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Category Archives: DOGS!

Juice box mummies and mommy goes crazy

There was a movie made in the 80s called The Gods Must be Crazy.  I didn’t really care for the movie all that much but the title has always stuck with me.  And this week I’ve been applying it to myself.  I think my movie would be called “Mommy Must be Crazy.”

Aside from a definite eccentricity there really isn’t a good explanation for why I’ve acted the way I have on a few things in the last few days.

The first is that we’ve adopted a new dog.  Introducing Maggie May:

Maggie May is a rescue dog from the Mission Viejo Animal Shelter.  She was brought there from the Riverside pound, where she’d been down to her last two days of life.  Mission Viejo fixed her up, gave her a safe place to live and patiently took care of her until some good family could be found for her.  Or should I say until her big sad brown eyes sucked some unwitting visitors into taking her home.

It was probably a mistake to visit the dog pens when we were there visiting Grandma S, who volunteers at the shelter.  I couldn’t help it though.  I love me some puppies.  And for the fiance, it was love at first sight when he saw Maggie May.

Less than 24 hours later she was living with us.

Maggie makes dog number three at my house.  Technically, I should say she makes rescue dog number three, which means she is neurotic dog number three.  She is sweet and affectionate with a strong nervous disposition and serious abandonment issues.  Maggie also has three broken teeth that will be removed next week.  She had puppies in the past few months so her teats are extended and provide a curiosity for my other two dogs, much to Maggie’s dismay.  She’s having a hard time eating with her broken treats.  She’s desperate for affection and desperate to give affection.  She sleeps on couches, eats out of Penny’s bowl, and rests in Dodger’s bed.  All in all, she’s just as crazy as the rest of this house.

She’s fitting in nicely.

Connor loves her and talks to her pretty much non-stop.  For that alone (even if I wasn’t already wrapped around her paw), I’d adopt her all over again.

The second reason I’ve obviously lost my mind is that I decided to do a Halloween craft for Connor’s preschool class.

That fact alone doesn’t necessarily seal my unhinged state.  What does is that I decided to do a craft they will doubtless throw away within minutes of receiving it, a craft that took me an hour to do.

Seriously, there’s something wrong with me.

Here’s what I decided to do: Juice box mummies!

Super cute, right? My love for Halloween knows no bounds!

There are several different ways of doing this craft.  The easiest way involves using cream masking tape (which I didn’t have).  So here’s how I did it:

Using copy paper, googly eyes, hot glue and toilet paper I constructed little mummies for the Halloween buckets Connor’s class will get at school.

First, wrap the juice box in half a sheet of copy paper. (notice my lovely Halloween black nails!)

Fold the paper around the box, so that it’s almost all covered, leaving a space for the straw at the top.  This is supposed to actually be usable.

Next, take a long strip of toilet paper and fold it in half.  If it’s two ply, strip away one layer so you just use one layer per box.

Glue and wrap!

Once you’re done wrapping, simply tuck some googly eyes just into the paper.  You want the impression that they’re peeking out!

Finally, tuck the straws into the back of the paper so the kids can actually drink out of them and you’re done!

These little guys definitely do not have to be perfect.  They’re juice boxes which will be thrown away.  Do not agonize about the details!  Or perhaps don’t make these until the kids are a little older and can actually appreciate them?

Whatever.  I’m obviously crazy.  You probably shouldn’t listen to a crazy woman, so make this craft however you like!
Happy Halloween!!

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Schedule smedule

We all have a routine.  We get up, we eat breakfast, we get dressed, we leave the house.  Or maybe in your family breakfast is the last thing you do before heading out for the day.  Or maybe you don’t eat breakfast at all!!  Whatever your routine, you wake up expecting the day to go a certain way.

Connor’s autism manifests itself most often in his own expectations.  It’s clear that Connor has a very precise view of how the day is going to go.  He knows what he wants and when he wants it.  Connor is determined and “passionate” about getting his expectations of the world to line up with what is actually happening.

For example:

A few weeks ago, we woke up early one morning to prepare for school.  Or at least I thought we were preparing for school.  Connor went to the choice board and asked for goldfish.  Fine.  Goldfish crackers for breakfast can’t really be any better or worse than fruit loops.  I handed him his bowl of goldfish and his juice, EXPECTING him to sit in his seat at the table and have his “breakfast”.  Connor had different expectations.  He looked up at me and asked “Lion of Sodor?”  Which sounded a little like “wion of sodo?”  But I knew what he meant.  Connor was referring to a Thomas the Train video that he particularly likes.    I felt somewhat shocked.  What?  Lion of Sodor at 7:45 on a Wednesday morning?  Connor clearly expected to take his crackers and juice into the family room and watch his favorite Thomas movie.

