Thursday, September 29, 2011

Smile Happy

At this point, I cannot even remember what he had done, but I was angry and David knew it. But please tell me, how am I supposed to stay irritated at a little boy--no matter what the transgression--when he looks into my eyes, touches my chin and says in his sweetest voice, "Mom-mom, smile happy?"

Well, he received the desired smile. I couldn't help it. And the term, "smile happy" has become a staple in our house. Actually, David has developed two terms "smile happy" is the verb, used when he wants to see someone smile and the reverse "happy smile" has become the noun, a comment on your pleasant expression.

What a clever boy. Imagine, at one point I was worried that David would never learn to speak and now he is manipulating the English language to more fully express emotions and at the same time successfully manipulating his mother to forgive and forget.

David, when asked to make a happy smile.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Elevator Story Addendum

Apparently, David did not have his fix of elevators on our trip because since we have returned it has been all things elevator. The shower doors are an elevator, the miniscule guest bathroom, an elevator (with a tested capacity of three but don't tell the fire marshall), the pocket door leading to the basement—you guessed it—an elevator.

So I was taking David to speech therapy and, as usual, we were in a hurry. David rides the bus home from school most days, but on Fridays we pick him up so that he can make it to speech on time, or at least almost on time. This year they adjusted the elementary school hours 10 minutes to save money on transportation and I do not want to admit that those ten fewer minutes are causing us problems.

We arrive for our appointment only about two minutes late. The therapist is waiting for us in the lobby, but David has stopped in the air lock between the two sets of entry doors. Usually, he is anxious to press the button to activate the automatic doors, but not this time. Instead he reaches out with his index finger to press an imaginary spot on the wall.

Beep…Beep. It takes me to the second floor to realize that we are now in an elevator.

Beep…Beep. There is another therapist behind me who had walked a client out to the car and is waiting to get back into the building, so I explain what is happening to her.

Beep…Beep. "Evidently, this is a pretty tall building," I offer, apologetically.

Beep…Beep. And then the therapist behind me calls out "DING! We're here."

David and I both smiled at our shared experience. He was pleased that she had played along in his imaginary game. I was amused that sometimes when patience runs out, it tolls like a bell. DING!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Elevator Friends

I have already alluded to the fact that David spent a great deal of time watching elevators while we were on vacation. Suffice it to say, it was the highlight of his trip. I never imagined, however, that it would also be my favorite memory.

It seems like David spent countless hours in the hallway of our hotel, either in the lobby area directly outside of our room, or down by the first floor elevator adjacent to a side entrance. Although out of the way, this particular elevator was excruciatingly slow, so I did not allow David to press the call button but rather made him wait until other guests came to use the elevator and then he could watch the doors open and close.

So, there David would wait, steps from the elevator panel until he would see people approaching. Usually, they were engaged conversation, or on a cell phone, or generally not paying much attention until the precise moment when they started to raise an arm, finger extended to press that button and David would swoop in.

To this point, my story is not unique. Who hasn't been in an elevator with a kid who wanted to press the button? But for David, it is so much more. First, he would turn to look at his new found friends, smile and flash his big blue eyes. Then, he would return his attention to the elevator in anticipation of the car's arrival. It was as if David has just invited them to the gala of the century and could not wait for them to experience it with him. And, as usual, his enthusiasm was contagious.

A very few people would ignore David, like the group of three teenage boys. As they boarded the elevator, David made a second attempt to engage them by reaching his arm almost into the elevator, waving and saying in his best singsong voice, "BYYYEEE!" Still, no response. Annoyed by their behavior, David chastised them as the doors were closing, "Say THANK YOU," which really sounds more like "Say who-who" and again was lost on them.

Fortunately for David, however, most people would pay attention. They would return a smile, or try to engage David in conversation, which sometimes would lead to the obligatory explanation about why we were hanging out in the hallway in the first place. 

