Friday, 30 November 2012

Something Which Bothers Me

I read a book this week called The Lolita Effect: The media sexualization of young girls and what we can do about it.  The author had some good insights and managed to clarify some things which had always bothered me but I hadn't been able to articulate:

- how the "sexy" clothes for young girls (pre-teens and younger) imitate sex worker's costume choices, drawing a parallel between emergent sexuality and commercial sexuality.

- how girls' sexuality is linked with violence in horror films.  The formula is blatant when pointed out: nude, semi-nude, lingerie-clad or sexually active female paired immediately with the violence of the slasher villain.

Both of these parallels are bothersome in their implications and Dr. Durham manages to separate out the actual sex from the problematic content.

However, there were some things about the book which raised equally troubling thoughts in my head.  There were a lot of statistics thrown out with dark hints that these numbers were just the tip of the iceberg.

One of the statistics given were the number of young women who felt they had been coerced into having sexual activity with a partner within a relationship.

Sexual coercion is bad enough but my brain made a little connection which had not been completely articulated before.  Young girls are told to act sexy but not engage in sex.  They are told to attract male attention but not yield to it.  Their own desire is ignored or dismissed as irrelevant.  In short, they are taught to imply yes but then left almost completely powerless.  If they say no, they deny their sexiness.  If they say yes, they become sluts. 

The new extention to this thought is: how many girls have to reframe their willing sexual experiences as coerced in order to maintain the delicate social balance of being sexy but not sexual?  The numbers may be innaccurate due to mental reframing as well as under-reporting of actual coercion.

Rape is a tragic reality and I do not want to imply that it doesn't happen.  But I also am a strong believer in teaching girls that it is okay to say yes, to acknowledge their own desire.  Boys shouldn't be cast as the demons devaluing girls as they deflower them.  Without a strong yes, the no can be lost as a useful signal.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

My Son: The Man With A Plan

Anyone who claims children with autism cannot make plans and carry them out has not met my son.

Once again, he has outwitted us and proven his dedication and skill.

We have a storage area in the basement where we keep a lot of the "scatterable" toys (blocks, lego, marbles, puzzles, etc.).  It's kept locked but the kids are allowed to request the toys at any time.  The only rule is that they have to bring something down from upstairs to "trade" for a new toy.  (BTW, this strategy has really worked for keeping down the clutter and mess in our play areas ... which is most of the house.)

A few mornings ago, my husband irritatedly asked me if I'd locked the storage area.  I said I had and asked why.  He told me he'd discovered a bunch of toys scattered all over the basement playroom floor.  I chalked it up to an accidental unlocking and resolved to make sure everyone was more careful.

Later that day, I went down to discover toys scattered all over the floor.  Now I was irritated.  If Dave had discovered the mess, he should have cleaned it up or at least told me he hadn't so I wasn't ambushed.  I spent half an hour sorting through four 500 piece puzzles which had been dumped.  When Dave got home, I mentioned it to him and he told me he had cleaned up the mess.  The blocks and Lego had been spread around, not puzzle pieces.

Suddenly we realized what was going on.  Alex had obviously figured out how to get into the locked room.  The door was still locked so he hadn't found the keys.  We tried to see if the lock wasn't latching properly.  Maybe it could be pushed open if the door was pressed on?  No success. 

Dave was the one to figure it out.  The storage area is behind the stairs.  Underneath the stairs is another storage area which the boys have access to.  Between the two was  a gap.  A small gap about three feet wide and less than a foot tall.

Alex was eeling through the gap and opening the door from the other side.  We'd deliberately set the locks to avoid being locked in.  But it meant he was free to go in, grab what he wanted and bring it out into the basement.

From a social awareness point of view, it demonstrates perseverence, awareness that his point of view is separate from others (ie if he does it when we're not looking, we won't know) and awareness that we won't discover his plunder if he keeps it down in the basement.  Those are fairly sophisticated concepts.

We boarded up the gap with plywood and the messes have mysteriously disappeared. 

But we're still both proud and annoyed that he figured it out.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

More Thoughts on Publishing

My writing at home is going really well after a few weeks of dry spells.  (Or more accurately, time-crunch spells.)  I've reached the tipping point in the burlesque novel, where my exposition and set up is finished and now things are going to start racing towards the exciting conclusion.

But as I write and start to make notes about the revisions I'll want to make for the next draft, I've been thinking more and more about my publishing options.

I'd been starting to lean very heavily towards the idea of self-publishing.  It can be very simple, the author stays in control and you're not sharing your profits or being forced to accept miniscule returns. 

But it's lonely and isolating.  There's no one to spar with creatively. 

I have a critique group and they are marvellous with useful advice for my plots and characters.  But it's not the same as an editor sitting down with you and going over your entire book and honing it until it's the best possible story you can produce.  Someone who calls you on a weak premise, even if it's narratively necessary.

I would really like to have that spur to get my writing to the next level.  There's only so much I can do on my own.  It's almost impossible to find blindspots by yourself. 

Luckily I still have lots of time before I have to worry about the actual publishing side of things.  Finishing the actual manuscript has to stay as my focus for now.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Enough Love vs Broken Heart

I was reading a sci-fi romance novel over the weekend and while the plot as a whole didn't thrill me, one of the characters had an epiphany that stuck with me.  His live-in girlfriend left him at the beginning of the novel and he's been sullen and withdrawn ever since.  He's telling himself that he let her get too close and he should have known she was going to leave because that's what everyone does.

About three quarters of the way through (when he discovers her life may be in danger from a ring of antiquity smugglers), he's struck by a thought.  Maybe she didn't leave him because she didn't love him enough.  Maybe she left him because her heart had been broken so much, she couldn't stand it any more.

I really liked how this was phrased.  We all know or have heard of people who are continually testing their relationships, testing to see how much their partner loves them by behaving badly.  The hurt reaction is the payoff, proving that the partner still cares about their opinion and thus is presumably still attached.  The testing partner might accuse them of infidelity, of wanting to leave, of not loving them ... all sorts of options.

But the problem with stress-testing a relationship is that each one is unique.  Not like a car where it can be tested to the breaking point and thus the factory can reliably say: this is how much this make and model can withstand.  Once a relationship is broken, it's usually broken for good.  And even they're lucky enough to put it back together, it will always be more fragile than it was.

