegetarians, it's best to skip meat). Fruit is hard to screw up, since the kids love anything sweet -- strawberries and blueberries are always popular. The veggies are tough though. Baby carrots (which must be steamed) are successfull, as is dried seaweed. Seaweed has quite a bit of vitamin A, but also loads of sodium. I've tried red pepper strips and jicama tossed with lime juice with no luck at all.

Because I love to bake, my solution is often zucchini muffins supplemented by plain yogurt and fruit. This past week I watched a Good Eats episode dedicated to sneaking parsnips into kids' foods. A recipe for parsnip muffins was presented, but I was dubious about parsnips carrying that recipe. But how about parsnip and zucchini bread? Parsnips aren't exactly a nutritional powerhouse, but they do have a fair amount of vitamin C and fiber, as well as some iron and calcium. Zucchini supplies a wonderful dose of vitamin C, plus vitamin A, calcium, and iron. This bread is healthy and tastes really good. The recipe works as as muffins or a loaf, and is easily doubled.

Parsnip and zucchini bread
(adapted from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook)
2 cups (8 ounces) white whole wheat flour
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) bread flour
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (6 ounces) milk
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) canola oil
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces from about 2 medium zucchini) shredded zucchini
2 cups (about 6 ounces from 2 small parsnips) peeled and shredded parsnip (don't use the tough cores)
1 teaspoon lemon zest

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9x5 loaf pan.
2) In a large bowl whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Combine the eggs, milk, and oil in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Mix until just barely combined -- do not overmix. Add the zucchini and parsnip. Stir until veggies are combined. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes.
3) Test the center with a toothpick or wood skewer -- it should emerge cleanly when done. Remove to a cooling rack and let sit for 10 minutes before removing from the pan. Let cool completely before cutting.

(Note: to make muffins instead of a loaf, raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake about 20 minutes)

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Some "numbery" activities can make Jack a little too wacky. We had a small problem with map reading last week and the bottom line is, we won't be doing that again for awhile. Dot-to-dot puzzles however seem to be purely positive. They improve his motor skills, he loves them, and completes them calmly. I especially appreciate that calm focus when Jack sits with a dot-to-dot book for 15 minutes while I cook dinner. Bliss!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The super bag

Yesterday Jack said he was a super boy. I agreed. Then he asked how could he be a super super super super super boy. Lightbulb.

"Hey Jack," I said, "how about we make a bag with your name on it and every time you do an awesome thing, we but a piece of paper with super written on it in the bag. But, I have to warn you, every time you do a naughty or not so awesome thing, I'm going to take a super out." It seems we hit the jackpot with this. All morning when he was on the verge of dawdling or yelling in frustration, I said, "Jack -- super bag." Immediate compliance. He got supers for putting on his underpants and pants by himself without dawdling, peeing and washing his hands independently, hurrying when it was time to leave for preschool, and wiping up a milk spill. No supers had to be removed.

Jack's pretty into pretending to be a mommy these days, so we made super bags for his pretend babies: baby Joy, Zeke, and Violet Beauregarde (I know, Violet's not a baby -- you tell him that). Jack is in charge of those bags, and he rewarded baby Joy and Zeke for peeing in the potty. Jack also brought up how Violet was kind of naughty for eating the gum when Willy Wonka told her not to.

Even if the super bag works for just one day, hey, this has been one great day.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Home-grown therapy

I'm 150 pages into Stanley Greenspan's Engaging Autism, and enjoying it greatly. The book explains Floortime, Greenspan's therapy method for kids in the spectrum, a connection-based model which builds skills through strong emotional bonds and fun. Greenspan promotes creating entertaining therapies that foster imagination, problem solving, and social skills.

Our main challenges for floortime are adjusting fluidly to changes in play and stretching the activity as far as possible with circles of communication. This morning Jack and I played with his "adventure tube," one of those flexible crawl-through tunnels. First he crawled into the middle of it and I pulled him around the house. Every once in awhile I asked him what room he thought we were in. Then I propped one end on the top of the bed and asked him if he could crawl out the top. He was giggling constantly. I put it back on the floor and he got in, with his back to me. Could I understand him if he talked and I couldn't see his face? No! How about facing each other? Yes!

