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I Just Learned My Child Is Autistic, What Now? Part III – Autism

It can be a somewhat amazing thing to find out that you have enough to say on a given subject to write three or more thousand word blog entries on the subject. Apparently—and I should tell you that I’m a bit surprised to find this is the case—this is true for my “advice to people dealing with Autistic children” article!

Amazingly enough (to me at least), even knowing myself to be a “windbag,” I want to add a few things to the list that so far comprises my prior two articles on this subject.

Keep in mind that what I write here (I.e., in all three articles to this point), are things I deem to be relatively critical to understand and internalize. At least, that has been the case for me to this point.

Okay, let’s not waste a great deal more time in introduction, but “get on with it” instead. Here are my third set of considerations when it comes to dealing with Autistic children.

Keep It Simple

This is another one of those things that applies to all children to some degree, but in my humble opinion, applies the more to Autistic children, than to children who are not so.

You need to be very careful to not make things overly complicated when dealing with Autistic kids. You can always “build on” requirements and expectations as time goes on, but the need to “reset” with an Autistic child is typically at least mildly bad, if not horribly so.

The simple reality is, you don’t need to set hugely complex rules and expectations. What you need to do instead is, start with the basics and “work up over time.”

Set Boundaries

There’s a marked difference between setting expectations and setting boundaries. Autistic children will, as previously indicated, take huge amounts of time at activities that others find entirely uninteresting (read here, “Things like, opening and closing the same door over and over again.”). As much as I would like to always be able to allow my son to do such things until he is ready to be done with them, many times I cannot do so. Other matters—both trivial and important—must be attended to.

So what do you do? For me, the answer that has worked best is to use a consistent mechanism for setting boundaries—times and places that things are acceptable.

A method that generally works will with my son, is to start “counting down” time.

It took a bit to figure out exactly how to “balance” this, but generally, I can set a point fifteen minutes from when something must end (sometimes, less, at one particular regular store visit, I only give five minutes). So when I take my son to The Museum of Discovery in my local area, I generally count on spending hours there and “closing the place down.”

If he doesn’t decide to leave prior to closing, I try to ensure I give him sufficient time to “wrap things up.” Typically, that’s, “Garrett, in fifteen minutes the Museum is closing.”

From here, I do “periodic warnings.” So, “Garrett, the museum is closing in ten minutes, ten minutes.”

The longer the first forewarning is from the “ending time,” the longer between the periodic warnings. As we get closer to the end point, the more frequent, but until the last five minutes, they never get closer than five minutes apart.

Stand your ground — Within Reason

So, you’ve told your Autistic child we will be leaving at thus and such a time. Now stick to it! Well, mostly anyway. At times you’ll find that you can spare some more time, and you should do it—if for no other reason than to show your child you can “be reasonable” about such things.

In general though, you want to make it a habit to stand your ground. Things like, “No Garrett, this is what I said we would do, this is what we’ll do.”

Be prepared for pleading, screaming and anger. That’s not to say every “limit set” will result in these behaviors, but one fact about Autistic children that gets bandied about a great deal is generally spot on. They don’t like change.

The result is, a kid who has told you they don’t even want to do a particular thing, will be hard put to pull him or her self away from that thing in the course of time. Consistently setting boundaries will generally help the “transition.”

Challenge and Work Towards Response

One thing you will see in many Autistic children, is an unwillingness or inability to work in a “challenge/response” world. “How was your day, Garrett?” Has generally resulted in zero response from my son. He’s not trying to be “rude,” he just genuinely doesn’t understand the concept of challenge/response.

The way to get that understanding to occur, is to continue to work with the child—to get him or her to respond to things going on around him or her.

In a former article, I talked about learning your child’s motivations. That can be a very helpful thing in dealing with the “shortcoming.”

My son dearly loves chocolate, particularly dark chocolate. We have a cache of “miniature” chocolate bars which he gets at various points. I make it a habit to tell him that a chocolate I have grabbed for him is “daddy’s.” I do this also with his afternoon snack as well.

