Thursday 28 February 2013


I picked up a copy of Juan Williams' book Muzzled at the library this week.  It's an interesting look at the benefits of political correctness vs free speech.  He points out how both concepts can be abused.  Political correctness can be used to attack the person rather than the ideas.  Free speech can be used to justify hate-filled words.

When I was in university, one of my professors said something which stuck with me.  We were complaining to him about having to read a particular book (we whined about our reading list a lot) because the concepts in it were against everything we believed in.  (I'm not certain, but I believe it was Augustine's Confessions.)

He told us that it was critical to read things and expose ourselves to ideas we disagreed with.  Because that was the best way to figure out what we truly believed rather than being caught in complacent familiarity.

I've taken his advice very much to heart.  I've found myself in many debates where the other side was making a reasoned, consistent and persuasive argument and I still felt deep in my gut that they were wrong.  It forced me to really think and go deep in myself to discover why I felt it was wrong.

Practicing this skill has definitely made me a more critical thinker.  When I fire up the ol' noggin, I'm very good at finding the hidden flaws in most arguments.  (It's embarassing to admit, but if I'm not paying attention, I'll find myself agreeing with the stupidest things and have to mentally smack myself in the head later.)

That advice is the reason I'm a passionate believer in free speech.  I think there is some logic behind the reasoning that our language does have inherent biases which reinforce the status quo.  I also believe that there are certain words and terms which have so much weight of hatred that they cannot be used.  But I think the concept of politically correct speech doesn't solve these issues.  Someone who hates black people can infuse African-American with all the venom of previous epithets.  The hate just gets transferred to a new phrase which gets banned, begetting a new phrase and they cycle beginning all over again.

I believe that the only way to truly change society's inherent biases is with devoted effort over time.  We can come a long way in a single generation but we can't make it all disappear.  This was driven home to me when I watched the movie Changeling with Angelina Jolie, set in the 30s.  A police officer in the movie dismisses her to her face as being too emotional to make a good decision.  I shook my head and said it could never happen but my grandmother quietly commented that she remembered such direct insults.

I've never had someone say that to my face.  There have been times it was implied or when I suspect someone was thinking it.  But society no longer accepts it being said.  That is progress because eventually people stop picking up on the silent stuff.  It becomes a soundless whisper in history.

But it didn't happen because someone decided it was taboo to say it.  It happened because more and more women set examples of competent behaviour in public and refused to accept a bigoted view of reality.  Eventually, the evidence overwhelmed the petty hatred. 

If ideas are driven underground, they cannot be fought.  So bring them out into the light of day where we can prove them to be so many shadows in the closet of our consciousness.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

The Learning Curve

This is a concept I learned a long time ago.  Long enough that I don't remember where I learned it, only that I picked it up out of a magazine.

There are three stages of learning for any child.  First is the absolutely new, next is the reminder and third is actual knowledge/understanding.

When something is absolutely new, there's a certain shock factor to it.  Just absorbing the information takes effort.  At this stage, the child shouldn't be expected to perform the task or behaviour.  Just getting them to repeat the information back to you is a positive step.

The next step is the reminder stage.  The child knows what is expected but can't quite make it without some prompting.  This is where warnings of potential consquences are appropriate.

The final step is actual knowledge/understanding.  The child knows how to do the task or how to behave in a situation without any outside help.  Immediate punishment can now be implemented for failure to comply.

The example given was a child brushing their teeth.  At two, just the concept of sticking the brush in their mouths might be overwhelming.  At five, they might be able to do it themselves with adult supervision.  At fifteen, if they don't brush their teeth, they can lose privileges.

This is one of the few parenting techniques which I find translates for children with autism, albeit with some tweakings.  Our children are likely to spend much longer in the absolutely new and reminder stages for any particular task or behaviour expectation.  And we're likely to have to break down the introduction of the task into smaller tasks.

I find it helps to remind me to be patient with them.  I can tell myself that they're still in the reminder stage without completely losing hope of them one day reaching the understanding phase. 

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Feeling Very Good Today

Today I made a real difference in someone's life.  Which makes me feel awesomely cool and proud but humble and pleased at the same time.

A mom called my work to ask about services for her newly diagnosed son.  Her voice was actually trembling as she explained the situation.  Her family doctor wasn't supportive, brushing off her concerns.  She didn't have much support among her friends or family either since she didn't know anyone else with autism in the family.  She'd been doing some Google research and was terrified about the potential long-term issues and expenses.  I could hear it in her voice, she was absolutely frantic with wanting to help her son and terrified that she wouldn't be able to.

We talked for about twenty minutes.  I told her some of my history about when Alex was diagnosed and when Nathan was diagnosed.  I told her how I was incredibly overwhelmed at first but after awhile, I learned enough that things began to make sense again.  I gave her the Holland-Italy analogy and suggested she be gentle with herself because she was literally learning a brand-new world.

I didn't give her false hope that her child would be cured if she just did X, Y and Z.  I didn't give her a bunch of inspirational stories.  I just let her know that I was a real person and that I'd been where she was standing and made it through.  Not in a my-situation-is-fixed way, but in a further-along-the-path way.

