Tag Archives: literacy

Handwriting and the Joy of the Yellow R Train

First off, you’ll notice to the right of these words a blue “badge,” which, if you click on it, will show you a line up of all the blogs nominated for the “Top Autism Blogs for 2012.”  To vote for Emma’s Hope Book, click on the “like” button.  At the time of this writing Emma’s Hope Book was in the #4 position!  Very exciting.

Below is the “story” Emma wrote yesterday morning in preparation for our much anticipated day.

I had to help Em with some of the words such as shower, Elite Gymnastics and she wanted to write – After lunch will go zoo – so I had to help her with that too, but otherwise Emma did most of this on her own.  To recap, a year ago Emma had just finished learning how to form all the letters of the alphabet and we were in the initial phase of beginning to work on reading, writing and typing actual short words.  She’s come a long way, baby!

As her writing stated, after lunch Emma and I went to the zoo.  “Just Mommy and me, together,” Emma reiterated several times that morning. “Yes, just you and me,” I confirmed each time.  “Going to take the yellow R train,” Emma said matter-of-factly.  Emma loves the R train.  She refers to it as the “yellow R train,” because the letter R is in the middle of a yellow circle.  All the subway trains here in New York City are designated with a number or letter within a colored circle.  Whenever possible, Emma requests the R train, which is fine, except that this is not the train closest to our home and a few months ago the R train wasn’t running on the weekend, much to Emma’s consternation.  As we made our way to the station, I cautioned Emma that we had to take whichever train came first.  “Yellow R train!” she insisted.  The very prospect of riding the R train, almost more than she could cope with, caused her to bounce up and down.  She beamed at me.  “Okay, but Em, if a Q or N train comes, then we’ll take either of those too.”  “Take the yellow R train,” she responded.  “Em…” I started, but before I could say more she cut me off and said, “Okay, okay, okay.  Maybe take the yellow R train, maybe not.”  Then quietly she muttered, “Take the yellow R train!”

Another train flew by on the express tracks, so fast I couldn’t tell which train it was.  But Emma knew with barely a glance. “Look, there’s the yellow Q train,” Emma said, pointing as the train whizzed by.  “Yeah, that’s the yellow Q train with blue seats,” she said.

“What?”

“The yellow Q train has blue seats.”

This was news to me, not the sort of details I notice, but exactly the kind of details Emma notices.  As I was pondering this, Emma said, “Look!”  Then she grinned.  “It’s the yellow R train,” she said with a kind of reverence, as though greeting an adored and much admired friend.  As the train slowed to a stand still, Emma found us both a seat and giggling said, “We’re sitting in orange and yellow seats!”

“Is that why you like the R train?” I asked.

“The yellow R train makes me happy,” Emma said, before peering out into the dark tunnel and grinning at her own reflection.

And so it does.

Coming tomorrow – The Central Park Zoo and The Puffin.

To read my most recent Huffington Post, click ‘here.’

To read my guest post on Special Needs.com, click ‘here

 

An Easter Party and An Excuse to Wear a Pretty Dress

Emma and I did some work yesterday morning, on her reading, writing and typing.  This is the “story” she wrote:

“I can’t wait for our Easter party!

I am going to wear a pretty dress.

I love to wear pretty dresses.

I am excited to see Max. I am excited to see cousin Alexandra and Jackie too.”

Sadly, I do not have a photograph of Emma wearing her pretty party dress because I got a late start on cooking, what with decorating Easter eggs to resemble farm animals…

and birds…

bird's nest

of all types…

There were chocolate eggs that needed to be hidden for the Easter “Egg” hunt, thankfully Richard did a superb job with that and came up with some very creative places to hide them, including inside one of our speakers, where they will remain lodged forever.  We invited 13 people over due to arrive at 5:00PM  and I was way behind schedule, hadn’t prepared the roasted vegetables, fixed the leg of lamb, prepared the biscuits, the appetizers or the berries and whipped cream and it was already 3:00PM. (Gulp!)

Emma donned her pretty party dress and whirled about while listening to a medley of her current favorites, MIchael Jackson, Dionne Warwick, The BeeGees and Led Zeppelin.  You have to hand it to her, the kid has a wide and varied taste in music!

