• Hoops

    Sports were never my thing. Not that I despised them, I just felt a little…meh, I guess, about all of it. Like many people, I couldn’t see why the big excitement or all the time and money funneled into it. Then kiddo—now 11, found a game so beautiful and sparkly and true for him, that he can watch 2 hours of it without blinking his eyes much at all. This sport, this one and only, b-ball, brownball, hoops…you know, it’s “nothing but net” as the NBA fast approaches.

    He loves it and the NBA players so very much. He knows details about his favorites’ performances, and is on a first-name basis with many of them, though we haven’t been to a live game yet. It thrills his young heart to see replays of Wilt’s successful “granny shots,” and “Spicy P’s” last-minute 3-pointers.

    He even likes to play the sport—almost as much as he likes to watch it 🙂

    At first, I was just happy he was happy. He lights up a room. Then, the social possibilities of such an interest, I thought…are unlimited, I thought, eyes a-glitter. In came the basketball T-shirts, basketballs of almost every size and color, and as many trips to ball courts as we could stand.

    We were lucky to find a basketball team for kids with disabilities through Newton Athletes Unlimited—The Newton Bears. It was a Saturday basketball oasis, and we loved it. The coach made no apologies for his differently-abled team members, nor did he try to make them “pass,” or be “up to snuff.” It was “come as you are, do your personal best, and not only will we accept you, but you will have fun.” What a concept, sign us up forever!

    Each week I looked forward to seeing the faces of other parents who could relate to living with disabilities, who had been through the mill with their own versions of biomedical interventions, in-home therapy visits, sleepless nights long after toddlerhood, IEP meetings from the netherworld, and more.

    At the end of the season, Athletes Unlimited hosts an awards dinner at a local hall to honor their players from ages five-to-adult. That group knows how to party! Through the game weeks and up to awards night, part of me held my breath—here was something rare and happy—a break from the loneliness of special needs parenting.

    A few months later we decided to enroll him in a “typical” basketball clinic—a parallel universe with different rules:

    • Look cool.
    • Smile slightly, with a hint of enthusiasm.
    • Yes, you are being scrutinized.
    • Giggle when a child (not yours) misses the basket.
    • Humble-brag about how many baskets your child made in a row last week.

    There was no cheering for making it cross-court with the ball, and clapping would have been…juvenile. I turned into a seated, silent cheering squad. When kiddo looked over, I nodded my head vigorously and pointed to my dancing feet.

    He barely kept up, and I knew how hard he was trying. I was so flipping proud! Maybe this crowd—who seemed to have no reason to sign their kid up for The Newton Bears, was missing out…it’s possible Hallmark has me brainwashed, but I think it’s true. At The Bears’ practices, it was good enough to be together, to have some fun and laugh, to know you’re not alone, to have some empathy for each other’s humanity…I mean, what’s the point?

    TO BE INCLUSIVE, OR AT LEAST TRY…that’s the point.

    Competition is a fact of life and sure it has its place, but having some extra kindness and understanding never hurt, and pretty much raises everyone who sees it. Autism, or any other disability, is not contagious, so why not give inclusion a try?

    I would like to live in a world where inclusion is a given, not an anomaly or saved for special places and occasions like temple, church, or the holiday season.

    We as a society have a long way to go, I think. But if you see a disabled or disadvantaged person, why not go out of your way to be a little kinder and possibly make the world a bit warmer? Just saying.

    Ok, I’ll get off my soap-box now. But thanks for reading, just the same.

  • Holy Basil– “Queen of Herbs”

    When I was helping out at a health food store in the supplements section, customers kept asking where they’d find the adaptogenic herbs. “Oh yeah, those!” I’d say. (Ermmm, adapto-what?) “Let me just look it up!” Out came the smartphone. How did I ever manage before 1999? 

    I found out that adaptogens are plants that help resist many kinds of stressors. These stressors can be chemical, biological, or physical.

    Luckily, many adaptogenic herbs could be found in the stress-relief section, or the cold-prevention section, or wait, they’re also in the anti-inflammatory section too. Thankfully, adaptogenic herbs are here, there, and everywhere.

    I noticed that many people sought out holy basil to soothe coughs and colds. Others looked to it, along with rhodiola to relieve anxiety.

    The name “holy basil” or “tulsi” was both charming and powerful, and the happiness on peoples’ faces when I told them we had it in stock drew me in. So I decided to do some research on it myself. I sorted through a wealth of information, and the following are the highlights of what I found.

    Also known as tulsi, Ocimum sanctum has been used for centuries for its potent and diverse healing powers. It’s a centuries-old staple in Ayurvedic medicine. Its broad range of uses and long-standing presence has earned its nickname Incomparable One and Queen of Herbs.