We met some interesting people. There was the preschool teacher who had a student in her class with autism. I noticed that after she high fived David with her right hand, she switched sides to see if he would high five with his left hand, as well. There was also an elementary school teacher and we had a great two minute conversation about the lack of autism training available to teachers in her school district.

By the middle of our stay, we would be walking down the hall and it was not unusual to have people stop and say, "Hey, David" or "How's it going, David?" I really am amazed at the number of people that David met in our short stay at the hotel, but there was one friend in particular that I will never forget. I was on elevator duty at the time and sitting in the hall reading a book. David saw him coming first. The cool factor increased exponentially because he was pushing a cart and you know how David feels about anything with wheels. David watched as this man polished the stainless steel elevator doors and frame. David briefly considered trying to hijack the cart by giving it a tentative push which made our new friend smile and then said goodbye after the elevator had arrived and the doors were closing. 

David and I saw this man the next day while we were swimming in the pool and he walked through the pool area, waving to David. We ran into him in the hallway once or twice more and then he stopped me the day before we were leaving and asked if it was okay to give something to David. In his hand he had a small, green toy motorcycle, apparently having noticed the fact that David likes wheels.

I do not know where he had gotten that toy. Maybe, it had been left behind by another family. Maybe, it belonged to his own son. It really doesn't matter. I made David say "who-who" but I was almost speechless, touched by this simple, surprising act of kindness. 

I spend much of my time trying to help David reach his potential, to bring out the best in him but I am constantly reminded of how he, in turn, helps me to reach my full potential. He helps me to see things in other people that I might otherwise have ignored or overlooked. Had I met this man without David, this man whose name I do not even know, who was missing a front tooth and who worked in housekeeping at a hotel where I was saying, I am sorry to say that we may not have even made eye contact. At most, we would have smiled at each other and said "hello." We never would have connected and I most certainly would not still remember him and his kindness to David weeks later.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Author Extraordinaire

Several months ago, someone referred to me as a writer.  Of all of the numerous and varied labels I may have attached to myself through the years (some complimentary and many others not), I have never felt very comfortable referring to myself as a writer.

Okay, I know I attended a workshop in June at the Iowa Summer Writers’ Festival.  Sure, I do a fair amount of writing, but in my mind the seemingly random ramblings that I send into cyberspace do not count.  I also blow my hair dry every day, but I would certainly not call myself a hairdresser.

And then, something happened:

I was invited by Lynn and Big Daddy, some of my friends in the blogosphere, to submit an essay for this book which, upon its release, has quickly shot up the Amazon Best Sellers Rank to # 17,533.  (Stop laughing, it’s true.)

I must admit that I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, even a little cocky when the book arrived on my doorstep a few days ago.  I showed it to my older son, Andrew, when I picked him up from school that same afternoon.  Momentarily impressed, he uttered something monosyllabic, something along the lines of “WOW” or “COOL.”  And then the kicker.  You know, the comment that your kid says to you that can send you screeching back to reality.  “Is this the book you have been waiting for--because you ONLY wrote three pages of THIS book?”

Three pages.  Just under 600 words, to be precise, but they count and I am pleased to now consider myself a writer, an author even.  I don’t assume that I had any wisdom to impart and my feeble attempt at wit may have missed the mark, but I do qualify as the parent of a special needs kid and we need to stick together.

After David was diagnosed, I high-tailed it to a local support group meeting.  I know that many people find great comfort in these types of groups, but it was too soon for me.  The diagnosis was still too fresh.  I was so busy trying to wade through the world of autism that I lost my ability to do things like quickly ascertain which committee for the upcoming Autism Puzzle Walk would allow me not to appear disinterested, but still not really require any meaningful time commitment.  I think I may have actually been screaming as I ran from the building that cold winter night, never to return.

Without even realizing it at the time, I turned to cyber support.  There are many, many parents out there who relay their stories and their struggles.  It has been comforting to know that many of the issues that we have, other families struggle with, as well.  Plus, things are somehow funnier when you read about them happening to someone else.