Then we took the tube into his room. He got in one end and I elevated the other slightly. A convoy of stuffed animal friends slid down to him, then all the small balls we could find. Then we really got going. I wondered out loud if we could find more balls, and he suggested the balls from our magneatos, which are a set of magnet balls and sticks/rods. First he carried the balls to me two at a time. Then he used 2 of the pole parts and carried four at a time. I asked him if he could find a way to transport more than 4 at a time, and he did, attaching 6 together magnetically. Our creative play went on until lunch, and I did not look at the clock for some time, that's how much fun we were both having.

All this fun is still work though, an it's exhausting! So I'm quite glad Jack went to preschool this afternoon, giving me some time to rest and recharge.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Firsts and improvements

In the past 2 weeks, Jack has:
said many times "look at me! watch me mommy!"
initiated imaginary play on his own, with us or by himself
started providing feedback about smells

The smelling is really funny. Instead of "eeeeeww" he always says, "ooooohh, that smells bad," as if cookies were coming out of the oven or something equally delicious was underfoot.

He's getting seriously good at beginning reading. With some basic books he gets 5 or 6 out of 7 words in a sentence, if they are all on the small side.

We also see improvement in self care. He's getting better at dressing himself and wiping his nose and a few times last week he used the potty independently.

Monday, May 18, 2009

This year's garden

Last summer we had great success with lettuces, beets, potatoes, and carrots. This year I'm continuing those favorites and experimenting with some new edibles. We're trying kale, cabbages, Japanese pumpkins, pole beans, summer squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and lentils. The kale, cabbages, brussels sprouts, and broccoli are not flourishing. The lentils look ok, but I didn't really expect them to thrive -- I just wanted to see what lentils look like growing! Tomatoes may stay in the atrium since the summer fog is becoming more common. The yukon gold and fingerling potatoes and 5 kinds of lettuces are the stars so far. All these vegetables are grown from seed (from Bountiful Gardens, a most awesome seed source in Willits) this year except the potatoes which arrived as seed potatoes from Maine (via Cook's Garden).

In addition to our 2 apple trees (which we bought in 2006 from Trees of Antiquity), we've added a new potential perennial fruit source this year: a blueberry bush. It looks happy so far, and the apple trees, which bloomed a full month later than last year, have small fruits which look to be growing fast.

Here's to a summer of eating!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I hope he gets it

We've been working on love lately. I tell Jack many times a day that I love him. He usually says nothing back. I tell him I like it when he tells me he loves me. Sometimes he'll say it. This afternoon he said he didn't love me anymore. This would be hard to take if I believed he understood what love is. But I'm just not sure.

This evening, after a long day, I snuggled Jack in bed. He ran his hands through my hair, back and forth. "That feels nice... very loving," I told him. Then I gently touched his soft hair and asked him if he liked that. "I like that very much," he said.

"Stay with me... stay until 5:58." I told him I would see him in the morning, that I was always close by.
"Because I'm in your heart?"
"Even when we're not together?"
"Because you love me so much?"
And then I cried silently, my tears soaking into his hair as I continued to hold him.

Maybe he's just repeating what I tell him constantly. Maybe some part of him understands. I really hope so. But I know he loves me. I've always known he loves me.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Rainbow disconnection

In March I met with Jack's preschool teachers for his bi-annual progress report. This was the second conference since he started preschool in September. The first conference had been a bit shocking for us; his teachers felt Jack's behavior was often inappropriate -- we left feeling that he was misunderstood. Since then though, Jack has made progress in some areas, particularly curtailing his urges to pull letters and numbers off the walls and cubbies. So I wasn't expecting balloons and champagne, but I was cautiously optimistic about his progress.

Hans stayed home with Jack that morning and I arrived at school at 8:30 for the first conference of the day. It did not go as expected. His teachers agreed he had made progress in some areas, but they pointed out that he has been unable to make friends, and urged us to have him evaluated for (saying the word without literally saying it) autism.

I came home in tears. How could they think he was autistic? Our sweet little boy who came running to my arms every time I picked him up from preschool, would curl up in my lap to read, and loved to listen to music with us every chance he got. This was a disconnected kid?