I also listened a lot.  Because I believe that's the best thing to do with someone who's upset.  They're not looking for a fix right off the bat.  More than anything, they need to be heard.

After awhile, I could hear her voice relaxing.  She was making her way from being frightened into feeling like this was something she could handle again.  I helped her to do that.

The opportunity to help is one of the reasons I took this particular job.  (Flexibility of schedule being the other one.)  I'm very grateful that my experience can help others.

I gave her this blog address, so I don't know if she's reading this post but I'll assume that she is.

I still believe she can do it.

Monday 25 February 2013

Cutting Back on Whining

Both of my boys were slow to talk.  Alex didn't become reliably verbal until almost three and a half.  Nathan benefited from our advanced techniques and was speaking reliably at eighteen months.  (For those without kids, most children are talking at a year.)

I'm going through a moment which most parents go through: Why did I ever encourage them to talk?

It's rhetorical, of course.  But Nathan in particular has been really difficult to deal with because of his whining and screaming.  As soon as he feels upset or threatened, he starts to scream at the top of his lungs.  And then whines about how <blank> hurt his feelings.

It's been really frustrating to me because I want to teach him to respect and honour his feelings (and the feelings of those around him) rather than just repressing them into a sour lump in his gut.  But at the same time: this is not an appropriate way to share his feelings with the world!

I've been trying to give him warnings but if he persists, he loses some privileges.  Since this usually happens when he's using the computer, it means he usually loses the computer.  These are the times when I regret encouraging the computer over the TV.  He was much better about sharing the TV.

We had a short talk today about respecting other people.  I told him that it wasn't respectful to yell and scream, even if his feelings were hurt.  I'm hoping I kept everything on his comprehension level.  I know I'll have to keep repeating it.

It's difficult to deal with.  I have very sensitive ears and find it very hard to tune out what's going on around me.  So the ignore-it-until-he-gives-up technique doesn't work well.  I end up grinding my teeth and inevitably having to react. 

I hate seeing him upset.  I really hate knowing that I've genuinely hurt his feelings.  Moms shouldn't hurt their kid's feelings.  (They do, but they shouldn't.)

I know it's a matter of waiting until his empathy grows in so that he can genuinely appreciate the effect on other people.  Until then, he'll need to be reminded (which will hopefully prompt his empathic development).

Until then, extra hugs and kisses when I catch him being good.

Sunday 24 February 2013

My Heckling Moment

I'm not usually a heckler.  It's not from lack of material.  I generally have a very bitchy, sarcastic and irrepressible inner monologue going on.

But I have a lot of respect for performers and how difficult it can be to get up there.  So I bite my tongue.  Most of the time.

Yesterday at the show, the power went off for a period during one of the performances.  The MC got up and tried to keep the show going.  He made some predictable jokes about how we could all keep each other busy.

I shouted up that we could just cuddle, since they were obviously having performance difficulties.

He heard and I think he got the joke in the spirit in which it was intended, since he ran with it for a little bit before moving on.

Saturday 23 February 2013


Today I ventured to the Sexapalooza festival and I had a great time.

I saw several burlesque performances, a male strip show and a pole dancing demonstration.  I spent time in the Dungeon watching various types of bondage demonstrations and a whipping/spanking demo.

It was a real eye opener.  But the biggest eye opener was how open and accepting everyone was.  Sex was on display as a part of life, no different from any other appetite.  And it was assumed that everyone was interested in better sex, not just the young and attractive.

I understand but do not accept why sex is regulated to the sniggering backrooms of society.  It's a natural part of our lives.  We don't eat on the sly.  We don't pretend to not sleep.  I'm pleased to discover my attitude is not as rare as I once thought.

I was struck by one contradiction, though.  The burlesque performers came in all shapes and sizes but every single one of them considered herself sexy and desirable.  Watching them on stage made me feel powerful and beautiful, too.  I came away energized and sensual.

The male strippers brought up women to interact with on stage.  But the interactions made me feel uncomfortable.  I enjoyed watching the men dance (beefcake is always a great meal for the eyes) but when they were simulating having sex with the women, I grew quickly distant. 

Maybe it was because they tended to put the women down on all fours and simulate intercourse from behind.  Two of them actually gathered up the woman's hair and held it while doing so.  It made me want to retreat and cover up, leaving me feeling vulnerable.

To be perfectly fair, all of the volunteers looked like they were having a great time.  So it may be more about me than any flaw in the male dancers' technique.

But if I have to pick, I will pick the strength and acceptance of the burlesque performers.

On a bonus note, at least one of the performers agreed to talk with me and be a source for my work on Revelations.  She was an amazing young woman who got into burlesque dancing six years ago after a bad break-up.  She overcame incredible shyness to become comfortable in her own skin and pasties.  As someone who's struggled with my own inner critic, it's nice to see.

Friday 22 February 2013

Sent Out My First Chapters

I've sent out my first chapters of my new novel that I'm working on.  It's a little nerve-wracking to put out something new creatively, even though my test readers are friends.

