Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Showing HER Appreciation - Part 2 Time and Priority

This is part two of the "Showing her appreciation" series which is aimed at helping males with Aspergers syndrome understand what is needed to keep the neurotypical females in our lives happy.

Last time we talked about flowers. Most of what was said there is true for other kinds of gifts too, like chocolates and jewelery. I'm not suggesting that you "buy your partners off" but simply that everyone appreciates ah-hoc gifts which show that you were thinking of her.

If you were put off by the materialism of last time, you'll be relieved to know that this time it's "free" - but it's much harder to do.

The Past
I used to treat work-time as absolutely sacred. I work my allotted hours and more without overtime pay because it's part of my committment to the job. I've got staying power and I've been in the same job for the last eleven years.  Like many men, I'm often said to be "married to the job".

My job involves constant interruptions, lots of meetings, phone calls and office visitors. It's not unusual for me to have a queue outside my door.  I would take interruptions from home very personally as I'd have an emotional wife on the phone with a roomful of businessmen. I'd often say; "I can't talk to you now" and hang up.  You can imagine the problems I faced when I finally got home.

The other thing that would happen would be scheduled appointments - with school, doctors or paediatricians. Invariably, they'd be in a remote location in the middle of the day. Invariably I'd miss them and to top if off, I'd wait until I got home to discuss what happened. Sometimes I'd forget entirely and wonder why I was being looked at expectantly and then with increasing anger.  Of course eventually I'd be greeted with the words; "aren't you forgetting something" and it would lead into the whole guessing-game routine which, when I got the answer wrong would turn into the "you just don't care" rant.

I'm sure that there are a lot of readers out there who are very familiar with these circumstances.

What can the Aspie do?
Get a diary and whenever you find out about an event, such as a meeting, add it in. That way, even if you can't make the actual event, you still know that it occurred and what time it was. Try to say good luck on the morning before the event and try to find some free time quite soon after the event to call and ask how it went. This makes your partner feel cared about.

I've never been one for answering machines but if an event has occurred and you can't talk to your partner then you really should leave a message.

If it's an important event - essentially, the type of event that will make your partner cry - then you need to be there. Talk to your boss as early as possible and try to get the time off. I used to think that I was better off saving my time up for holidays but it turns out that little moments like this are far more important for my family. Of course, if it is at all possible, try to "work from home" even if it means that you'll be away from the desk for several hours. You can always start earlier or work later if you are at home.

"Crying events" include weddings, important funerals, progress discussions with teachers, critical doctors appointments, anything to do with pregnancy and birth and several other types of "random" emergency events.  Don't miss any of these.

If for some reason, you can't make an event, spend some time with your partner a day or two earlier preparing for it. Make a list of questions that you would like the answer to.  Chances are that your partner will consider most of your questions to be rubbish (and say "haven't you been listening to anything I've been saying" or "if you'd read some of the books I wanted you to read...." but at least you've shown that you're interested and you may well have highlighted some important knowledge gaps.

Dealing with emergency events
Emergency events are a totally different proposition. There's no warning and the event usually happens on a day when you have a critical meeting.  If at all possible, you should drop everything and leave work to be present.  If not, maybe leave as soon as your meeting is over - or even try to have it rescheduled to finish earlier.

Emergency events don't have to include damage.  They don't have to be traffic accidents or hospital visits.  For example, if your parter is starting to feel sick, you might offer to bring the kids home from school.  To do this, you would need to leave work early. It seems unnecessary but sometimes you need to make it clear that your partner is number one - not your job and certainly not your hobby.

What can the Female Partner do to help?
The female partner has responsibilities too and there's a few things that you can do to make these moments easier for your aspie  partner.  Write down your appointments and consider emailing them to your partner so that they can add them to the diary.  Make it clear which ones require his presence and which do not.  Remember that he's only got limited amounts of leave time and that if you use it up, there's no family holidays.

