Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Summertime Crazies and Camp Royall Photos

I’ve been spending a lot of time outside, attempting to tire my children out in time for the nap that I would love to one day get to take around 2-3pm on a hot summer day. Unfortunately, my success has been limited- to tiring myself out and energizing the little ones even further!

I’ve gotten Sierra into feeding Rocket, so she goes out every morning and gets hay for him, then goes off to do her own thing. Jaymes has discovered the joy of picking veggies out of the garden- unfortunately, his discovery has not gone as far as understanding that it is preferable to just pull a pepper off the plant rather than picking the entire plant out of the ground, dunking it in water, and cramming it into a plastic bucket filled with muddy slime. I have to give the boy credit though, technically he DID plant it…

Jaymes is missing summer camp still. I feel so bad for him, I imagine it has to be very hard to spend a week at the coolest camp in NC, where he’s a VIP with adoring fans then get stuck coming back home to our less than thrilling life.

It was so funny, when we dropped him off, I was all sad and wanting to linger with him. He turned, looked at me, and said “byeeee!” and tried to shove me out the door. I took the hint. He had zero homesickness during his time at camp- in fact he repeatedly told his counselor that he was staying and mommy needed to stay home. I’m not offended; I wouldn’t want to go home either!

He really had the time of his life at camp. It was totally worth the money and the long drive. He had his own counselor, his own room, and all the fun activities you can think of. Kiddo got to swim THREE times a day, go on the zip line, make s’mores, play in the sand, dress up in funky wigs… He got to go boating, fishing, and they even have the most incredibly cool sensory room with the whole bubble column and fiber optic dangly light deals. VERY nice.

He did art work, which he covered the door of his room with. When we were leaving with his bags packed, I asked him if he wanted to take them and he was very adamant that they stay on the door for future campers to enjoy. Silly boy.

His counselor did detailed (and I mean DETAILED) notes twice a day (I think), and she was really funny. I had a great time reading those notes. There were several “laugh out loud” moments for sure.

Picking him up was not exactly the joyous reunion I’d been hoping for. This was the longest I have ever been away from my little man, and by the time we arrived to get him, I was really eager to snuggle him. He is, after all, my baby. Kids trickled in, most of them running towards their parents, where hugs and kisses were exchanged. One little blonde boy saw his mom, and bolted the opposite direction. In hindsight, this was an omen. Jaymes came in toward the end of the stream of children. The minute he set eyes on me, he started screaming. “Mommy go home! Jaymes stay at camp!” It broke my heart, because I knew ahead of time he would have a hard time coming back home. I felt so bad for being the one to drag him back to boring old life, after s much fun at camp.

He pretty much screamed and squirmed and fussed through the whole talent show portion of things, although he did stop long enough to do his talent, which was making a picture with glue and glitter. It was cute, at least right up until the point it was time for him to be done, and they dragged the little table back. Jaymes took off after the table, grabbed his wet picture and ran back to me. He was upset still about knowing he had to leave, and when he is upset he likes to take things he’s made (usually drawings that he cares about) and shred or otherwise mutilate them, then cry about it like I did it. In this case, he took one hand and smeared the wet glittery glue across the page, then grabbed my arm (which was still looking pretty nasty due to a really gross bacterial infection that I don’t even know how I got) and rubbed glitter into the oozing blisters on my arm. That one did not feel so good, but my blistery, nasty arm looked rather festive. Within about two seconds, I was head to toe glitter, but again, festive. So it was all good.

It took Jaymes a couple days to calm down and accept that he was home. Once he was ok with that, I started noticing how pleasant he was being, and how nicely he was talking. He told me all about camp, and asked when he could go back. I promised him I’d do as much as possible to get him in next year- I sure hope I can make good on that.

Camp Royall is amazing. I have never met a group of people as tolerant, accepting, kind, generous, and enthusiastic as these folks. The camp is beautiful; the facilities are super fun, clean and safe, and if you were to wander upon it, you would not know it was an autism-specific camp. I am so glad that Jaymes got to have this wonderful experience, for the first time in his life he went somewhere that he was just a normal kid, doing normal summer camp things. That is priceless.

I missed him the entire week, the house just felt so empty without Jaymes. I did enjoy sleeping in every day though, rather than being jolted awake by the sound of Jaymes pounding, kicking, and slamming his bedroom door! Jason really needed the break, he finally got to relax and stop freaking out over every little thing.

