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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Autism and Sandy Hook

Like many Americans in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, I’ve been looking for answers. Initially I was eager for any kind of explanation.  I wanted the shooter to have something wrong with him, something off, something I could point at and say “Ah ha! That explains it!”  But as time passed, the truth sunk in.  There is never going to be an explanation sufficient to explain away such a wanton loss of life.

In the days since the shooting many writers, reporters, and broadcasters have thrown around the idea that the shooter had some form of autism and that may be at least in part to blame for his actions.  Theories ranged from “Friends of the family said he suffered from Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism” to headlines that read “…shooter, may have had form of autism“, as if this explained everything or anything.  Thankfully, since similar theories were espoused in the aftermath of the Denver theater shooting, many parents, professionals, and even some writers themselves were ready to come out to say that these theories of autism have no relationship to the shooting at Sandy Hook.

From a Yahoo news article that explores the many topics Americans are placing the blame on:
“People want immediate or simple answers when an unimaginable tragedy like this occurs,” Bob and Suzanne Write of Autism Speaks said in a statement on Monday. “Autism did not cause this horror. The profound tragedy of these senseless murders will only be compounded if it results in unwarranted discrimination against people with autism.”

But where does that leave us?  Autism Speaks and parents like myself are forced to come out with statements like this every time something tragically violent occurs at the hands of a disturbed citizen.

The shooter was odd, friendless and awkward.  He may have had a form of autism.  His home was filled with weapons capable of mass murder.  He had trouble in school.  His parents were divorced.  He was very smart.

None of these facts alone will ever explain why this tragedy occurred.  I’m not convinced that these facts combined can explain the tragedy either.

One thing that does not explain this violence or violence like it in Oregon, Colorado, Virginia, California, or any of the other sites of tragic mass murders, is autism.  Autism is not the enemy.  And we need to do a better job of educating the public about this disorder.

Let me begin here, today.

Autism is a disorder that makes life more difficult for the child and their families.  Connor is three and a half years old.  My son lacks the ability to self-calm, to self-regulate, or differentiate between needs and wants.  His language development is at least one year delayed.  His emotional development is also at least one year delayed.  He can be violent.  He pushes or shoves when he is angry or frustrated.  He cannot be reasoned with when angry.

Connor is also capable of both intense joy and sadness.  If he hears our dogs whimper, he asks them if they are ok.  He engages with other children on the playground but cannot communicate.  He longs to play baseball.  He watches the same movies over and over again.  He loves trains, trucks, and playing in the dirt.  My son loves making art and snuggling on the couch.  He cries if we wait in line for more than five minutes.  He will throw a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store because I didn’t get the right kind of bread.  He helps me unload the washer and dryer.  He puts his clothes in the hamper when directed.  He plays too rough with the dogs.  He ends up in time out at least once a day.  He tries to convince me he should have ice cream for dinner and cookies for breakfast.  He wants to go to the beach every day.

Connor is all these things and many more.  He is autistic.  He also a typical little boy in many ways.

Autism is not the enemy.

Please visit Autism Speaks for more information about Autism Spectrum Disorder and how you can help.

 

 

DIY Ornament Wreath

I know you’ve all seen those ornament wreaths out there.  They are fabulous!  I have been lusting after one for years, but every time I went to buy one I would think to myself “You know, I think I could make this.”  Turns out I was right!

For a total of $22 in supplies I made this lovely wreath:

My dollar store ornament wreath

My dollar store ornament wreath

You read that correctly.  This wreath was made with supplies bought primarily from the $.99 Store!  Pretty great, right?

So here’s what you’ll need:

1 branch/vine wreath (because they are sturdier than styrafoam…also mine came from Michael’s for $6)

Green felt

Glue gun and extra glue

12 cylinders of various sized ornaments from the dollar store

Ribbon with which to hang the wreath

Begin with the wreath.  I believe mine is 18 inches across.

vinewreath

Wrap the wreath in green felt to provide a surface to glue the ornaments to.  I used leftover scraps from my felt Christmas tree project.

This does not have to be pretty, no one will see it!

This does not have to be pretty, no one will see it!

Then begin gluing on the largest bulbs first.

Use the largest bulbs first

Use the largest bulbs first

Connor, as you know, loves to help with the gluing of anything.  He decided to help me glue the bulbs in place.

Connor is very helpful!

Connor is very helpful!

You’ll want to glue these in a ring in the center of the wreath’s flattest part.  This will allow you to add large bulbs as needed on both the outside and the inside.

Connor helped by pouring the remaining bulbs into the center of the wreath.

Connor helped by pouring the remaining bulbs into the center of the wreath.