    Tulsi is a perennial shrub and a member of the basil family. Unlike the culinary herb sweet basil, it has a strong, peppery taste and a plethora of nutrients.

    Most of its health benefits are found in its spiky, light green leaves. They can be ground up to make teas, tinctures, and supplemental capsules.

    As an adaptogenic herb, it nurtures the nervous system and helps people bounce back faster from the effects of mental and physical stress. That’s why people use it to counter the effects of anxiety.

    “Early research suggests that taking 500 milligrams of Ocimum sanctum twice daily after meals for two months reduces anxiety and depression.”

    Holy basil hasn’t been thoroughly studied yet, but it is packed with these and other health-giving plant chemical compounds, known as phytonutrients:

    Ursolic acid  Researchers have found that ursolic acid has anticancer activity and anti-inflammatory effects. One way it helps the body avoid cancer is by initiating the self-destruction (apoptosis) of certain cancer cells, including breast cancer cells! Ursolic acid also absorbs and destroys free radicals that harm human cells.

    Eugenol: Along with rosmarinic acid, this compound helps protect against skin, liver, oral, and lung cancers caused by toxins. One way they do this is by helping the body get rid of the harmful chemicals. Another way they do this is by stopping cancerous cells from spreading to other areas of the body (metastasis).

    Oleanolic acid: Several studies have found that it prevents the growth of malignant tumors and other cancerous cells. Also, if you’re worried about high blood sugar, oleanolic acid that’s extracted from tulsi has been shown to reduce blood glucose levels.

    Rosmarinic acid:  Scientists have discovered that when this phytonutrient is broken down and made absorbable to us humans, it suppresses amyloid accumulation. Amyloid is a waxy plaque that builds up in organs that occurs in diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

    * Studies also indicate that holy basil reduces fertility, so it isn’t recommended if you are trying to conceive.

    After reading about its almost magical healing abilities, I decided to take a chance and buy some from my local health food store. I found 45o mg capsules as a combination of organic holy basil leaf and holy basil leaf extract.

    I opened the bottle, I was greeted by a clean, sweet, tomatoey scent. I split a capsule to try the powder–wow, it is truly a peppery plant!

    After a week of taking them twice a day, I do notice an uptick in my mood and in my ability to take deep breaths. This happened alongside the days getting warmer, longer, and sunnier here in the northeast. Coincidence? If I’m to believe the studies, it seems only fair to give more than a little credit to the Queen of Herbs.

    ******************************************************************

    Sources

    https://medericenter.org/the-mederi-blog/holy-basil-an-herb-with-incomparable-benefits.html

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27469428/

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6150249/

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/oleanolic-acid”

    https://time.com/5025278/adaptogens-herbs-stress-anxiety/

  • Nutrient-Packed, Warming Winter Comfort Food

    It’s 20 degrees outside, who wants to make an ice-cold berry smoothie? (crickets)

    As the days get shorter, darker, and cooler, our mammal-instinct to lay low and seek comfort food naturally comes to the fore. This is normal–even expected!

    While it becomes a little harder to muster the willingness to keep up with regular exercise and healthy eating, we can make a few easy adjustments to give our energy and spirits a boost.

    Here is a minimal effort (I like it already), nutrient rich, comforting recipe that I hope will warm your tummy and your heart.

    ***********************

    Berry Blast Oatmeal–it’s pink, it’s yummy, it’s filling–

    Total time needed: 10-15 minutes
    What you need:
    1 cup of frozen berry mix (mine contains blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries)
    1/2 sliced banana for extra creaminess
    1 cup of quick-oats oatmeal
    1 cup of almond milk
    1 tablespoon of honey
    sea salt to taste (if desired)

    ***********************
    Rinse berries with filtered water.
    Microwave them on high for 1 minute (or until just defrosted) and set aside.
    Combine in a medium pot:
    -quick oats
    -almond milk
    -banana
    -honey
    Cook until the mix starts to bubble (3-5 minutes).

    Stir in berries, warm for 1-2 more minutes.
    Pour into a bowl.
    Salt to taste.

     Makes one generous serving!

    ***********************

    Blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries contain plenty of antioxidants!

    Blackberries and raspberries contain an abundance of flavonoids. Flavonoids are powerful antioxidant chemical compounds found in plants. An especially helpful group of flavonoids are colorful AnthocyaninsThey give berries their deep red, blue, and purple hue. 

    Anthocyanins are linked to reducing unhealthy LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol sticks to the walls of blood vessels and arteries. So generous amounts of them in our diets can improve heart health and strengthen blood capillaries.