Sierra had the time of her life. The whole week was all about Sierra. We took her to her very first movie; she chose Green Lantern and really enjoyed it. We bought a big bag of popcorn, and Sierra made it hers. During most of the movie she had the top half of her body buried in the bag until she munched herself into a food coma and passed out on my lap. She was perfect- quiet, still, enjoyed the movie. We made trips to places she loves, like the mall and the make-your-own-sundae frozen yogurt place. We played outside, and went to the playground. She really, really had a fun week. Sometimes we have to get a break from autism- sometimes we all just need to be people, and Sierra is no exception. She really needed her special “vacation” week.

NC folks, if ever you’re looking for a great camp for your kids on the spectrum, Camp Royall is the place to go.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Here, have another great article!

Sensory Savvy Parenting!
By Britt Collins, M.S., OTR/L

Reprinted with permission from a featured article that appears in the just-released July/August issue of Autism Asperger’s Digest magazine. Learn more, www.AutismDigest.com.

Your first child. What an exciting, wonderful, and anxious time it is! When you found out you were pregnant, you probably read stacks of baby books, and read even more as your baby grew into a toddler. When you discovered your child was on the autism spectrum, you undoubtedly searched out any and every book you could find that would help you understand your child better.

Along the way you may – or may not – have read about sensory processing disorder (SPD) or sensory processing problems in spectrum kids. Recent studies report that approximately 5-10% of all children experience sensory symptoms significant enough to affect their everyday life functions. Within the ASD population that number can be as high as 95%! (Tomchek, 2007) Sensory issues may have resonated with you to some degree; you grasped what sensory sensitivities might feel like to your child. But, noticing them – before your child is in sensory overload – well, perhaps you’re a little lost there. No worries! I’m here to help you become a more sensory savvy parent!Jackie Olson (a mom) and I co-wrote Sensory Parenting: From Newborns to Toddlers(Sensory World, 2010)to reach out to new and pregnant moms with information about our sensory systems and how they work. For many new parents, this is foreign territory!

So, let’s assume you know the basics: there’s not five senses (touch, taste, hearing, smell, sight) but seven (add in vestibular and proprioception) and some experts say there are lots more! Our kids can be hypo (under) sensitive or hyper (over) sensitive in any area. And, that sensitivity level can vary sense to sense and day to day, or even hour to hour depending on the conditions at hand! You understand this is biology at work within your child: it’s not something he can control at will. And, that sensory issues cause very real problems in your child’s life that interfere tremendously with her ability to be calm, focused, attentive, and happy.

But - how do you know when your child is in sensory overload? Are there early warning signs, behaviors to look for that tell you something is amiss? Yes there are, and as a parent you have to play detective to figure out your child’s specific sensory sensitivities and recognize the red flags. Your goal is to help your child avoid sensory overload (it’s no fun!) or offer strategies to calm down afterwards.

I believe almost everyone has some sort of sensory issue. Maybe you buy tag-less t-shirts because the tag drives you crazy, or you prefer a certain type of comfortable clothing (I prefer anything cozy, like a large sweatshirt and warm socks). It’s really irritating when strangers keep bumping into you in a crowded subway, and you never go to loud concerts because they hurt your ears. Rides at Disneyland that go up and down or round and round? Forget it; you’d be nauseous in under a minute! All that is sensory based.

And so is the flip side. You love deep pressure massage; it’s so calming to your system. You go to the gym to release the frustrations of the day. You relax in a warm bath, scented with your favorite aromatherapy products – ah, how good they make you feel! And there’s nothing better than the smooth, creamy texture of good ice cream. That’s all sensory-based, too!

I’ve met scores of parents who start to realize their own sensory issues when they begin to educate themselves about their children’s sensory challenges. When they feel, first hand, what it’s like, they start better understanding what their child may be experiencing on a daily basis when the world is too loud, too bright, too fast – too intense!

Everyday sensory sensitivities become a problem when we are so affected by them we can no longer function as we should. This is what happens with our kids, and they express this through their behavior – the only way they know how to tell us! And yet, many parents attribute behavior problems to “something else” and don’t realize how much of an impact sensory issues have. They put their children in uncomfortable situations every day: the grocery store, the mall, the playground, loud birthday parties, restaurants, and the like – and they expect the kids to “behave.” More often than not these situations are way too overwhelming and a meltdown or shut down results.

As a sensory savvy parent you learn to look for the signs of sensory overload. Every child is different and you’ll need to learn to read your own child’s warning signs. That said,let me give you some things to look for. If your child covers her ears, she is more than likely trying to shut out disturbing auditory sounds. If he blinks a lot, avertshis eyes, or his eyes water frequently, he could be bothered by too-bright lights (to him!) or the sun. If she pushes away certain foods, and you notice a pattern (they’re all soft or all crunchy) it’s probably a tactile issue. As sensory overload approaches, kids can have different reactions. She may begin to get quiet or disengage if before she was talking to you. You may notice he’s starting to verbally stim or fidget or whine, or grind his teeth. All of these things can be signs of sensory stress. Other signs you might notice:
• singing or talking really loudly to drown out other uncomfortable sounds
• crying or screaming because something touching her doesn’t feel right or hurts
• pulling away from you because he’s scared or anxious to go where you want him to. He may remember last time, when someone dropped a jar of pickles on the floor and the smell was so bad.