And when I said no, we had to go to school, it was as if I had crushed his tiny dreams!  He immediately fell apart!  Crying!  Screaming!  Gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair!  If he’d beaten his chest and torn his shirt, it would have been a complete Greek tragedy.  Why, oh why was I the worst mommy in the world?  Why wouldn’t I let him skip school for Thomas movies?  Why did he have to sit at a table and eat?  What was wrong with me?!?  Obviously this was all implied and not actually stated, but I got the message loud and clear.

All because his expectations of the morning didn’t match up with reality.

If this had been a year ago the tantrum would have continued for an hour, at least.  But now that he is a mature 3-year-old, with nearly a year of ABA training under his belt, the tantrum ceased after a mere five minutes.  Oh happy day!

Yet, as an adult, I know people (as in other adults) who do not adapt as quickly when their expectations or routine is suddenly thrown off.  And to be quite honest, I’ve been known to pout if someone messes with my routine.

Take this morning, for example .  I typically take the dogs for a walk directly after breakfast.  The exercise and fresh air give me a chance to clear my head for the day.  They also provide me with a meditative space to think of my blog topic for the day, which I write immediately after we get home.  Today I was going to write all about my new adventures in menu planning (exciting right?), but I was completely thrown off by an incident on my walk.

My dogs like to stop frequently to sniff the vegetation and Dodger, in particular, likes to mark his way along the path.  This morning, tragedy struck.  At the precise moment Penny bent down to sniff a plant, Dodger raised his leg to mark the same exact plant. The result: Penny got a face full of pee.

All thoughts of anything other than that my one dog had just peed on the face of my other dog flew from my head!  “These two were getting a bath the second we get home” was all I could think.

No blog topic.  No sitting down to write with ideas fresh in my head.  No leisurely shower alone.

Instead my thoughts were almost like a mantra “pee on head. pee on head.  pee on head.”  My shower is completely filthy, since I wash my dogs inside as they’re both terrified of water and Dodger requires a special allergy shampoo.  This means that every time they get out of a shower, my bed room is covered in flying dog water as they shake themselves dry.  This means my room, my bed, my clothes, smell like wet dog for the next 12 hours.

And I still needed to write my blog!

POUT!!!

Ok, maybe I’m not really pouting, but the dogs seriously threw me off my schedule and it took me at least a few minutes to collect myself and get back on track.   So…congratulations Connor, you’ve reached the same level of acceptance as your mother.  Well done.

Highway to Hell

The boyfriend and I enjoyed a lovely weekend alone in Palm Desert. We slept in, we swam in the adult only pool, we sipped cocktails, we took a three-hour nap…in short, it was extremely relaxing.

Too bad all good things must come to an end.

The drive from the desert into LA should have been relatively easy given that it was a Sunday around noon, not your typical high traffic time. This fact did not stop LA traffic from appearing, though. Oh no, it did not. Traffic materialized in West Covina and accompanied us all the way to Santa Monica, for no other reason than that the sun was shining.

Fine. No big deal. I can deal with traffic. It’s a given in LA. You just have to learn to brush it off.

So when Connor was handed off to me snotty and tired I accepted it as par for the course. I mean I hadn’t seen him in two days, he would of course be cranky. Again, that’s pretty much a given.

Things started to deteriorate from there. If you get queasy easily by bathroom stuff, this would be a good place to stop.

Connor refused to wait in the car while I went into the office building with his dad to use the restroom after three hours in the car. Well, not only did he refuse to wait in the car, he refused to wait outside of the restroom with his dad. In fact he screamed something that sounded remarkably like “I HATE DADDY” when I tried to hand him off so I could go pee. That was a nice family moment for the receptionist to enjoy while we stood in the middle of his dad’s office lobby. We may have scared that young man out of never having in children in just those 30 seconds. So I took Connor to the bathroom with me, as I’d done hundreds if not thousands of times before. I had hoped Connor would simply stand next to me in the stall gently sobbing while I used the toilet. No, Connor demanded to be held while I sat on the toilet. That’s right: I sat on the toilet, Connor sat on my lap. Fun.