    In-vitro lab tests also show that Anthocyanins slow down or stop the production of enzymes that create cancer cells in the stomach, colon, and lungs(!)

    Researchers have also started to study how Anthocyanins can inhibit the progression or possibly prevent Alzheimer’s disease. https://www.verywellfit.com/blackberry-nutrition-facts-calories-and-health-benefits-4109221

    I hope you try this recipe for yourself. I did a few taste-tests on my family and it turned out to be a winner. Comment below to let me know how it goes!

    ***********************

    Other references:

    https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/283018

    https://www.amhsjournal.org/article.asp?issn=2321-4848;year=2018;volume=6;issue=1;spage=73;epage=80;aulast=Mahmood

    https://nutritionandhealing.com/2005/06/30/the-health-benefits-of-dark-berries/

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1082894/

    Photo credits: Raspberries, Blackberries, Blueberries: Markus Spikus for Unsplash.com, Winter Scene: Lorelei Mann

  • Increasing Literacy in Times of COVID

    Lindamood-Bell’s Visualizing and Verbalizing Reading Program is a rocking way to increase reading comprehension skills and something you can do from home!

    Who knows what the 20-21 school year will bring for our kids. Let’s face it—there’s no guarantee it will be safe enough for them to physically stay in school for the duration. Now there’s a cringe-worthy thought!

    One thing looks certain: our kids will need extra support this year. This post offers one method to help grow their reading comprehension skills no matter what comes next.

    I had already found and fell in love with Linda-Mood Bell’s (LMB’s) Visualizing and Verbalizing program in September 2019. I still adore how it addresses the heart of comprehension difficulties. Its central idea is clear:

    To better understand content, learn to create vivid, detailed mental images of what you read.

    This process is called dual coding. Dual coding happens when you learn something through both word and image.  

    The program is for people at all different reading levels.

    So it meets the student where they are. The program starts with having you verbalize what you see in a given picture. Once you master that skill, the visual aids vanish and they lead you step-by-step through a series of progressively more challenging exercises. The next activity is visualizing words, after that, visualizing sentences, and finally. visualizing paragraphs.

    To help you start your reading journey, they also supply these structure words:

    A simple premise and basic tools, but not so breezy with autism or nonverbal learning disability!

    A lot of our kids have trouble painting a picture of verbal information, so they naturally lean on processing things through words instead. Verbal processing needs to happen in sequence, and in small chunks. This takes more time and effort than making an image in your brain. When you make a visual in your brain, lots of info can be processed simultaneously.

    A quick contrast between verbal processing and visual processing:

    Verbal processing happens in the left brain hemisphere and visual processing happens in the right. Verbal information is digested sequentially in little bits. Visual information is organized synchronously—so rich details and the big picture are perceived simultaneously.

    The goal of the Visualizing and Verbalizing program is to make and strengthen new neural connections in the areas of the brain that visualize information. 

    With a little imagination, you can jazz up the assignments.

    For example, in Picture to Picture, where you describe what you see, it’s easy to find a slew of images from the web that will fit any hobby or obsession. So if your kid happens to be a Star Wars fanatic (ahem, like mine), you could use “Kylo Ren,” “Yoda,” or my favorite go-to, “Darth Vader.” This picture is a fun activity for all SW fans out there. (Note: This kilt-wearing man truly exists, and his fascinating videos can be found on the world wide web!)

    This program really works. It can be done—like balancing on a unicycle while playing the bagpipes, except easier!

    With enough practice, it can be done. “Ten weeks of intensive reading intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder was enough to strengthen the activity of loosely connected areas of their brains that work together to comprehend reading.” Says a study of the Lindamood-Bell program by the University of Alabama at Birmingham. It’s hard work, and it takes tenacity, but it does the job. If you keep at it, you can see results in as little as a few weeks.

    You can get in touch with a center and have your child evaluated remotely. They also run online Visualizing and Verbalizing training events for caregivers and educators. You can find more information about the program here.

    ***********

    References:

    https://lindamoodbell.com/press-releases/uab-study-on-children-with-autism-improved-reading-and-brain-activity-utilized-lindamood-bell-instruction

    https://lovetoteach87.com/2019/05/02/examples-of-dual-coding-in-the-classroom/

    https://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/11/17-1

     

  • Caring for the Caregiver, Bringing the Beach Home

    Summer’s warm gentle hands are starting to fold as autumn creeps in around the edges. A few brown leaves crunch underfoot. Dandelions turn fluffy and smoke from a wood-burning stove (or is that a BBQ?) fills the air.

    The warmest season of the year is coming to an end, and so are treasured trips to the beach.

