* Avoiding the Meltdown

In a previous post, I shared the meltdown countdown that Christopher experienced at a birthday party.   Christopher is on the autism spectrum (ASD) at a moderate-to-high level of functioning, depending upon the stressors in his environment.

My first step was to develop three social stories with photos and diagrams to prepare him for a systematic plan to deal with strong feelings.  He read all of these out loud to me.  If I felt that he was losing the meaning due to rapid or inaccurate reading, he reread that section.  He was also required to circle answer choices and scribe his own words.  Using an adult pen was quite a hit!

Social story #1, Strong Feelings, provided a framework for understanding that we all have strong feelings and how we deal with them is important.  I described his strong happy feelings (which look quite manic and lead him to grab and mishandle items) as well as his strong angry feelings (which lead to shrieking tantrums).   I also described the consequences of his being out of control, including how yucky he feels.  I had photos for all those feelings; Christopher preferred to put his hand over the one which showed his overwhelming sad feelings.  social story 1 image

Social story #2, Understanding Strong Feelings, provided a common language for talking about the intensity of his feelings.  I used a scale from 1 to 10, with 5 being a safe limit for him. The story also outlined what behaviors are associated with increasing levels of intensity (6-10).  He was able to select appropriate descriptors for each level, such as increased movement and talking.  He also demonstrated great insight about his inability to respond to verbal directions once he reaches a 7 or 8.  social story 2 image

Social story #3, Making My Plan for Dealing with Strong Feelings, engaged Christopher in the process of developing his actual plan.  I wrote that he would be expected to take his plan to a safe place, read it, and pick at least one strategy.  When he was finally calm, he could rejoin the group or activity.  Christopher was required to select from choices I included in the social story and/or add his own.  I had included only choices which required movement, since he becomes extremely active when upset.  Christopher wanted to include options such as playing his favorite video games or playing on my tablet.  I explained that he could access those types of activities once he calmly rejoined the group.  I also told him that I didn’t think my tablet was safe when he was at a level 9 or 10.  His eyes widened and he agreed.  He did say that listening to music on an iPod could be calming.  I added that to his list of possible calming actions.  Then I took photos of him roleplaying all 5 choices.  This photo is “curl into a ball, hug myself VERY tight, and count to 100.”  He counted by 10’s, so we will see how this works out in “real life!”social story 3

*Let me know if you are interested in reading the social stories*

Next step?  Share completed plan with Christopher and role play.  Stay tuned for details!

* It’s not about you

Or me.  No amount of acquisitions or exercise or “self-improvement” will make any of us happy.  In fact, numerous studies indicate that a lifestyle of service to others results in greater health, improved immunity to cancer, and less heart disease and depression.  If you make your teens volunteer, even if they do it with a bad attitude, they are less likely to get involved with drugs and have fewer unplanned pregnancies.

With apologies (and many thanks) to Jonathan Love, from whom this message originated (and will posted online soon), we can serve and volunteer our way to happiness. happy

Here are some other quotables from Jonathan:

  • One of the best ways to fill yourself up is to pour yourself out.
  • If you want to be happy, you’ve got to find a way to give your life away.
  • Selfishness is natural, but it’s not the way we were truly designed to be.
  • The value of a life is always measured by how much of it was given away.

Think about my funeral service.  I don’t want a eulogy that praises how many laps I’ve swum, how many times I entertained myself with fairy strands and computer games, or how much I struggled to please myself and others.  I want to be remembered for teaching, caring, and protecting.  For speaking up for the voiceless.  For giving my life to those in need.

What about you?   

* Countdown to a meltdown

Christopher, my nephew on the autism spectrum, enjoyed his brother’s birthday at our house for about 80% of the evening.  Here’s what happened in the remaining 20%.