Returning to the car I now had a wild animal in my arms, as the trip to the bathroom seemed to have unhinged Connor in some way. Time to improvise. The boyfriend would drive with Dodger (dog #2) in the front seat while I sat in the back with Connor and Penny (dog #1). I’ve driven with Dodger in the passenger seat many times before so I felt confident that this was a good solution.

I don’t know why I ever feel confident about any of my decisions because I am always wrong!

Connor immediately started crying, demanding that I go sit in my usual seat, the driver’s seat. Dodger was restless for some reason, twirling around in the seat, trying to get his snout out the tiny crack in the window. I merely instructed the boyfriend to drive!, hoping the children (both furry and human) would calm down once we started moving.

Eventually, after roughly five straight minutes of high-pitched crying, Connor calmed down, clutching my hand in his and asking for hugs. Happy sigh.

Yet Dodger remained fidgety. (Seriously stop reading now if you get grossed out)

Dodger is always an active dog, getting his nose in things where they don’t belong or trying to snuggle in aggressive and inappropriately timed ways. So when he kept trying to sit in the boyfriend’s lap on the way home, I wasn’t too surprised. Nor was I surprised when he literally came and sat on my lap in the back.

What did surprise me was the dog poop stuck to his tail when he came to sit in my lap. Gross, but he’s a dog! It happens. I just wondered why I hadn’t seen it there earlier. Hmm…

He was just as fidgety on my lap as he was in the front seat, so I pushed him back up there and kept an eye on him. There was something off.

The boyfriend was starting to get seriously frustrated with Dodger when he tried to sit in the boyfriend’s lap for the tenth time in about 2o minutes. And when a mysterious foul smell hit us, I knew something was wrong.

Dodger was getting more and more agitated. Twirling in the seat faster and faster. Suddenly he started frantically digging in the bottom of the front seat. Something was definitely wrong. I recognized Dodger’s distress signal.

I practically yelled at the boyfriend to exit at the next possible off-ramp. To just get off the freeway as soon as possible!! Thankfully the gods were with us and we managed to cross four lanes of traffic without anyone honking, flipping us off, or causing a major accident. I told him just to pull over in a neighborhood, we needed some grass stat!!

Pulling down the first street we came to and picking a random strip of grass in front of a largely untended house, I jumped out and grabbed Dodger from the front seat. He didn’t need to be told twice! He immediately hopped down and unleashed a torrent of horrific diarrhea. The seat where he had been twirling around, trying to keep it in was covered in a fine layer of liquified poop! I grabbed a bag of wipes and started cleaning everything, from top to bottom while the boyfriend tried not to vomit. Thankfully I didn’t have to worry about Dodger wandering off as he looked at me with shame-filled, sad eyes as he squatted pathetically in the grass.

Meanwhile, Connor is screaming his head off because I’ve gotten out of the car. No one is able to calm him down as I’m busy cleaning poop off of everything while the boyfriend is trying not to bring up his breakfast.

My only blessing at the moment was that the owner of the house didn’t come out and start yelling at me. I seriously would have lost it had that happened.

Instead, I ushered Dodger back to the car, using the rest of the wipes to clean his tail, bottom, and paws, leaving me one to wipe down my hands. I then make a bold attempt to clean up the poop in the grass with a random plastic baggy from the car. Given the liquid nature of the bowel movement this was nearly impossible and took way too long. Of course there were no trash cans anywhere on the street, so I have to climb back in the car holding the bag out of the window while Connor continues to wail, Dodger whimpers, and the boyfriend turns an unpleasant shade of green.

Thankfully there is an elementary school just down the street which means there has to be a damn trash can somewhere!!!

The boyfriend pulls up in front of the school going the wrong way to let me out. There is no way in hell Connor is going to let me leave the car without him again, so grabbing my sobbing child in one arm, carrying the poop bag as far away from me in the other, we trek into the school. Of course there are not trash cans in sight, so I have to randomly pick corners to turn and hope that a trash can will appear.

While a trashcan doesn’t appear, a large playground does. Connor hops out of my arms, forgetting all about the fact he couldn’t be separated from me as a matter of life and death a mere minute before, and runs toward the jungle gym. Even knowing it will be a battle to get him away from the slide later, I just don’t care in that minute. I have got to find a damn trashcan! It is taking every ounce of my will power not to unleash a stream of foul language on the world at large as I scout the area around the playground. Finally I spot a trashcan all the way across the campus, outside of a portable. It is lined, but I still silently ask forgiveness from whoever has to empty that trashcan out later.

