Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Parks and Picnics

We love our new park! Last Friday I packed a lunch for us and we headed over. We got a nice spot on the top of a little grassy hill. It was not too hot that day and we even had a little breeze. The girls love every part of this park to different extremes. Morgan could spend all day on the swings and slides and Piper could spend the whole time in the sand area or splash pad. There is something for everyone! The girls also love the idea of picnics now and yesterday pulled out every blanket we have, as well as toy food items, and played "picnic" in our living room.

Here is Piper taking a "nap." She is not really sleeping, but was having fun pretending to. I wish she was one of those kids who could nap anywhere, but alas, I did not get one of those. I do love her imagination and her ability to have fun anywhere. That's way better than the napping part!

Now, here is an example of "extreme." The sand area has rocks and a "apple core" sculpture that spout water when you push a button. The kids love to make rivers and lakes in it. It was just packed with kids that day too. Piper does not hesitate to jump right in. She was wearing her pretty blue swimsuit, but had managed to cover herself in sand from head to toe. I had already "swished" her through the sprays of water in the splash pad several times, but she kept going back for more. At this point I had already stripped her suit off because I thought she was finally done. Not so much. She went back again and again until that swim diaper was almost falling off her. I sent a text to David with this picture saying "this is YOUR daughter." He sent me a text back saying he was "not claiming that." What do you think Allendorfs?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Chairs and Swings

We had a lovely visit with our RDI consultant Christine yesterday. We love it when we get to meet in person as it always gives us new motivation and energy to keep running our marathon. We have days with our RDI program that we just "don't feel like it" and those days are the ones where we need to remember that it is a long process, but if we are diligent we (and Morgan) will succeed.

Yesterday we had a great lesson in limit-setting. It was something that Christine was going to bring up that session, but just was we were getting started a perfect opportunity presented itself to us. As we were sitting down, I decided to give Morgan and Piper some cookies and milk before their "quiet time." As I placed the cookies on their small play table they both went for the same chair. Piper got there first, but Morgan tried to sit on it too and grabbed at Piper's cookies. Chaos ensued and somehow I was able to extract Morgan from the seat and give Piper her cookies back. Thus the major meltdown began. Morgan refused to sit on the other chair. I sat there and held her a bit and tried to get her to settle down, but she'd already passed the point of no return.

Christine jumped in and gave us some advice. She reminded us that Morgan was mad, but she was OK. She also told me not to coddle her as she needed to learn to "self-regulate" on her own. Children with autism do not do this easily. So, then I slowly backed off and let Morgan sit by herself on the floor. Meanwhile Piper finished her snack and David took her upstairs to her room. As happens when Morgan is upset, she also went upstairs to her room on her own. This is a kind of coping mechanism she uses. We had originally planned on keeping Morgan with us during the session, so once Piper was in bed, David coaxed Morgan back downstairs. Christine had started to review some material with us and I had placed myself in the chair that Piper had been sitting in. Morgan's snack was still there, so at that point she could choose to sit and eat...but she didn't. She saw me sitting there and got very upset again. She had not really calmed down upstairs, so it didn't take much to set her off. She went back and forth between trying to push me off the chair and just lying on the floor crying. Christine told us to leave her be. We could remind her at times that her snack was there, but she needed to try to calm down by herself.

Christine told us this was not about Piper, the cookies, or even the chair specifically... it was about control. I then realized that most times I give them cookies for snack Morgan does sit in that particular chair. Why? I don't know. It just is. There are plenty of times she sits on the other chair, but somehow she has it in her head that for eating cookies she must sit in that chair, on that particular side of the table. She was being unreasonably rigid about this. This is something kids with autism do. Certain things must be done certain ways...and if we let them, the rigidity will continue or possibly get worse. The fact that we held our ground with this threw her into a tailspin of uncertainty and anxiety. It was the unknown and it made her very upset. Now, most people can rationalize that it's just a chair and if you sit somewhere else, the world will not end...but Morgan cannot yet do this. Her brain short-circuits somehow and tells her that something is not right. Then she goes into fight or flight mode. Another important point is that at no point did we take away her cookies and milk. They were there for her if she chose to eat them, but she could not sit in the chair she wanted. After a period of time, and it was quite a while, as we continued to work with Christine on some other items and viewed some videos, Morgan eventually calmed down, sat in the (previously rejected) chair and ate her snack. Success!

This is something that we need to tackle now. Setting limits in these situations will help Morgan to slowly learn that doing things differently is OK. This is more of that "dynamic" intelligence we are working on. Morgan cannot live in her "static" world, she needs to become more flexible in her actions and her thinking to allow her to grow emotionally and socially. Christine shared an example of a thirteen year old boy she worked with who at that age was still very rigid in his thinking. There were circumstances at school where this very thing happened. He wanted a particular chair, and he physically pushed another child off it. At that point, being bigger and stronger, this is viewed as extremely aggressive and is not only unacceptable, it's stigmatizing for the child. Now is the time to work on this and help Morgan not only be less rigid, but when she gets into a meltdown mode, to help her to quickly "regulate" her thoughts and feelings so she doesn't react in a negative way.