#1.  Christopher was pumped for the pizza and cake, but his primary focus was his “consolation” birthday gift, a Lego set he had requested.  The whole Gang of Five got these consolation gifts; after all, if adults get attacked by envy, how much more kiddos facing some serious circumstances?  When finally released to open presents, Christopher once again demonstrated his uncanny ability to construct complex Lego sets without directions.  Already familiar with his skills, I had purchased a doozy of a set, hoping to slow him down a bit.  That didn’t happen.

#2.  The birthday boy was still tackling the first of two massive Lego sets while Christopher was distracted by Wii games and a movie.

#3.  Now at the remaining 20% of the evening, Christopher approached his younger brother and in a roundabout way, asked if he could help.  The younger sib was silent.   I watched Christopher repeat this ineffectual questioning a few times, then intervened on his behalf by directly asking the sib if he would let Christopher help.  No response.  I repeated the question while Christopher darted past, rubbing his sib’s hair affectionately and calling him his “best buddy.”

#4.  I’d never seen Christopher show any affection before.  Only in hindsight could I see this as a ploy for getting his hands on the Lego set.   The sib already knew what was happening and remained silent.  We were now at the 10% mark, although I was unaware that we were on a countdown to meltdown.  I brought things to a head by asking the sib to respond to Christopher, reminding the sib that he was on his 2nd major Lego set of the evening.  At the same time, I gave the sib permission to say no.  The sib said no.

#5.  Christopher started dashing between two adjacent rooms, calling himself names and denigrating his abilities in multiple areas.  Another ploy, this one for sympathy, but also reflecting genuine distress.  He mentioned school problems, so I used that time to ask multiple questions which gave me insights into his difficulties there.  Christopher apparently had no rehearsed strategy for calming.  His level of agitation continued to increase so I told him to stay on the couch.

#6.  At the 4% mark, Christopher was still on the couch, beginning to shriek.  He repeated, “I’m scared!  I’m scared!” at esacalating levels of hysteria.  I said ineffectually, “You’re sad and mad, not scared.”

#7.  0% mark.  Christopher left the couch and curled into a screaming ball of fury, right next to his sib.   By then, his grandparents were ready to go home.  This enraged young man somehow managed to deteriorate even further.  I quietly suggested that a consequence be applied and at the thought of losing a chance to play Legos the next day, Christopher morphed into a limp, crying rag.  We said goodnight and I started to think.  Duh.

Next steps in my next post.

* You did what?

Yes!  I got fairy strands in my hair!  Inspired by an adventurous friend and her daughter who have gorgeous sparkly hair , I couldn’t wait for my niece and I to get the same glitter!  I absolutely love my hot pink strands, but have been a bit sad as my swimming cap snags on these beauties and rips them out of my head.  And it hurts a little.  Every day I count how many strands are left after swimming.  Hmm….

Reactions from others?  My daughter-in-law has made every effort to be a good sport, my dearest widower says they look “funny” (funny strange, not funny ha-ha), and two ladies in wheelchairs at WalMart said I look glittery.  Mostly, people look away in silence.  Come on, folks, hair is meant to be FUN!  This is fun, right??

* Tiger pride

The Chapel Hill High School swim team has a strong record of success.  Their student athletes are talented and I’m sure their families savor their winning performances.  However, several hours before their meet this evening, a different team of Tigers were swimming in the same lanes.  The Tigers who swam this morning earn a different kind of honor.   These morning Tigers are special needs teens who walk, splash, and cavort their way down lap lanes and across a rec pool.  They are accompanied by an equally delighted and passionate staff who cheer their best efforts.

I’ve been swimming next to these kiddos for weeks, enjoying their accomplishments.  I actually saw some of them take their first uncertain steps towards the huge pools years ago.   Many are still uncertain while others paddle with glee.  One kid can walk down the lane faster than I swim!

Just as the “official” Tigers’ swim team is grateful for excellent coaching, these other Tigers have equally proficient support.  Their chaperones aren’t sitting idly by while the teens swim; they are calling out encouragement and challenges.