When the relationship breaks, the tester is justified.  They can say: see, I knew it would happen.  And it often is interpreted as a lack of love.  But really, it's more about how much one person's heart can take before it's shattered beyond repair and the person has to leave in order to painfully put it back together.

In fiction, people often do have to overcome huge dramatic obstacles in order to prove their love to each other.  In life, there aren't always significant obstacles to love.  People meet, are both single and uncommitted, they hit it off and can progress into a relationship.  Easy-peasy and, without confidence, maybe too easy to be believed.

Demonstrating love is an important way of keeping a relationship together.  But I think it works best if each partner is free to express their love in a way which is significant to them (although it may have to be explained that switching to snow tires is an actual expression of caring).  People shouldn't be forced into constant tests to prove themselves.

Drama may be exciting to watch happen to other people, but it sucks as a way of life.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Bedding Solutions

This is a topic I'm guessing a lot of parents whose children have autism will be familiar with.  Difficulty in toilet training.  There are lots of places to get tips on toilet training autistic children but not a lot of suggestions about what you can do in the meantime to cope.

Our older son is not toilet trained.  And we have a real challenge at night because he's outgrown the largest commercially available diapers but is still too small for adult diapers.  (And for the record, Goodnights do not absorb more than a trickle.)  So we have a lot of bedwetting incidents.

This would be less of a problem if he didn't also like to shred plastic.  We tried a fitted plastic sheet from the drugstore.  Torn off and torn up within twenty minutes.

Next we tried a bed condom, a plastic sheath which wraps around the whole bed and zips up the side.  That foiled him initially for a few months but then he got the hang of destroying them and could do it less than five minutes.

We ordered a medical mattress which we thought would have a rubberized covering instead of fabric.  Turns out it was just vinyl which tore along the sewn seams almost instantly.  I taped up the seams with duct tape.  He broke new seams and started shredding the vinyl.

New tactic.  I wrapped the bed in a plastic tarp.  This actually lasted almost six months.  Then he started shredding the tarp.

I got a new tarp, wrapped up the bed and this time cross-hatched it with duct tape so that he couldn't tear more than a two inch section (which I thought would be easily repairable).  That bought us another few months of peace until he figured out how to destroy it.

Channelling my inner Red Green (or Mythbuster) I wrapped the whole bed in duct tape.  For the record, it takes 3 and a half rolls of duct tape to cover a twin size bed.  That bought us eight months of peace.

Finally, I had to accept that I could not protect the mattress from liquid.  So I had to shift to a new tactic: washable bedding.

We have three kingsize duvets that we fold down over his bed.  Not as comfortable as a mattress but able to be washed in the washing machine.  When one is soiled, it gets tossed in the wash and another pulled out of the closet.  It can be a little tricky and means a lot of laundry but for now, it's working.

Most of the time we only have to replace one duvet a night but the other night we ran through all three.  I was debating the risk of running the washer and waking up the kids versus potentially running out of bedding.  In the end, I decided to take the quiet road and luckily we didn't lose the third duvet until it was time to get up anyway.

We've tried restricting his liquids before bedtime.  We've tried getting him up late at night to go in the toilet.  But it's an inescapable truth, the only real solution is going to be to get him properly toilet-trained, a process which has been ongoing for four years with progress measured with snail-like speed.  We'll keep going.  No one has ever claimed we lacked for stubbornness.  But we also accept this is not something we can white-knuckle through.  It will be a part of our lives for a long time.

I thought this list of ideas might be useful for other parents in the same boat.  But I think the most useful suggestion I can give is: do what you need to do in order to be able to keep your cool when dealing with a mess.  Success depends on positive experiences and it doesn't take much to frighten or upset your child.  So figure out what you are going to be okay dealing with and plan around that.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

More Than Just A Mom

I was picking up my son at school last week when I overheard a pair of moms discussing a marital infraction.  The husband had gone out to help a friend move and ended up staying late for pizza and beer afterwards.  Mom in question had a baby in a carrier and was pulling a two or three year old in a wagon, and was obviously picking up someone from kindergarten, so I had some immediate sympathy for her.

But then the story unfolded a little more.  Husband had called to check before staying late and been given an okay.  He had also still been home for bedtime.  Mom was venting that she felt she'd been put on the spot during the phone call and hadn't been genuine about believing it was okay.  She was also furious when Husband offered to give her an evening out as recompense.  She said something which stuck with me.  I can't quote exactly but it was to the effect of: how dare he suggest I leave my children, I'm their mother.

As someone who quite enjoys regular evenings away from her children, (not that I don't love them but I also like talking to people over four feet tall) it got me thinking about this expectation we have for undivided maternal attention.  I know of several families where the mom didn't spend more than an hour or two away from her child until that kid when to kindergarten. 

Where did this image of mothering as an all-consuming lifestyle come from?  And we're starting to suck fathers into the mix as well, so we may end up with both genders being equally trapped on this one. 

For most of human history, survival was the most important gift you could give your kids.  It still is for a larger proportion of the world than I like to think about.  Providing food and shelter trumped any worries about self-esteem and modelling good relationship dynamics.

Even in the great idyllic era of the nuclear family, the 1950s, when a stay-at-home mom was a guaranteed right for every child, parenting wasn't all encompassing.  This is the same era where kids were shooed out the door after breakfast and told to be home for dinner.  Whole hours of unsupervised time and activities.  And those moms weren't considered neglectful.  In fact, a mom who kept her children with her all the time was considered the unhealthy one.

Maybe it's a backlash from our parents (always a convenient target).  Growing up as latchkey kids with two working parents, the next generation overcompensates.  It's possible.  Or maybe it's a marketing conspiracy, to get parents anxious about the dangers of the world so they shell out for monitoring devices.  Maybe it's growing up as a "protected" generation and having internalized the message that the world is a dangerous place and can't be trusted.

I'm suspicious of a parent who claims to be satisfied exclusively being a parent.  No other pesky dreams or ambitions, just being a parent 24/7 365.  It strikes me as obsessive and I wonder how that parent will cope with their child's increasing levels of independence.  Will they sabotage their child and then wonder why their forty year old is still living in the basement and doesn't have a job? 