You can see that I made concentric rings with the large bulbs.  Now just fill in the spaces between the large bulbs with the smaller sized ornaments.  Connor abandoned me at this point, so I had to finish on my own.  For some reason the project went much faster at that point!

Voila!  You are done!  Simply tie a ribbon around the wreath, tucking it under the bulbs and you have yourself a lovely ornament wreath for the bargain price of $22!

Ta DA!

Ta Da!

Happy crafting!

 

Short and Sweet

Or maybe not so sweet, or perhaps not as short as you would’ve liked.

Part of parenting is wanting to share the world with your child.  You want them to delight in all the things that you delight in, to show them the mystery and wonder of the world.  And in doing so, you might recapture some of your own awe at how beautiful life can be.

Parenting an autistic child means that sharing the world with your child is a risk.  Every outing is a potential disaster,  not in the same way of my three-year old might whine and cry kind of disaster.  No, I’m talking about a full-scale meltdown at the drop of a hat.

Take, for instance, the Christmas Train.  This is a cute train at Irvine Regional Park that runs in the evening with the railroad lined with Christmas lights.  The train runs from the “depot” to “the North Pole.”  It was something I truly thought Connor would enjoy since he’s super into Christmas this year.

Unfortunately, I did not account for how much waiting in line would be involved.

Autistic children are cursed with an inability to wait.  As noted by a father of an autistic boy in this essay, many children on the spectrum just do not have a sense of time.  They cannot count tell how fast or how slowly time is moving.  They cannot pace themselves.  And when they start to feel anticipation for something, it builds quickly and uncontrollably towards a crescendo that may be ill-timed.  When that expectation for joy isn’t met, anxiety and frustration build quickly on the heels of disappointment.  There is no self-regulatory mechanism within my child (or children like him) to stop the avalanche of emotions or to calm himself once the avalanche has begun.  I use the word avalanche so you can truly picture what it is like.  It begins with a little crack at the top of the mountain and ends up with an entire hillside coming apart.  There is no stopping it either.  The best you can do is to ride it out and hope that there will be survivors at the bottom.

So when Connor was incredibly excited for the Christmas train, waiting in three separate lines just wasn’t going to work.  We waited in line to get to the depot.  Then we waited in line inside the depot for the train.  And once we disembarked the train, we were supposed to wait in line for Santa.

Not happening.

What was supposed to be a short and sweet activity was turning into a debacle of wait times and lines filled with strangers.

Connor could simply just not calm himself down any further.  There were no distractions in the world that were going to take his mind off the fact that to get to Santa he would have to wait in line for a minimum of 30 minutes.

So the whining began, followed by crying, quickly devolving into screaming. Then there was no stopping it.  The meltdown had begun.

Of course, like many other parents of ASD children I have an arsenal of weapons I use to avoid such a situation.  We do a countdown, we have games we play, I have my iPhone filled with Connor approved apps, I have juice and snacks in my purse, and I have an unending ability to completely embarrass myself in public for the amusement of my child.

Yet all of these techniques failed.

We had to move on to calming.  I tried to get him to self calm, using phrases he knows and can repeat.  I tried using “first…then” scenarios to get him to comply.  I gave him deep pressure hugs.  I tried to bribe him!  Nothing worked.  He was just too far gone and we just had to wait until he came out of it.

A year or so ago, the tantrum would’ve easily lasted an hour or more, only petering out when he had exhausted himself.  Now, I am happy to report, these types of tantrums last only 20 minutes!  That is amazing progress!

Connor was able to calm himself as soon as we got back on the train to return to the depot.  We had no more whining, no crying, no screaming, no throwing himself on the ground, despite the fact that we had completely missed Santa.  A year ago Connor would have continued to cry and beg for Santa until he fell asleep.  Last night he accepted that the evening was over and it was time to go home.

He got an ice cream on the car ride home.  I think he deserved it.

Kids Peppermint Candy Wreath

Favorite-Seasonal-Wreaths-Peppermint-Candy

As you know, I love crafting.  I especially love doing easy crafts.  So when I came across a picture of this Peppermint Candy Wreath in a magazine, I thought this would be an easy craft to do with Connor.

Connor loves to arts and craft projects.  Perhaps it’s inherited (his father is an artist by trade after all), or perhaps it’s simply that our home is constantly full of crafts and supplies.  I’m always searching for something that will be simple enough for him to do, as well as engage him during the entire process.

I figured a candy wreath might be engaging enough….

connorcandy

Connor likes the way crafting tastes!