As soon as I could I Googled autism. No, Jack didn't bang his head against the wall, rock or sway when distressed, or flap his hands. Then I noticed a subcategory of autism I had never heard of before -- autism spectrum disorders, and in particular Asperger's syndrome. From "In Asperger's Disorder, affected individuals are characterized by social isolation and eccentric behavior in childhood. There are impairments in two-sided social interaction and non-verbal communication. Though grammatical, their speech may sound peculiar due to abnormalities of inflection and a repetitive pattern. Clumsiness may be prominent both in their articulation and gross motor behavior. They usually have a circumscribed area of interest which usually leaves no space for more age appropriate, common interests." The more I read the more I saw Jack. He was having trouble making friends -- he's always had trouble with that. Even as a young toddler when I took him to playgroups or library sits he immediately wanted to go home. His play involves his parents but not kids his own age. The other big red flag was his obsession with numbers. He sees numbers everywhere we go -- on houses, at the store, tracks on a cd... you name it and he's somehow found a numerical component to it. His math skills are insane: not only can he add and subtract numbers up to 50 (sometimes higher), he also understands the concepts of multiplication and algebra, at the tender age of 3 years 5 months. Instead of normal small talking, numbers have been becoming almost all he will talk about.

The other Asperger's characterizations did not seem to fit him, particularly poor gross motor skills, clumsiness, and peculiar speech. But the intensity of the first two symptoms was so strong I felt at once that this was Jack. I felt deeply sad that Jack could be unable to make friends and live a connected life. And then I felt a strong sense of relief and hindsight. It's like we've been trying to put together a really hard puzzle without an accompanying picture. Because Jack has always been a handful and a half. Since we don't have other children, it's tough to compare him to others, but overall he's always seemed super interested in connecting with us, his parents, while uninterested in other kids. He was never and still isn't mellow. From the moment he wakes up he is up and ready to play. For the first 3 years of his life that was ok, but now at almost 3 1/2, it's time for him to play with other kids. At the end of each day I'm exhausted from the physical and mental stress of keeping up with him. It's time for some changes and some help.

During the past week Jack has been undergoing evaluation at MDAC (Multi-disciplinary Assessment Center) at San Francisco General. The staff there is awesome -- everything we could ask for -- kind, smart, intuitive, skilled, and wonderful. Jack's had sensory and cognitive testing, as well as observation at school and interactions with the psychologist. We go back Tuesday for a final assessment, but after spending hours answering questions with the psychologist, we pretty much already know that they see him as Asperger's. It has been so instructive to see all the evidence piling up as we turned each page on the assessment booklet. "Does Jack look up when you enter the room?" No. "Is he able to make small talk?" I think of him sitting at the dining room table at dinner, while we try to ask him about his day at preschool, and he ignores us, asking instead what 48x2 is (I see now that when he's stressed he soothes himself with numbers). "Does he make eye contact with people he meets?" Usually no. On and on, the assessment showed just how poor his social skills are. The boy who, when I called his name at 18 months would come running down the hall, his cheeks shaking with each bounce, now doesn't seem to hear me when I speak his name 4-5 times. He makes jokes with me and Hans, but not with kids. Only in the past 6 months or so has he become aware of "outside" noises like fire trucks or car alarms, noticed smells, and responded to physical sensations like water on his skin. Yesterday he told me, "I like to play with adults but not kids." I've watched him at the playground ignoring boys from his preschool -- when I asked him who they were he seemed not to know or want to say. When the psychologist brought some dolls out of a bin and sit them on a table Jack instantly wanted to go home. The most telling evidence of all came from Jack yesterday: he told Hans that he wanted to play with other kids, but "I don't know how."

His cognitive tests were very strong, and the staff at MDAC noticed that Jack wants to connect with people, which is important for therapy. His psychologist believes he will respond well to social therapy, which we hope to begin as soon as we get his assessment completed.

The good news is that even after a few days of rather confrontational assessment at MDAC and some "flying by the seat of our pants" home-based therapy, we see improvement. We remind Jack to make eye contact with people while conversing, and he's trying. We play tea party and he accepts a man doll (like a GI Joe type) we named "hiking dude" to the party. I bought him a little doctor's kit and he takes baby kitty cat's temperature and administers medication. He came home from school Wednesday and participated in conversation about his day. When I tucked him in a few nights ago he sleepily said, "I'm the happiest boy in the world."

Hans and I have always said how lucky we are. Jack has always been physically healthy and adorable. I saw a boy about 2 1/2 yesterday at the Discovery Museum being fed through a stomach tube. We have friends with a son whose mind is brilliant but his body doesn't work. A friend from college lost a son to a fatal genetic disease. We are so lucky -- we have a sweet son who says "I would love to help you," a dozen times a day, who giggles as he chases bubbles in the yard, loves to hike, climb, jump, and run. We are lucky. We're a strong family, Jack's been assessed early, and we're all going to get some help. Lucky lucky lucky.