I can't know.  Maybe they're happy and fulfilled.  But for me, while I love my children and really like being home for them, I still want more out of my life.  And I'm cool with that.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Parenting Holiday Preparations

The holidays are stressful for everyone.  It's not news, just a fact. 

But to a child with autism, they can be even more overwhelming.  The schedule and routine are disrupted with the end of school, breaks from therapy, odd events, people they haven't seen since last year and all of these strange expectations.  I've compared having autism to being in a foreign country without understanding the social rules or language, but the holidays is like moving to yet another foreign country.

We limit the number of events we expect our children to go to and then we prepare them really well for the events they will have to participate in.  We accept two basic rules:

- If our children are there, we have to focus on them or have someone designated to focus on them.  Which means we may not get a chance to socialize and visit.  (My husband sometimes uses this as a socially acceptable means of getting a break from family pressure.  As an adult with Asperger's, he also finds the holiday upheaval overwhelming.)

- When the children are done, we are done.  We pay attention to the warning signs and leave when the kids show us they've had enough (increase in stimming, increase in whining and agitation, retreating to isolated areas).  It's important to leave before one of the kids has a full-on tantrum because if we waited until after, we risk teaching them that they can tantrum to get out of boring or unpleasant situations.  This has led to some difficulties in the past, but if the kids are done, then it doesn't matter if dinner hasn't been served or presents haven't been opened.  We don't wait "just a few more minutes" for a picture.  We go.

Sometimes we'll bring two vehicles so that one of us can leave with the kids (or a child if one of them has a particularly short fuse) and the other can continue.  It's a compromise but it's made a big difference in how long our family is recovering from holiday disruption.

To prepare the kids, we make sure events are on their weekly visual schedule.  This give them a little warning something is coming.  (Some kids get more upset with the schedule because it gives them time to brood.)

We use social stories to outline what will be happening at a particular event and what their expected behaviour will be.  (First we'll open presents and then you say thank you in a big voice.)

We bring toys and other distractions along with us.  Twenty minutes on the iPad might be anti-social but it buys you a little more time.  And it gives them something familiar and comforting in an unfamiliar environment.

We keep the demands low.  Say hello to people, say thank you, don't touch people's things, no screaming or shouting.  We don't expect them to listen to Grandpa's long winded jokes or play with their cousins.  We also try and make sure there's a quiet area they can go to where the family knows not to interrupt them. 

We keep their clothes casual and comfortable.  Some parents like to make their kids dress up but we've made the decision to keep things familiar to avoid the clothing becoming an extra irritant.  If you do want your child to dress up, make sure the fabric isn't scratchy or uncomfortable and have lots of practice runs wearing the outfit before the event.  An hour or two of playing in their party clothes can make the outfit less upsetting and save you a battle on the day.

We prepare our extended family.  This is an important step and a lot of families don't think of it.  I talk to whoever's hosting to see about breakables left out on convenient tables, to agree on quiet areas, to warn them about any behaviour concerns I have.  If I'm not familiar with their house, I ask them to send me pictures.  I ask what the plan is and make sure the important events happen early on.  If they plan to have two hours of visiting before dinner, we don't show up until half an hour before dinner to avoid having the kids burned out.  I explain what I am expecting my children to do and what I won't be expecting them to do and I set out clear guidelines about who will be taking care of my children.  I also give the host an opportunity to ask questions or air any concerns.

I have cancelled going to events when I believed it was going to be too great a risk.  I've also walked out when I realized the situation was not going to work.  (The quiet area was full of antique dolls at convenient reaching heights.)

For the most part, our system works.  The few events we do go to are at familiar places and having stuck to our guns for the last several years, the family no longer gets upset when we have to leave or tries to insist we stay just a little longer.  The homes we go to know what preparations to make and people know what to expect from our boys.

There's still some familial bickering and drama ... it is the holidays after all.  But it's kept to an acceptable level and everyone goes home with the same level of discontent.

And after all, isn't that what the holidays are really all about?

Friday, 23 November 2012

Worst Break-up Speech Ever

I found this in Karl Albrecht's book Practical Intelligence, which I thought was going to be more about approaching problems logically but was filled with a lot of wishy-washy advice.

This is his suggested speech for "firing" a toxic person from your life:

"I've been thinking about my life lately, and I've been deciding what my personal priorities really are.  I've decided that I only want positive relationships with positive people.  I don't know how to build a positive relationship with you that serves my needs, so I've decided not to see you any more.  I don't harbour any animosity toward you; I just find that there's no place in my life for this relationship any longer."

Not to be too blunt, but what a load of verbiose garbage.

"It's not you, it's me" is a heck of a lot shorter and to the point.

Looking at it, it strikes me as pompous and arrogant and designed to prevent the other person from expressing themselves.  If you're "firing" someone then the least you can do is let them get their final say in.  You're walking away after this, so this is their last chance to ask questions, offer apologies or indulge in begging.

If I thought someone was mean enough to be really harsh, then a break-up speech is a bad idea.  Just cut them off.  Eventually they'll get the clue.  This kind of speech is something you'd want to use only if you still care about the other person's feelings and want them to walk away reasonably satisfied.  It's supposed to set up closure.

I prefer Sandra Bullock's line from Divine Secrets:

I'm done.  That's gone with a D.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Media and Getting Dumber

We've all heard the "reports" about the general dumbing down of our culture.  I was reading a book which exhorted us all to increase our intelligence levels and the author was ranting about how the news had become entertainment and people couldn't identify foreign heads of state.  That's when a thought hit me.

Maybe we're judging by the wrong criteria.

The news is a very recent phenomena.  Even newspapers, the usual upheld example of in depth reporting, are only 500 years old if one includes the monthly government update from Venice intended for the heads of other Italian cities.  Realistically, the concept of a regular reporting of useful and important information only came into effect in the 17th century.  (And it was in no way an objective and unbiased account.)

Does that mean everyone before 1600 was stupid?  I'm betting most of them couldn't have named heads of state and were probably more interested in seeing street performers than in participanting in political discourse.  People have always reached for entertainment over academia, even if you ignore the whole mass literacy barrier. 

And not to toss academia entirely under the bus but entertainment has long been one of our best techniques for passing on cultural values and provoking thought.  (I don't say providing information because we all know how the needs of the story can often triumph over actual facts.)  Would the Middle Ages have cherished chivalry and courtly love without the jongleurs who travelled from town to town sharing those ballads?  Even if the historical events differ from the ballad accounts, it gave an ideal to strive for.