You may be wondering: is it all sensory related or is some of it just plain “behavior?” Good question! The difference between sensory and behavior is an article in itself, but you can look for cues from your child and the environment to know what’s what. Is he throwing a tantrum because you told him he cannot have ice cream for breakfast? That’s behavior. Or is it because you washed his favorite shirt with a new detergent and now it smells terrible? That’s sensory. Is she shutting down because you’re asking her to write her spelling words (behavior)? Or is it because you’re frying fish for dinner in the kitchen, the smell makes her gag, and she can’t focus on the task (sensory)? If it’s sensory, remember your child can’t control this – so you need to be proactive, stop and think about what’s going on and what might be causing the behavior. If it’s a sensory issue, it’s your job to step in and help your child. That means you change your behavior and adapt the environment to alleviate your child’s sensory issue at hand and help her regain sensory equilibrium.

Sometimes sensory issues are obvious; at other times they’re not. I work with a child who has impaired hearing. When an adult puts his hearing aid in, he gets upset and grinds his teeth. He is not used to hearing so many sounds and all of a sudden the world is probably like a rock concert to him. I work with another child who begins to physically shake when a peer approaches her to talk. She walks up on her toes and begins to grimace. She will eventually engage and we encourage her to interact, but do so with plenty of breaks so it doesn’t becometoo overwhelming. One parent I know couldn’t figure out why her son wouldn’t stay in his bed at night. She eventually discovered their cat had deposited a “gift” right under the middle of his bed while they were away on vacation. Her son’s sensitive smell detected the lingering odor when she could not.

Being a sensory savvy parent is one part curiosity, one part sleuth skills, and one part perspective. Be open to seeing the world through your child’s senses and at first, adapting the environment to make it more conducive to your child’s needs. Over time, and with the help of a good OT, you can set up a sensory plan that will help your child learn to self-regulate and deal with the sensory issues. And finally, forgive yourself for those moments we all experience. Here’s a common one: you’re getting three kids ready for school in the morning and you’re running late for work. Your child with ASD/SPD begins to melt down because in the rush you put on the socks that have little tiny strings inside that drive him crazy. Now one childis screaming, another is telling you she forgot to do her homework the night before and the teacher will be mad, and the third child is telling you to pick him up from soccer practice after school! You notice your own meltdown meter skyrocketing! It’s okay, you are not alone – it happens to all of us. Stop, take a deep breath, and play detective to find out why your spectrum child is upset. Retrace your steps and once you figure out it’s the socks, go find the seamless ones, switch them out, and then everyone can calm down. Just toss one of those little chocolate Dove bars into your purse for the ride to work… you know, the kind that make you sigh with a sense of pleasure? Now you understand what it means to be a sensory savvy parent!

Britt Collins is a pediatric occupational therapist who lives in Salem, Oregon. She has an award-winning OT DVD series (otdvds.com) and a newly released book, Sensory Parenting.For more information visit sensoryparenting.com.

Recommended Reading
Growing an In-Sync Child: Simple, Fun Activities to Help Every Child Develop,Learn, and Grow. Carol Kranowitz, MA, and Joye Newman, MA

Parenting a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder: A Family Guide toUnderstanding & Supporting Your Sensory-Sensitive Child.Christopher R. Auer, MA, with Susan Blumberg, PhD

Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Childwith Sensory Integration Issues. Lindsey Biel, OTR/L and Nancy Peske

Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder. Lucy Jane Miller, PhD, OTR/L and Doris Fuller

Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to do if You are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World. Sharon Heller

Copyright © 2011 Autism Asperger’s Digest. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book review: Starting Sensory Therapy, by Bonnie Arnwine

Today I’ve got another book review! This one is a MUST HAVE for everyone who is in some way affected by autism. There are all kinds of books out there that give us ideas on ways to play with our kids, but many of those advocate very expensive toys and therapies. For the first time, I’ve found a book that makes home-based sensory activities easy , affordable, and most of all- FUN.

Starting Sensory Therapy is a fantastic resource. The chapters are organized in a way that makes it super easy to flip right to the activities you need, rather than searching through the book. The book is divided into eight chapters, beginning with a very informational chapter that discusses different types of sensory processing disorders, evaluation and diagnosis, therapeutic options, and even goes into getting services through either insurance or through an IEP with the public school system.