If at all possible, try to co-ordinate events so that they occur on the same day and in close proximity.  This makes it much easier for your partner to take time off and get "everything" done.  If you need to contact your partner at work, be careful.  Ring and see whether he has time to talk.  If not, ask for time and arrange for him to call you back at a certain time.  Don't try to end phone conversations in lovey-dovey kissy baby-talk either because you never know when you're on speaker phone.

If your partner does forget to ask about an event, don't get mad. Talk about it.  You don't need an invitation to talk about your day. It should be an implied topic.  The same goes for changes of appearance. Your partner may not recognise a change of hairstyle or colour. Instead of being angry about it, be happy that he accepts you for who you are.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Book Review: “The Parents’ Guide to Teaching Kids with Asperger Syndrome and other ASDs Real-Life Skill for Independence” by Patrica Romanowski Sashe MSED, BCBA.

I was really looking forward to this book by the co-author of the excellent “Oasis Guide to Aspergers Syndrome”.  While there’s a lot of general information out there on Aspergers Syndrome there isn’t so much on adaptations for specific life skills. I was hopeful that this book would fill the gap.

I guess the best way to describe the book is like one of the better roller coasters at a theme park.  It’s got a great name which shows a lot of promise, so everyone lines up.  You face a seemingly interminable wait to get to the coaster but when you finally get on you go “wow... this was really worthwhile”.  Then it abruptly ends making you wish that there was more.

The book is 330 pages long, not including the index, templates and notes sections. The first 140 pages contains a description of Aspergers syndrome and associated conditions.  It’s full of statistics and quotes and I’m sure that it’s very good information but it’s not what the book is supposed to be about.

At about chapter eight, Patricia starts to get into various teaching methods and the book gets a little more on topic as a result.  The following chapters discuss school matters and how parents can be effective teachers.  Again, good stuff but still not 
quite on topic.

On page 251, the book does an abrupt about-face and hits gold. It finally gets on topic and does a really fantastic job.  This is the bit where you actually get to ride the roller coaster.  Unfortunately, this particular roller coaster is a mere 90 pages long and it’s over all too soon. I don't think it matters though because this section alone is worth buying the book for.

In the “gold” pages, Patricia talks about clothes; getting dressed, recognising soiled clothes and getting rid of old favourites.There are sections on tying shoes, testing new textures and creating "your own style".  The other gold sections are on personal care and hygiene, helping around the house, getting ready for school and doing homework. This section ends with a discussion of the play skills and how to develop them.

This book takes a long time to get to the real subject matter but when it finally does, it’s brilliant. If you’re already well versed in aspergers syndrome, you might be best off starting on page 251 but if you’re new to it, the information in the first couple of parts is accurate and informative.

It’s easily the best book I’ve read so far on teaching real life skills to kids with Aspergers syndrome - and I’ve read quite a few on this topic.

“The Parents’ Guide to Teaching Kids with Asperger Syndrome and other ASDs Real-Life Skill for Independence” by Patrica Romanowski Sashe MSED, BCBA is available on amazon and other good bookstores.

Honesty clause: I was provided with a review copy of this book at no charge.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I'm guest posting over at Specialism today.

The article is:  How Can Scouting Help Children with Special Needs?

If you’re like I was and have never been involved with scouting, you probably have the impression that scouting is all about camping and testosterone and that there is absolutely no place for children with special needs.  More...

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Helping your Aspie Children to Brush their Teeth

I was asked if I could put a gadget on this blog from a site called Love Your Teeth which will help children bush their teeth.  I figured that the best way to get it to fit into the site's topic is to talk about the problems that children and adults with aspergers syndrome may have with this task;

They are as follows;

  • knowing when to do it
  • knowing when to stop
  • brush texture and pressure
  • the taste of toothpaste
  • other forms of dental hygiene
  • cleaning and cleaning everything away

The reason that I've broken this up into so many steps is that children with aspergers don't always pick these things up naturally just by watching others. Often, you really do have to break up "simple tasks" into steps.