Books we've found helpful:

"The Oasis Guide to Asperger Syndrome," by Patricia Romanowski Bashe

"The Boy Who Loved Windows," by Patricia Stacey (explains floor time therapy)

"The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome," by Tony Atwood

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A reason to be cheerful

Jack just said: "I want a carrot for my snack today!"

Friday, April 17, 2009


Jack can write with either hand. When he uses his right hand he writes from right to left. When he uses his left hand he writes from left to right.

He doesn't seem to favor one hand over the other when eating, so it'll be interesting to see if things stay this way.

A few days ago he sounded out and spelled Cambodia completely by himself. His version was off by two letters: canbodea.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Feeling hot hot hot

Since Jack started preschool in September he's had colds and the flu, but never a fever. Until last week. I think it's safe to say we saved the best for last (ha).

Tuesday evening Jack was very tired and went to sleep early. He slept for 12 hours and woke up with a fever. The next 3 days felt like driving through Texas -- you know you'll get through it eventually, but it just keeps going on and on. Our days were filled with tantrums, crying, everything just plain wrong, no appetite, and miserable tiredness. The only saving grace was the brief and fleeting return of a daily nap.

Yesterday Jack made it through the day without napping, although he was very tired in the afternoon. He went to sleep just past 6 and slept 12 hours again, but woke up cool and happy. Let's hope his immune system is recovered and we put the cold and flu season behind us once and for all.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Healthy and sleeping better

I'm relieved to note that after a miserable February, our family seems to be on the mend from the flu. Jack is also undergoing a shift in his sleeping habits -- going to sleep and waking up a bit later, to our great joy. Lately he's asleep around 7:45 and up for the day at 6 or even 6:30. Much better than 5:30!

When he doesn't sleep well he is often crabby and tired all day, so we're hopeful his sleep will stay stable.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Yogurt accidente

"Well... I was trying to eat yogurt
and it fell on my pants
and that's why
it was a yogurt accidente."

Triple whammy

We all got the flu. Jack started off the festivities with a runny nose and a cough, then took it full throttle with some vomiting and diarrhea. A few days later Hans and I were in the sick boat too, although we stuck to the classic winter flu, with body-racking coughs, sore throats, stuffy noses, and clogged ears. Jack ran a slight temperature for two days, during which he was a subdued boy, huddled on the sofa with at least one of us snuggling him at all times. When his fever subsided he gradually recovered his ability to eat, keep food down, and poop normally, much to our relief. He is now completely recovered and back at preschool this afternoon.

Hans is on the mend and I am too, but my nose and ears are still totally stuffed and I can't taste anything. How very unfortunate since Jack and I made a King Cake for Mardi Gras yesterday -- I was told it was tasty.

Here's a photo of Jack at the preschool Mardi Gras party yesterday.

I can't wait for the cold and flu season to end!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Game, set, Jack

Some days at around 7pm, stretched out on the sofa with a glass of wine in hand, the boy asleep, and the dishwasher humming softly, I wonder... what did I do all day?

Probably the same stuff everyone else with a 3 year old does: laundry, cleaning, cooking, chasing down stray socks and hats, and answering about a million "why" questions. Other than that Jack and I spend most of the day playing games. For Christmas and his birthday he received Chutes and Ladders, Candy Land, and Cariboo. Hans and I prefer Cariboo because it is the most straightforward and the least competitive. Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders were frustrating at first, but after about 2 months of constant play Jack has totally picked up the rules and plays fairly (I won't play with him otherwise).

Now we've started to mix it up by combining features from the games (all made up by Jack, I swear):
1) Play Cariboo but instead of using the cards, utilize the spinner from Chutes and Ladders. If you spin a number that's not available, spin again and add the two numbers together. If that still doesn't get you a viable number, look for a word with that number of letters. Also use a plastic unicorn to open the gates, instead of the key that comes with Cariboo.
2) Play Candy Land with the Chutes and Ladders spinner. Whatever number you spin, move that number of your choice color (6 orange, 2 red, etc). I love this because I somewhat despise Candy Land and this makes the game go really fast. Can be played forward or backwards in this manner.
3) Play Chutes and Ladders with the intended spinner, only climb up the chutes and down the ladders. Oddly enough, the game seems to work better this way, because there are more chutes than ladders.