It's hard to argue against the "getting dumber" phenomena when reality shows seem to compete in a race to the most disgusting and lurid displays and a celebrity getting a haircut ranks equally with famine and war. 

But on the other hand, the Roman gladiators actually butchered each other for mass entertainment. 

I don't think we're any dumber than we used to be but it's so much easier to have access to entertainment and there's a higher expectation of intelligence.  We have advantages most of our ancestors could only dream of.  Literacy, good health, abundant food.  We have the leisure and opportunity to influence our lives directly.  All of us, not just a privileged elite.

Not too many people are taking advantage of that and the sound-byte oriented media certainly makes it more difficult for those who want to.  But let's not pretend that history is populated with examples of mass populations making intelligent and reasoned decisions and we're somehow an exception.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Success With Our Flip Book Social Story

Success in that Nathan enjoyed reading it at any rate.

I did up photos of everyone we have taking care of him and each person got their own two page spread.  The first page was: "Can (name) take care of me?" with a picture underneath.  When he flipped it up, there was a big YES! underneath. 

The second page said when the person would take care of him (at Beavers, while Mommy is busy, etc.) and listed three fun things he did with that person: play games, make pancakes, play hide-and-seek. 

I threw in two "no" examples: our two cats.  Can Ceili take care of me?  NO!  Don't be silly, she's just a cat!  But I can take care of her.

It worked like a charm.  Nathan thought it was hilarious and asked to read the book again and again (thus winning half the social story battle). 

We'll have to wait a bit to see if it helps to relieve his anxiety but hopefully the message will sink in and have a solid subliminal impact. 

Nathan has been really bored with traditional social stories.  Reading them was a chore he endured, which really doesn't help with getting the message across.  I think the combination of humour and surprise will make a difference.  He's already read it more voluntarily in one day than we usually manage in a week.

Bonus level: he noticed the empty pages left over in the photo album I used and asked if we could add more story to them.  Seizing the opportunity, I asked him who else could take care of him and he started to brainstorm options with me.  Only a few but it's a huge mental step that takes him away from believing I'm the only one who can take care of him.

School seems to be going better as they develop a more predictable routine and use the visual schedules effectively.  Nathan even weathered a substitute teacher with minimal trouble.  Hopefully we're turning a corner on this particular crisis.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2 (Spoilers)

This has spoilers.  You've been warned.

I was feeling a little wishy-washy about seeing the final installment of the Twilight saga.  I watched a few of the first couple movies on TV and found Edward and Bella were really starting to grate on me.  But, hey, giant werewolves and gorgeous men will drag me back into a series every time.  (Take note, Hollywood.)

Besides, I've spent a lot of time and effort in this series and I wanted to see how they were going to end it.

They were smart to break up Breaking Dawn into two parts: the pregnancy and the Volturi threat.  The Volturi part is my favourite from the book.  The movie storyline glossed over a couple of key points from the book: Bella discovering J. Jenks was greatly abbreviated and the dynamic of Bella-Jake-Rosalie was cut short.  They also cut down on the concern over Renesmee's rapid growth.  These cuts bothered me, especially since the movie didn't crack two hours.  I thought they had the time to play with the characters.

But it was still a good story and I was enjoying the build-up to the massive fight as well as the gorgeous line of actors chosen to play the influx of vampires.  Joe Anderson, who played the misanthropic Alistair, was one of my personal favourites.  But Lee Pace pulled off an irresistable combination of personality and looks as Garrett.

Things were playing out just as I expected, until Alice told Aro that no matter what she showed him, he wouldn't change his mind.  He ordered her and Jasper to be taken into custody.  I thought, okay, they're playing up the drama from the original confrontation.  It's a movie.  It happens. 

Except then they killed Carlisle.  And Jasper.  (Forget team Edward and team Jacob, I was all about team Jasper in the second and third movies.)

I was clinging to denial with fingernail-trench-digging determination.  Vampires can be put back together.  The good guys will be fine. 

And then they killed Seth.

Okay, when werewolves die, they're dead.  No coming back.  Now my denial is gone and I can't believe they're totally rewriting the ending.  I lost my security blanket of knowing the plot.

More good guys die.  Some of the bad guys start to die.

And then the whole thing is revealed to be a vision of the future as seen by Alice and shown to Aro.  There was an audible sigh of relief in the theatre.  (Not as much fun as the audible sigh of feminine appreciation when Taylor Lautner first took off his shirt in New Moon but still good.)

I'll admit it.  They got me.  They caught me caught up in the moment so that I couldn't think of alternative plot explanations.  Bravo to the writers and editors on that one.

Overall, it was an adequate finale to the series.  Not brilliant, but adequate.  There was a nice touch in the credits where they showed every actor, identified by name and character.  Every actor from the entire series, not just the final movie.  It was a good wrap up.

Monday, 19 November 2012

New Title and New Info

I've decided to change the title of this blog to The Other Side of the Mirror to keep with my website theme of Past The Mirror.  It's a nice Lewis Carroll reference and after re-reading Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, I can see some parallels with the autism experience.  Alice is literally plunged into a world whose rules she doesn't understand and which seem to change in bewildering ways. 

It can also be seen as a nice metaphor for getting inside my head and letting my inner thoughts be broadcast over the digital realm.

I'm feeling rather pleased with the change.  I wasn't a huge fan of "Welcome To My World" but I had trouble thinking of something better.  (I am awful with titles.  I suspect it may become a challenge to my writing career.)

I've also added new information to my Corner Pieces Autism site.  There is a new tab for Referrals.  This is to give families information on autism-accomodating professionals and businesses.  I decided not to include therapy references because I think those are decisions every parent has to make for themselves.  But some restaurants, theatres, etc are more accomodating than others when it comes to being accepting of a child with special needs.

I also found a new tip for my Tips and Tricks section: using photo albums for social stories.  Insert your pages into the plastic sleeves and you have a durable little book. 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Family Photos (With A Recommendation)

Family photos are one of those rituals that neurotypical families can take for granted but those of us with special needs have to earn.  It can be a real challenge to get your autistic child to look at the camera and hold still at the same time, not to mention coordinating everyone else.  Add in having to go to a strange place and it can be a recipe for meltdowns.