Emma had been looking forward to our “Easter Party” for weeks.  We had gone over the list of people countless times.  She fixated on a few of those people, talking about them over and over again.  We did a countdown of how many hours until they would arrive.  And then when the first person arrived Emma squealed in delight and raced to the door.  When cousin Alexandra arrived, Emma could barely look at her, she was so overwhelmed.  The same happened when Jackie appeared.  It was as though it were all too much.  The very sight of these much anticipated arrivals was more than she could take.  “Max is coming!” she said over and over again.  Max had called ahead to inform us that he would be late.
“Yes.  Max will be here in another 20 minutes or so,” we answered.

“Max is late,”  Emma stated, nodding her head and looking sad.

“But he’ll be here soon,” we reassured her.

When Max finally arrived, Emma put her hand in front of her eyes, as though he were as bright as the sun and the glare was too much for her.  Meanwhile I was busy getting the leg of lamb out of the oven and serving everyone a cheddar-chive biscuit.  “Where’s Em?” I asked Richard at one point.

“She’s hiding,” he said.

I found Emma crouched behind the couch, her head down, almost touching the floor.  “Emmy, what are you doing?”  I asked.  When she didn’t respond I said, “Come sit with us at the table.”  Reluctantly she sat down, next to Jackie and across from Max.  She kept her head and eyes lowered and wouldn’t look at either of them.

After an hour or so, Emma was able to raise her head and began playing various games with Max.  By the end of the evening she was beside herself with excitement, fully engaged and talkative.  She said good bye to each guest as they departed, and when Max left she walked him to the door and said, “Bye Max!”  and then she blew him kisses.

For more on Emma’s journey, go to:   Emma’s Hope Book

 

Crocuses, New York City Firemen and Emma

As Richard and I revel in Emma’s affectionate embrace, New York City is experiencing an extraordinarily, early spring.  Purple, yellow and white crocuses are peeking out from mounds of dirt in great bursts of color.

This weekend the weather hovered around 60 degrees, today it’s suppose to go up into the 70’s.  The firemen, always good indicators of the temperature outside, across the street from our loft, are wearing shorts.  People are smiling, daylight savings time is in effect and this morning Emma was still asleep when Nic and I left the house.  Short of pinching myself to make sure this isn’t all a dream, as we waited for Nic’s bus to arrive, I couldn’t help but wonder – What’s going on around here?!

In addition to Richard’s beautiful post from yesterday, Emma is making progress in countless ways.  So I’d like to take a moment here to take stock, a kind of inventory gathering of this past year, to highlight how far Emma has come.

One year ago, Emma was struggling with forming the letters of the alphabet.  (I’m not kidding, I just went back and looked at my old notes.)  Today Emma is reading at a first grade level or higher.  In addition, Emma is writing and typing full sentences in answer to questions posed.  Emma knows more than 200 words by sight, she understands punctuation and uses a period, question mark and comma appropriately.  Emma knows to use an upper case letter when beginning a sentence both when writing by hand and when typing.  Emma is learning to use the past, present and future tenses when speaking, writing and typing.  Emma has made a massive leap forward in her use of the correct pronouns.  In addition (no pun intended) she is able to write simple math sentences, adds and subtracts 1, 2 & 3 up to the number 30.  Emma loves doing mazes and connect the dot pictures.  Emma continues to enjoy favorite picture books, but is now reading them herself!  She is no longer simply flipping through the pages, but is actually pointing to the words and READING!  I know, I just said that, but I find this really, very, very exciting.

Emma’s greatest deficit is in her expressive language, but we have been working on that through Dr. Blank’s “Step into Stories” program and through a number of other exercises and work we are doing with her.  Emma is working with Joe after school for a solid two hours and is able to attend during that entire time, with just a few two to three minute breaks throughout.

For the past three weekends, we have taken both children out to brunch at a different restaurant each time and Emma has sat and eaten food from the menu.  Any idea how exciting that is?   We live in New York City, after all.  People here eat out more than they do in, but for us, it’s exhilarating.  She sits in her chair, waits for the meal to arrive, engages with us, and enjoys herself.  Eating out together as a family was not something we have, up until now, been able to do.  One year ago we were having to pack a separate suitcase with the foods Emma would eat whenever we traveled.  Going out as a family to a restaurant was not something we even considered doing.  Emma has slowly expanded what she will eat.  This past Sunday Emma ordered apple juice and made no fuss when it arrived in a tall glass with a straw.  A year ago, not only would she not have ordered apple juice that she was unfamiliar with, but had one of us ordered it, she would have refused to even take a sip without a great deal of protest.  This is the same child who would spend an entire day refusing to drink or eat anything, if it was not familiar and known to her.