So, (insert shameless plug here) if you know someone who might benefit from a copy of this book, the picture above serves as a link to the book on Amazon.  If not, it was simply nice to reflect for a moment on my accomplishment and, to my 27 loyal readers, thanks for your support.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Making a Splash in Kansas City

No account of our summer break would be complete without mention of our trip.  In the planning stages, I felt somewhat apologetic for taking a less ambitious trip than last year’s trek to Chicago.  I quickly realized, however, that the trip may have been less impressive in terms of distance travelled, but in my mind it was a more challenging destination.

In our family, it is difficult to find activities with wide ranging appeal because not everyone shares David’s fascination with leaving the native Nebraska elevators to cross state lines and visit a new crop of fascinating foreign elevators.  But, since David and Andrew both share a love of the water, we had decided to visit a water park, and not just a glorified pool with slide, but a full-fledged aquatic adventureland.

After having already informed Andrew of our destination and consequently well past the point of changing plans, I began to panic.  What was I thinking taking David to such a massive place?  What if we couldn’t even get him in the front doors?  What if we lost him in the park?  And would he tolerate a semi-permanent tattoo with ID information across his chest?

So, I bribed reinforcements--two extra sets of eyes to come with us, namely my niece and nephew, Katie (age 18) and Thomas (age 14).  Andrew went off with his older cousins to tackle the water slides and David stayed with Michael and me (having almost attained the perfect ratio of 2.82 adults per every David).  After some initial hesitation, David loved the park.  Or should I say, David loved the only attraction that he would try, the Lazy River.

Lazy River.  Doesn’t that bring an image of lounging on an inner tube, one hand skimming the surface of the water as you are transported effortlessly around the ride?  But with David--not so much.  First, let me say that the river had a little too much current to be “lazy” by my definition and came complete with rapids that could flip your tube.  That is, IF you were fortunate enough to be on a tube.  Because David had quickly decided that the tubes were for sissies and to be used solely as a springboard on which to crouch in hand flapping anticipation of the next wave, at which time he would spring off the tube into the peak of the wave, I did not have the luxury of floating, either.  Rather, I got to dodge other people’s inner tubes, fighting the current in a sometimes vain attempt to keep sight of David as he drifted away from me.

Well, the water park was a success and we survived without incident, which meant that we left the park with the same number of people we came with and no one collapsed from heat exhaustion on the 100+ degree day.  Actually, the whole trip was a success.  And since I started here by discussing the lessons I learned over break, I will continue that theme and outline some of the lessons we all learned on this trip.

Michael most definitely learned that when travelling with six people, it is worth the splurge for the two bedroom suite at the Residence Inn if, for no other reason than you have two bathrooms.  I learned that my rule that no one could bring more than two electronic devices was, in fact, unenforceable and would be broken by multiple people including my own husband.  Katie learned that a Kindle and an iPod are the two essential electronic items for passing the time and simultaneously trying to look anonymous while on elevator duty (aka sitting in the hallway with David while he watches the doors open and close).  Thomas, having never before eaten at a Waffle House, learned that “steak” is not a universally defined term.  Andrew learned that it is possible to outgrow the sewer slide at the Science City Children’s Museum and, having become wedged, was able to use the light from his iTouch to get his bearings, which when combined with the boost from the feet of the girl behind him, enabled him to become dislodged.

And finally, David once again learned the importance of being adaptable and, when ripped away from his beloved hotel elevators for some forced fun at the Science City, was able to improvise a new activity in his new surroundings.  Up the blue elevator and down the silver elevator.  Up the silver elevator and down the blue elevator.  Up and down the blue elevator.  Up and down the silver elevator.  Well worth the $40 cost of a family admission.

P.S.  This trip was taken prior to the aforementioned broken arm and cast.  With deepest apologies to Thomas for chronicling our summer break out of chronological order. 
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Friday, September 16, 2011

An Invitation

We interrupt this regularly scheduled recap of our summer break to bring you this important announcement.