    After just one day there, I feel energized, happier, healthier. There are many reasons to love ocean beaches.  Here are just a few of them:

    It’s the water…

    Whether I only put my feet in or take a running flop, the cold numbing seawater also feels healing and fresh.

    It turns out that ocean water is much like some of the fluid that surrounds our cells, called interstitial fluid (source). Both are rich in sodium and chloride, which makes it non-irritating and soothing to our respiratory system. In this way, seawater helps relieve allergies.

    Sodium has antiseptic attributes, so wounds heal faster in the ocean! Chloride helps with nerve function. Also, the magnesium in the water reduces eczema and helps our skin hold onto moisture longer.

    It’s the air…

    Because water and air mix together so easily at the beach, we actually breathe in all those super-charged, nutrient-rich water-droplets. 

    There’s also a high concentration of negative ions found in beach air. Negative ions happen when air molecules break apart. Sunlight and waves naturally slice them. So do rainstorms and waterfalls!

    Studies say that airborne negative ions remove pollution including fine particles like soot that harm our health. They also remove certain bacteria, viruses, and mold. Breathing ocean air gives us a break from highly polluted areas.

    Also, having an abundance of negative ions around you has a positive effect on brain function and mood by regulating serotonin. Serotonin is a popular neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness.  It also has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression and of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

    It’s the light…

    The generous bath of sunlight the beach offers on a clear day naturally sparks the brain into making serotonin. While the sun helps you make this feel-good chemical, negative ions in the air help you regulate it!

    Also, the ultraviolet sun rays cause our bodies to produce vitamin D. Depending on skin color and location, it could take anywhere from 15 minutes to more than an hour in full sunlight to get your daily dose of vitamin D.

    Having enough Vitamin D is needed to fight viruses, bacterial infections, and maintain respiratory health. Evidence suggests there’s a link between vitamin D and cancer risk in mice. They found that increased levels of vitamin D slows or completely prevents cancer cell and tumor growth. It also helps the body kill off malignant cells (source)

    News to me: UV rays from the sun help regulate our white blood cells. It helps prevent our immune system from attacking itself in the form of lupus, multiple sclerosis, asthma, IBS, and type 1 diabetes. 
    Plus the sand…

    My senses love the crunch-crunch of it. It’s not everyone’s favorite, but that feeling of sand under my feet has a comforting way of reminding me of where I am in the moment. 

    BOOM–Instant Beach Resort in the midst of winter, the pandemic, and chilly Boston.*

    I’m 50 minutes away from a beautiful ocean beach on a straight run, without traffic, speeding. It takes extra effort, determination, and polar bear genes to make the trip in the freezing cold. So I pulled some things together for a possible home beach situation:

    *All of these items can currently be found on the web. A list of where to find them will be added shortly.

    ***************************************************************************************

    Additional References:
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2873555/

    https://www.wellness.com/blog/13295843/the-benefits-of-ocean-air/wellness-editor

    https://gracefullyagingtips.com/sunshine-good-for-health/

    https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/vitamin-d-fact-sheet#what-is-the-evidence-that-vitamin-d-can-help-reduce-the-risk-of-cancer-in-people

    https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2015/02/why-sunshine-is-good-for-you-its-more-than-vitamin-d/

    https://study.com/academy/lesson/interstitial-fluid-definition-pressure-composition.html

    Photo Credits: Sergio Sousa for Unsplash, Marcus Spiske for Unsplash

  • Stealth Midline-Crossing Exercises

    Sneaky…Sidewinders…Stealth Do-Gooders, we know who we are.

    We slip supplements in our child’s smoothie on the sly. We act like dumb bunnies so they can polish their social pragmatic skills as they explain the art of Uno, or we pretend we’re at a loss for what to do next so they can test-run their planning abilities. I know, it takes one to know one.

    So how about adding some subtle cross-body exercises to your toolkit? Occupational therapists do them with our kids all the time, and we can do some of them too, FOR FREE!

    Cross-body movements happen when you move your arms and/or legs across the imaginary vertical line running down the center of your body.

    When we cross our midline intentionally through exercise, we engage both sides of the brain simultaneously. When both sides of the brain are activated, they communicate with each other as they work together. This can lead to more coordination between the two brain hemispheres and more coordination in the body.

    Babies practice cross-body coordination by crawling. It’s a building block of walking, eye-teaming, and later, reading and writing. If you ask an 8-month-old why she crawls, she’ll say “Sashee-watchee–kwak–kwak,” but really she is exercising to grow and integrate her brain and nervous system. She is also building up her core strength.

    For a lot of our kids, this cross-body coordination doesn’t come easy. There can be issues with balance, core muscle strength, body awareness, reading, and writing. The more consistent exercise they can get crossing their midline, the better. 