The main chapters in this particular book are all based around the different areas that sensory therapy works on. Included are tactile, gross-motor, visual, auditory, olfactory, oral-motor, and fine motor activities. Each chapter contains many different activities (rather than just a couple), and even include ways to modify each activity to fit kids who do not yet have the skills required to complete the activity as it is written. That activities can be modified, and that the book explains HOW is really wonderful- it’s something I have very rarely seen in these types of books. My frustration a lot of the time is in finding all these great activities that my son can’t do yet. In the past I’ve tried myself to modify the activity and it’s do-able, but I cannot describe my excitement to see that this author already did this for me! The activities are easy to modify to make them easier, or to make them more difficult. There are wonderful suggestions on how to further extend each activity by adding it to a task or skill being worked on.

The coolest activity in the book is one that would never have occurred to me to try- a scent necklace. My son loves to sniff things, and we made him one of these simple, cheap necklaces. He LOVES it. It cost almost nothing to make, was a whole lot of fun, and it makes our lives easier. He wears it to the store, and we are spared spending half an hour letting him sniff candles to avoid a meltdown.

Some other pretty nifty activities include “shaving cream fun” with colored shaving cream and toy dinosaurs, “hair gel bags” made with glitter or sequins inside, “blubber” recipe to make cool rubbery play-dough, and “sticky bracelets” made with interesting objects found outdoors. The book even offers a variety of food related activities, from making simple peanut butter cookies to creating “banana bugs”- and these are things Jaymes just adores doing. He is, after all, an aspiring chef!

This is a book every teacher, therapist, mom, grandma, or friend of someone with on the spectrum or SPD should own. It is without a doubt the jewel of my collection and it is dog-eared, marked up, and has some shaving cream glued to it after referring to it so many times to keep Jaymes entertained and learning!

You can get your own copy of the book here- check it out!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Guest post- and definitely a worthy cause!

I was contacted by a teacher trying to get her students a real playground. Just watching my own child play on a playground, and seeing the opportunities that play equipment provides for kids like Jaymes to connect socially with their peers is a powerful thing. Our school is incredibly blessed to have several playgrounds and fantastic outdoor play areas- every school deserves to be able to say the same. Please give these great folks your votes in their contest, I know I will be

* Vote once a day, every day, here: http://www.refresheverything.com/muirautismplayproject or via text message 107391 to Pepsi (73774).

Muir Autism Play Project from Oona Hanawalt on Vimeo.

At John Muir Elementary School, which serves some of San Francisco's most needy children, students from the general education and autism-specific class currently play on a bare patch of asphalt surrounded by chain-link fence and peeling paint. We desperately need a play inclusive play space. Our proposal has been accepted for the Pepsi Refresh Project, and is posted for public voting between July 1-31. You can vote once a day, every day. If we're in the top 15 vote recipients, the students in this classroom will get an inclusive playground!

* Vote once a day, every day, here: http://www.refresheverything.com/muirautismplayproject or via text message 107391 to Pepsi (73774).

Imagine this: Jack, a sweet, chubby-cheeked pre-schooler in the autism-specific classroom, desperately wants to play with Simon, a general education peer. Simon asks, “Jack, do you want to play with me?” Jack is unable to respond and echoes back, “Jack, do you want to play with me?” His puzzled classmate walks away. As you can see, Jack’s autism hampers his social skills and he is unable to engage in the unstructured play that takes place on the empty playground.

Every day, he walks the perimeter of the playground for the entirety of recess, flapping his hands in front of his eyes while his general education peers run and play meaningfully with each other. Jack’s language and play deficits increase his isolation, exacerbating his environment of deprivation, and shutting out the myriad learning opportunities that his general education peers access. Jack needs a structured play environment.

After engaging in this solitary behavior day in and day out, Jack has lost the equivalent of 7.5 (180 hours) days of social interaction by the end of the school year. This social interaction is invaluable to Jack’s development. Research shows that children engage in play activities to practice valuable life skills such as conflict resolution, negotiation, and taking the perspective of others. For Jack, even the paucity of opportunity to use language is devastating. As Jack continues to pace the playground perimeter, hand-flapping in his own world, the window for neurological development is rapidly shutting, and those lost 7.5 days will never be regained. Without opportunities for engaged play, Jack will lose even more precious time.

A play space is something most schools, parents, and students take for granted, but Jack and his classmates don’t have one. An inclusive play space will drastically change the outcome for students like Jack. It gives them a place to play with their typically-developing peers, practicing social skills and gross motor skills. A play space at John Muir Elementary School would even the playing field for the students, and give them opportunities to engage in joyous play-something every child deserves!

You can follow our quest and read more at our website: www.muirautismplayproject.com. Thank you so much for your support!