Friday, September 21, 2012

Article: What is “Stimming” and Why is it Important? (at Special-ism)

Today, I'm blogging over at Special-ism.

The article is called; What is Stimming and Why is it Important.

In the article, I look at those rocking, blinking, fidgeting and general noise-making behaviours commonly seen in children on the autism spectrum and I explain why they're important.

Head over to Special-ism and have a read.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Book Review: Secret of the Songshell: Book One of the Spectraland Saga by Brian Tashima

The secret of the Songshell is a young adult book with a difference.  It's written with the intention of providing a fictional hero with Asperger's Syndrome that young people with Asperger's can look up to and call their own.

At just over 300 pages, it's not a short book by children's standards but it's well within the reading range of most twelve year olds.  My son's learning difficulties weren't entirely up to the task but most children should have no problems.

The story concerns a young boy named Joel, who has Asperger's syndrome and an interest in music. He is transported to a fantasy world where his music plays an important part in events.  This is a fantasy with monsters and fantasy weaponry powered by musical instruments - and it's quite a good story.

The treatment of Asperger's syndrome in the book is mainly positive with just a single awkward moment when Joel is having a conversation which includes the word diagnosis.  The character of Joel is well written and the book captures many of the frustrations he encounters when he has difficulty reading expressions and tone.

Although Joel is hard on himself at times and frequently shows irritation with "words" and expectations, he is never portrayed as a helpless character. In fact, he's easily the cleverest character in the book and many of his gifts and differences are essential to the plot.

I feel that Brian Tashima has succeeded in creating a great fictional "aspie" hero and I would recommend this book to people both on and off the autism spectrum, to teachers and librarians and carers and lovers of fantasy fiction.  The book is suitable for children from about 12 years onwards.

Secret of the Songshell: Book One of the Spectraland Saga by Brian Tashima can be purchased from Amazon and you can read more about it on Brian's Web Site (

There are also facebook and Twitter accounts for the book.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My Eldest Child and his Ongoing Ritalin Saga

I don't often talk about specific issues with my kids on this blog preferring instead to tackle general topics which could benefit everyone. (and of course, I try to protect their privacy a little).

I'm going to make an exception in this case because it illustrates perfectly some of the issues and decisions which parents of special needs children face all the time.

My eldest son, aged almost 12, is in year six, his final year of primary school. He's been in "special needs" since kindergarten seven years ago and on ritalin almost as long.

Over the years we've had our share of school issues, both social and academic and it takes each new teacher nearly an entire year to understand him.

It was always our hope that one day, when he was old enough to "self-regulate", we could ditch the ritalin and I think that we all expected him to be off it by now.

There have been many times over the years when we've forgotten the ritalin (or run out). Usually in those cases we get a call from the school pleading for him to be medicated. The behavioural change really is that noticible.  Of course, throughout most of this time, he's been off the Ritalin during the weekends - except when he really needs it, such as when he's at tutoring.

I've noticed big social differences without Ritalin on weekend scout camps. He's usually still a little medicated on Saturday but by Sunday he's entirely off the medication. He becomes disorganised, impulsive, defiant, outrageous and funny.

I noticed on one camp that the other kids had issues with his Jekyll and Hyde style personality differences and I took the unusual step of sitting a few of the smarter kids down and explaining why. Interestingly, this changed the attitudes of the whole pack towards him and he became much more accepted.

Recently, we ran out of Ritalin and he was off it for a couple of weeks. We finally managed to get more but at the parent-teacher interviews a week or so later, we were told that "he's better without it".

Apparently he's far more social and interactive when he's off Ritalin. That much I'd picked up from the camps. The teachers said that when he was on ritalin, he didn't interact much but when he was off it, he would be walking "arm in arm with girls".

They also told us that when he was on ritalin, it was a struggle to get him to do anything in terms of work and class participation but when he was off it, it was hard to get him to "shut up". They preferred the latter state.

It was all going really well and we were pretty much convinced until I asked about his academic performance. I was stunned by their reply; "well, he's not learning anything anyway".

Nevertheless, we decided to take him off ritalin - and so began a few weeks of calls from the headmistress of the school to report; fighting on the bus, flipping the bird at a teacher (and the list goes on). We got nothing negative from his main teachers who were very happy with his active participation,

Our weekend tutor however was not happy. Her focus is academic, not social and she's a critical part of my son's learning. We've often said that he learns more in an hour per week with her than he does in an entire week of school.

Not only was he extremely unsettled but there were tangible measures too. He took twice as long to read a regular (timed) passage and retained considerably less information about it.

It seems that there's no one winning formula but that we have to adjust the dosage independently for different activities.  At this point, we're considering a much lower dosage for school (or none at all) and a "normal" dosage for tutoring. We've also asked that all playground and bus-duty teachers be informed that he won't be as "in control" of his impulses as usual.

It's tricky but I'm much more worried about next year when he will be at a new school and with a different teacher every hour. Are they going to be able to reach a consensus (medicated or unmedicated)?

I sincerely doubt it.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Book Review: Ethan's Story; My Life With Autism

Special Note: For Today Only (apparently); The Kindle edition of Ethan's story can be obtained from Amazon for free. Don't delay, get it now.

You don't need to have a kindle or an ipad to read this book because you can read it in your web browser (via the free Kindle Cloud Reader).

Ethan's Story; My Life with Autism
by Ethan Rice
with Illustrations by Crystal Ord

Ethan's story is a very special book because it was written by an eight year old with autism.

In this book, Ethan explains his differences simply and from a child's point of view.  It makes the book a very honest read which is suitable for all ages.  The illustrations are great too.

Ethan's story is a very good way to explain autism to children.

Ethan's Story is available from Amazon.