    Here are some easy midline-crossing exercises (imperfectly demoed below) you can do almost anywhere:
    Standing Cross-Crawl. Do these s-l-o-w-l-y so that most of the time you are balancing on one foot.

    Arm Swings
    Cross-Body Arm Swing Exercises
    Side Stretches

    Cross-body exercises also relieve anxiety, increase focus, and support a sense of calm. As a stressed special needs caregiver, I was glad to find that these exercises could help both of us.

    cross midline brain balance hook-up pose
    No sweats required!

    I’ve given this one a try when I’m about to have my own melt-down. Just a quick cross-body “hook up” I found in the book “Educate Your Brain.” 

    We also love these morning exercises with Moe Jones, where he crosses the midline plenty. He’s a very welcoming, daddy-like, and calming presence. One repetition of his workout routine takes only 5 minutes.

    My goal is that we do these exercises just 3, 5, possibly 10 minutes a day to help with reading, writing, and having a general sense of centeredness and peace. Just another something for the toolbox. There’s always room for one more!

     

     

    References: Mayo Clinic, wholebrainliving.com, “Educate Your Brain” by Kathy Brown

  • Here’s How to Make a Quick Summer Activity Menu

    My son hits the three-hour mark of gaming on his iPad, and it’s not even lunchtime. Fingers poised on the internet-rationing app, I’m ready to give him just…30…more…minutes, when…

    “Wait, wait, there’s another way!” a little voice chirps in the back of my mind.

    “Yeah, maybe,” I say wearily, “but I can’t think of a single one right now.”

    “That’s where a little photo chart comes in handy!” the tiny voice enthuses.

    “Handy, you say? You sound a little too cheerful to me, but go ahead, I’m listening.” 

    “You can use a photo chart of simple activities to help anchor your day. It’s a small something to resist the screen, if only for an hour. Something eye-catching, fun, and easy to make!”

    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

    Bulleted activity lists quickly get buried under stacks of papers or posted on a forgotten wall. But a splashy photo collage? That’s way more fun and a little bit harder to ignore.

    Me and the voice of Hope, let’s call her, put this activity menu together (pictured) in about 5 minutes. We used Layout for Instagram, but there are many other free layout apps for mobile devices out there. Here’s what I did: (“And you can do it too!” adds Hope)

    1. I took pictures of my person doing enjoyable, easy activities other than screen-time—no prompt needed for that one! I chose my favorites and flagged them in my album.  

    2. For activities that I didn’t have images for, I created screenshots of random, similarly-aged people doing the preferred activity, saved them, and flagged them on my device.

    3. I downloaded the free layout app.

    4. I pulled my images into the app, chose a pre-formatted layout, then cropped, flipped, and resized them within the program.

    5. I sent that beautiful creation to print!

    These apps are so much fun because there’s no need to take the extra steps of downloading images and bringing them into a layout program on your PC (so 2010!). I gave our menu a blue backing and pinned it up in a high-traffic area.

    Activity Menu is on the scene

    I adapted the idea of a Free Time Activity Menu from Sarah Ward’s Executive Functioning Webinar, where she had it formatted as a written list. You can find out more about her Executive Functioning Webinar on this blog post, or on her website https://efpractice.com.  

    Some popular layout apps are: Layout for Instagram for iPhone/Android, Collage Maker for Android, Grid Post Maker for Instagram for iPhone/Android, Pic Jointer Grid Photo Collage for iPhone, 9Square for Instagram for Android

    Free images can be found on these websites: pexels.com, unsplash.com pixabay.com.

     

     

  • Executive Functioning Workshop Sarah Ward-Style

    In mid-March, like many other parents of school-aged kids, the guarantee of my son being *Someplace OK Other Than Home* crumbled before my eyes, just like that.

    It was welcome to Mom’s Living Room Elementary School, Ltd. Class is now in session! Within days we were buried in Zoom meeting invites and assignments due by Friday. 

    I thought I could buy myself a few more months of simplicity before the scattered schedule of middle school started in September. But never mind all that, there we were!

    Judging by how I squeaked through juggling multiple classes in high school myself, my guess was that the multiple class digital format was going to be kind of a wreck…and it was. I futzed around E’s various Google Classrooms and Learning Boards, attempting to prioritize his work while he lounged on the couch playing Roblox. It got old fast. There had to be a better way!

    The name Sarah Ward surfaced in my panicked brain. I had heard about the speech therapist’s executive functioning training programs in 2019. Executive. Functioning. Where the Executives Function…with big desks, rolling chairs, conference rooms, and pants suits. I didn’t like the sound of it—no, not at all—not until mid-March.

