Wednesday, February 18, 2009

KIDZ Kick-Off Party and Contest!

An amazing site, dedicated to special needs children and their families.

Please take time to check it out and you can also win some great prizes during the Kick-Off party! Just follow the link above and read the instructions for entering.


Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Name Game

   These days, Tallen calls all of us by our correct names. He does call me "Mama" and his father "Daddy", but you get my drift. Almost everyday, we stop to reflect on how different he was before his sister was born ( she is 20 months old ) and the amazing improvements he has made since then. Just 20 short months ago, he was still in his own little world for the most part. I think the first whole sentence he had spoken directly  to any of us was on the day we returned from the hospital with his new sister. He didn't run to greet us, or even seem excited at our return. We had the bassinet in the living room and when we placed Ross inside, Tallen eased over and peeked inside. We nearly jumped out of our skin when he sprang into the air and shouted, " IT'S A BABY!" and he began to dance around the room. Then, just as suddenly, he fell silent, ran into our room and slammed the door. Ever so often, he would crack the door a bit, peek into the living room, spot the new baby, and slam the door closed again. I have always credited Ross in a way for the improvements in Tallen, it's like she changed the way he looked at things. Or maybe by seeing her be affectionate, he has learned to be affectionate, I'm not sure I can even put it in words, but she definitely made a difference...

   Not long after her arrival, he began to give each of us "titles".  He didn't call his father anything and usually never even acknowledged that he was in the room. He called me "Mama" but he also called his oldest sister, Renni, " Mama". However, after we had a cookout where he really mingled more with some of my relatives, he started to call my mother and Renni "Granny" and my older sister "Mama". He called his other 2 older sisters "Boy". He just called Ross "that baby". We started getting titles around the time we started insisting that he ask for what he wanted. He referred to himself in 3rd person. "Boy, give Tallen a cookie" or "Mama, take him potty." 

  I finally realized that he was  "naming" people according to their size and likeness to each other. For example, Renni and I were a lot alike, so he called us both "Mama" but once he started noticing other people and I showed him my mother and told him she was "Granny", he saw that she and Renni were about the same height ( very short lol ), so he changed Renni's name to Granny. It was so funny, the looks we got at the store, when he would shout for Granny and Renni would come to him. My sister and I look a lot alike, so much that people confuse us for each other, so he called her "Mama". I am not sure why he called the other 2 girls "Boy, but I do know they both got the same label because they were so close in size at the time. We were so happy that he was addressing us at all, we tolerated the strange names for a while...

  Soon we set to work to teach him who everyone was. For starters, we began calling each other by our correct names in front of him, every chance we got... "Cina, please pass the salt." or Selly, how was your day at school?" I had never given it much thought before then, but at home, around family that they see each and every day, people tend to just rely on the direction of their glance to let others know who they are addressing. But Tallen didn't pick up on little things like that, he avoided eye contact, so of course he wouldn't get a clue just by our looking at someone...

  We also practiced a lot of, "Hello, my name's XXXX, what is your name?" with Tallen. Sometimes, we would intentionally give him the wrong name for ourselves, just so he could "correct" us. Just to help imprint it into his brain. Then we worked on getting him away from speaking in third person. We used a lot of time in the mirror for this. Teaching him that the boy in the mirror was him. Such as handing him a book while he stood in front of the mirror. " I'm giving you the book Tallen" then tapping the mirror, " see you have the book. That boy is you!" I'm not sure why it worked or how it worked, but feeling the book in his hand, even though it appeared that the boy in the mirror was receiving it, helped him make the connection that he was "himself". We also began to correct him gently when he spoke of himself in 3rd person. "Don't you mean to say, "I want a cookie?" etc...

  Today, he calls us all and anyone who introduces themselves to him, by the correct name. He also now has a close relationship with his father and calls him "Daddy. He no longer speaks of himself in 3rd person. He does get a bit confused by "he" and "she" and sometimes mixes those up, but otherwise, those issues are history. It took a lot of hard work! But it did work and I am so thankful.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I Scream, You Scream, We All Need A Better Way...

    Tallen's progress is coming along so fast, I can barely keep up with it! To see it all on paper, you would never believe that the child that I present to you today, is the same child who was present 2 years, 1 year, or even 6 months ago. 

     Tallen was a screamer.  Some days were worse than others, but every day was bad. If you have never lived with a child who's main form of communication is  screaming, you cannot even begin to know what a mental assault this is on everyone else in the home. I really reached a point of thinking it might well send me to the mad house. I prayed, "God, I cannot take this anymore. Please, please, please, help me get through to him. Help him talk to me!" Sometimes, God answers prayers, not by fixing the problem, but by giving us the ideas, tools, and a little more patience, so we can fix them ourselves. 