I don’t do it to “mean,” and though it’s partly to encourage various types of “play,” the most important reason is to “get a rise out of him.” In so doing, I “invoke challenge/response.” There are other things I do—like telling him I’m going to “pinch” him (which is more a tickle motion than a true pinch), to get responses often even before I act.

More and more, one should work toward the place of “normalization of challenge/response.” This is a definite need in many Autistic children.

Praise Is Important

If my son were not Autistic, I would consider (though probably not tell him), that he did many things well below “expected standards” for his current time in life. That being said, the fact that he’s trying to do many of them at all is a matter for praise.

On top of this, I make it a regular habit to tell him he is handsome, smart, strong, tall and so many other things. I want him to know that his differences don’t negate these truths.

Remember, praise is important for any child, but it’s easy to forget it’s important for Autistic children, and “normal interactions” between you and an Autistic child often do not make it seem so.

Remember, praise is a good thing.

Okay, as I’ve said, yet again, I’m surprised how quickly I have come to my time and word limit. Even so, here I am! So as usual, allow me to wish you the best of times, and thank you for reading.

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I Just Learned My Child Is Autistic, What Now? Part II – Autism

The very last article I wrote was on this same subject. I found that I had a great deal more to say than I initially thought. The reality is that there are a lot of things that more or less apply to “normal” children, on which a certain amount of “spin” most be employed when dealing with Autistic children.

I wanted to continue to expand on my advice, base on things I figured out have really mattered along the way so far.

As such, allow me to continue the former article, by adding some things I think may be helpful.

Never Assume What Your Child Can or Cannot Do

Your child may ultimately become able to do everything any “normal” child can do, plus. That having been said, he or she may not ever learn to do many things that “normal” children easily master.

The trick, if trick there be (and there is), is to continue to try to build on those things of which your child is capable. You must be ready to watch your child fail even more than the average youngster. What makes that more difficult, is the realization that all that failure may not yield success.

Even though this is the case, you must never accept that your child cannot do something without a great deal of effort on your and their part to be sure it is the case.

Equally important, is that you refuse to accept the idea that others presumably working in your child’s behalf have “put in enough effort” to answer, “Can he or she do this or that?” in a definitive fashion, without being sure just how much time has been spent.

For this point, the “cardinal rule” is, “It will almost never hurt to spend more time and effort working on a given skill or ability.” And that applies to you and others.

Obviously, the more significant or important the skill, the more time and effort should probably be expended.

Know Your Child’s “Triggers”

Autistic children truly do have a tendency to “melt down” in circumstances that would have zero effect or impact on normal children. Put another way, when you deal with Autistic children, you need to learn what causes him or her to “melt down.”

There are two very important reasons for this:

  1. You can make things much easier on yourself and your child by minimizing meltdowns. Meltdowns take time, they take work to remediate (to get your child back to a “reasonable state”), and they take their toll on both parent(s) and child(ren). The also affect how others view you as a parent and your child
  2. Figuring out how to “push the boundaries” can make it so you can “thicken your child’s skin” so that he or she is less likely to have meltdowns. 

You may—in fact probably willnever mitigate all meltdown scenarios, but you can greatly reduce them—and I promise, it will be well worth it.

Be Careful When Choosing Battles

This is one of those points that’s relevant to “normal” children. The truth is though, it’s proven far more important for my Autistic child. Why? Well, because each battle can be orders of magnitude more difficult than with the average child.

For Autistic children, because of the former point, you may experience a great deal more “pain” in dealing with things that are considered “standard expectations” for children of a similar age as your child.

The “final point” surrounding this, is to realize that a lot of “normal behaviors” are not so much beyond your child’s abilities, as not so important as to cause you to concern yourself over them to the same degree as does the average parent of a non Autistic child.

Talk To Your Child

This sounds so basic, but the reality is it’s an entirely different experience dealing with Autistic versus non-Autistic children.

We can unintentionally act towards our children, in ways that undermine our interaction with them.