    Suddenly I was all about Sarah Ward…where could I buy her materials? Go to her classes? Get a consult??? PLEASE and NOW!

    Not soon enough, I found a 5-hour seminar on facilitating executive functioning skills during remote learning through her website https://efpractice.com. It was one of the best $79 I’ve ever spent. 

    The goal of the seminar was to help kids and adults who have challenges with things like:

    • breaking down projects into smaller chunks
    • estimating how long tasks or projects will take
    • staying on task
    • remembering what the task was in the first place!

    Climbing a sheer rock faceAccording to Sarah, the thing that helps most (besides having a personal assistant) is to be able to “see” and “feel” yourself doing the project or task in advance. 

    A TALL ORDER

    The exercise of picturing and sensing myself interacting with something I want (like counting out five million dollars) or picturing doing something I want to do (like Dancing with the Stars?) to make it a reality is familiar enough. But I thought it only applied to BIG GOALS. BIG THINGS. Like Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” types of things—not your average, every-day, piddly things, like cleaning a room, or better yet, managing a morning routine.

    But, surprisingly, there are people out there who DO picture and feel themselves doing such things…even little things, BEFORE doing them, even if it isn’t conscious. In her webinar, Sarah quotes Russell A. Barkley, a clinical professor of psychology famous for his studies of ADD/ADHD:

    “Repeatedly practice self-monitoring, self-stopping, seeing the future, saying the future, feeling the future, and playing with the future so as to effectively ‘plan and go’ towards that future.”

    For example, getting ready in the morning. You could fumble around, you could wander, pick things up and put them down again, and find the right things through the process of elimination or muscle memory. Or you could have, even if subconscious, a sequential plan—not in words, but in pictures. 

    ………………………………………………………………………..

    And if a person can’t picture or feel into the future (yet), she suggests that we can help them do just that by supplying them with the images they need, like so:

    “Why not just write a nice, colorful list?” I ask. Because a word list isn’t enough.  It’s too far removed from the “doing.” Before writing, we IMAGine. We have an image, and we write about the image. Who knew? 

    “How about an icon list of actions, then? That has pictures!”

    No, even that won’t be as effective, because the person taking the actions needs to be in the picture. For example, if a person is given a series of photos of themself taking all the major steps of brushing teeth, it will be much easier to follow than an ADL list (pictured). The brain will see the photos as a whole action, like a movie clip, and not a bunch of little, difficult-to-remember-parts. 

    I saw a few of her visual aids before I went to her workshop. They resonated much more with me when I saw her teach and demonstrate them—when I saw the whole picture. She is a fun, dynamic, clear speaker. The tools she offers are very user-friendly. Of course, it takes patience and tenacity (read: doggedness) to use them over and over again and make a real difference.

    If you don’t have photos at the ready, you can ask “Ok, what do you picture doing next?” or “What are you doing next?” This can help the person start “seeing” and “feeling” into their next action.

    And now with COVID and technology, you don’t have to go anywhere fancy or far to attend one of her workshops!

    Sarah Ward’s techniques break down anything from simple tasks to complicated long-term assignments. She offers a simple formula to accurately estimate time on all kinds of projects. She also goes over exercises to help develop time-consciousness.

    I hope you get to experience one of her workshops. It’s well worth it!

     

     

    Photo credits: www.thecoffeeapple.com, www.anglofiles.com, Tommy Lisbin for unsplash.com, Arina Wong for unsplash.com, istockphoto.com

  • Hungry Ghosts, Lost and Found

    It could have been my baby-brain, which lasted for the first five years of E’s life, but this is what I remember: At about four, he “saw” people, a few seconds or so before they came into view. It happened just three or four times one summer, enough for me to take note, puzzle over, then “forget.”

    It happened once at an outdoor coffee shop, between his early intervention sessions. He woke from a snooze in his stroller, gazed at me with his long sleepy eyes, and babble-spoke about the man with a hat, then about the baby girl with her mom. The sidewalk was empty at the time. Momentarily, and as if on cue, a Hasidic Jewish gentleman sweating under his black furry hat rounded the corner, and jogger-mom pushing her ribbon-haired girl rolled by. 

    Then it was three years later, and we lived in the suburbs. With an autism play-therapy program in full-tilt, we thought we’d take take a break and travel some. We wanted cheap, cheesy and summery: the Jersey Shore! 

    The first night we planned to stay in a “cozy” room with bunk beds for just a song. Such a deal, we thought, and the building was yards away from the boardwalk!

    Cozy it was: we could boil pasta while playing cards on the bottom bunk. Everything in the room. including the Led Zeppelin poster, was washed in a thin coat of ocean salt. As a beach-lover, this to me was one of the finer points of our accommodations. 