In gymnastics Emma is beginning to be able to perform a cartwheel that actually resembles a cartwheel.  She is able to do a hand stand, does jumping jacks on the trampoline and has learned how to touch her toes during the stretching period.  I know, all of this sounds pretty rudimentary,  but for Emma these are monumental leaps forward.

As Richard so eloquently wrote, Emma spent Sunday walking with us, not running ahead, there were no grunting or squealing noises, no sudden bursts of arm waving while jumping about, just walking, arm in arm, sometimes reaching for one of our hands, sometimes stopping to give one of us a hug.  There was a great deal of laughter, playing and interacting while Richard and I floated along on a cloud of joy and gratitude.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   Emma’s Hope Book


Teaching a Name

When Emma was a year old, in a moment of impatience we bought her a baby doll for Christmas.  Despite the fact she showed no interest in dolls of any kind, despite the fact she showed little interest in any of the toys we tried to entice her with.  Emma was much more of a doer than a child who sat happily playing with a toy.  This was a kid who liked to move.  Take her to the playground and she made the other kids look lethargic.  I admit, I took a certain degree of pride in her rejection of all toys and her desire to move and run and slide instead.  Emma’s disinterest reminded me of my father who shunned all holidays, grousing that they no longer celebrated what they were intended to, but instead fed the insatiable Hallmark Greeting Card’s appetite for cheap sentimentality and  had become a financial boon for ad agencies.  His grumpiness about it all, increased with his age.   Emma’s resolute rejection of all toys, her disinterest in videos, movies, and anything else that required her to sit still, would have made my father proud.

The baby doll we purchased was pudgy, with blonde pigtails, and came with a little toilet, hairbrush, mirror, bathrobe and towel.  All that was missing was a mani/pedi kit and perhaps some massage oil.  I bought a couple of little playsuits for the doll and wrapped everything up in pretty paper with a big satin ribbon.  We had to help Emma as she showed no enthusiasm in her gifts piled under the Christmas tree.  She begrudgingly humored us by tearing open the present, but showed no excitement, it was as though it were a chore,  something that was expected of her.  When she saw the baby doll, securely fastened in it’s box with a clear window so that she could see it, but not actually reach it, she lost all interest and wandered off.  “Emma, look!  It’s your very own baby doll!”  I exclaimed.  “What are you going to call her?”  Being ignored during those early years was something we had grown used to.  Still, I persisted, carrying the baby doll over to her, I said, “What’s her name?”  Emma refused to look at me or the baby doll.

Years later, during out DIR (Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based Model, also known as floortime) phase, the baby doll, now joined by a number of other baby dolls, groovy girls, Jessy and Woody from the Toy Story, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, each one evidence of our ignorance and dogged determination to engage her in the world of make believe, lay untouched in a pink plastic bin near her bed.  In a moment of inspiration I yanked the baby doll from its bin and thrusting it in Emma’s face, asked, “Oh look Em!  What’s her name?”  Emma said nothing, but I persisted.  “What do you call her, Em?”  And then Emma spoke.  “Doll,” she said.  “Yes, but what will you call her?”  I was nothing, if not determined.  “Is her name, Tabitha or Katherine, Anastasia, Cynthia?  What’s her name, Em?”  The idea that naming something was not a concept Emma fully grasped, never occurred to me.  When Emma then repeated the names I was throwing out, I eventually gave up and as I was leaving, Emma said, simply, “Doll.”

And of course, she was right.  It was a doll.  To Emma that was all she was.  A doll.  For a child with little or no ability to understand the world of make believe, the idea of naming a doll, must have seemed bizarre.  Why would one do that?

