Autism: Mopping with muddy feet.

From our days in Relationship Development Intervention therapy (RDI), I recalled the principle that autistic children learn a lot by doing activities along beside their parents. In other words: consider the child a life apprentice.

Since learning that, I’ve made a stronger effort to engage Rachel in daily activities around the house. At first she preferred to ignore the world and sit in a corner piled with blankets. Today, though, she is often right in the middle of everything I do. It sometimes makes me smile. Sometimes, though, I just want to get things done.

Yesterday was no exception to the “get it done” mindset. Rachel dropped a bowl full of peanut butter, which shattered on the kitchen tile. I had to act fast before she stepped in the glass and cut herself.

The first part was tricky. Rachel was embarrassed because she had made a mess, so she wanted to help clean. But a shoeless child and broken plates do not mix. Once I finished sweeping, however, there was no keeping her back. Gripping the steam mop with iron fingers, she joined me on the floor.

My first impulse was to jerk the mop away and tell her no. I had to take a breath. My patience had jumped into the trash along with the glass chunks, so I had to stop and think about the big picture: Bonding with Rachel and teaching her a skill or getting the job done quickly?

I told myself to get a grip and let her have the mop. I held the cord and watched her dance around the kitchen. A grin spread over her face. Self assurance rolled from her shoulders. She felt so big! It was so cute … until I noticed the trail of muddy footprints behind her.

Ah, yes. Hadn’t she traipsed through the garage barefoot a few minutes ago? That would explain the footprints–on the white tile, I might add. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. In my head, part of me stomped around. This is so unfair. Everything I do gets undone or messed up. Why do I even bother?

Again, I wanted to grab the mop. But I held back. What would that teach her? One, she would feel like a failure. Two, was I crazy? My child was interested in mopping the floor! Who cares if she didn’t get it right this time. If I handled this well, I might have a big helper around the house.

So, I breathed out and just watched. Rachel looked behind her and grimaced at those footprints. I’m not sure she knew where they came from, but she mopped over all the muddy spots until they disappeared. (I think her feet were pretty clean by that time, too.)

Again, I learned something vital from my sweet daughter who happens to be autistic. Perfection comes with too high a price. When I take the time to be with Rachel rather than be around her, we gain trust and increase her social awareness. Who cares if there are muddy footprints in the kitchen. It’s just a floor. The dog tracked mud in five minutes later, anyway, taking away my clean floor. But no matter how much mud the dog tracks in, she cannot take away the relationship I have built with my daughter through time well spent.

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Motivation and autism

by Jennifer Dyer

We have issues. Who doesn’t? I struggle with motivating our autistic daughter, especially when it comes to getting out of bed and into the car. I’ve tried begging, pleading, crying, dragging, whining, sneaking up on her, carrying her to the car in her sleep, wrestling, and enticing with food. None of it worked. “Your sister will be tardy,” doesn’t work either. So, I resigned myself to dismal mornings filled with stress.

A few weeks ago I attended a conference by taught by Tamara Kasper who spoke on using ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) techniques to motivate a child with autism to speak. (As we live in the RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) world, ABA is a bit foreign to our family.)

Before it started, I wondered if Tamara Kasper would focus on little drills to help children learn to speak in small steps, which is what I had understood about ABA. Yes, there was some of that, but the main point is finding ways to motivate children with autism and the proper way to use those motivating factors.

First, what does the child like to do? This question stumped me at first. I thought there was no way to motivate Rachel. We have bought almost every toy you could imagine and still were no closer to helping her engage with us. But when Ms. Kasper mentioned that one of the kids she had worked with liked to hug an empty gas can, I thought, “Oh, that kind of thing.”

In that case, Rachel likes vacuum cords, the vacuum hose, one Laurie Berkner video, and toys that squish. Usually. She also likes to swing, but only when she is in the mood. She takes my iPhone earbuds and flips them around, and found a rainbow-colored jump-rope at gymnastics that she loved. She often rotates what she likes, but I had a starting point.

So, now what?

What I gathered from Ms. Kasper was to start small. Work those motivating toys into activities, such as getting a child to name a picture on a card, but make certain you only use the motivators when you are working on the desired behavior. Put them away otherwise.

So, I thought about our car-in-the-morning issue. I bought the same rainbow jump-rope Rachel had seen at gymnastics and hid it. The next morning, I pulled the jumprope from my hiding spot and took it into Rachel. I held it out and told her she could have it in the car. She reached for it, but I pulled it back just out of her reach. She followed it down the stairs; once she got into the car I handed it to her. I let her have it until she got to school, then I hid it once she was in her classroom. The next morning I did the same, and it worked!

My plan this week is to expand upon the getting-up routine. Before she can have the jump-rope, I will have her brush her hair and get into the car. Once she is successful at that, I will add tooth brushing. Her speech therapist at school showed me a motivating board to use with this, so once I make it I will take a picture and post it. I also plan to incorporate more motivating toys.

We’ll see…

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Mom wins wrestling match with autistic child…barely.

by Jennifer Dyer

Have you recently had one of THOSE mornings? Around here some mornings go smoothly but others…not so much. Worse, Rachel’s autism tends to make THOSE mornings even more complicated, which was the case the other day.