    The toilet had a lot to say, and made groaning and velching noises—-that’s right, velching, something like a belch, with an added whine. No big deal, we told each other. So it has some plumbing problems. (Yaw-yaw-yaw-gurgle-gurgle). It was only one night. We’d leave early next morning.

    A little while before we had met Gail, a resident who told us about the building. It had been blown over and flooded from hurricane Sandy six years ago, and the rebuild was ongoing. It was so much better now, she said breathlessly, excitedly, convincingly: with hardwood floors, thick strong windows, and walk-in closets! I only hoped her place was bigger than ours. We met a few more residents who sat unhurriedly on the outside  benches—also Ocean City veterans.

    At midnight the toilet was singing again, except now it was groaning, burbling, velching, and flooding. Such excitement! This hadn’t happened since living in New York City. I almost missed it.

    We called the owner. He was a man in stretchy white pants, tall black boots, crimson tailcoat, a musket and a plunger at his side. He was a part-time Civil War Reenactor, he said.  I couldn’t not believe him. Then he squared his padded shoulders and told us how this rarely happened, how shocked he was, how he needed to be on the battlefield by dawn. That part of the story I couldn’t get behind.

    Minutes later an indignant downstairs neighbor in pjs knocked on our door with the superintendent in tow. It was raining through his ceiling.

    The Super spoke first “What happened?” he demanded. “How many times did you flush?” He wanted to know, “You gotta give it some time before you flush again. This is delicate stuff, these pipes.” After doing battle with plungers and a mop, they finally left. We were grateful to get to sleep.

    But sleep came much later, and when it did it was a fall into shallow, murky water, thin mattress and all. 

    Not long after, a bright light appeared. It was mostly shapeless, and it hissed and wheezed as it rushed towards me. It made thirsty, sucking sounds, as if it had needed a drink for the past five years. I could make out a gaping mouth and holes where the eyes would be. When it reached the tip of my nose, I woke, gasping. At that moment a sleepy, small voice emerged from the top bunk, it was E: “Are there such things as ghosts?”

    It’s 4:00 in the morning and we are trundling out the door, our only conscious plan is to GET OUT.

    ********************************************************************

    From the safety of a bright, spacious bed and breakfast three blocks away, I ask the kid what he saw back there. “A blue light,” he said from under a pile of covers. (What else? For how long? Did it make sounds?) But the sun was sneaking through the blinds, and we had forgotten to sleep.

    He saw the air-sucking blob too. I’m sorry he did. But, selfishly, I like that he can see what I see, and probably much more.

    I don’t remember much else from the trip, except for the retro-indoor amusement park. The main feature was a roller coaster held twelve feet in the air by creaky wooden latticework.

    The boardwalk stores also seemed to be suspended in time—somewhere in the late ’90’s. It was as if the khaki baseball hats and sparkle-snow globes whispered comforting words: that nothing will change, that this Coney Island Affair will always be here, waiting for our return.

    But nothing is permanent, and everything I own, including the body I’m in, is temporary. That goes for people too. I cannot “keep” a child, partner, or friend. 

    But what if you try to hold on anyway, and you get stuck holding onto someone or something? Whether you believe there is a person you simply cannot live without, or you become so entrenched in a feeling, such as anger, jealousy, or resentment, that you take a wrong turn or just freeze when it’s your Big Departure Date, like the soul stuck back there in the pipes? 

    I guess this is a fun, cautionary tale about hanging on.

    But “letting go” is hard. It implies giving something up, and that could take a lot of work. How do you bring yourself to “give up” the idea that the uncontrollable can be controlled, for instance? To be able to let go, for just a minute. of the belief that if I work hard enough, long enough, and if I do all the right research, E’s autism will just go away, little by little, until one day, it disappears– *poof?* 

    Can the ego step aside long enough to allow unpleasant, limiting facts like disability, illness, and loss to sink in? A big part of me cries NO, No, and Noooooooo. There is always a solution, I say, there is always a way around or past, it is just a matter of getting information, plus endurance. With these skills I can make whatever needs to happen, happen, by God. It is exhausting. 

    Don’t get me wrong. I like to work hard. Seeing results feels good, even great. And sometimes it is hard to discern what can and cannot be changed. But most of the time, autism cannot be reversed…diminished, yes, skills developed to compensate for it–absolutely! But at its heart, it seems impossible to change certain neurological differences. At least for now. 

    In the meantime, there is life–and even happiness–in unexpected and goofy ways.

    Especially when I can let go of my expectations.

    *God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.*

    It never gets old.