Last weekend, at Barnes & Noble, I showed Emma a book called Biscuit, a beginning reader book.  Emma took the book from me, sat down on the carpet and pointed to the first word.  “Biscuit, that word says Biscuit.  That’s the dog’s name,” I said.  Emma nodded and continued to read the book, stumbling over a couple of unknown words, but for the most part being able to get through it with little help from me.  As I sat with her I remembered her baby doll and it occurred to me, she does not fully understand the concept of naming.  It is something I will attempt to teach her this weekend.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:  Emma’s Hope Book.com

An Epiphany

I was thinking about progress, Emma’s specifically.  Through the literacy program we embarked on just exactly a year ago now, Emma is reading and writing in full sentences, we are also working on comprehension.  Her language is beginning to change as a direct result of all of this work.  As I was thinking about this yesterday, I realized something that probably seems obvious.

Drum roll please.

If Emma continues to make the sort of progress she’s made in the past year, we have nothing to worry about.

(Richard is yawning right about now.  He has maintained this for years and continually reminds me of it, but when he says it, it seems hard to believe.  Okay, now he’s rolling his eyes and probably has walked away.)

I know this may seem like less an epiphany and more a random thought that anyone who’s been reading this blog will have come to, and probably quite a bit sooner than I have.  But here’s the thing.  Sometimes I am just too close to it all.  I’m in the trenches, working with her, everyday, observing and noting.  But pulling back, taking the longer view, seeing Emma from a distance, well, it’s just much harder for me to gain that perspective.  Whenever I am able to and do though, I can see how far she’s come.  I am filled with excitement with her progress.  And yes, it feels as though I’ve had an epiphany.

Unfortunately I have a short memory.  So it’s important I write this down.  Maybe I’ll even remember to reread this post some day when I have forgotten and am feeling discouraged again.

On April 9th, 2011 we began her first literacy session.  We began with the word “sit.”  Prior to that we had worked on letter formation and sequencing with colored tiles.  From that day in April, Emma is now writing sentences in answer to questions such as – “What is this?”  “What is she doing?”  “What does she want to do?”

This is a sample of Emma’s writing answering those questions from this morning’s “literacy session.”

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.Emma’s Hope Book.com

Emma’s Literacy

Today Emma wrote the following sentences:

It is a good visual reminder of how nicely she is progressing.  After she wrote these sentences she became frustrated with two longer sentences she was suppose to remember and write.  I finally had to break them down into smaller pieces.  We then worked on reading comprehension.  The idea being – it won’t matter how well she reads if she cannot understand what it is she’s just read.  Like many children on the spectrum, Emma has a tough time saying what a story is about.  So we are slowly trying to build a foundation for her to be able to do so with increasing ease.  At the moment it remains very difficult for her.

Yesterday and this morning have been hard for Emma.  Her routine was interrupted, I spent a good part of yesterday cooking, we had guests for Thanksgiving and though Emma loved having family and friends over and sitting with us at the dinner table, I think the disruption proved tough.  She’s been out of sorts, a little crankier than usual.  This morning she kept insisting she go to the Central Park zoo and the big carousel; all things Richard did with her yesterday.

I never know what the reason is for her steps backwards, particularly when we can also see her many steps forward.  I keep hoping things will just move forward with no steps back, but this is unrealistic.  I know.  I have to keep my eye on the bigger picture and not get weighed down with the little daily upsets.  As we worked together this morning we had to stop several times as she became too upset to continue.  Her frustration is in glaring evidence during these moments.  She clenches her fist, hits her legs or pinches herself, so we had to stop each time and wait.  I understand how frustrating it must be to not be able to make the words come out right, to not be able to retain a seven or eight word sentence, to want to give up.

“We have to keep trying, Em.  I know it’s hard, but you can’t give up.”

“I know,” she said, nodding her head and looking sad.  “I know.  We have to do it again.”

“That’s right, Em.  You’re doing great.”

“Last time.”

“We’ll do it until you get it.”

“Okay.  Last time.”

And then she did it perfectly.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.Emma’s Hope Book.com

Literacy, Diets, Progress

Dr. Marion Blank has written a terrific piece for the Huffington Post regarding the 60 minutes segment on APPs for autism and the current ways in which language is taught.  For anyone with even a passing interest in language or autism, I encourage the reading of it.

An update on Emma, her diet, her progress:

Emma ate about three tablespoons of chicken and brown rice two nights ago and tasted the pumpkin mousse I made.  I will attempt to make coconut milk whipped cream this evening in preparation for our Thanksgiving feast.  I want to have several things Emma might like, so I am planning to prepare Maple Syrup glazed Turkey, roasted carrots and sweet potatoes and some kind of desert she might enjoy (she didn’t love the pumpkin mousse or pumpkin scones, so I’ll try some other recipes) as well as things the rest of us will enjoy – we are having between 12 – 15 people, many of whom are bringing things!  I am thinking of writing a cookbook entitled All The Delicious Things I’ve Made That Emma Won’t Eat.