We used to go to Sears to have our family portrait done.  Things were relatively simple when Alex was little.  We'd just prop him on our laps and tickle him to make him smile.  But as he got larger, things became more difficult and the staff there weren't up to the challenge.  When I'd call to book, I'd suggest booking two slots back to back since I knew it would be difficult (I was willing to pay for them, too).  But inevitably they'd insist they knew what they were doing and it would be fine.  They were wrong.

Having an annual portrait was very important to me.  It still is.  It's a record of how my children are growing and changing.  School pictures are one thing but I wanted a picture of  the whole family.

After a disasterous shoot in which we got no photos at all, I was very upset.  I called around to independent photographers but no one wanted to come to the house.  Or if they did, they were charging an obscene amount of money.

Luckily we found someone who was willing to work with us: Ryan Parent.  Here's his link:

http://www.ryanparentphoto.com/

He didn't know a lot about autism but he knew a lot about taking pictures and was willing to listen to us about what would work with our children.  (I've learned this is an exceedingly rare situation, most experts assume they know better than any parent when it comes to working with your child.)

He's been taking our pictures for four years now and it's worked out great.  The boys run around and do whatever they were going to do anyway and he snaps amazing candid shots.  When it's time for the group photo, he's ready with his hand on the shutter.  As soon as the boys are in position, he starts snapping photos.  We usually get a nice one.

And best of all, he's affordable and sends us digital copies of our photos so we can print out as many as we like, wherever we want. 

This post may be a little more of a shill than I usually do but take it from someone who has looked: it's hard to find people who are willing to really work with special needs families, who will adapt to your needs rather than making you adapt to theirs.

If anyone is interested, you can contact Ryan at info@ryanparentphoto.com.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Stop Signs: The Musical

Oh, you thought I was kidding but here's the link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpB2U58CjPQ

It is amazing the stuff an obsessed eight year old can find on You Tube.  Even more amazing what other people will put up on You Tube.

Stop signs were Alex's first great love.  He would light up like Christmas morning to see that red octagon in the street.  We would have to plan our walks with extensive stop sign pauses.

Since then he has also discovered elevators and buses.  Both of which have their own channel on You Tube. 

Friday, 16 November 2012

My Failed Attempt to Add to the Repetoire

I like singing bedtime songs to my boys.  Alex has been very faithful to Vanessa Carleton's A Thousand Miles, dethroning the Queen of Pop's Drowned World/Substitute for Love after a two year reign. 

Nathan's favourite is the Soft Kitty Song from the show Big Bang Theory.  Sometimes he'll ask for Sentimental Journey (the train song), The Rose or What a Wonderful World (the trees of green song). 

I like it but I get tired of singing the same thing all the time.  So I decided to throw a new one into the mix: Swinging On A Star.  I saw a You-Tube clip of Bruce Willis singing it during the otherwise skippable movie Hudson Hawk.  I sang it with my vocal jazz group back in high school and liked it.  A quick refresher on the lyrics and I was good to go.

Only the boys do not like it.  Maybe I'll be lucky and it will slip in somehow but for now, it's not joining the list for Mommy's Jukebox. 

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Memories of Levar Burton and Reading Rainbow

This will date me rather quickly but when I was a child, I used to watch Reading Rainbow on PBS, starring Levar Burton.

I was an avid reader and the other option was CBC.  It was a good fit.

I used to feel sad for him (It's important to remember I was only about six years old at the time) because he read children's picture books.  I was reading small chapter books already and looked forward to tackling thicker tomes.  And here was this poor man who could only read picture books.  Not to mention, it took him almost half an hour to read them.

I honestly thought the poor guy had a learning disability of some type and that PBS was nice enough to give him a show where he could read the books and share the brightly coloured pictures.  He got to go on trips to explore the places mentioned and I thought: well, that's nice.  He's found something he can do.

It's a good thing I didn't know about him being the genuis engineer on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  The dichotomy probably would have made my little head explode with the contradictions. 

My misconception is something I try to keep in mind.  I thought all TV was basically documentaries when I was little because I didn't know any better.  Kids are trying to figure out the world and sometimes they have fairly significant gaps.  Those can make the world even freakier and more frightening than it already is.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

An Unspoken Reality

I was watching Dr. Phil last week and he had an episode entitled "Mothers Who Hate Their Daughters".  The show began with a series of clips about mothers who killed their children and as the headlines and soundbytes flashed, I noticed that autism was featured in two of the six stories.

There were two mothers featured in the episode.  The second one did not attract my interest but the first was a mother with a fourteen-year old autistic daughter.  She admitted to screaming at her daughter "What is wrong with you?", "I hate you" and threatening to leave (as her own mother did when she was six).  The mom admitted to fantasizing about running away because it was just too hard and not what she signed up for.

Let me be clear.  That is absolutely unacceptable behaviour.  However, I can summon a certain sympathy for the motivation.  It is frustrating to raise an autistic child.  It is embarrassing to be the subject of bad-parent glares when you're out in public.  None of us signed up to raise a special needs child.  Pretending otherwise is insulting to us and potentially damaging to our children.  If we have to constantly pretend to be thrilled with our situation (Autism is the best thing that could ever have happened to our family!  It's made us so much more aware of what's important in life!), that is a drain on already strained resources.  And it makes us isolated, increasing the risk of a catastrophic snap.

It's not popular in our black-and-white media portrayals but both sides of the coin are true.  Having significant challenges helps you to figure out what's important and can let you discard a lot of the dross.  But at the same time, having to go through those challenges sucks.  I think we owe it to ourselves and our children to acknowledge both sides so that we're not trying to suppress hidden and festering grudges.

Someone commented to me last week about the bravery of a mom in expressing her concerns about her autistic child: will he ever be able to live independently?  Will he be bullied?  Those are very real concerns but not great secrets.

I think a lot of parents would recognize this fear but society is not gentle with those who express it.  Am I going to be able to handle raising this child or am I going to become one of those headlines?

There's a lot of talk thrown around out there about how God or the Universe (pick your organizing divine principle) doesn't give people more than they can handle.  It's not so.  Otherwise we wouldn't have suicides, depressives or parents who snap. 