I'm still hanging onto the dream of earning money with my writing.  Last year at this time, I could almost feel the contract in my hand.  Now I know I still have a lot to learn and I need to devote more time to my writing work.

It's been a wake up call, but one I needed.  I have great ideas and I still think I'm a pretty good writer.  But I can do better and I want to do better.  Good enough isn't going to be good enough for me.

Thursday 21 February 2013


Yesterday, I got a call from Nathan's school telling me he was throwing up and could I please come get him right away.

My first thought was gratitude.

I'm no Pollyanna and cleaning up vomit is not a fun pastime, but I'm still grateful.

I'm grateful that I have a job where I can work from home without trouble.  I'm grateful that my bosses and fellow employees are understanding and have no issue with me putting family first.

I'm grateful I didn't have to choose between a day's income and taking care of my son.

Not everyone gets that kind of flexibility in their occupation.

I used to work for the government and for the most part, I really enjoyed it.  I liked the people I worked with and the job had its interesting points.  I walked away from it a year ago (although I only recently gave in my official notice) because it didn't work with my family.

A lot of people thought I was foolish to do it.  With the government, I had stable employment, benefits, a pension plan.  I could vary my hours as I needed, meaning I could upscale to full-time work if something happened to Dave's job, giving us a very real safety net.  The department I worked for was incredibly flexible, doing everything they could to adapt to what I needed.  And I'm grateful for their efforts.

But I still had to be in their office for a set number of hours each work day.  No fault to them.  I don't even want to think about the security nightmare otherwise. 

Today I was able to sit and rub my five year old's back while he threw up and cuddle him while he sipped water.  Being sick is bad enough but I remember how terrifying the loss of control was with a stomach bug when I was a child.  Today, I made his experience a little less frightening.  I was able to make Jello while he slept, so he had something to eat which wouldn't irritate his stomach too much.

And I did it all while still getting my work-for-pay done.  Slower than usual, to be sure.  But still done.  I'm proud of that.  I didn't have to sacrifice either my pride in my work or my responsibility to my family.  For a little while, I did get to have it all.

That's worth sticking in the Happy Jar.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

More Thoughts on Toileting

After some careful observation, I'm coming to the conclusion that maybe the mental block is disgust.

After all, no one really likes BMs, not even the 2nd grade boys who find the word hilarious.

So I'm working on a "not that bad" campaign.  Unpleasant perhaps, but necessary.

We sat down and had a talk about how poop is just leftover food.  It's the parts of the food his body doesn't need and it gets rid of it so he can have more food.  I'm also trying to get him used to the sight of poop being in the toilet.

Maybe this information campaign will work.  Maybe not.

But I'm much more comfortable with it than with using shame or punishment.

I'm also going to use the power of his imagination.  I got this idea from one of the mommy blogs that popped up during my internet search.  She and her son made up little stories about Mr. Mucky and how he likes to swim in the toilet.  So I've made up my own Mr. Mucky story (complete with cartoony illustrations).

I've wanted to be a professional writer for a long time.  This wasn't quite what I had in mind but if it works, I'll take it.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

To Tease or Not To Tease

I've been reading Robin Hobb's latest series, The Rain Wilds Chronicles (Dragon Haven, Dragon Keeper).  Several of the main characters are teenagers who journey down a jungle river together.  As anyone who has been a teenager knows, romances are bound to develop in such a situation.  (Of course, teenagers can develop romances looking at linoleum, so maybe the exotic locale isn't quite necessary.)

One of the characters, Thymara, resists having sex because she doesn't want to get pregnant.  Her friend/interest, Tats, is pressuring her using all the classic maneuvers: promising that he would never abandon her, that he loves her, that they're meant to be together.  She sets a strong boundary of kissing but nothing further.

None of this particularly caught my attention until he accused her of teasing him.

Can you really tease someone if you've been clear from the start about what's acceptable and what isn't?  Rather, isn't it a little underhanded to continue to push beyond the mutually accepted boundary?

It's a common reaction and one I think most girls have heard in their lifetimes.  If you set out boundaries and stick to them, then you're a tease.  The other options are to refuse to engage, which makes you a bitch, or to not have boundaries, which earns you the slut label.

It always interests me when it is presented that a female really has no socially acceptable response to sex and sexual behaviour.  I suppose it's a sign our society is still in transition and while I think it does represent a sort of knee-jerk response to the situation, it's not the whole of the story. 

This is a point which I think is sometimes missed in the discussion of women, sex and society.  Yes, the 3 option system shows a basic level of misogyny.  On the other hand, it tends to be perpetrated by immature men and teenage boys, not the most credible of sources. 

I'm curious to see how this relationship plays out over the series.  Will Thymara stick to her boundaries and refuse to engage in sex until they're at least no longer in a survival situation?  Or will she cave in during a moment of passion and decide it's not so bad after all?

My preference would be for her to stay strong and be an example of a young woman who is interested in sex but recognizes the potential difficulties.  I'd like her to stick to her boundaries.  Guess I'll have to keep reading to find out.