I worried the other day (someone pointed out that I am always worrying about something – I blame my mother for this – she is a known worrier, plus I’m a New Yorker so there’s no hope for me) that Emma is just as rigid now as she was before the diet.  Instead of only eating six things, all of which were dairy or wheat, she now eats six other things, but as Richard pointed out, at least they aren’t dairy and wheat.  I think my expectations were high (they tend to be) when we began the diet; I had read in many cases the child, once off dairy and wheat, expanded their diet dramatically.  Don’t get me wrong, it is wonderful to see Emma eating brown rice and roasted chicken.  In fact it’s a huge achievement on her part.  I’m taking a deep breath now and will bask in the glow of brown rice and chicken.

Okay.  Now that I am filled with gratitude, to continue –

To date we have seen no identifiable cognitive or behavioral progress as a result of this diet.  We see her doctor in another three weeks.  I am still hopeful we might see something by then.

We received a report from her school that Emma threw a chair across the room on at least two occasions and pulled one of the TAs hair.  Obviously this is not good news.

Another deep breath, focusing on the joys of brown rice and roasted chicken.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.Emma’s Hope Book.com

The Diet

It’s been a month.  Last Monday I wrote that it had been four weeks and two days, I was wrong.  It just felt like it had been a month.

One month ago, on October 16th we began Emma on a GF/(modified) CF/ soy free and a great many other free diet.  This is our second go around with this diet.  The GFCF diet was the first thing I did when Emma was still two years old, to no noticeable change.  However, that first time she began eating a great deal of soy – soy yogurt being her favorite.  I was working with a DAN doctor at the time who tested her for hundreds of foods but never said anything about all the soy she was eating.  So after three months we took her off the diet and again saw no change.  This time I’m working with a naturepath/physician who also tested her for hundreds of foods.  This time, the list of foods to avoid was much longer than the first: cocoa, corn, potatoes, chicken egg whites, all red skinned fruits and vegetables, bananas, peanuts, onions and garlic.   Emma did not test negatively for wheat, but he advised we take her off it anyway, just to be safe.  Oddly, she also didn’t test negatively for sheep and goat’s milk, so we’ve allowed her to have sheep’s milk cheese, sheep’s milk yogurt and duck eggs.

Still we have witnessed very little change in Emma.  We’ve grown used to this.

I keep thinking I’m going to find something, something that other families have tried with significant results, but so far, other than Emma’s literacy program, we have not.  It’s frustrating to try various things and see little, if any, change.  As I’ve written before, we think we are seeing an increase in physical affection, but it’s hard to say this with certainty.  We have definitely not seen a profound change of any kind causing us to feel without a doubt that this diet has done anything.  Still I will give it more time.

Why some of these interventions work for some children and not others is something that’s been debated for awhile.  Why is it some children are mainstreamed after a few years of intensive 40 hour a week ABA, yet for children like Emma, they were not helped?  How is it that some children go on a GFCF diet and within days are transformed from a screaming, frustrated, incoherent child to one who is speaking in full sentences, playing with toys in an “appropriate” manner and displaying a never before seen curiosity of those around them?

It is easy to blame oneself, but I don’t believe that is the answer.  I know of too many cases where the parent has tried a great many things only to find their child did not respond.  I wonder whether it is the children who do respond, who are the exception.  While this thought depresses me, I have to wonder whether it isn’t more accurate.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to – www.Emma’s Hope Book.com

Preventative Measures

The New York Times published a piece in August of this year about the role the environment plays in the rise of autism.  It begins with the question asked by many people who are hoping to become parents  – What can we do to decrease the risk?