Be aware of what's going on emotionally and if you're afraid, then screw society's expectations and ask for help.  Scream and shout until someone hears you.  I've done it.  I've seen a therapist at several points when I felt overwhelmed.  It really does help to have someone to talk to.  Someone who can reassure you that what you're going through is a normal reaction to a bad situation.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Scattered Pages

Someone dropped a book in front of my house.

It's a children's book.  I can't find the binding but the pages were scattered across the street and lawns for about a hundred feet.

Every time I see it, I have a gut-churning cringe.  To see a book destroyed and discarded so casually really bothers me.  I find myself wondering if it ripped apart in a game of keep-away from bullies.  Was it old and well-loved and the binding worn away over time and when someone tried to bring it to school, it fell?  Was it tossed aside deliberately?

I treat books respectfully.  Even the ones I think are complete and utter crap.  Even the ones I disagree with so vehemently that to have them in the house seems like an offence to my soul.

I sympathize with Cleopatra who is reported to have cried when the library at Alexandria burned.  I get more upset watching a book burning scene in a movie than I do watching mass destruction (with its implied loss of life). 

Perhaps it's silly and sentimental but I see books and art as a connection to the world around us.  Even something as innocuous as a children's book has its place in contributing to the world.  It seems horrifically cruel and calculating to destroy a book.  It's something that repressive regimes do. 

Knowledge is power.  Cliched, but accurate.  Isolation makes people vulnerable and knowledge builds bridges between people.  It opens up paths of understanding.

I've gathered up a fair number of pages and put them in our recycling box for a decent burial. 

Monday, 12 November 2012

Helicopter vs Mole Parents

Okay.  I made up the "vs" part.

I was doing some thinking and a metaphor occured to me.  Helicopter parents zoom about trying to build walls to keep their children safe.  The opposite approach would be to build a platform to enable them to launch themselves and explore.  It would be more underground (hence Mole).

Which is better?  Obviously parts of both are good.  Too many walls build a prison and too few walls can result in fatal plummets.

But by nature, I'm more of a Mole parent.  I like watching my children be independent and that was one of my parenting goals I noted down when I was pregnant.  I wanted my children to feel safe and confident in exploring their world and making mistakes. 

However, I've had to become more of a Helicopter parent than I'm comfortable with.  I have to serve as interpreter, protector and intervener and I can't do that from a park bench thirty feet away.  There are benefits.  I see more of what my boys are doing and they can have faith and comfort from my presence.  But my goal is always independence.

Dennis Leary added another parenting type.  The Jet-Pack parent who zooms in and then vanishes back to the adult world.   A little harsh but I do know of people who would qualify.

As much as we'd like it, there's no right or wrong answer in the parenting world.  (Wait, I can hear the well, duh and see your eyes rolling)  I try to do my best to steal the positive bits from various styles and overcome the weaknesses.  Eclectic-style parenting. 

Oooh.  Maybe I can start a new trend.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Self-Published vs Small Press vs Traditional New York

First of all, an update.  We got lucky with an 11th hour save. We have a President for next year. I don't fool myself into thinking I'm not going to end up doing a great deal more of the work than I did last year but at least its not all on my shoulders.

This month's ORWA workshop on getting published has made me think a lot about my preconceptions.

I've always assumed I should pursue a New York publishing contract as my first choice.  Quality editing and a wide distribution would benefit me more than the higher royalty fees of the other options.  New York still makes a lot of authors into best-sellers. 

However, it's an extremely competitive environment which is also becoming more conservative.  More and more, the New York houses are looking for authors who have already become independently successful.  Don't already have published works under your belt?  Then it's difficult to get an agent or a contract.

Small presses are more willing to take risks but can also be riskier.  If I sell my manuscript to a small press and it goes under, it can take a lot of time and money to recover the rights to my book so I can sell it to someone else.  They also don't tend to have the distribution contacts the big boys have.  A lot of small presses specialize in e-books.  (This may sound snobbish of me, but if I'm published, I really want to have a shelf full of print books with my name on them.)

Self-publishing is a lot of hard work but it offers the ultimate flexibility.  You are responsible for hiring an editor, copy-editor, cover artist, etc.  You are responsible for all marketing.  But you reap the majority of the profits (once there are profits to be had).  One key factor seems to be frequency of new content.  If you want to make money with a self-published book, you'd better be ready to have new stuff coming out every few months.

I'm still not sure what the best choice is.  I'm not to the point of being ready to publish.  At the moment, I'm leaning more towards small press and self-publishing.  I don't think there's a necessary loss of quality and it certainly allows for more control by the author.  Print-on-demand services means I could still have my vanity wall. 

It's a lot to think about.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Remembrance Day

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day and I always like to take some time to pause and reflect.

This may not be entirely kosher, but I've always told my boys that Remembrance Day is to remember all of those who have given their lives to keep others safe.  Soldiers, police officers, firefighters and common citizens.

Soldiers certainly bear the brunt of the burden of putting themselves in physical danger in order to keep the rest of us safe and my additions are not intended disrespectfully.  But police officers and firefighters also put their lives on the line as a part of their jobs.  And to me, the memory of an ordinary citizen making an extraordinary effort should be remembered.

I've always liked the imagery of someone standing between the people and the darkness.  I love the line from A Few Good Men.  "They stand on a wall and tell you: nothing's going to hurt you tonight.  Not on my watch."  I also love JMS's pledge for the Grey Council.  "I am grey, I stand between the darkness and the light.  We are grey, we stand between the candle and the star."

But most of all, the words from JMS's 9/11 Spider-man comic resonate:

What do we tell the children?
Do we tell them evil is a foreign face?
No.  The evil is the thought behind the face, and it can look just like yours.
Do we tell them evil is tangible?  With defined borders and names and geometries and destinies?
No.  They will have nightmares enough.

Perhaps we tell them that we are sorry.
Sorry that we were not able to deliver unto them the world we wished them to have.
That our eagerness to shout is not the equal of our willingness to listen.
That the burdens of distant people are the responsibility of all men and women of conscience, or their burdens will one day become our tragedy.

Or perhaps we simply tell them that we love them and that we will protect them.
That we would give our lives for theirs and do it gladly, so great is the burden of our love ....

The fire of the human spirit cannot be quenched by bomb blasts or body counts.
It cannot be intimidated forever into silence or drowned by tears.
We have endured worse before; we will bear this burden and all that come heareafter,
Because that's what ordinary men and women do.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Recommendations

I was quite pleased with the consultant recommended to us from Emerging Minds.