Monday 18 February 2013

Dispatches From the Solid Food Hill

My earlier optimism may not have been entirely justified.

Alex did not do well with the mixed vegetables.  At first he refused to eat them.  Not an unanticipated maneuver and one I was prepared for. 

I popped the first mouthful in and he promptly tongued it back out.

Repeat.  Again.

I went to consequences.  If he didn't chew and swallow, no more computer.  (This technique has always worked better than reinforcers for Alex.  Most of the time, he decides what is being offered isn't worth the effort.)

Two mouthfuls and I called it a success.  Of sorts.  He wasn't happy, having gagged when he refused to chew and tried to swallow a carrot cube whole.  But he'd eaten what was asked and now could move on to safer, more familiar foods for his main course.

I probably shouldn't have got my hopes up but he'd been doing so well that I hoped he'd just sail on through.

But in the words of Tim Allen in Galaxy Quest: Never give up!  Never surrender!  (Autism families should take this as their motto.  Except for the fact that we'd probably get sued.  And we wouldn't get the funky costumes ... but it's still good advice.)

We've kept on going.  Something envelope-pushing has been appearing at just about every supper.  Pasta, muffins and mixed vegetables.  We will conquer all three.  We don't ask him to do a whole lot.  3 or 4 pieces of pasta, a miniature 2 bite muffin and 2 spoonfuls of mixed vegetables.  He only faces one of them and only at one meal a day, and not if the meal is already rushed or stressed because of upcoming events (like hockey night).

Eventually, he'll get used to them.  I've heard statistics that you have to introduce something a hundred times to overcome a sensory barrier.  To be honest, that number seems low to me.  But it means we've got a week down and several more months to go before we'll see if we've done it.

Sunday 17 February 2013

I Spy Someone Like Me

Since Alex was diagnosed, I sometimes find myself playing a little game out in public.  I look at all the children running around and try to spot the other children on the spectrum.

With odds like 1 in 88, math suggests that there must be several autistic children living in our neighbourhood.

I watch for the subtle signs: the child staring off into space while he plays, the one endlessly running a car back and forth, the child talking to herself as she repeats dishwasher detergent commercials.

I rarely ask for confirmation of my guesses.  It would be more than a little rude.

But sometimes I'll catch an independent confirmation.  A little puzzle piece ribbon pin attached to a bag or swag from Autism Ontario.

Then I can look at the other parent's eyes and give a little smile and nod.  We recognize our fellow troopers in the field, sharing a bond no parent of a neurotypical child can ever completely grasp.

And we walk away, knowing we're not alone.  Which makes the battle just a little bit easier.

Saturday 16 February 2013

Autism Series in the Ottawa Citizen

The Ottawa Citizen is doing a series on autism and the general inequality of care.

It may not be politically correct to say so, but autism is an expensive habit for a family to have. 

There's a great deal of debate on government vs private services.  The government's goal is efficiency and cost reduction.  Those two factors will always win out over individual needs.  This is why children are "graduated" from the government programs faster than private ones.  It's why they continue to prefer centre-based treatments over home-based. 

I'm not against the government.  In an ideal world, everyone would be fully funded for whatever therapy they chose to pursue.  But in a world where there's bad press and people get sued, a certain level of appearance must be maintained.  So they have to pick therapies with a solid basis behind them, even if those therapies are not 100% effective on all children.

I can even understand why autism hasn't been added to the list of disorders whose treatment must be covered.  Much was made when the government decided to cover transgender operations, but realistically, there aren't going to be that many of them.  Compare the autism numbers and it doesn't take a mathematical genius to realize it would take a phenomenal amount of money to treat.

I understand these points of view.  But I don't agree with them.

Governments should be in the business of doing what is right, even if it's not popular.  Early intervention and treatment costs less than playing catch-up later.  They have an obligation to their citizens, not to their own re-election campaigns.

It disappoints me that political expediency has continued to hold out over compassion and common sense. 

Friday 15 February 2013

Toileting Update

As those who read regularly know, toileting has been a long term issue for our family.

We've been concentrating on our younger son this year in preparation for starting full days at school next year.  He's done very well at learning to recognize when he needs to go to the bathroom but is having a mental block at applying these skills to BMs.

I've been trying to encourage positive associations.  He was getting a marshmallow or cookie when he had a BM.  Then we moved to him getting a treat if he told us he'd had an accident.

And there we have stalled.

I have not been able to translate this into having him become more aware of his body and thus be able to go in the toilet.

When we began, I was determined not to use a shame technique.  Aside from my abhorrence of turning a normal bodily function into something hidden and shameful, I had the support of various psychologists who warned that punishment only teaches children to hide their accidents rather than motivating them to learn.

Now I'm wondering if I've made a mistake on that front.  We've been stalled for several months for moving forward with the next steps.  Clearly the reward is not sufficient to overcome his reluctance.

But I'm very reluctant to add a punishment to the mix.  I worry about undoing the good work we've done so far. 