We had another great example of this today at church. While playing on the playground after the service Morgan wanted me to push her on the swing. I did this for quite a long time, then switched with David when I had to use the restroom. When I came back Piper was taking a turn on a different swing (Morgan was still on hers) and she wanted me to push her. When I started to push Piper, Morgan got very upset and refused to let David push her. We told her that she could stay on the swing, but Mama was pushing Piper this time. Again, for whatever reason, she was trying to control the situation and we had to set the limit to not allow her to be so rigid. She sure stuck to her guns though and eventually David had to pick her up off the swing and carry her to the car to go home. She cried the whole time and even once we were heading home she kept asking to go back to the playground. She did calm down on the ride once she realized we were not giving in.

It is so easy to accommodate in many ways to keep everyone "happy", but we now realize for Morgan this is detrimental to her development. I know there are many times in the day that I ask Piper to do things that are really unfair to her to make Morgan happy. And sometimes I do the same thing for Piper. We will be working on better recognizing these opportunities for Morgan to learn to increase her flexibility. I think it's a benefit for Piper as well as she cannot get away with some of her two, almost three-year old behaviors just because we want to keep the peace. Christine said to expect it to get worse before it gets better, but if we are diligent we should see things get better after several weeks.

Please pray for us! :-)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Morgan's Sweet Teacher

This is Teacher Deanna. She was Morgan's lead teacher this last year as well as the summer school program. She'd hate it if she knew I was posting this picture. She wasn't feeling well that day, so she looks tired, but otherwise is just the cutest person!

Deanna truly cares about each child she works with. She is firm, but also very motivating for the kids. Morgan liked her a lot. As a parent, she was also great to work with and listened to all of our concerns as well as being open to suggestions we had. She also put up with my random emails and calls to school when I wanted to check in on how Morgan was doing or feeling.

She has younger twin brothers with severe autism, so obviously this inspired her desire to work with this population. It was such a blessing to be able to have her as Morgan's teacher this last year. We're sure we'll see her around school next year as she has promised to "stalk" Morgan in her new class and keep updated on how she's doing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Music Truck

We've been lying to our children for a few years. Really. On purpose.

During the summer we occasionally hear the fabled Ice Cream Truck on nearby streets. The girls will hear the lilting songs playing and will ask where it's coming from. David and I would look at each other and knowingly agree on our approach. He was the one who came up with the brilliant idea to call it the "Music Truck." He'd say something like, "Oh, its a truck that drives around playing music...isn't that cool?" The girls would smile and listen. We were lucky that it never actually came down our street, until two weeks ago.

David was outside playing with the girls one evening and I heard the melody of "Home on the Range" or whatever song they usually play. Then I thought "Uh oh", because the girls have never been outside when the truck came. At that point one of our neighbor's kids, an eight year old boy, came racing out of the house and down the street to flag the truck down. Well people...the jig was up. It was time for our girls to learn the truth.

David came in to get some cash...and admit defeat. Of course the girls were thrilled!! All the kids on our street came streaming out and that truck had a jackpot he never knew about. Funny though, he hasn't been back since, at least when we've been home. Spokane must be short on Ice Cream Trucks...he must have a lot of streets to cover.

The girls scored some cool missile pops and both of them ate every last bit. Morgan even exclaimed at one point, "The Music Truck has Ice Cream!" Hee, hee. I guess we'll have to start calling it the Ice Cream Truck now. At least now we know they don't come around often so we can feel free to let them have the treat when it happens. We were just in fear of having to disappoint them if we had to say no. Maybe next time I'll even have one too!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Advertising for Toddlers

I don't know who Apple is targeting...but it seems to be almost three year olds. While David was watching the Home Run Derby last night, Piper became enthralled with one of Apple's ads. When it was over she turned to me and said "I love iPad!"

Thanks Apple!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

It's all fun and games...

...until you run into your little sister with your new bike!

Piper's fine...just a few small scratches. Oops. But things we a little more successful later...

If you notice some odd behaviors or language in these videos, we are trying to help Morgan to learn to ride her bike using some RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) language. We're not great at it yet, but we are try to use much less "command" type language and a lot more non-verbal communication. This was our first try at this with the bike, so we found it was difficult to stay consistent when Morgan veered off course, or wouldn't stop...but we'll get there.

In the last video Morgan was upset because our neighbors just left to go out of town for a few days. She really wanted to play with her friend Mya. Our goal of this riding session was to get her to ride her bike from the sidewalk all the way across the street. This task was interrupted by her friend leaving. We wanted her to push through this upset state and complete the task (without sending her into a meltdown). One of the many goals of RDI is to help Morgan become more flexible and be able to regulate her emotions better. Also, note that she gets a little help along the way from Piper!

We thought it would be fun to show some progress of Morgan on her bike. We'll keep posting more as she gains confidence.