We talked a lot about Nathan and what I've been observing.  She gave me a lot of resources to look into but she had some immediate practical suggestions.

A social story book about the people who take care of Nathan.  Some of his anxiety seems to be concern over the competency of those taking over when I'm not there.  I can put together a book of his usual caretakers and talk about how they are able to take care of him.  I can also see about including something uniquely positive in their interactions with him, something I can't replicate.  That might help him to see them as positive additions to his life again, rather than as worrisome substitutes.

A detailed visual schedule for troublesome activities and transitions.  First A, then B, then C, then D, where D is something he really likes and would look forward to.  I can also put together specific goals for activities like karate or Beavers. 

A shadowing situation where I bring him and the caretaker with me when I have to go out (assuming its possible) so that he's not losing me during this transition period as he learns to trust the caretakers again.

I'm adding a few things to the roster.

Rewards for polite behaviour.  I've told Nathan that he doesn't have to like everyone but he does need to be polite, which means not screaming or hitting people.  He doesn't have to interact, but he needs to say hello when they come in.  If he's not polite, he loses his television and iPad priviledges.  If he is polite, he can have an extra story.  I'm hoping we can avoid the drama and thus keep the situation from devolving right from the beginning.

Regular phone calls.  If I do have to go out without Nathan, I'll let him call me on my cell phone every half hour or so.  Or I'll call him (we'll see what works better logistically).  That way he can connect with me and I can reassure him on any concerns.

I think I may need to be more firm with his school and push for certain features.

I need to know what the circumstances are for him using their autism room.  I also need to know what their plans are with him.  Hopefully I can get that information without too much trouble.

He needs to have an updated visual schedule which accurately reflects the day.  He needs to have regular encouragement and praise for doing well.  He needs to understand that the rules apply to him as well as the other children. 

It won't be easy.  But hopefully we can turn it around.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

A Very Late Night

We had a behavioural consultant come in today to talk with us about ideas for dealing with Nathan's tantrums.  They've been getting a lot worse and I wanted a fresh perspective to make sure I wasn't missing something.

We had a very long fight with him last night.  He refused to put on his pajamas and diaper.  He fought like he was possessed by some kind of raging spirit.  We got it on, he stripped it off.  We put it back on and had to restrain him (something I never like having to do).  He fought us until 11:30 at night when he finally fell asleep.

Then he woke up at 1 and started all over again.  At that point, I'm exhausted and worried he'll wake Alex up, but I know I have to win this fight.  I can't teach him that if he makes us miserable for long enough, he'll get what he wants.  Not to mention the fact that it's bloody cold here to try and sleep without pajamas or covers.

At 4:30, he gave up.  My sweet little boy was back and he asked me to put on his blankets and make up his bed.  I tucked him in and kissed him and told him that I loved him very much.  He sleepily told me I was the bestest mommy and that he loved me too.

During the fight, he kept telling me that he didn't like me and he wanted me to go away forever.  I told him that those feelings were okay.  And they are.  I don't take them personally (or at least, I mostly don't).  He's angry and upset and can't separate his feelings from the moment.  Most kids can't.  And again, I can't let "I don't like you" be a guilt excuse for giving in.  He was upset that I wasn't upset at his declarations.  He told me that it wasn't okay.  That he was angry. 

I'm actually proud he was able to put some of this into words.  Especially since he was so upset. 

I try to walk a fine line with my boys.  While certain behaviours are not acceptable, feelings are always okay.  I always try to separate the action from the feeling causing it.  And I try not to tell them they shouldn't feel a certain way. 

I think I can be fairly certain what the trigger of this particular tantrum was.  Dave and I weren't there for the usual bedtime routine.  My parents came in to help (which the boys normally love).  But it's been a consistent trigger.  Nathan's worried about being separated from me and when it happens he starts to lose it.  I'm not sure why he's so anxious about being away from me right now, but there's no denying its a factor.

This is one of the big questions I put to the consultant.  Should I indulge his concerns and make the effort to not be away from him while we work on his anxiety?  Or should I encourage him to accept that I go away sometimes but work on his coping skills?  It's one of those situations where the answer isn't clear to me.  It's hard to learn something when your mind is screaming with fear.  But learning he can use his emotional response to restrict my actions isn't a good precedent.  It could be the start of emotional blackmail which would be very upsetting to both of us when it had to be broken.

I'll talk about the consultant's recommendations tomorrow.  Right now, I'm beat.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Dennis Leary Was Nice To Me (I'm Scared)

First, to recuse myself.  I am a huge Dennis Leary fan.  I have actually told my children "Life sucks, get a helmet" during tantrums.  I may regret that at some point but it snaps out easier than Joss Whedon's "I swear by my pretty floral bonnet that I will end this."

So when I saw his book Why We Suck in the library, I had to get it.  I was set to be hilariously offended with every page.  It is amusing that he and I disagree on so many points and yet I still enjoy listening to his point of view.  Yet I cannot stand 2 minutes with the Family Values squads.

Why We Suck attempts to rip the glamour away from North American delusions about themselves.  According to Leary, we are fat, lazy and self-absorbed and unable to appreciate what we have.  He attacks political correctness, feminism, Dr. Phil, jet-pack parents and a whole lot of other stuff.

One of his chapters is called "Autism Schmautism" and I started reading it with held breath, wondering if my amusement was going to evaporate into rage.

But he was actually supportive of families with autism.  The focus of the chapter was a rant against parents who diagnosis-shop for conditions to excuse their own crappy parenting.  He said something to the effect that those parents should be on their knees thanking God they don't have a child with autism because autism is a serious life-long condition and families who are dealing with the genuine article have a horrible road to go through.  He said it snappier with a lot more profanities but the point is made.

Dennis Leary specializes in insulting people.  He has insulted people in wheelchairs for hogging sidewalk space.  But he thinks families with autism are dealing with enough to deserve a break.

While it's nice not to be insulted, there's a part of me which sits there and asks "Is it really so bad that I deserve a pity-pass from Dennis Leary?"

I have had people describe my life as a "nightmare" which honestly made me quite angry.  There may be a lot of my life which I don't like, but to call it a nightmare is to insult my children.  Whom I love.  A lot.  And wouldn't trade for anything. 