Is Jack ready for new games? If you have any ideas please leave a comment.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Math breakthrough

Jack's been sick for the past week with a cough/gooey nose and it's been an exhausting 7 days for all of us. He stayed home from preschool and has been prone to tantrums and demanding in every way.

Today the storm broke. He's much better mentally and physically and then this afternoon -- he learned to add.

We were playing our own hybrid version of Cariboo and Chutes and Ladders and for Jack's turn he needed to add 4 and 3. So he though about it and said, "let's see... 4+1=5, 4+2=6, 4+3=7!!!" A few minutes later he successfully added 8 and 4. Then he added everything the game threw at him with little effort.

This math aptitude did not come from me. I can barely add 3 digit numbers without a calculator!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

More proof that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger

Hans came across this article in the NYTimes this week: about kids, health, and dirt.

For parents with small children it's really nothing short of shocking. Gastroenterologists, microbiologists, and immunologists are conducting studies to see if we really need to keep kids super clean. Their new school of thought suggests the rise in childhood asthma, allergies, and autoimmune disorders is due to the lack of dirt, germs, and here's the big wow, worms in our kids' bodies.

One doctor writes that the body is like an unprogrammed computer at birth, and exposure to dirt, etc., is how the body builds a healthy immune system. Researchers are currently using worms to both prevent and reverse autoimmune disease including multiple sclerosis. A quote the director of gastroenterology and hepatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston: “Children should be allowed to go barefoot in the dirt, play in the dirt, and not have to wash their hands when they come in to eat.”

Hurray for dirt -- it's always been a hit with this boy!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The best things in life are free

I'm thinking of letting our museum memberships lapse because these days we seem to be getting most of our out-of-the-house entertainment at the beach.

On warm days Jack will splash in the surf as long as we let him.

On cold days we bundle up and walk along Ocean Beach. We watch crows picking through the sand for treasure and then burying whatever they find. We explore any random sand pits and write numbers in the damp sand. We bring a plastic bag with us for garbage. This inevitably escalates to "what's the weirdest thing we can find today?" Yesterday it was a toothbrush and a birthday candle. Today in addition to the usual straws, candy bar wrappers, and cigarette butts and we found a fork and a dime.

I love strolling while gazing at Mount Tam, the Headlands, and Point Reyes -- what a magical view!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Potty training, continued

We started actively (and desperately) potty training Jack at the end of August, and we're still working towards consistently clean and dry pants.

I know some people successfully potty train toddlers in one day and others start quite early with infant elimination communication, but we have not been that lucky. It's been slow and steady progress, with the kind of bumps and setbacks typical to children.

Jack does quite well using the potty at school (when prompted) -- I think seeing older kids (mostly boys) using the bathroom is very good training for him. Now that he's been at preschool for almost 4 months, he's not the youngest anymore, and he emulates the bigger kids in many ways, potty included. He has been expressing some independence lately, asking his teacher to wait outside the bathroom rather than accompany him. He is working on pulling up his pants as well, so he sometimes hobbles around the school with his pants all the way up but his underpants around his knees.

At home he will usually use the bathroom when we remind him, but he very rarely (like just about never) uses the potty independently. We remind him regularly and he does great, but if we forget or he gets really tired he is prone to accidents.

In retrospect, I would again stop using diapers completely (except at night), grit my teeth, understand and accept that every single piece of furniture and rug would get peed upon, and keep the process moving forward. We decided that once we started in earnest with training we would never go back, which was hard when we had day after day of puddles everywhere and messes in his pants, but we kept going.

I would not try any of the following:

They never have done any good. He was not ready until he was ready and that's that.

When he does have an accident I acknowledge it in a matter of fact way, get him cleaned up, and move on. I know someday (probably pretty soon) he will be totally ready to take responsibility for his bodily functions. Till then, we keep the sweatpants handy and the "accidente" towel on the sofa.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Best friends

For the past few weeks when Hans came home from work Jack would say "Da! You're my best friend da!" Every once in a while he'd add "and mommy too! Mommy is my best friend."

Last week on the way home from preschool, a shift occurred. I mentioned his da and Jack said, "Da is one of my best friends." When I asked who his other best friends were, this was his reply:

1) Da
2) Fredricka (our neighbor Liz's dog)
3) Ryder, a buddy at preschool

I didn't even make the list!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Monday, January 5, 2009

My turn

We've been making playlists like crazy here. Jack can whip up a list in about 5 minutes, and makes up awesome names for them too, like "Milk" and "Jellyfish."