I also see what goes on behind the scenes, how gently and respectfully these Tigers are treated in the locker room.  Talk about patience!  Today I wanted to hug the staff member who managed to get her anxious kiddo headed toward the pool.  That youngster was concerned about crocodiles and other sea monsters, but her personal coach was awesome in reassuring her that the water was safe.

So to both teams of Tigers (and coaches), congrats on your success!  How sweet it would be to see you all together in the pool some time!  @chccs


* NightLight

earth- at nightThe earth looks beautiful from a satellite,  doesn’t it?  Zoom in and see the evil of slavery hiding in the shadows.  The UN estimates that up to 2 million women and children are victimized by traffickers each year.  In Thailand, NightLight is doing something about it.  According to NightLight’s website, “Thailand is a source, destination and transit country for trafficking in persons according to the 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs. In fact, in this report, Thailand was downgraded to the lowest rank possible (Tier 3) in terms of their efforts to combat human trafficking. Fueled by a growing demand, countless women and children from around the world are victimized by gender inequality, poverty and cultural obligations. They are sold or pressured into prostitution and trafficked in and out of Bangkok to sustain an increasingly global network.”

The problem seems so insurmountable that it’s easy to shake your head and move on the next blog post.  PLEASE DON’T!  You CAN make a difference!

Join me as I support NightLight’s goal of selling 1000 earrings this Christmas season.  Every time you sponsor one or more gifts (and it doesn’t cost much!),  NightLight’s Bangkok Field Team will give a pair of earrings to one woman still working in the red-light district this holiday season. In addition to earrings, they will include other small trinkets and treats, and a card telling her she is beautiful and loved. NightLight’s goal is to hand out these Christmas messages of love to at least 1000 women still working in the bars, clubs, streets and trafficking areas of Bangkok this holiday season.  And guess what?  These earrings are made by women who have been rescued from this life of sexual servitude.  Watch this video to see how jewelry-making, plus life skills classes and more, have transformed lives.   A friend of mine has been working with this organization for years and is amazed at their success.

Will you join me in giving potentially life-changing gifts to women who are trapped in the sex trade? 

* Days of déjà vécu

Or in plain English, “Been There.  Got The Tee Shirt.”  This is my Ten Things of Thankful (TToT) post, inspired by Lizzi who also inspired me to cheat.  Since I usually do cheat, burying my thankful nuggets in the midst of ugly shells (like geodes), I’m highlighting them to make the sparkles easier to find.  Here we go.

Remember Deerland?  The hordes of deer who consider our yard their private buffet?  The hours of MY backbreaking work to plant a groundcover on an inhospitable hill?  Not to mention the cost of each supposedly deer-resistant plant?  Well, the king of the hill made his way past our bird feeder, snacking on my expensive lawn cover as he traveled.  I did not notice a single plant in resistance.  No posters, boycotts, tweets, and #kumbaya.  But what a beauty this king is!  His muscles rippled as he appreciatively ate dessert.  Of course I couldn’t get a decent photo; my dear widower was shushing me so we wouldn’t scare him off.  deer 2

I used to think the front yard was safe from pestilence, but this is what greeted me the other morning.  I was relieved that it wasn’t in preparation for my coffin!  I moved past quickly, just in case.

digging 1

And there was a digging bonus!  The holes were evenly spaced all the way down our yard (and street).  It looks like human ant hills, which excites the entomologist in medigging 2

I had a chance to admire a Montessori school in action this week.  Student-led projects, small class sizes, strong sense of community, hands-on activities.  It reminds me of my earlier days of teaching, before the era of inflexible bureaucracy and the testing quagmire.

To top off the week, we had a wild birthday celebration.  This photo with Darth Vader was taken even before the kiddos got to our house.  This group was ready to par-tay!


Most everybody was camera-shy, but we had a blast.  All six kiddos!  That’s more than 10 TToT!camera shy 5

The Melangui

This post highlights the importance of using visual imagery to help kids understand sorrow and despair. Written by a mom with an autistic son, she shares a unique book called The Melangui. Check out the book for purchase and copy its theme with kids who struggle to communicate their strong feelings. The Melangui makes it obvious that you don’t have to be an “artist” to successfully use painting and drawing, although the author, Sara Schneckloth, is quite gifted.

