Saturday, May 8, 2010

The breakfast battle

Breakfast can really be an issue for us, since FW rarely has an appetite, especially at breakfast time. He'll eat dry cereal, but we hate sending him off to school with only carbs in his system. Attempts to add protein to his breakfast led us to bacon, but this is time-consuming to cook every morning, and FW eventually lost interest in eating it. While he ate lots of yogurt as a baby and toddler, he has refused it for the last couple of years. Enter YoCrunch. Sure it's full of candy, but, you know, any port in a storm and all that. He eats every last bite of these things.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Girls, horses, and Asperger Syndrome

I don't have any proof that girls with Asperger Syndrome love horses any more than typical girls do, but I have my suspicions. Asperger girls often love animals, and by the age of 8 or 9, many do seem to gravitate towards horses. And in many ways horses are an ideal interest for a girl with Asperger's. The one-on-one relationship between a girl and a horse is rewarding and calming, and an obsession with horses is a socially acceptable, even expected, passion for girls in general. There are stables in just about every town where girls can be taught the specific rules of grooming, tacking up, and riding a horse. Often there are group riding lessons, where the Asperger girl can be included with a group of like-minded and same-age peers as they all learn to ride together. This set-up works well for someone who struggles socially, because each child is on a horse, working individually, and being supervised by an instructor. The social pressure is much less than in, say, soccer or gymnastics. An added bonus is the possibility of making a friend during the brief social period before or after the lesson, and girls with Asperger Syndrome do well when they have a good friend with a common obsessive interest. Once a girl is knee-deep in the world of horses, all kinds of possibilities open up. Summer camps that revolve around riding, for example, or Pony Club and 4H.

Since many typical girls love horses, the Asperger girl's involvement in the horse world allows her to fit in with peers she might otherwise never have met. It's not perfect, of course. There are just as many mean girls at stables as there are in school. But where an Asperger girl may feel left out of the social world at school--boys, makeup, celebrity gossip--she will fit right in with the girls who want to talk about horses all day.

If you have a daughter with Asperger Syndrome showing an interest in horses, I encourage you to ask around to find a good local stable where she can begin to learn everything she wants to know about horse care and riding. This is something that may bring her joy, fun, and friendship for a lifetime.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Thunderbirds are go!

Thunderbirds was a 1960s British children's series focusing on the exploits of the Tracy family and their quasi-military aid organization, International Rescue. The team uses high-tech machines to help solve big problems and basically save the world in every episode. And it's all created with scale models and marionettes. Pure genius.

FW is always interested in aircraft and any kind of complex, futuristic engineering, so I knew he would love this show. Series creator Gerry Anderson may not have Asperger Syndrome, but let's just say he's close enough. This show is a joy for anyone who loves minutiae, especially regarding aircraft and the effort to make toys act out real life adventure. It's kid safe (although it does feature no-longer-acceptable 1960s stuff like cigarette smoking, cocktail drinking, and swarthy/"foreign" bad guys), yet still has James Bond kinda stuff and fairly decent action. Some of the episodes are long on dialog and short on machines, but they're still 100 times better and more appropriate than any adventure show being made for kids today. You can buy the DVDs on Amazon, or rent them via Netflix.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

1950s and 60s self-care and social skills movies

It's interesting to me that parents of kids with Asperger Syndrome work hard to teach their children social skills, while parents of typical kids spend little or no time worrying about this issue. It's assumed today that "regular" kids just know this stuff, while ASD kids have to learn it by rote. You can almost hear the cries of autism hysterics: "We didn't have these problems in past generations! It's the toxins!"

The fact is, in the 1950s and 60s a great deal of time was spent teaching typical children how to behave and why. A large number of educational films on social skills and self-care were created for American schoolchildren in the old days, and kids watched them in school, probably in a class called Health. It was a more formal world, and children received direct instruction, at home and at school, on manners and social etiquette. So why don't we teach this in school anymore? Why is it assumed that kids today will just know? And why do I continue to hear the school say that teaching social skills is a brand new field in special education, with no curriculum and no roadmap? Teaching this kind of thing in school is not new, and it's not specific to Asperger Syndrome or special education. The reality is that this did exist and has been lost, along with a bunch of other good stuff they used to have in school, like recess every day.

I found a few old educational movies on YouTube to watch with FW. They may seem corny, but they have social and self-care information that can be helpful to some kids with Asperger Syndrome. The basic concepts are solid. Although I suppose there's a risk of a kid with AS picking up outdated slang or wrong ideas about hairstyles, I think the benefits outweigh the risks. And watching with FW, I can help him understand the things that were then, and how we do them now. I really do wonder, though, why they don't still make these kinds of movies. I know kids snickered at them back then, but surely there were one or two kids in class watching intently, because they really needed to know.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The periodic table

I picked up a poster of the periodic table of elements at Dollar Tree last month, and it caused much excitement. FW almost couldn't sleep at night when this poster was in his room. The situation led me on a quest to find books about the periodic table appropriate for a kindergartener with Asperger's.

The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! from Basher/Adrian Dingle, which I found in my local public library, is meant for kids ages 9-12, but suits my supersmart, superlogical, fact-obsessed boy just fine. The periodic table is presented as cast of characters whose personalities reflect the properties of the element they represent. Each description has the right amount of hard science and kiddie fun to make this book a blast to read. The cartoon character created for each element is an added bonus for Asperger's kids who are visual thinkers.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fun with classic video games.

The world of video games has always been a mystery to me. Not my thing. I tried to play Ms. Pac-Man once or twice when I was a teenager, and my ineptitude was downright embarrassing. But when a friend recently suggested I look for an old Nintendo 64 for FW, I was intrigued. Unlike the newer handheld DS games, the old 64 is designed for multiple players. The idea was that this type of game, less expensive than the newer games like Wii, could help FW practice asking others to play, taking turns, playing fair, and winning and losing gracefully. An Aspergian child who doesn't care to play outdoor sporty games and is still too young to play the more interesting board games doesn't get a whole lot of opportunity to play. We hoped the video game console would change that.

I found the N64 on craigslist, and paid $60 for the console, two controllers, and eight games, including Mario Kart, which I had been specifically instructed to purchase. We got off to a great start with the games, playing together and having a good time. FW has that kid ability to learn these kinds of games quickly. It took me a little bit longer. Interestingly, he prefers to play the harder games, and does not require any advice or instruction. He focusses intently and makes deliberate mistakes as a way to figure out how the game works and what the possibilities are.

Unexpectedly, the N64 has jumpstarted pretend play for FW. He sets up his Hot Wheels tracks and pretends the cars are racing for a "cup," as in Mario Kart. After he races his Hot Wheels down the tracks, he designates (and announces to us) which car got gold, which got silver, and which got bronze. It's just awesome to see FW play this way. I can almost imagine him having a friend over.