Connor is contentedly going down the slide, when I return. I grab him under one arm before he can protest and head back to the car.

I know three things in that moment:

1. There is no way Connor is going to get back in his car seat.

2. Dodger needs to sit in the back or the boyfriend might kill him.

3. I still had poop on my hands.

As soon as I get back in the car with Connor, Dodger hops in the backseat. He needs his mama just as much as Connor does. So I make a decision, please don’t be horrified.

I unbuckle the car seat and push it in between the driver and passenger seats. I then buckle Connor and myself in with the same seat belt, with him on my lap. We are five miles from home and the only way we are going to get there is if I hold my child.

So that is what we did. For the last five miles to the house, I held my human child in my lap, while stroking Dodger’s now quiet form laying down next to me, while occasionally giving poor Penny a scratch for being so wonderful through this whole ordeal (she kept her head turned away from all of us, looking back, as if denying she was part of this crazy family).

And for the first time since Connor was handed off, the inside of the car is absolutely quiet and still.

Connor stops crying, nestling into my lap, resting his head on my chest. Dodger stops whimpering and starts to breathe normally. Penny waits patiently to be let out of this crazy car. And the boyfriend’s color slowly returns to normal.

When we pull into the garage, I usher everyone into the backyard. The dogs can frolic and pee. Connor can play on his own jungle gym. And I can go wash my hands 27 times.

Connor and the dogs (part 2)

Connor speaks with dogs.

And I don’t mean that metaphorically.  I don’t mean he’s some kind of dog whisperer or emerging animal shaman.  His love for animals may one day translate into the ability to understand and speak to them on a more metaphysical level, but that’s currently not the case.

What I mean is my son quite literally speaks with my dogs.  My autistic child who has a hard time making eye contact, answering questions when asked directly, or making any kind of conversation with another human being, has absolutely no trouble talking to animals.  I think I should say Connor actually talks AT them.

Some mornings will wake up, see me and smile but say nothing.  Other mornings he may see me and cry that he has to be awake.  If I want a greeting I have to prompt him, saying “Say Hi Mommy” or “Connor, say Good Morning Mommy”.  If I’m lucky Connor will repeat the phrase I’ve asked him to say.  If I’m not he’ll ignore me or try to push me away from him.  It’s 50-50 which way it’ll go on any given day.

But give Connor a chance to sit down with the dogs and he will spontaneously speak to them!  He awoke the other morning, rolled over to see Dodger lying at his feet and said with a big grin “Good morning Dodger!”

I was flabbergasted! What just happened?!? Connor just used spontaneous language…to greet our dog.  Great!  Well, sort of great! It would be nice if he would speak to a human being but I guess this is a start.  So I’ll take it.

Greetings are a pleasantry in conversation, not a necessity.  They serve no purpose other than to socialize or start a conversation.  They don’t convey any information or meet any actual needs.  But they are vital to how we humans connect to each other.  Given this, it’s something we’ve been working on to help Connor socialize appropriately.  I ask him to say hi to people when they enter a room or goodbye when they leave.  I ask him to acknowledge someone’s greeting to him with a greeting of his own.  It’s something that comes naturally to many, maybe even most, of us.  We take it for granted that this is the appropriate thing to do.  For many autistic children it is not instinct to acknowledge someone verbally.  He sees you, you see him, why state the obvious?

Even if Connor never actually means any of the pleasantries he speaks, it’ll be a step to building interpersonal relationships, something so many autistic children struggle with.

Along these same lines, people often ask each other how they are without actually meaning it.  And in response people give rote answers without meaning.  “How are you?” “I’m fine.”  Just another pleasantry, another version of greeting, another call and response.

Connor has been practicing these types of pleasantries on the dogs.

He’ll sit down in front of Penny, making eye contact and begin.

“Hi Penny. How are you doing?”

Connor even uses the correct inflection and tilts his head to the side to indicate he’s listening (this last bit being something he may have picked up from the dogs).

He’ll wait a beat and say “Huh?” or “Hmm?” As if the dogs actually replied and he just didn’t catch it.

Sometimes the conversation ends there, other times he’ll carry on, asking a series of questions:

“Do you want to go for a ride?”

“Do you want to go to the park?

“Do you want a treat?”

It’s truly bizarre, heartwarming, and confusing to watch.

Connor will rarely string together a sentence when asking me for something he wants, needing to be constantly reminded or prompted to use three to four word phrases rather than just repeating the name of object he desires over and over again.