I have often thought about what I would have done differently, knowing what I now know.  There are a number of things, things I didn’t know to do or not do when I was pregnant with Emma.  There are a few things that appear to have some scientific basis to them, such as taking prenatal vitamins at least three months before getting pregnant and continuing to take them for the duration of the pregnancy.  I began taking them when I learned I was pregnant with Nic, though interestingly, with Emma I was taking them before I became pregnant with her and continued throughout the duration of my pregnancy.  I would not have eaten any fish of any kind during any part of my pregnancy.  I ate grilled swordfish a couple of times in my second trimester with Emma.  I also used fingernail polish remover a couple of times and had my hair highlighted once during my third trimester.   I would have stopped using all artificial sweeteners and I would have been more careful after the 9/11 attacks by not going downtown to Richard’s office in Soho to work.  Beyond those incidences, I did not take any drugs of any kind, not even aspirin, I didn’t consume caffeine or alcohol, I did not have an amniocentesis, avoided all and any invasive procedures, had two sonograms and gave birth naturally in a birthing center.  It seems unlikely that anything I did while pregnant contributed to her autism, but who knows?

After giving birth I would have done a number of things differently.  From the moment she took her first breath I would have eliminated all onion, garlic, dairy and wheat from my diet while I was breast feeding.  During those first few months when she was so uncomfortable and “colicky” I would have kept a food journal to see if there were other foods I was consuming that upset her and then eliminated those.  Since Emma seemed so uncomfortable when I breast fed and much preferred drinking breast milk from the bottle, I would have tried different techniques in swaddling her or having some sort of soft cloth between us so our skin to skin contact wasn’t so uncomfortable for her.  I would have started brushing therapy (click link for more detailed information on brushing) with joint compressions (see link for a detailed description of joint compression exercises) during this period as well.

Then there are the things I wish I had done much sooner such as  Dr. Marion Blank‘s literacy program instead of all those hours spent doing ABA.  I wish I had discouraged Emma from sucking her thumb.  I would not have introduced corn, soy, wheat, dairy or any foods that are thought to be problematic for some children.  I would have obtained an evaluation much sooner as well as taken her to a neurologist and had an MRI done before she was 18 months old.

Had I done all of those things, would any of it made a difference?  Except for introducing Dr. Blank’s program right away, which I am convinced would have made an enormous difference, who knows?  How much of a role does the environment play?  How much is due to genetics?  I have questions, lots of questions.  None of which will likely be answered any time soon.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.Emma’s Hope Book.com

Emma’s Story

This is the story Emma made up and wrote this morning before she went to school.

I had to give her support a couple of times when she would say a word, such as “the” or “to” but then would forget to actually write it and wrote the next word (always a noun or verb) instead.  According to Dr. Marion Blank, the woman who created the literacy program we have been using with Emma for the past nine months, children on the spectrum dislike non-content words.

Emma then took her story over to her dad and read it to him!

We first met Dr. Blank almost a year ago now.  Before that first meeting we both read her book “The Reading Remedy” and were impressed by it.  In January of 2011 we began implementing her program with Emma.  During those first few months we worked on the beginning of letter formations and sequencing.  In April Emma was able to form all the letters of the alphabet and we began the first level of the literacy program.  Over the last seven months Dr. Blank has added other elements to the program, specifically designed for Emma so that we now are working on a spoken language program in conjunction with the literacy piece as well as the Phonics Plus Five and Reading Kingdom programs.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.Emma’s Hope Book.com

Amanda Boxtel

Last night Richard and I went to a launch party here in New York City of Ekso Bionics with a live demonstration by Amanda Boxtel.  Amanda was in a skiing accident over 20 years ago, which left her a paraplegic.  For more than two decades Amanda has lived her life from a wheel chair.

This photo is out of focus and does not do Amanda justice.

Amanda demonstrates the power of Ekso Bionics

This quote is from Amanda’s website.

“Imagine wanting something so badly for years and years—fluctuating between acceptance of what is and hope for something better.  Imagine if that one thing you longed for is to stand tall with your legs supporting your full body weight, and then taking your first step.”

When we took Emma to Costa Rica for her first stem cell treatment, fluid seeped from her spine into her blood stream.  Suddenly she was in excruciating pain and Richard and I were terrified.  Amanda wrote me and her letter, one of many I have kept, was a calm voice of strength and reassurance.  Amanda has been to India six times for stem cell treatments.  She is an inspiration and source of hope for all.

Watching Amanda stand and then walk last night was a visual confirmation of what is possible in this world, if we never give up.  I think of Amanda often as I work with my daughter, Emma. Writing is difficult for Emma, it does not come easily.  But then walking does not come easily to Amanda either and yet she has never allowed that to slow her down.