I have yet to find a book or guide which tells me how to overcome an internal reluctance.  All of them assume or relying on a child's willingness to learn.  They talk about how children may not be sufficiently aware and how to increase that awareness.  I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.  After all, it's not exactly something you can force.

I have heard of parents who have given their children diuretics so they could effectively "time" the BM and thus reward being on the toilet when it happened.  This strikes me as a not acceptable option.  That's a lot of stress to put on a little digestive system.

Of course, even as I type, there's a part of me saying: but if it works?

That's the challenge as a parent.  I want success and that can tempt me down paths I otherwise wouldn't consider.  I do believe it's important to think outside the box and not be judgmental but I also believe it's important to use empathy and common sense and be aware of how these decisions will affect your child.

I'll have to do some more thinking before settling on a strategy.  I think I've come to an end of what positive techniques such as social stories and rewards can do for me.  But I'll have to think long and hard before adding anything else to the mix.

Thursday 14 February 2013

What Is Love Anyway?

This has been bugging me since I read a review of a memoir in which the person accused the author of being "in love with love" after being betrayed by her boyfriend/fiance.

We tend to assume love is defined by its results.  It can't be real love if the other person is a douchebag or cheats or is abusive.

I think that confuses a healthy relationship with love, which may end up trapping more women than it saves.

This is a hard concept for most people to get if they haven't been through it themselves, but it is possible for a person to genuinely love someone who is abusive.  They feel the same feelings of devotion and attachment.  But those feelings do not make the relationship a healthy one.

Love can fade away under those circumstances.  It can be replaced by fear, a sense of obligation or indifference.  But there will still be momentary flashes of goodness that can reignite the old sparks.

Those aren't enough to make the relationship good.

"The course of true love never did run smooth" is from Shakespeare.  Quoted by lovers everywhere as a mantra to overcome their struggles.  Except, in context, it's used as a justification by the lovers in Midsummer's Night Dream to prove their love is true.  Things aren't going well, therefore this must be true love!

We do have a tendency to equate effort with depth of emotion.  If we have to really work hard at showing we love someone, then we must really love them a whole lot.  Except that in a healthy relationship, it shouldn't be an effort to be loving.  It should be part of a natural expression of the joy and affection each of you feels for the other.

I think it would be so much better if we taught girls and boys that love can feel good and overwhelming and powerful.  Which is why it makes you do so many stupid things.  (We've all been idiots in love ... admit it.)  But those feelings aren't enough to keep a relationship together.  If the relationship hurts, if it makes you feel less than you were before, then it's not worth keeping.

Tell them it won't be easy.  The strength of the feelings makes it hard.  They'll feel nostalgic thinking about the good times.  But it can't be just the good times.  A relationship is an entire package and if you're not happy with the package, better put it back on the shelf.  Tell them they have to be strong and that they have the support of those around them.

These words may not make it onto a Hallmark card anytime soon.  But they're the words I intend to tell my boys.  And any girls or boys who will hold still long enough for me to spit them out.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

My Anti-Valentine's Day Post

Do not get me wrong.  I love romantic love.  I adore a good love story.

I also like bitchy, sarcastic stuff, so I could not resist posting this today.

And this one:

Today I'm planning to celebrate love that isn't champagne and Disney songs.  I'm celebrating the love which still holds true after cleaning up bodily fluids and seeing the best and worst of each other over a decade and a half.  Because it's easy to be in love in a romantic comedy with the writers on your side. 
But it means a lot more to be in love with a real person.  Fighting for it makes it more precious.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Alex Rides the Zamboni

Not a metaphor.

An actual Zamboni.

Last night we got a call that Alex had been selected to ride the Zamboni at tonight's Ottawa Senators game.  There was a little parental hemming about it being a school night but we decided to jump on the chance.  We'd been putting his name into the draws for months (even before the strike was resolved) and didn't want to let this opportunity pass.

Alex loves the Zamboni.  It's the big draw for going to the hockey arena.  His brother's drama class pickup used to be timed with the local arena's Zamboni cleaning the ice and Alex loved to watch it.

The whole family trooped out to watch Alex's big event, even though it was waaa-aaay late on a school night and we know we'll all pay for it tomorrow.  But it was worth it.

There were two Zambonis clearing the ice and at first I was trying to pick out which one was Alex.  First kid, waving to the crowd.  Second kid, hands pressed to ears.  Bing!  That one's mine.

But looking at the video shot by various relatives, you can see Alex is actually talking to both the Zamboni driver and some of the crew on the ice. 

Alex was really interested and looking around.  He had a fantastic time and wanted to go again. 

Thank you to Canadian Tire and the Ottawa Senators for making a little boy's dream come true.

Monday 11 February 2013

Can You Make Someone Crazy?

I'm not just talking getting someone to momentarily snap through frustration, I'm talking full on we-the-judge-and-jury-find-the-defendant crazy.

It's Mental Health Awareness Day tomorrow and so I find myself thinking about mental health issues.

And one of the thoughts which meandered through my brain was a curiousity.  We've all heard of driving someone crazy.  We've probably all accused someone of doing it to us at some point or another.  But usually what we mean is that we're frustrated and worried we'll act out of character.