David came home from school yesterday with this beautifully hand crafted invitation to last night's Open House. As you can see, there are four images and, coincidentally, there are four people in our family. Because David will rarely draw anything for me, it has taken me a long time to believe that he actually does write, color and cut at school and that the teacher is not routinely either sending home some other child's work or alternately, sitting at her desk, tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth, practicing her best Kindergarten handwriting imitation just so that she will have papers to send home with David. Really, she has better things to do.

So, with my new-found confidence that David did, in fact, draw this picture, I asked him about it after school. According to David (who, as the artist, should know) pictured from left to right are Ginnie (David's name for himself), Andrew, Daddy and MomMom. 

Wait, what? David, of course is the smallest in red and older brother, Andrew, is slightly larger and pictured next to David. The fairly petite, albeit extremely large-headed purple person is Michael and the green giant on the right, who is having an extremely bad hair day and appears to be squinting, ME!

Okay, so tell me the images are sized based on order of importance to David. Right?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How I Spent My Summer "Vacation"

Do you remember as a child having to write the obligatory essay each fall outlining how you spent your summer vacation?  No?  Really?  Well in all honesty, neither do I.  But, over the next few days I will make an attempt, the highlights (or lowlights, depending upon your perspective), the Cliff Notes version of how we spent the last three months, autism style.

Most kids count the days until summer break.  They look forward to lazy mornings, unstructured time and trips to new places.  But for David, who craves structure and routine, who thrives on the familiar and repetitive, sometimes “vacation” can send him into a tailspin.

So, this year I actually spent time working to make a smoother transition for David.  I had drafted a visual schedule and rewards chart, loaded with summer fun.  I found activities that I thought he would enjoy and took the time to introduce him to them ahead of time.  In fact, I now read back to my very last post, where I was bragging about finding the rainbow park, cheap and highly motivating entertainment for David.

Well, my summer fantasy came crashing down the stairs with David one Friday afternoon.  Or perhaps more accurately, David came tumbling down a staircase, taking my summer plans (oh, and incidentally my laptop computer complete with the unprinted visual schedules and rewards chart) with him.

As the physician’s assistant wound the protective gauze around David’s broken arm that day in preparation for a cast, I stood mentally checking water activities off of David’s summer list.  Oh, and helping my husband to hold him down because David had decided, at that moment, he was not too fond of casts and would really rather take a pass.  I said a silent goodbye to the rainbow park, the swimming pool, the sprinklers and bath time for David.

I had imagined, (naively, I know) a summer filled with fun and frivolity, but still packed with those teaching moments that would enable David to surpass his peers academically--a little private joke that might be obvious only to me and to the handful of people who can understand what he is saying most of the time.  Don’t get me wrong--even without our most highly motivating category of summer activities, David did make excellent progress over the summer which was described by his teacher as night and day difference from last year.  But, as is so often the case, I seem to have learned plenty of lessons, as well, which I have outlined below.

David’s appreciation for the color red apparently extends only to apparel.

David does not consider a cast to be an apparel item.

David is a resourceful boy and if thwarted (say, for example, in preventing a cast from being applied to his arm) he will move quickly to plan B, which may include but not be limited to trying to crack it open on the floor or get it wet in the sink before even leaving the exam room.

I can be equally resourceful and quickly realize that the favored black splint covering the hated red cast might just do the trick, although make the removal of shirts somewhat difficult.

David is able to generalize his hatred of X-ray machines to different machines in varying facilities around the city.

If I am the person guarding the door of the X-ray room, it is important to count the number of exits prior to the beginning of the procedure.

David is fast.

I am not as fast as David.

Sometimes those handicapped accessible, automatic doors serve a valuable purpose in distracting a sprinting child just long enough for an exercise-challenged mother to catch him at the front doors of the outpatient clinic.

Always buy Dell’s extended computer warranty with hazard coverage.

Yes, the boys enjoyed the break from school and I had a somewhat unintentional break from writing, but I am glad to be back to our schedule, our routine.  Let my vacation begin.