Rachel has sleep issues; she always has. Lately, her pattern is to awake around 4 a.m. and crawl into bed with another family member. This wouldn’t be a problem if she went back to sleep and didn’t yell in our ears for juice and hot dogs. So, we had one of those long nights where she kept the rest of us up for hours then conked out around 6:30 a.m. Wonderful. Just in time for the rest of us to drag ourselves out of bed. And when Rachel decides to sleep, she is pretty insistent about staying asleep.

So, when it was almost time to leave for school, I began my wake-up ritual in earnest. I tried singing to her, coaxing her, patting her, and even tried to carry her to the car while she slept, but she was having none of it.

I made a desperate move. I called a neighbor to take eldest to school, but she was already gone. Time for a new plan–a tough plan. I took a deep breath and prepared for battle. Rachel used to be a small, frail child. Not anymore. Add to that Rachel’s pre-frontal cortex issues that come with autism (the fight or flight sense is often activated and she has difficulty regulating the amount of force she uses when fighting), and the situation becomes more complicated. In other words, she is really, really strong.

The battle began in a twin bed, which was good. She had less space to squirm away from me. I had her cornered and almost wrestled her to the stairs, but she broke away and hid under the covers of another bed. I pulled those covers off and made another dive, but she was too fast. We rolled around until she broke free and made a break for my bed, where she hid again. I followed and managed to get her down the stairs, only to have her get loose on a technicality–I tried to put on her dress. Back up the stairs she went.

I took a deep breath, said some prayers with eldest, and reminded myself that moms can have incredible strength when it comes to their kids. If moms can lift a car off their children then I could get this one into a car, right?

After another long match, we made it to the car, but she was not giving up. It was like trying to wrestle an angry octopus into a car–she had legs and arms in all directions. But I thought about the incredible mom stories again and hoisted her into the third row seats. With one arm I held the door shut and the other I opened the garage door. Then I jumped in the car and left my door open enough to keep my hand holding the back door closed as I backed out of the driveway and careened down the street.

Eldest was frantic that Rachel wasn’t strapped in. She worried that we’d get a ticket, to which I replied, “Good, then the officer can help me strap her in.”

We pulled over away a block from the house to get situated–I wanted to get far enough away from the house that Rachel wouldn’t try to get back into bed. I thought for sure she would give in at this point and strap in her seat, but no…

I took a deep breath, prayed some more, and remembered my RDI (Relationship Development Intervention). I moved into the middle row of the car and told Rachel to strap in, to which she kicked at me and fussed. But I wasn’t going anywhere until she put on her seatbelt. Fifteen minutes into our staring contest of wills she gave in. We drove in relative peace to her school…although she was naked. (I saved that battle for the school parking lot.)

After it was over I decided to look at the bright side. I’d already worked out for the day and the intensity had been so high that I could treat myself to a fattening drink from Starbucks. You know, my biceps are getting quite defined. Also, I’m thinking maybe Rachel and I could make a workout video for moms…

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Traveling with Rachel.

Traveling with an autistic child has opened a new world of stress in our lives. I’ve chronicled many journeys in my MomLife Today blogs. This past weekend we braved the road for another trip. And … it went well.

Former trips have involved driving while our daughter strips naked, challenging potty breaks, and screaming for a stuffed duck.

This time, we prepared for all disasters we could anticipate. Packed the car video playing, which broke five minutes into the trip. Loaded the IPod with her favorite songs, which she ended up not using. We even packed a host of her favorite foods, which got eaten … by the dog.

But even with all of those mishaps, things went well. As we usually go to my sister’s, Rachel knew where she would sleep, what she needed, and even knew the places we stopped to go to the bathroom. On the way home she cried some, but not the six-hour scream fest we usually experience.

What was the difference? One, I think she has the routine down. We don’t deviate too much from our typical travels. We stopped at the same places and stayed at the same house. Two, through our work with Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) we have come so far. Rachel can handle more unpredictable routines and events. She can communicate better. She is better in general.

If we have to travel somewhere new? Here are some things I would consider:

  • Stop at the same type of places, as least some of the time. Yes, exploring new places is great, but there is something to be said for keeping the peace. If it is a regular rest stop, then choose perhaps the same fast food place, as their interiors can be consistent. This helps Rachel get her business done.
  • Plan for a regular bedtime and bring something (blankets, noise machine, music, stuffed animals, pajamas, a night light, or other familiar objects) that can help make the setting familiar. We find that even leaving on a lamp in the room helps Rachel settle down when she wakes up during the night.
  • Don’t plan too much. When we try to cram too much into holidays, Rachel becomes distraught. This means saying no to fun family events, or cutting them very short, but remember that each positive trip will build into the next one.
  • Share the duties with a spouse or other person. This past weekend, for example, we had an ice skating party to attend. Hubby took Rachel to his parents’ house while I went to the party. We knew the noise, crowd, and ice would stress Rachel, so we avoided the issue. If you all need to go, don’t be shy about recruiting others to help. I would take a cousin or other person along to help entertain Rachel. (A gift of thanks or a little cash for their help never hurts, too…)
  • Be flexible. Sometimes plans don’t work out the way we want. Hubby and I have had to come home early or take turns at the dinner table, but when both of us are being unselfish, things tend to work out.
  • This is just a phase. Don’t despair when things go wrong. Just remember that every step in life is just a phase. Things will change.

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