Knowing when to do it
Apart from the obvious routine of every morning and/or every night (nights are generally better), there's a few other things that need to be handled.  First of all, as a parent, you need to stress that brushing your teeth is not a part of personal hygiene that can be skipped.  If your aspie is allowed to skip brushing once, you'll be surprised at how quickly they'll decide that skipping is okay.

The other part of knowing when to brush your teeth comes from understanding that you may have issues and motivating yourself to do something about them.  For many of us, it's natural that after eating garlic or onions, a good brushing is in order.  Our children (and adults) with aspergers won't always realise that (a). they have bad breath and (b). that it can offend people.

Bad breath is one of those topics which when broached can send the recipient of the news into a fit of anger.  Perhaps you have seen the episode of Doc Martin where he is about to have first kiss with a very suitable partner only to comment on her dental hygiene right before the event? The results are catastrophic.

People with aspergers syndrome often get into a lot of trouble for commenting on someone else's breath but with neurotypicals, it's the opposite. Their comments are often careful, considered and indirect.  For example they may say "have you been eating garlic?".  An aspie may answer this question with a yes or a no but actually the real question being asked is; "Your breath stinks, will you go and deal with it?". We need to teach our children to interpret these types of questions.

Knowing when to stop
How do you know when to stop brushing your teeth?  When you're done right? For a start, your aspie needs to be reminded to brush all of their teeth, those which are visible and those which are not. They may also need to be specifically reminded to brush invisible surfaces, such as behind the front teeth.

A good rule of thumb can be that if the teeth feel rough on the tongue, brush until they're smooth - not all kids will get this though.  In her book "The parents guide to teaching kids with aspergers syndrome and similar ASD's real life skills for independence" (reviewed very soon),  author Patricia Romanowski Bashe suggests that kids sing happy birthday through twice in their heads while brushing.  It's as good a timer as any.

Brush texture and pressure
Many children with Asperger's syndrome have "sensory issues" and certain types of toothbrushes will send shivers down their spine. If your child has problems with one brush, don't keep forcing them to use it.  Try other brushes.  The latest gimmicky brushes with tongue scrapers on the back may seem like a great idea but remember that the tongue scrapers have an additional texture of their own and sometimes it all becomes too much. Often a simpler brush is better - ideally one emblazoned with a character associated with your child's special interest.

Some children find that electric toothbrushes are easier or more exciting but not all do.  A gimmicky toothbrush isn't necessarily going to increase the chances of teeth being brushed.and some kids find the vibration and noise a bit too sensory or frightening.

There's also the matter of knowing how much pressure to apply. Some children don't apply much pressure at all while other press until their gums bleed.  While a little bleeding is ok, putting too much pressure on teeth can damage their enamel.  You may have to do a little hand-over-hand work with your child to get the pressure right.

The taste of Toothpaste
Some children find toothpaste so unappealing that they can't use it.  If that's the case, start brushing with just water (it's better than nothing) until your child has a bit of a technique, then gradually introduce very small amounts of toothpaste.  If your child doesn't like one toothpaste, try others, sometimes the gels or the bicarbonate toothpaste is less abrasive than the normal stuff.  Don't forget that there are children's toothpastes on the market too - and you should be using them for younger kids.

The other thing to remind the kids about is that toothpaste is for teeth brushing.  It's not glue (even though you'll probably find it squeezed into cracks everywhere).  It's also not for general eating.  Believe it or not, there are some kids out there who like the taste of toothpaste so much that they'll try to put it on sandwiches. It's generally not something you swallow.

When I was younger, I used to have terrible issues with spitting.  I guess I must have had a lot of lectures from my parents or something but I ended up not being able to see myself spit and as a result, I often didn't rinse and swallowed the toothpaste.  It took me a long while to realize that I could just close my eyes for this bit.

Other forms of Dental Hygiene
There are other forms of dental hygiene that your kids need to be aware of.  These include flossing and tongue scrapers, both of which can lead to massive sensory issues. There's also mouthwash to be considered (the ultimate in taste reaction) and things such as toothpicks.