There are stories of people being driven insane.  Mostly fictional, but some historical.  Queen Isabella's daughter, Joanna, was supposed to have been made insane by her cruel husband.  Full on, Ophelia and Hamlet levels of crazy.

There is late onset schizophrenia, in which otherwise normal seeming people lose contact with reality.  That could seem like someone being driven crazy, especially since there is usually a trigger event for the break.  But there are also usually signs of vulnerability in advance.

Can insanity ever be a choice?  Borderline personalities are usually shown as people with poor impulse control who can be prone to mania or depression.  In Girl, Interrupted Susanna Kaysen talks about having multiple levels of interpreters of reality.  The first may insist the bureau in a corner is a tiger but the second isn't so sure.  It's when both interpreters disagree with everyone else's interpretation of reality that true nutcases are born.  She explains that she has impulses that would seem crazy but for the most part, she chooses and is able to keep them under control. 

To me, these examples suggest that there has to be a seed present for environment to trigger.  I'm not a psychologist and have only what training the public library and Dr. Phil have given me, but the fine line between sanity and insanity fascinates me.  No one can ever be entirely clear where the crossover happens.  When someone switches from being acceptable to eccentric to nutzoid.

We all have a little bit of crazy in us.  Maybe that's the point of Mental Health Awareness.  To allow us the glimpse of insight and the luxury of compassion.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Taking the Solid Food Hill

It has long been a challenge to get Alex to eat solid food.  He's been on pureed food since he started eating non-milk products.  Any attempt to place anything solid in his hands or mouth would trigger a gag reflex or vomiting.  We checked to see if there was something physically wrong and five different specialist agreed there wasn't a physical problem.

It was all oral sensitivity.

There was a long stretch where he wouldn't even touch food.  Not even lentils.  And I have never, ever in my life tried to make him eat lentils.  Not even in soup.  He'd pound away with drumsticks but substitute breadsticks and he would drop them as if they were on fire.

So we worked on that.  We worked on getting him to tolerate having food in his presence.  We worked on having him tolerate other people eating food.  (There were days when he would not have looked more disgusted if he had been watching people shovel dog poop in their mouths.)

Okay.  Two years in.  Got that part down.

We started slowly increasing the chunkiness and solidity of his pureed food, which necessitated buying a very fancy food processor (after 3 cheap ones blew out in a matter of weeks).  We learned the hard way that if we moved too quickly, he would stop eating entirely until we went back to practically liquid offerings.  A change every 4-5 months.  That was our limit.

Another two years on that track.

Having continued with tolerance, we began to try and introduce bread.  It's soft and the middle part clumps together when chewed (thus avoiding the unpleasant breaking apart sensation which seemed to bother him most).  At first, just tolerate the bread on the table.  Then touching it to his lips.  Then holding a tiny piece in his mouth and immediately spitting it out.  Then holding it longer in his mouth.  Chewing then spitting out.  And on and on.

Another year and a half before he would actually eat the bread.

Only six months to learn to tolerate peanut butter on it.

Then came the breakthrough.  Of his own volition, he ate pizza.  We were shocked and thrilled.  He started rejecting it again soon after but we knew we were starting to hit the home stretch.  Whatever psychological and sensory barriers were preventing him from eating were starting to fall.

With his school's help, we added muffins to his repetoire.  Like bread, only with flavour.  In only two months, he was eating a muffin by himself.

Next was a bold move: pasta.  (And never have we felt sillier than boiling a pot of water and putting one piece of pasta into it so he could take fresh pasta to school.)  Less than two weeks to eat it.  More pieces in the bin.  Very fast adaptation levels.

Now we're adding sauce and moving to a new level at home.  I'm beginning to transition him away from pureed vegetables.  Instead, I'll give him mixed frozen vegetables (corn, peas and little carrot cubes).  They're small and it's all stuff he eats already (except the peas).  Once per week, he'll have to eat a small bowl of mixed veg instead of his purees.  We'll see how long it takes for him to get accustomed to it.

I've even managed to get him to eat at the table instead of in front of the TV or computer.  Granted, he still has an iPad on a stand most of the time, but I can understand and accept the need for a distraction.  Tech-free table-tops can wait on the agenda.

It would be wonderful to be free of the need to constantly grind out pureed food.  Not to mention the expense of buying the materials.  For the first time, this is starting to feel like a battle we can win in the measurable future.

Saturday 9 February 2013

ORWA Valentine Lunch Update

Despite my concerns, the lunch went really well last weekend.  I even got to spend some time chatting with people rather than constantly running behind the scenes to keep things together.

It was a smaller group than last year but I think we still had a good time.

And people liked the decorations I made.  Here are the globes I did up for the tables:

The theme was Passion and so I used red and purple with gold accents as my colours.  I got red and purple glass stones and used metallic confetti as an accent.  I also made the little flower bundles: three paper roses and some purple silk flowers with the ribbons.