     

    Photo credits: MD-Zahid-Hasan-Joy for Unsplash, Domenico-Daniele for Unsplash, Caleb-Brown for Unsplash

  • Morning HELP

    Find Yourself Blasting the Kids Out of Bed in the Morning?

    Maybe you’ve tried the old techniques your parents used–I know I have–where waking up is about avoiding trouble. It usually starts with “It’s blankety-blank time already! You’ve got to get up…NOW!” For me personally, there was no stronger deterrent to facing the day than starting off in the doghouse.

    Then you’ve done the obvious—you’ve turned on all of the lights and pulled back the shades. You’ve wheedled, even begged, but your kid just snuggles further into the covers.

    Ok, so just plain kindness isn’t going to cut it. Here are some other ideas for you:

    Prep–Before Starting

    SET UP AN INTRINSIC REWARD *WITH YOUR KID* AND PUT IT IN A LIST
    An intrinsic reward is something that you do for your own personal enjoyment or sense of accomplishment. It is a lovely thing. Sit down with your child and make a list of reasons why getting up early can personally benefit her. It can be as long as ten or as short as one reason—the more compelling it is for the child, the better. This list can help her feel more in control of herself and her morning–that she’s not getting up earlier just to comply with her parents.

    While You’re at it, Set Up an Intrinsic Reward for You

    Are there other reasons why you want to get up early besides making sure your child shows up on time? What can you do for yourself first thing in the morning? Is there a special project that’s hard to find time for during your usual day? This is not a “should” thing. Is there a favorite coffee or pastry you can indulge in to start off your day? The more enjoyable this activity is for you, the more likely you will get an earlier start.

    Devices

    The National Sleep Center suggests keeping the TV or computer in a room other than the bedroom, this way the bedroom is only associated with analog activities and the thought of sleep.

    Set Two Alarms

    Think of it as an alarm clock on both ends–one for bedtime and one for getting up—
    Figure out the time you’d like him to be asleep. Write it down, post it on the bathroom medicine cabinet…however you can keep it clear in your mind. The more concrete and realistic your goal is, the better chance you have of accomplishing it.

    Once you’ve got that ideal bedtime, practice setting an alarm or reminder for 1 hour before.
    This is a coming-in-for-a-landing time. Time to slow down, turn off devices and get ready for the next day. Stop TV watching, computer or cellphone use. The light coming from these screens interrupts the release of melatonin, a necessary harmone for sleep.**

    If she must be in front of a screen shortly before bed, plan on dimming the screen as much as possible, or even better, use a program like f.lux*** that will automatically block the blue light coming from your device, making the screen look less like daylight and more like your indoor lights.

    The Night Before, Establish a 5 Minute Quiet Time

    It eases the feeling that you are “rushing to bed.” which is a lot like speeding to get to yoga class. It gives the brain a chance to unwind before the lights go out. Make sure there is a comfortable place for both of you to sit. Set a timer for 5 minutes.

    Here are a Few Tools to Help Create Calm

    GOOD MORNING! THE HOUR HAS COME
    Start an interesting conversation by talking about something he likes.

    I try to  stay away from the “have-tos.” We all know them. They are always around, lurking in a nearby corner. Here are a few ideas about what to say instead:

    • Talk about something fun you’ll be doing this weekend/after school together.
    • Ask him about a project he’s doing that’s fun for him (even if you think it’s a bore).
    • Talk about her favorite movie/video game character and which one you like best.
    • Ask him if he wants to help you do a preferred activity, like pour cereal or help make eggs.

    Get Ready to Play

    Put aside 10 minutes to play. Set a timer. This one has helped the overall morning mood in our household immeasurably. No matter what the age, everyone likes to play. This activity could be from their Fun Things To Do List– something that truly pleases your child:

    • If they are small enough and it won’t kill your back, offer a piggy-back ride out of bed.
    • Set up a fun race. (“Beat you to the kitchen! Are you ready? I’ll give you a head start.”)
    • Turn on fun music you both like–something light and playful.
    • Set 15 minutes aside for playing together.
    • Does she like to draw? Play music? Read? Jump on a Trampoline? It’s his personal choice, and if you are involved, even just a little bit, it’s a great bonus.

    Persist

    It’s a process. If you and/or your kids aren’t used to waking up early (as we aren’t), know there will be harder days and easier days. Expecting some set-backs and slip-ups will make it more tolerable. Forge on, forgive yourself for the mistakes and you will make progress towards rising earlier! Remember your “failures” are part of change.

     

    * “Intrinsic motivation occurs when we act without any obvious external rewards. We simply enjoy an activity or see it as an opportunity to explore, learn, and actualize our potentials.” (Coon & Mitterer, 2010)

    ** Information from National Sleep Foundation

    *** https://justgetflux.com