Here’s what you’ll need to complete the project:

styrofoam wreath form 8″ (I used one with a flat back so it would be easier to control during construction)

1-2 bags of peppermint candy (2.99 for a large bag at Target)

glue gun and refill glue sticks

festive ribbon to hang wreath from

It seems obvious to me, but I just want to say this: don’t let your child control the hot glue gun!  You, the adult, should do all the gluing!

Essentially this project just requires you unwrapping all the candy and gluing them in concentric circles.

Very focused

The repetitive task of gluing candies in an orderly line over and over appealed to Connor’s autism.  It was a predictable, easy to complete task that was also aesthetically pleasing.  Additionally, Connor felt very confident in his abilities to help and he even got upset with me when I tried to glue a candy down!

I put the glue on, Connor placed each candy on top.

Round and round we went!

Ring 1 complete!

Once we were finished with our candy rings, Connor decided the wreath need a little something more.  Candy canes!

The artist at work

Connor’s finished project (Mommy tied the bow):

Very festive and very inexpensive

Very festive and very inexpensive

All in all, this project took us about 45 minutes and cost roughly $10 (not including the glue).  Most importantly, though, is that Connor and I enjoyed our crafting time together with the added bonus that Connor is very proud of his handiwork!

Happy holidays and happy crafting!

An Advent Calendar

We had a wonderfully crafty weekend around here!  I made an advent calendar and Connor helped me to make two different wreathes.  That boy loves the hot glue gun!  He won’t touch it while it’s on, knowing first hand that it can burn you (a lesson he learned the hard way), but he will carry it around while it’s unplugged, pretending to glue all kinds of things down.  Let’s hope he never discovers Krazy Glue!

Friday began with the Advent Calendar, due to the fact that Saturday was the 1st of December, and thus the start of Advent.

Here’s what you need:

24 Cotton/Muslin/Burlap bags, about 3×4 or 4×6

Stencil set of numbers 1-9

Red paint

Paint Brush

Scrap paper

Clips

String (and nails to hold string up)

24 gifts and treats to stuff inside the bags

Bag and Stencil

Bag and Stencil

I lay down some newspaper first because I’m particularly clumsy, which  often leads to big messes!

This project is relatively easy.  Once you have your stencils and bags, you simply lay the stencil over the bag and tap the paint into the open area.  Make sure you put some scrap paper inside the bag, as the paint is probable to leak through (and having a bag that is glued together with paint will defeat the purpose of this advent calendar).

Paint lightly in the stencil's open area.

Paint lightly in the stencil’s open area.

Lift the stencil off carefully to avoid smudging, and there you go: one bag down, 23 to go!

 

One down!

One down!

Just rinse and repeat.  It took about 30 minutes to get 1-10 done, but things picked up as my confidence in the project did.

Ten Bags

Ten Bags

As to the last part of the project, the stringing up part, I was torn as to how to accomplish this.  Sure the model I saw used clothespins (something I couldn’t find) and I toyed with the idea of punching holes in the bag and stringing them on to the twine, but I wasn’t sure about either of those prospects.  In the end this is what I did:

That's right, I used binder clips.

That’s right, I used binder clips.

Given my love of all things office supplies, I had plenty of binder clips lying around unused.  And they are seriously so convenient for this project!  (I also had a hunch that Connor would not care two bits about what was used to keep his gifts on the string.)  However, if you’d like to get all fancy, there are plenty of more creative and attractive ways to do this.  Please be my guest.  I’ll be over here with my lazy mama way of doing things.

My first Homemade Advent Calendar

My first Homemade Advent Calendar

Ta da! It’s done.  (and yes, my fireplace is super dated and old school.  also, yes, I use that woodpile area to store Connor’s toys.)

It’s nothing fancy, but I’m happy with it.  There are a million ways to dress this project up.  You could paint/stencil snowflakes and holly on to the bags.  You could tie each one with festive holiday ribbon.  You could even wrap some lights around the string if you wanted!  Do whatever makes you happy.

See Connor run!

See Connor run!

This calendar, just the way it is, made Connor pretty happy on Saturday morning.

 

If you’d like to make this calendar, please follow the directions you see here or visit BonBonMini to see the sample I used.

If you’d like to make an advent calendar using something other than bags, here is a list of fun projects for kids and adults alike!

Twig and Thistle Magnetic Holiday Advent Calendar

The Etsy DIY Advent Calendar (for those who are a bit more dedicated to the craft of…crafting)

Kitschy Take Out Box Advent Calendar (I think this one would be fun for adults or teens)

Envelope Advent Calendar (super modern looking and perfect if you only have about 10 minutes to put something together)

Happy crafting everyone!