Autism-Related Articles, Books, Services

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tom and the Shaggy Dog Story

In the past few weeks, Kathleen (our wonderful speech therapist) has been doing a little bit of testing and evaluation at our request. It's been an interesting experience.

Kathleen asks Tom what the object is on the page, and Tom replies "that's just a toothbrush."

"And what do you do with a toothbrush?"

"Well, when it's bedtime I go upstairs, and then I go into the bathroom. And then I brush my teeth. And I use my toothbrush to brush my teeth."

"What goes with a toothbrush?"

"Well, when I brush my teeth I use my strawberry toothpaste."

It's the long winded approach, but it gets where it's going. But now try this on for size. Kathleen asked Tom what foods he likes to eat. We got into a conversation about trying new foods, and he said "I don't like trying new foods."

"But sometimes," I said, "you like trying new foods. Like garlic bread. You liked garlic bread."

"Yes," said Tom. "This summer we went on a whale watch. We went to Provincetown, and the waves were huge. I felt scared, and I was crying. Some people threw up!" (Here I tried to interrupt to get him back on course, but Kathleen stopped me)

"But after the whale watch," Tom went on, "we went into the town. I saw the pirate museum, and I wanted the pirate toy. But I didn't get it. But then we went to the candy store, and we went to the restaurant. And I wanted pizza. But Dad said, I have something neeew you might like. And he said try this bread. And it was garlic bread. And I liked it!"

A ha! At the very end of the shaggy dog story, there was the garlic bread - safe and sound, and really foremost in his mind after all. Who would have guessed? You'd think I would have worked it out, but today I was surprised again.

We were at Kathleen's and Tom pulled out a toy I'd never seen - a little turkey-like plastic bird. I asked where he'd got it, and he went off on a long riff about picking things up off the ground and why we don't like him to do it, and how he feels about that... and on and on...

"But Tom - where did you get THAT bird?" I asked again.

"Well, when I lived in Pennsylvania, I went to pony camp."

"Yes, you did - but - "

"And my favorite horse was Scooby. And there were lots of different animals living there. There were pigs, but they weren't pink. They sometimes got angry. And there were goats. Do you know what goats like t eat? They like crab apples. And grass. And there were sheep. The sign outside the sheep pen said 'baa baa black sheep.' And there was Fred the Rabbit. I liked to feed him. And sometimes we went inside the barn, and had lunch. And that's where I found this toy."

Now, I know I am somewhat directive in my style, which is something I have to work on. But I have to say it never occured to me in my wildest dreams that Tom's long winded, totally off-topic wanderings weren't off topic wanderings at all, but rather shaggy dog stories with a point and a purpose. I guess it just goes to show what you can learn if you stop assuming you know what's going on, and actually pay attention.

Lesson - mostly - learned.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Bird Tracks (and others) In the Sand

As part of our birding unit, Tom and I went to the local beach with a camera at lowish tide to see what we could find in the way of bird tracks. As you can see, we found a lot more than we counted on! In addition to tracks, we also discovered (on the tidal marsh side of the road) a whole colony of what I believe are fiddler crabs: crabs that dig holes, and have one huge claw. Mighty cool indeed.

Once we found and photographed these tracks, I cut and pasted them into a word document. Then I added lines beneath each photo, and asked Tom to write captions.

So... can you figure out what made all these tracks? Any ideas about what was going on?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

When Are High Standards Too High?

In the last few days, I've had a number of reasons to wonder whether I'm holding Tommy to too high a standard.

We've had Tommy meet with a math tutor once a week, because I thought it was important to supplement TouchMath, which is calculation-oriented, with some content on number sense (focusing on the purpose of the calculations in real life, but also on non-calculation skills like graphing, understanding the concept of multiples, etc.). In conversation with our tutor, I said,

"I know Tom can multiply - but I don't think he has any idea of how to USE multiplication. I'm not even sure he fully understands that 6X3 is the same as 3X6, or the same thing as six groups of three."

"Actually," she replied, "lots of people don't understand that. I'm not sure I fully understood that until I was in high school."

REALLY?? Oh....

We went candlepin bowling, as usual on Saturday. As usual, Tom spoke to no one, and threw the ball two-handed (instead of the usual way, with one hand). He did well: around 70 points. Naturally, I wanted him to interact; to throw the ball "right;" to keep his eye on the scoring screen to know when his turn was up. In other words, I wanted him to act "normal."

But while he was doing his thing, another boy just his age was throwing a temper tantrum. I mean, a real doozy. Another boy his age was rolling the ball - and then rolling on the ground himself. These were not "special needs" kids: they were twelve-year-old boys who are NOT on the autism spectrum.

Later this week, I was talking with Tom's speech therapist.

"I just don't think he fully grasps the ideas of same and different or bigger/smaller," I said. "I mean, he can tell you three ways in which a swan is different from an eagle - but he can't tell you whether six is bigger than nine."

"But he could tell you if you put it differently. For example, if you said 'I have six toys and you have nine toys. Who has more toys?"


She went on to ask whether Tom had trouble in changing his schedule, based on our unpredictably changing job requirements. I responded that he really didn't - he's not an especially rigid person.

"That's huge!" she exclaimed. "Most kids have a very hard time when their routine is disrupted."

REALLY? ohhhh....

Last night, my husband Peter and a local selectman put on a "star party" (observing the moon and planets through telescopes) right down town in front of the library. I stayed briefly, but the kids hung out. One man said to me "wow - I never knew Jupiter had stars around it!" "Those are moons," I replied without thinking.

Y'know, Tom knows all about the moons of Jupiter. He can also name all the planets in order, and describe each. Hm..

Today, I took Tom, Sara, and a friend of hers for a little expedition. We went to a state park, and started exploring a trail. Within about a hundred feet, we knew we weren't on a "real" trail, but both my kids saw a quarry and wanted to check it out. The friend, who is very neurotypical indeed, was scared to stray off the trail - and almost burst into tears with anxiety. As we turned back, Tom wanted to know what the problem was. Why was Sara's friend crying? All he and Sara wanted to do was explore!

Later in the day, we took another path to the "sliding rock." It's a big boulder you can climb and slide down. My kids scampered to the top and slid without thinking twice. Sara's friend wouldn't even think of climbing to such a height. A perfectly reasonable anxiety - but one Tom has never shared.

This week, I also heard from a friend of mine. She has a 13 year old who is truly the perfect kid. He's tall, handsome, a fine athlete, a brilliant student - and a really delightful human being. Not only that, but so far as I can tell he's never had a pimple! I asked how he was. "Where do I start? " she said. "Well, Joey's been diagnosed with OCD. He got to the point where his rituals took two hours a day to complete, and what with traveling soccer four days a week and advanced high school classes, he just couldn't get through everything. So now he's seeing a therapist..."

Tom is, of course, my first child. I have no close nieces, nephews or neighbor children to compare him to. All I really know, as a result, is that he's twelve, and autistic. I know that some 12 year olds can stay home alone, call friends, make their own play dates, even pick up younger siblings at friends' homes. Tom could no more do those things than fly. But he CAN... evidently... do a great many other things that are beyond the reach of his typical peers.

Who knew?