When you have a barely verbal or entirely non-verbal child, there’s an (errant) tendency, to fail to talk to them as you would with normal children.

I have long maintained that you ought to talk to very young children. That in fact, you need to talk to them at levels far beyond those they display. I’m not saying that’s something you do at all times, but that much of the time, they can be spoken to at much higher levels than you realize.

This applies to Autistic children as well, whether or not they are far behind on communication (or even non-verbal).

Maybe, just maybe, your child will not benefit at all from this. On the other hand, what does it hurt to try?

Talk to your child. Ask him or her questions you know he or she cannot or will not answer. Tell him or her things as if he or she were entirely able to understand them.

Chances are good you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Allow Your Child To Experiment

I was sitting in my vehicle at my son’s school, when I got to see something that I wasn’t at all expecting. A child who is normally “handed off” from teacher to parent (literally from the hands of one, to the hands of the other), was “let go” by the teacher before the mother had a hand on him.

The child—looking very Autistic in his mannerisms—moved excitedly away from the mother.

It was initially more than a little disconcerting until I saw that he was headed for a very specific destination. You see, he had seen something on the front of one of the local school busses, that he wanted desperately to inspect more closely (and probably understand).

Unfortunately, his mother caught him just as he was looking at and handling it. As expected, she took hold of him, and ushered him to her vehicle, so as to get him “tucked safely inside.”

She probably had zero understanding what she had done.  You see, she took him away from something that would have probably meant growth (probably without realizing, and likely feeling a “time crunch” too), as well as increasing her “capital” with the boy.

Whenever I can do so, I let my child experiment in scenarios where no harm will occur as a result of him so doing. I advise parent of Autistic folks to do likewise.

So, here we are again, out of time and words. I may pen yet another article on this subject, but for the time being, I wish you the best of times, and thank you for reading.

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I Just Learned My Child Is Autistic, What Now? – Autism

I try very hard to not let folks I meet when with my son know that he is Autistic. Even so, I have told more than a few people this was the case to make them aware for one reason or another.

Most of the time, the result is all but a sympathetic “There, there! It will all be okay.” Kind of response, but every once in a while, something different comes of things.

The last such event occurred the other night, when I had taken Garrett out to play at one of his favorite places for evening play (the local McDonald’s Play Place). What happened was actually not the result of anything that transpired during that time, but apparently, of what had happened prior.

It seems I had informed a young lady for reasons I couldn’t recall by the time of the most recent event, that Garrett was Autistic. The only reason I know that is, she came up to me and started to talk about her situation, indicating that I had done so.

You see, her son had been diagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome, apparently since the last time we had spoken. I vaguely remembered her, but hadn’t really noted any serious signs to indicate the impending diagnosis of her son was likely to be forthcoming.

To be fair, he was—even at the later meeting (probably at least two months later)—still pretty young, and it can be more than a little difficult to note the signs of Autism in one so young; the less severe the Autism, the harder it is to recognize.

Having been informed by her that her son had been diagnosed, I took the time to watch him for a while, at which point, the signs became pretty clear.

I would never have considered myself a “seasoned veteran” when it comes to dealing with Autism, even though I have spent the last six years dealing with a moderately Autistic boy. This is particularly true, considering the many people who have spent decades working with special needs kids, and particularly Autistic children. Even so, most people I have talked to—both those not having to deal with Autism on an ongoing basis, and those dealing with it regularly—find Garrett to be an exceptional young man in a variety of regards, and I like to think I had more than a little to do with that.

I started to ask the young lady spoken of earlier some questions, and make some statements that I think probably made her wonder if I had been watching her son like a peeping tom. If you’ve taken sufficient interest in an Autistic child “in your charge” though, it’s not at all surprising to know many of the things I talked about—asking or telling—are likely.