Emma’s writing from this morning

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.EmmasHopeBook.com

On the Spectrum

I was asked recently why I am trying so desperately to overcome autism.  It’s a valid question and it made me think about the challenge of writing about one’s child in a way that honestly captures that child with all their complexities.  A week or so ago I wrote in my post entitled A Cure – “Emma cannot function in our world, she is not mainstreamed, she cannot take a shower, wash her hair and dry herself off without support.  We are not discussing nuances here.  We are talking about a child who is more than “quirky”.  My husband, Richard and I love quirky.  Quirky is GREAT!  We’ll take quirky.  But that’s not what Emma is.”

To me, that summed up why we continue to search, why we continue to try various things, but it does not adequately describe Emma.  Emma cannot function in our world without hands on support.  We cannot have a conversation with her or ask her questions.  I am still trying to capture Emma on video and post some clips on here, but haven’t had the time to do that yet.  The question I began this post with, made me realize that for someone reading this blog they cannot know her through my writing.  Perhaps one gets a sense of her, but there’s too much left out, too much I don’t think to mention, the cadence and inflections of her speech, the words, which I can understand, but which may not be understood by someone else.  I try to give an accurate portrait of her, but in the end, it is just that, an interpretation and not representative of the whole.

When we first received Emma’s diagnosis I was determined to find a “cure”.  I felt sure that I would find one too.  (Hubris?   Arrogance?  Ignorance?  Stupidity? Denial?  All of the above?)

After those first few years I realized I might not find a cure for what ailed Emma.  And after another few years and three trips to Central America for stem cell treatments under our belt, a “cure” seemed more and more elusive.  I have come to accept that.  Perhaps more importantly, I am less focused on the miracle of a cure and more focused on pushing Emma to expand her world.  There’s a balance we have tried to achieve with Emma.  We try to follow her lead whenever possible, but we also encourage her to stretch and do things beyond her comfort zone.  Our most recent attempts to expand her diet is a case in point, her literacy and math program are another.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t continue to research and do everything in my power to find treatments to help her.  I am convinced Emma’s digestive issues are exacerbated by her environment – the foods she ingests, the air she breathes, the water she drinks.  This Friday I am taking Emma to a doctor who has worked with hundreds of children on the spectrum.  He and I spoke on the phone yesterday for over an hour, going over her history, her GI issues (inflammations and ulcerations), chronic constipation, recurring strep throat, porous teeth, cracked heels and limited diet.  While a few years ago, I would have eagerly anticipated this appointment with the same degree of excitement the devoted view a visit from the Pope, I no longer do.  I have come to see all of these people, no matter what letters may follow their name, with tempered interest.

Last week Emma’s school bus matron told us Emma refused to buckle her seat belt and when the bus matron tried to help her, Emma kicked her hard in the chest.  We immediately went over with Emma the behavior we expected from her.  We rehearsed buckling her seat belt and made sure she had her ipod and ear buds with her so she could amuse herself once she was seated.  We went over the importance of not hurting another person.  We tried to consider what sort of support she might need to help her control herself.  We are lucky in that Emma seems to have understood and has not struck nor tried to get up from her seat while on the bus since.

As we waited for her bus this morning, I coached Emma, “Emma, it’s nice to say good morning to people.  She’s a nice lady and saying – Good Morning – will make her smile.

When Emma boarded the bus this morning she said, “Good morning, nice lady.”

The bus matron beamed.

There are many people with an autism diagnosis who are on the “mild” end of the spectrum or fall in the “gifted” category of Aspergers or are considered “high functioning”.  These children are often mainstreamed or learning at grade level or above.  And while they have tremendous hurdles, often requiring support into their adult lives, they occupy a different level of hurdles from those who, like Emma are moderately autistic.

I had a friend whose child was unable to walk or even lift his head.  He, too, was diagnosed with autism, though severely so.  That child faced developmental and physical problems far beyond anything Emma has had to deal with.  For me to compare the two would have been ludicrous.  At this point my goal is to get Emma to a higher level on the spectrum.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.EmmasHopeBook.com

“I Am In Here” – Autism

There’s a terrific new book entitled:  I am in here:  The Journey of a Child with Autism Who Cannot Speak But Finds Her Voice by Elizabeth M. Bonker and Virginia G. Breen.  The title is a line from the poem  Me written by Elizabeth when she was 9.   The story is yet another example of a nonverbal child with autism who was helped by Soma Mukhopadhyay’s Rapid Prompting Method.  Elizabeth’s mother, Virginia has tried any number of therapies with the hope that something, anything will help her daughter.  It is not a story about a cure, but rather a message of hope in the face of continual struggle and perseverance.