So I decided to make him a cd with some of my favorite songs on it.
1) Adagio For Strings, Samuel Barber. A lovely song. Somewhat tainted by its inclusion in Platoon, but you can't blame Samuel Barber for that.
2) Beyond Belief, Elvis Costello, Imperial Bedroom. One of best songs ever written? Such a clever man.
3) The Golden Age, Cracker, The Golden Age. This is an important message song for me.
4) Roadrunner, The Modern Lovers, The Modern Lovers. The essence of my Boston years in one song.
5) Been Caught Stealing, Jane's Addiction, Ritual De Lo Habitual. Such a happy happy song. I love it. And great guitar work by Dave Navarro.
6) Lotus, R.E.M., Up. Kind of subversive and rocking.
7) You Were The Last High, The Dandy Warhols, Welcome to the Monkey House. Overall I find the Dandys annoying but I adore this song.Whoops! This has a naughty word in it we will switch to "horse".
8) All Night Long, Peter Murphy, Wild Birds. When I hear this I think of my first weeks in San Francisco.
9) The Street Parade, The Clash, Sandinista. Just one of the great throwaway tunes on Sandinista.
10) Gloria, U2, October. One of my top 10 songs. I actually remember hearing it for the first time, in a Boston pizzaria.
11) Classic Girl, Jane's Addiction, Ritual De Lo Habitual. Pretty and sweet.
12) Blackbird, the Beatles, the White Album. Another pretty sweet song.
13) Wolves Lower, REM, Chronic Town. Favorite REM song.
Walking on the Moon, The Police, Regatta de Blanc. A song from adolescence.
15) California Stars, Billy Bragg and Wilco, Mermaid Avenue. Reminds me of camping and Walt Whitman.
The Great Gig in the Sky, Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon. Intrinsically mixed with memories of driving in Death Valley.
17) Dream brother, Jeff Buckley, Grace. Lovely album and this song gives me chills.
18) Black, Pearl Jam, Ten. Saddest song ever? Can't even talk about it without crying.
19) Helpless, Neil Young, Decade. A good song for parents.
20) Just Like Honey, (band shall be referred to as J&MC so as not to offend anyone), Psychocandy. So chunky.
21) Pyramid Song, Radiohead, Amnesiac. I don't know the lyrics and I don't want to know them. I don't know what this song is about but I find it so sad. Like all Radiohead songs, it contains some of the best drumming in modern rock.
22) Julia, The Beatles, The White Album. I think I remember John Lennon wrote this for his mom? It's my favorite Lennon song.
23) Pink Moon, Nick Drake, Pink Moon. Perfect.
24) Baby Blue, The 13th Floor Elevators, Going Up - The Very Best Of. The best cover of this wonderful song.

I had to leave out some songs. There's just no way Tattooed Love Boys is appropriate for a 3-year-old. I hope he likes this cd. I know I will.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Jack's first "mix tape" cd

I know, no one calls them mix tapes anymore. But that's how I remember them, and it sounds better than playlist doesn't it?

For a week or so Jack has been asking to put a cd called "oink oink oink" in the car's cd player. We never could figure out what he was talking about, until today when Hans asked Jack if he wanted to make a cd called "oink oink oink". He certainly did -- this is what he requested, in this order (song, artist, album):

Myxomatosis, Radiohead, Hail to the Thief,
Lucky, Radiohead, OK Computer
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Raine Maida and Chantal Kreviazuk, For The Kids
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Mozart, Lullaby Classics
It's All Right to Cry, Darius Rucker, For The Kids
Paranoid Android, Radiohead, OK Computer
Catch The Moon, Lisa Loeb & Elizabeth Mitchell, For The Kids Too
Telephone Song, Kirsty Hawkshaw, For The Kids Too
The Rainbow Connection, Sarah McLachlan, For The Kids
Hey Jude, The Beatles
Alphabet of Nations, They Might Be Giants, Here Come the ABCs with TMBG
Spring Song, Mendelssohn, Lullaby Classics
E Eats Everything, They Might Be Giants, Here Come the ABCs with TMBG

We listened to the cd on the way to a hike this morning, and Jack listened with a most beatific smile on his face!

Something new

Jack has invisible friends for the first time.
These friends are numbers.
Not boys. Not girls. Not animals. Numbers.
What am I supposed to do with that?