366 Days of Autism

It’s happened again on our campus.

Another young person.  Another life cut short.

After reading my post, “Life” a colleague gave me a book for Tucker.  I’m always so appreciative of these thoughtful, out-of-the-blue gifts. In fact,  I’d prefer to never have birthday gifts and instead receive the ‘I just HAD to get this for you out-of the-blue’ gifts.

Now, in the midst of another loss, I’m compelled to tell all of you about this book.  Why?  Because I think it’s great…and so did Tucker.

It also seems fitting because earlier this week my children and I had a conversation about sadness.  We talked about how being sad and having anxiety are natural and important.  We shouldn’t try to fight off sadness…if we feel it, it’s real.

We wouldn’t know happiness without sadness.  We wouldn’t know peace without anxiety.

These opposites are simply a necessity in our emotional…

View original post 594 more words

* NoCaBloFoNaBloPoMo!

In blog-speak, that’s No Can Blog For National Bloggers Posting Month!  I am done!  I was done two weeks ago, really.  Life happens.  The previous week was a whirlwind of encouraging activity to support special folks around the world.  These missionaries are taking take of orphans, feeding the poor, equipping leaders, and supporting impoverished communities.  This week was a whirlwind of doctor appointments and antibiotics.  PLUS it’s pomegranate season!  Every succulent giant takes half an hour to consume and leaves my teeth and fingernails a lovely shade of pink.  On top of that, I’ve read The Lincoln Lawyer series by Michael Connelly.  AND started learning Russian.  Along with work and cleaning and house guests and did I mention leaf blowing?  It all spells farewell, NaBloPoMo!  goodbye

* Get real

In a previous post, I addressed four common scenarios I’ve observed in families raising autistic kids.  From an educator standpoint, what are the most helpful ways to respond to the three scenarios which are more problematic?  First and foremost, if we are not willing to admit our own predilections, there is no way we’ll have an impact on anyone.  Assuming we are not playing God, here are some suggestions.

  1. Home visits go a long way towards building trust and better understanding of family dynamics.  You may think the child is treated as royalty until you see family life in action.  You may recognize that it’s one thing to establish consistency at school, but quite another at home.
  2. If kingship has been conferred on a child, behavior interventions may be helpful.  The family is walking on eggshells, hoping to avoid catastrophic events.  It makes sense to use a child’s interests to improve compliance.  See if you can adapt successful school strategies for the home environment.
  3. For insulated families, help set up playdates with another child from the class, preferably a “typically developing” student.  I’ve found that lunch bunches offer opportunities for kids to develop relationships with peers.  Provide suggestions to make that playdate more likely to succeed: keep it short, focused on a specific activity, and carefully monitored.
  4. For families in denial, be patient.  You may no longer serve the child when the family finally accepts their child’s disability.  Autistic kids sometimes get labeled Other Health Impaired or Learning Disabled.  They may also be twice exceptional.  At least they are getting successful interventions.  (Or should be!)  Let’s face it: the era in which we live has determined how we “define” kids.  A label is less important than how we help kids succeed.
  5. When dealing with parents in conflict with each other about labeling, be cautious and recognize your limitations.  I have had parents ask me to “convince” their spouse that the kiddo is autistic.  No one can really do that.  SImply describe what is observable and measureable.  Eventually (or not), parents may grasp their child’s differences.  I try to get support for specific goals, not a label.
  6. Parents who have acknowledged their child’s differences and somehow manage to keep all their kids AND their marriage intact are amazing.  It’s a temptation to ask these poster parents to serve on every committee, talk at every parent event, and overall, add to their load.  Resist that temptation.  Help them find good, free resources.  BE a good, free resource for them!boys-883003_640

I now step off my soap box!  Thank you.