And if you, as a human being, ask Connor one of those questions above you’ll be lucky to get a response.  And if you do get a response it may be incongruous with the questions.  “How are you?” can be answered with “I’m three!” Sometimes responses are merely a repetition of the last word he hears.  “Do you want to go to the park” is often answered by “park?”  You’ll have to repeat that question, first asking him to look at you, to get a yes or no answer.

My theory on why talking to the dogs is so much easier for Connor is that they don’t have any expectations of him.  They’re not going to answer his questions or greetings with anything other than a lick, and perhaps that kind of positive reinforcement is what keeps Connor talking to them.

We (me, his therapists, teachers, family members, etc.) all expect Connor to speak to us when we speak to him.  He expect him to behave according to a set of rules which seem completely foreign to him.  He’s learning these rules, slowly, but in the mean time it’s still a struggle to conduct himself within their framework.

Interacting with the dogs happens on his own terms, at his own pace, without any pressure.  They place no demands on him, harbor no frustration, and meet every thing he does with love and affection.

I’m not familiar with all the research that has been done on the relationships between autistic children and animals.  I’m only truly familiar with The Horse Boy Foundation.  This group focuses on the relaxed atmosphere that can be developed by working with autistic children while engaged in horse care and riding.

Temple Grandin,  a well-known adult with autism and pioneer in the field of autism activism, relates that autism and animals in several of her papers (examples here and here).  She asserts that the animal experience, which is based on senses and images, is similar to the autistic experience, which often relies on the same constructs, using language as a secondary resource.

More research is being done in the field of animal assisted therapy but it seems to me that this could potentially be an area of growth for children with ASD.  Animals are being used in so many other areas of mental health and intellectual growth that I truly hope some recognized animal assisted therapy can be developed for autism.

Here are some interesting programs about animals helping humans:

http://www.readingpaws.org/READingPaws/Welcome.html

http://www.friendship-foundation.org/

http://www.lovinganimalsprovidingsmiles.org/

http://pets-for-vets.com/

http://psychdog.org/tasks.html

Though never enrolled in a program or even vaguely aware that such programs exist, Connor seems to have created a therapy program for himself.  These dogs offer him the opportunity to practice his language and social interaction without the pressure of society.  It’s truly inspiring to see him speak to my dogs.  When I see Connor speak to them as if he was speaking to a person, it gives me hope that someday our four-legged furry friends will be replaced by friends of the two-legged variety.

 

Connor and the Dogs (part 1)

My son is an animal lover.  That is an irrefutable fact.  He has been since the moment he recognized there was life beyond the end of his fingers.  In fact I think it was the moment those little baby fingers felt the soft copper fur of my first dog Penny Lane, that Connor realized his love for all things furry or feathered (or scaled or slimy or even bald).

It was love at first touch.

For Penny that love began before he was even born.  Actually, for Penny and Dodger both.  During my pregnancy the dogs were much gentler with me, more protective, and very concerned about my rounding figure.  When I brought the child home, they were filled with curiosity.  Penny instinctively knew this was her baby, and he had to be protected.

For Dodger it took a little longer (notice that wild look of fear in his eyes).

Dodger didn’t understand what this small pink thing was that made all kinds of horrible noises.  Standing on his hind legs with his front paws hooked on the bassinet, Dodger would stare down at Connor with a look of absolute (and adorable) confusion.  He wasn’t exactly sure what to do with Connor (or Connor with him).

Whereas all Penny wanted to do was love him.

As time went by Connor grew to love these animals as much as they loved him.  Perhaps even more than they loved him.  And maybe his love was a little too rough at times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roughness doesn’t really matter to Penny.  She has the patience of a saint. Her baby can do no wrong.

And Connor appreciates that.

They’re together most of the time, even in sleep.  And Miss Penny is a pretty finicky sleeper, not liking to be touched or jostled in any way.  But if her baby wants to put his legs on her head while they sleep, well that’s just fine.

Dodger has a different approach.  He likes to keep Connor at arm’s distance since you never know if you’re going to get a noise pinch or a kiss.  Or maybe a hat!

But Dodger is devoted to Connor in his own way.

It mostly involves sleep.

These dogs are not perfect though.  Far from it!

They regularly murder stuffed animals, make giants messes, track mud in the house, or even knock Connor over when playing too enthusiastically.

But then they let me do things like this and it’s ok:

And Connor loves them more than anything, so we never stay mad for long.