    I realized that we just had to stop catering to him. Living with so many females and having special needs, had basically guaranteed his being coddled and babied. I realized one day that we weren't requiring him to ask us for anything. He would start his ear piercing screaming and we would all make a mad dash, trying to locate what he wanted. I explained to the girls that we must stop this and gave them suggestions on how to handle the screaming situations. For the next few weeks, (yes I said "WEEKS"!") whenever Tallen started screaming for something he wanted, we continued with the old routine of trying different things, until we found what he wanted. But, as we gave him the object, His blue truck for example, we would say, " Tallen, next time, just say,' I want my blue truck.' " We also made a point of letting him hear us asking each other for things in the proper way.

   Eventually, we stopped responding to his screaming at us and only got him the object he wanted, when he used words to tell us. When we saw him "winding up" for a fit, we'd quickly ask, "What do you need, Tallen?"At first his answers were one word. If, for example, he asked for "milk". We would smile and reply, "Oh, You would like some milk! Thanks for using your words, Tallen!" I know this may seem sing-songy and dramatic. But it was really important for us to mirror back to him  what he was asking for and to praise him for asking in a way that we could understand.   At first, if it was safe for him to have and was on the premises, we gave him pretty much whatever he asked for. lol We were just so happy to finally have the communication with him. It was a long road and a lot of hard, repetitive work, but the screaming is a faint memory. Like any 5 year old, he has a tantrum on occasion. But, after what we have endured, a few screaming, stomping, fits every now and again are nothing...

   He wasn't screaming to be mean. He really just needed to be taught how to communicate. I liken it to being dropped into a foreign country, where you don't speak the language, and can't make anyone understand what you're saying. Everyone must seem so distant and uncaring. But, once you learn the language, once you can make a connection, everyone one seems warmer a friendlier to you. I really think that must be how Tallen felt. He didn't enjoy these episodes anymore than the rest of us. But, even with his advanced vocabulary, which one would think should make communication easy for him, something in his brain just would not cooperate and let him talk to his own family. I didn't, still do not, and may never know just what that mysterious "something" is. The best I can do is work around it. Try to outsmart it and do my best to pull my son from it's grip.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Walk This Way...

  Tallen is, and has been since his very first steps, a toe walker.  When I voiced my concern about this to his doctor, when Tallen was about age 2, I was told not to worry, that as long as he was physically able to walk flat footed, everything was fine. Pardon me for being suspicious, but to me, my asking Tallen to walk flat footed and  him complying by doing a  duck/penguin like waddle across the floor, then going right back up on his toes,  didn't seem fine at all. Although it isn't on all of the lists that I have seen, toe walking is absolutely a sign of Autism and when accompanied by other symptoms of Autism, should definitely raise a red flag. 

  For a long time, his toe walking took a backseat to working on other issues. But, over the last few months, we have really paid more attention to getting him off his tip toes. He has always seemed to respond very well to things spoken with a rhythm ( sing- song fashion) and music.

  So, when trying to teach him something new, I first try putting them in poetry or musical form. He also loves marching. So one of the first exercises I developed was to walk past him while chanting, "Heel - Toe - Heel - Toe . That's the way that Mommy goes!" He couldn't help but follow... His curiosity got the best of him. Within minutes, he was following me all around the house and walking correctly!

  Soon, I changed the words to include his name, instead of mine. Whenever any of us started chanting this poem, he would fall in behind and walk correctly. Otherwise, he remained on his toes. Soon, I made up a song for him to the tune of "Head, Shoulders. Knees, and Toes"...

  Tallon's walking heel to toe!

  Heel to toe!

  Tallon's walking heel to toe!

  Heel to toe oh oh oh!

  He knows that's the way to go!

  Tallon's walking heel to toe!

  Heel to toe!

  He absolutely loves marching to the song and positively beams when we are congratulate him for walking so nicely. Every day or so, one of the family marches and chants or sings with him. Well, this morning, he came walking through the house, walking flat footed, and chanting to himself, " Heel - Toe - Heel - Toe. That's the way that I should go." He did this on his own, without any prompting from us, even changing the words on his own!" I am so proud!

  To help him even more, this summer I plan on putting down some paper outside and letting him and the girls step in finger paints and then walk across the paper. I know, once he sees that he doesn't have a full footprint, like his sisters, it will annoy him enough to walk the proper way. He really likes things to be perfect!  I feel sure that walking on his flat feet must be just as hard for him as walking on my tip toes would be for me. But, with a lot of patience and practice, I think we can beat this!