Virginia writes about using a three pronged approach in her battle with autism – Mind (academics), body (biomedical interventions and diets) and Spirit (the more difficult concept of something greater than ourselves, which Elizabeth seems to have a solid grasp of.)  The mind, body & spirit concept particularly resonated with me as it was this very idea which captured my grandfather, Walter Paepcke’s imagination when he envisioned a place of contemplation and learning in his creation of what came to be known as the “Aspen Idea” more than 60 years ago in Aspen, Colorado.

I can claim full allegiance to the mind and body portion of this, however I must admit the spiritual piece continues to allude me.  Though a close friend of mine said to me recently that for a person who professes not to believe, I certainly spend a great deal of time thinking, reading and discussing the subject.  She then said, “It’s kind of like the wife who’s husband everyone knows is having an affair.  She’s the last to know.”  When I answered her with a perplexed look, she said somewhat exasperated, “Come on, Ariane.  You’re the most spiritual non-spiritual person I’ve ever met.”

I’m pretty sure she meant that as a compliment.

For more on our journey with Emma through her childhood marked by autism, go to:   Emma’s Hope Book

A Written Conversation – Autism

Yesterday afternoon, Emma said, “These kids do not want to eat bugs.”  Then she squinted her eyes and laughed, making her shoulders shake up and down.  It was a creative version of some of the work we’ve been doing during her literacy program.  We’ve been working on sentences such as – These are kids, they want to rest.  They are resting.  Or  This is a plane.  It can fly, but someone has to make it fly.

“That’s funny, Em.  Let’s type that.”  I pulled the computer forward and gestured toward it.

Em sat down and muttered, “Shift,” as she pressed the shift key with her right index finger while simultaneously pressing the “t” on the keyboard.  She then went on to type the sentence, only needing help with remembering to include the word “do”.  I then typed back a nonsense question – “Do they want to eat birds?”

Emma giggled and shook her head no.

I pushed the computer toward her.  “Type,” I said.

“No, they do not want to eat birds,” she wrote, being sure she made an upper case “n” for the start of the sentence.

“What do they want to eat?”  I typed.

Emma looked at me.  I shook my head, putting a finger to my lips and pushed the keyboard toward her.

Very slowly she typed, “They want to eat co”.  She smiled at me.  “Cookies,” she whispered.  “I need help.  Mommy hold hand.”

Cookies is not a word we’ve covered yet, so I held her hand and helped her type – cookies.

My typed conversation with Emma

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:  Emma’s Hope Book.com

Autism’s Murky Future

Yesterday the New York Times ran a front page piece entitled – Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World.  I am always so grateful when I see anything on autism, even when I am not told anything I don’t already know.  I am particularly grateful when I see something on autism on the front page of the New York Times.  For those of us who are parents of a child with autism, the looming question of what will happen when our child becomes an adult is something we do not have the luxury to ignore.  Yet, the answer is not readily available to us, either.  There is no road map by which we can look to.  The future of our children is very much up in the air.  It is a tricky balance keeping the fear at bay, while also being practical and realistic about ones child’s future and how we might ensure she is taken care of should she not be able to hold down a job and live independently.

My message of hope on The Hope Installation at the entrance to the High Line

The truth is we cannot know what Emma will be like in another eight years, all we can do is continue to work as intensely and extensively with her as we currently are.

So this evening when I come home from work, I will work on the word – does.  After we spend an hour or so going over the word, both using it in hand written sentences and as well as typing sentences with it, we will also use the word verbally as when I lay out a frog, a boy, a bus and a dog and say, “Hand me the one who does not eat.”  After we have done all of that we will play some games using the word “does” and finally we will go over a list of words she has already learned and review them.  Somewhere during all of this – dinner will be prepared, Nic’s homework will get done, stories will be read and everyone will eventually go to bed.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:  www.EmmasHopeBook.com