Your child should know what these other items are for and why we might use them but it's really not worth trying to enforce them at early ages as the sensory issues cause way too much trouble.

The other thing to remember is that your child will need to visit a dentist every so often.  Make sure that the dentist is aware of their needs and sensitivities.  Believe it or not, there are actually dentists and clinics which specialize in kids with special needs. Make sure that you go to one of those and be prepared to take several trips to get something done that most children would do in one.  Sometimes it takes our kids a while to just get used to the chair, the lights and the feeling of things in their mouths.

Cleaning  and clearing everything away
The last point about dental hygiene at home is that a dirty toothbrush isn't going to do anyone any good. Make sure that you inspect your child's toothbrush regularly to ensure that it is both clean and serviceable.  Many aspies simply aren't aware that a toothbrush has reached a point where it is no longer effective.  If nothing else, then at least encourage your adult aspies to replace their toothbrush annually.

Being clean also means, clearing off bathroom benchtops and putting the lid on the toothpaste.  Make sure that you child knows that you can't just hold the toothbrush under water for a few seconds to clean it. They need to run their fingers through the bristles underwater too

Below you'll find a link to a utility which makes a custom tooth brushing chart.  It's a good thing to have in the bathroom to remind the kids to brush.

A Public Service by Dentist Advisor

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Movie Review: Mozart and the Whale

Links: IMDB / Rotten Tomatoes: Rating 53%
Director: Petter Næss
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Radha Mitchell, Gary Cole, Sheila Kelley, Erica Leerhsen, John Carroll Lynch, Nate Mooney, Rusty Schwimmer, Robert Wisdom, Allen Evangelista, Kelly B. Eviston, Jhon Goodwin, Christa Campbell

Until recently, we only had a few films about individuals who were different. There were those which were "clearly stated", like Rain Man and some which were not so obvious like Benny & Joon and Harold and Maude.

Somewhere in the new millennium, things changed and "weird" characters became interesting. Personally, I blame the TV show "Monk" for starting the trend.

Since then there have been quite a few films and television series which focus on unique individuals including; Adam, Mary and Max, Napoleon DynamiteHouse and The Big Bang Theory.

Had it been released during the "dry" period, Mozart and the Whale would have been a very impressive achievement but coming during a deluge of similar films, it's subject to comparison.

My first impression of this film is that the artist has used too broad a brush. It's as if the creative team found a book on autism and Aspergers syndrome and interpreted it literally.

Nearly all of the spectrum-dwelling characters in this film have all of the symptoms - and their characters are  completely ruled by them.

Avoiding eye contact is translated as "acting like a vampire around a crucifix", unusual gait is translated as "running with.a major limp" and obsessive special interests is translated as "having no way to talk about anything else". Sure, we see similar kinds of behaviour in people with aspergers syndrome but usually, not all at once, not in a group and not to this extent.

There's no room for subtlety in this film.

I watched the film with my wife and just as I was finding the beginning unbearable (the cross-talking reaches overload point at times), she asked me to stop the film.

She told me that the film was making her very depressed and that she was worrying and thinking "what if our kids end up like that".  I think that's where the real danger comes from in this film. It presents a very negative view of aspergers syndrome and in that sense, I feel that it does more harm than good.

Fortunately, after about the twenty minute mark, the film starts to settle. It raises some great points about acceptance and "fitting in" but doesn't adequately pursue them. When it ends all too abruptly, the audience is left with very little to go on.

It's not that I didn't like the film. I did. It's simply that it doesn't make the sort of impact that its cousins made. It's hard to tell whether its positive message about acceptance is worth the negative portrayal of life on the spectrum.

Watch with caution and don't automatically assume that it paints a picture of your child's life as an adult.

Honesty Clause: I wasn't provided with this film but went out an bought it on DVD.  Then re-encoded the thing because the DVD didn't have a subtitle track, so I had to download one and add it in myself. There's really no excuse for that sort of oversight.