I also did up little scroll holders for the volunteer awards:

I think they turned out as a nice memento.  I did up a special award for Nathan because he ended up be dragged along on a fair number of shopping expeditions and bureaucratic stops.

Thanks to everyone at ORWA for helping out and making it a good event.  As coordinator, I set the stage but it takes everyone to make it a great time.

Friday 8 February 2013

It's Elementary, Dear Watson

This might be a spoiler.  Eventually.

I love Elementary, even though I know it's not traditional Holmes' canon.  It has come to replace House in my weekly dose of socially reckless witty dialogue.

As Holmes says: Once the impossible has been eliminated, whatever's left, however improbable, must be the truth.

So I would like to put forth a theory which has not yet been proved an impossibility in the show's canon.

Holmes is his father.

The absent Holmes-Sr has been an invisible presence, hiring Joan Watson to help his son through recovery.  He has invariably absented himself from face to face meetings and communicates solely via text and email. 

I think Holmes-Sr is a cover which Sherlock has adopted in order to do things he finds necessary but his pride won't allow him to do himself.  It allows him extra distance to manipulate those around him.

For example, Homes-Sr turned down Watson's request to extend her contract with Sherlock.  Sherlock was attempting to convince her to stay, so this would seem to blow a hole in my theory. 

Except I think he turned her down to see how serious she was about continuing. 

If I was writing this, I would have her discover an email account which allows Sherlock to send messages that appear to be from his father.  Upon confrontation, Sherlock would confess (and observe her reaction closely).  Watson would be dismayed at the violation of trust.  He would point out she lied to him by claiming to still be employed by his father.  I could see this being a serious wedge between them which would allow for many hours of happy drama and keep their relationship from getting too comfortable.

Of course, I'm usually wrong when I see such brilliant simplicities.  The series' writers rarely seem to have thought of them (or want to go in a different direction).

But it would be really cool if I was right.

Thursday 7 February 2013

Science at Home

I'm a fan of practical, hands-on science.  It shouldn't be something really smart people do in a futuristic lab.  It's the democratically available magic of chemistry, thermodynamics and a bunch of other really long words that kind of take away from my point.

We found an experiment which is perfect for our winter weather.  The temperature needs to be below minus twenty celsius for this to work.

Take a cup of boiling water outside.
Throw it up in the air as high as you can.
Watch it come down as snow.

I gave this slim chances but it actually worked.  (And no one got scalded by boiling water.)  Not all the water became snow but you could see the little ice bits sparkling down.  And it made a nifty winter fog effect.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Using My Own Legs Like A Sucker

Ever notice how quickly people get bent out of shape when they think someone is "cheating" on the rules of life?

Granted, not everyone goes to Homer Simpson's extreme ("It's a wheelchair, Mr. Simpson."  "And here I am using my own legs like a sucker.") but it'll bring out resentment and moral judgment faster than anything else.

I read The Girl's Guide to Homelessness by Brianna Karp, a log of the year she spent living in a trailer in a Walmart parking lot.  She talked about how people would get upset or claim she wasn't really "homeless" because she had a computer and cell phone, or would occasionally go to a movie.  Never mind that she used the computer to search for jobs and email resumes and the cell phone so that employers could contact her.  She faced a lot of judgment from people who thought she should spend every waking moment in contemplation of her circumstances and not be wasteful.

I've seen similar outrage at perceived injustice.  A family was receiving significant aid for their children's therapy and went on a two week Disney cruise.  Immediately, people were very quick to cry abuse of the system.  Except as details came out, it turned out they had saved for seven years to do the cruise.  Does accepting outside help suddenly mean people are no longer entitled to have fun or enjoy life?  Must they be trapped in a dour, luxury-free existence so that charitable givers can feel better?

I think part of this comes from a certain Puritan work ethic which looks suspiciously on "fun" and "play" as a part of life.  Such things should only be permitted after an acceptable level of work has been done.  It also plays into the stereotype of the "worthy poor" where we don't want to be suckers supporting freeloaders.  If we're going to help, we want to feel good about it afterwards.

This fear leads to a lot of bureaucracy and rules which handicap those who are actually trying to get back on their feet themselves.  When Dave had cancer, we were told by numerous charities that they would help with the months we expected to have no income.  Except when we actually applied, we were told that we weren't needy enough.  If we'd been behind on our mortgage or about to have our utilities cancelled, they would help.  I refrained from pointing out that if we'd have been in such a situation it would not have been because of the cancer.  They wouldn't help us to prevent disaster, but only provide minimum help in picking up the pieces afterwards.

I could make a lot of arguments about how that approach isn't cost-effective or beneficial to society.  But that's not really the point.  The point is to avoid looking bad or stupid in public by having possibly provided help to someone who didn't deserve it.

Income caps are another pet peeve.  The headline looks bad when a family making 80k a year is on financial assistance.  Of course, the math of autism treatment (30-50k per year multiplied by two) shows that we are stretched beyond reasonable expectations.  We're not ripping off the system.  Not to mention, we're the sort of productive, help-ourselves types who will pay back society's investment.  But it looks bad and so no one wants to touch it.