For whatever reason, I don't feel upset at Leary.  At the end of the day, his message was basically: it could be a lot worse.  Not thrilled at being the example of what's worse but it's a message I can sympathize with.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

An Actual Bodice Ripper

As a would-be romance writer, I hear the term "bodice-ripper" used a lot.  Usually in the derogatory sense.

It annoys me, to be honest, because while there are some really awful books and writers out there who deserve the tarring of a cliched-hack brush, the majority of romance books which I've read have been smart, funny and interesting.  Yes, we have the mandatory happily-ever-after ending.  But I like happy endings.  I hate going through a ton and a half of horrible stuff with a character only to have it bury him or her.  (Picture an irritated look aimed at Ron Moore.)

Unhappy/realistic endings are good, too, sometimes.  The happy ending should always be justified by the story.  If you have to resurrect your character from the dead (cough, cough, Marvel, cough) then you've pushed it too far.

I've been grabbing various titles at random from the romance paperback section of our local library and one of this week's selections was Romancing the Pirate  by Michelle Beattie, a historical romance.  I've been enjoying it.  Not taking the history too seriously but it's got a good Pirates of the Carribbean adventure feeling along with a love story.  Good combination.

But the hero actually ripped the heroine's bodice during their first sex scene.  I had to pause, go back, and re-read the line to make sure I'd got it right.

I've probably read over 200 romance titles at this point.  This is the very first time I have seen an actual ripped bodice. 

I still like the book though.  And one in 200, I'll take those odds.

Monday, 5 November 2012

An Unfortunate Font Choice

We bought some discounted bulk CF bulbs recently and as I was putting them away, my eye caught on a word which should not appear on a box of lightbulbs.

I'm a skimming reader, so it's not unusual for me to think I've read something and then go back and discover I've mashed up two words from different lines.  But this particular word did not vanish as I looked closer.

The word was printed all in big black block capital letters: FLICKER

But it was mashed together enough that the space between the L and the I virtually vanished.

I'll give you a moment for adolescent glee.

I'm not generally a fan of the ha-ha, made you say a curse word type of humour.  I rolled my eyes at those who put an I in between the TO and LET on signs so they said toilet. 

But I cannot believe that made it past an advertising and marketing board.

Someone was definitely asleep at the switch.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Life is Life

I've been reading a lot of celebrity bios lately.  Madonna, Cher, Melissa Gilbert, Kathleen Turner, Michael Jackson, Melissa Sue Anderson ... to name some of the most recent.

As I read about their lives, a non-revelation struck me.  Unsupportive and uncommunicative spouses, problems with boundaries, even addiction.  None of these are restricted to the celebrity life.  (I can hear you now: well, duh!)  But it drove home the point that celebrities are people, too.  Ordinary people making choices: some good, some bad, some disasterous.

This is why I have a problem with celebrities acting as authorities.  Unless they've really done their homework, it's not really any different from me telling you my opinion.  Perhaps useful to know but there's no reason to substitute my judgment for your own.  They can be free to share their opinion but it would be great if we could all remember that's what it is.

I'm specifically thinking of Tom Cruise's rather biased comments against anti-depressants.  He's entitled to his opinion, but he's an actor.  Which means his medical advice is about as useful as your local grocer's.  When he's been to medical school rather than playing a doctor on TV, I'll be more inclined to listen.

It's also a reason to shun the idea of a celebrity as a role model.  Especially in their youth.  Being a singer, athlete or actor does not give you any real insight into how to act in your own life.   Many of them act as I would expect any young person to act if encouraged to indulge themselves beyond all common sense.  Use it as an opportunity to discuss potential pitfalls but don't expect them to be saints.

Here I'm specifically thinking of Rihanna and the flak she took after the domestic violence incident with Chris Brown.  When she went back to him, everyone reared up on their moral high horse to condemn her as a bad role model.  Except that lots of abused women go back to their abusers.  They believe they can change him, they believe in commitment, they don't think they have anywhere else to go.  There are lots of reasons why women stay or go back to a potentially life-threatening situation.  To expect a young girl to be the exception because she has a record deal is ludicrous.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

ORWA Meeting Tomorrow

Big day tomorrow for the Ottawa Romance Writers Association.  It's our November election meeting.

And right now, no one is running for President.

I joined last year and the group has been amazing.  They've shared so many insights with me that I can't begin to list them all.  They do awesome workshops and it's one of the most generous and fun professional groups I've ever been a part of.

But without a President, we're not legally allowed to run the chapter.  We'd have to shut it down.  I really don't want that to happen.  (I also really don't want to volunteer.  I don't have the time or energy to do the job justice and I've got my hands full with being the secretary.)

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we'll get a little deus ex machina and someone will step forward.

Friday, 2 November 2012

My First Comment!

I have my first comment on my Corner Pieces Autism site!  And it's not from someone I know!

<pause for happy dance>

I'm glad because it means the word is getting out there.  It means so much to me to be able to help other parents avoid some of the rookie mistakes I did and also to reach out and let them know they're not alone.

If I'm getting replies ... it means it's working. 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Frustration with Bureaucracy

I'm generally a law and order kind of girl (both the concept and the TV show).  But I believe bureaucracy can end up being a mask for fear of failure.  And I think I'm witnessing it at my son's school.

There have been a large number of minor bureaucratic rules created with our new principal in September.  Most of them are quite small and not worth mentioning, others seem to have good reasons behind them.  What troubles me are the sheer number and the absolute adherence being enforced without much room for reason, common sense or compassionate exceptions.

Too many rules inspire (or are inspired by) a culture of fear.  You can see it in the airlines in the myriad of post 9/11 rules.  Malpractice laws, strict guidelines for "acceptable" touching in the workplace, it all springs from the same desire to have an external force to point to rather than risking blame.  Ironically, most of these rules do not have the effect they were intended to and often end up simply making it harder to deal with genuine issues.

I've worked very hard to not raise my children in a culture of fear.  I was raised in one, taught to be wary, to suspect and to curtail.  This isn't a legacy I want to pass on.  So it bothers me to see my school being transformed into a red-tape prison.

With luck, common sense will prevail.  Protection cannot be legislated.  Too many guidelines form a barrier to creative solutions while doing little to actually solve the perceived problems.