There is a flaw in our thinking when someone who decides to spiral into debt without any thought on how to pay it back is somehow considered a safer charity choice than those who are trying to climb back out of an unexpected pothole and not be a burden on society.

It boils down to mutually reinforcing problems: 

There is no way to make a bureaucracy fair, since it will invariably allow cheats into the system and exclude worthy people on technicalities. 

A case-by-case system without criteria other than individual judgment allows far too much personal abuse. 

It's always possible to spin a situation so that it sounds acceptable or unacceptable in a headline or soundbyte.

Maybe the only real solution is to stop worrying about people taking advantage of us and accept it as part of the cost of helping those who need it.  Or even more radically, not judging those who need help, period.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

I'm Baa-aack!

With a spiffy new set of blistery calluses on my fingers.  But they don't hurt to type any more, so it's back to work.

We explained to the boys that Mommy's hands hurt and that was why she wasn't holding books or picking up toys or getting food.  Alex accepted this easily, turning to Dave when he wanted something. 

Nathan had a little more trouble.  He came up to me several times a day asking if my hands were feeling better.  I explained that it takes a long time for burns to heal completely.  Weeks and weeks.  I showed him the blisters and explained this was how our bodies heal themselves by making a special cushion.  And the cushions hurt to remind us to be gentle until we feel better.

Not sure how much he absorbed since he became obsessed with the blisters and afraid they were contagious.  I would touch his hair and he would jerk away asking if he had blisters on his hair.  He didn't want kisses.  He didn't want to hold my hand.  Again and again, I explained that the blisters weren't contagious, that he could touch them and they wouldn't go on his fingers.

It was good practice in taking his fears seriously even though I knew they were unfounded.  I had Dave touch my hand and show Nathan that he didn't have a blister.  We helped Nathan to touch them gently so that he could learn it was safe.  Eventually he became more comfortable with the idea although I think it still lingers in the back of his mind.  I think I struck the right balance between respecting his emotions while still educating him about the truth.  Mommy-points to me.

Almost balancing out the careless points on the other side of the ledger.

Saturday 2 February 2013

Proof I Am Not A Superhero

Due to sily distractedness on my part, I managed to burn most of my fingers picking up a hot pan.  It's not critical.  No hospitalization or particular medical attention needed.

But it does hurt like heck to type. 

So I'll be going dark for a few days to heal and recover from being an info-safety-commercial level idiot.

Friday 1 February 2013

R.I.P. Ralph the Jerk

Ralph the Jerk was my very first toy, given to me by my parents when I was first born.  Family legend says it was named after my father's thesis advisor ... although I've heard other stories suggesting a landlord.

Ralph was a mouse ... I think.  He was about a foot tall, with long skinny humanoid legs and arms.  He had a big round head with a round nose/mouth combination and round floppy ears.  His legs were made of thin, faded red and white checkered cloth and he appeared to be wearing overalls.

I've kept him through the years.  He was supplanted by other favourite toys as I grew up but I always kept him.  (Mainly because I have read too many stories along the lines of The Velveteen Rabbit or Toy Story about sentient toys that come to life and thus have incredible guilt about disposing of anything I've loved and played with.)

A few years ago, Alex found Ralph and took an immediate liking to him.  Ralph became one of his favourite bedtime companions.  I was nervous at first but compassion won over trepidation.  If Ralph could get a second chance at childhood love, who was I to stand in his way?

Alex has always had trouble controlling his destructive impulses.  He likes to watch little bits of things falling in front of his eyes.  (Snowy days are very popular at our house.)  He can go a long time without apparently feeling the impulse but when he does, nothing is safe.  It's not malicious.  I truly believe he doesn't understand what he's doing.  All he knows is that he has an uncontrollable urge and it needs to be fulfilled.

Unfortunately, Ralph was the available item this time.  We came in and discovered his worn out cloth and ancient stuffing were spread all over Alex's room.

This is one of those testing moments as a parent and sadly, it's one I'm used to.  It's why Alex is fairly closely supervised most of the time.  Or at least, one of the reasons.  It's hard to swallow your own emotions to give your child what he or she needs.  Having watched a couple of divorces play out, I think this is what's behind parents bad-mouthing the ex-spouse.  The parent needs an emotional release and the kids end up taking the pain.

In the end, we simply tidied up Alex's room, took away the other stuffed toys, and put him back to bed.  I think we were successful in being matter-of-fact about the whole situation.  Alex knows we're not happy when he does this but that's not enough to halt the impulse.  Yelling and screaming at him would only hurt, not help.

The next morning, Alex went to find all the other stuffed toys and then asked for Ralph.  I tried to explain to him that Ralph was broken and gone.  He asked "Mommy fix?" and I had to tell him I couldn't fix Ralph.  He left, but I'm betting I hear more requests about it.

If Ralph did have a personality, I hope it's gone to a good place.  The place where all loved toy spirits go to be played with by children who have passed.  (It's my concept of Toy Heaven.)

Enjoy your rest, Ralph.  You earned it.