The more important thing though, is that parents of Autistic children are in a unique position to pass along various things they’ve discovered about their children, and how to “simplify” dealings with them. So true is this, that I thought I might pass along a few things here. Without further ado, allow me to list some “helpful tips”

Autistic Children Need Love

People used to make a regular habit of saying love was “wasted on” Autistic people—that they didn’t respond, and didn’t seem to understand it. Let me assure you that I have never seen an Autistic person for whom this was true. In fact, my son thrives when he is assured he is loved and treated accordingly.

When You’re Able, Support Their Idiosyncrasies

I have told folks that my son would spend hours at a given door, opening that door, going through it, closing it, opening it again, going through it again, closing it again. More than a few folks I have known would not allow their child to do such things, instead pulling them away from them—kicking and screaming or not. I’m here to tell you, the more I let my son behave like this, the less I have dealt with this kind of behavior as time has gone on. Don’t by any means misunderstand, we still deal with it, but it’s far “less of a thing” now, than it was when he was younger.

Be Someone Your Child Can Trust

You may think this is something every parent should do for his or her child, but it’s so much more important for Autistic kids. Most Autistic children don’t “trust easy,” and when that trust is broken it takes a lot of time and effort to regain it. So, make it your business to be trustworthy, and when you fail (and we all do) own up to it. This brings me to the next point.

Never Assume Your Child Can’t Understand You

One of the hallmarks of Autistic folks—most especially children—is that they have trouble communicating. The problem is, there is a tendency to believe this means they don’t understand, because they are unable to communicate their understanding. By and large, that tendency is dead wrong. Just because an Autistic child doesn’t seem to respond to things, and doesn’t seem to understand, doesn’t mean they “aren’t tracking.” And worse yet, since many Autistic children have tremendous memories, they’re likely to remember things you said forever ago, and maybe even forgot you said.

The Correct Motivation Goes A Long Way

This is true for all kids, but it’s especially important to find out what is motivational and de-motivational for Autistic children. Further, it’s important to keep track of that changing (as it does with all kids). I watched the young lady, get her child to say “Yes” in response to a question, because the thing she was asking was a strong motivator (being bounced on a toy), even though normally he wouldn’t have used the word.

I see now, that this may end up needing to be a couple of articles, because there’s probably a good deal of advice I’m forgetting, yet I’m already “pushing the limit” with what I’ve said to this point.

That being the case, I suppose I should stop here, and pick this conversation up in another post.

As is customary, allow me to wish you the best of times and thank you for reading.

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My Own of Course — Whose Ideas Do You Support?

I have to be entirely honest, I have zero idea how much of the time I sound big headed, conceited, whatever you choose to call it.

It’s not so much that I don’t care, as that:

  1. I’m pretty well convinced that people will assume you’re conceited for nothing more than that you disagree with their “obviously correct” premise(s).
  2. I try to do regular self-examination, to ensure that I am where I feel I need to be. Where the places I feel I need to find myself, may appear to be big headed ones to others can not be a matter of great concern to me.

I not super recently, but recently nonetheless responded to a family member, that one of the most important things I can imagine keeping as a “basis for life,” is being true to your beliefs and understandings. That’s not to say you’re always correct, but that until you’re shown to be wrong about something, it’s rather silly to not continue to hold with that something.

One of the better parts of this approach to life is, though it’s not always the case, most of the time, if you hold to things that are not true and live according to those things, you will be shown—often in quite short order—the error in your perspective.

One of the results of this, is that I have “crashed and burned” enough to make it so I am very careful about what I will and will not support.

The above is really intended as an “introduction” to that which this article actually addresses.

Call me crazy, but I have noticed that most folks spend very little time thinking for themselves. Rather, most folks see things with which they resonate and fail to critically analyze what’s being said, to decide for their own benefit (and the benefit and wellbeing of others), whether the things they’re supporting are true or correct.

I have some pretty good ideas why this is the case, but obviously, I can be wrong about such things. Here is a “quick and dirty” list of some of the major reasons I believe folks “let others think for them:”

  1. A perceived lack of intelligence
  2. A perceived lack of ability
  3. A perceived lack of experience
  4. A perceived lack of wisdom
  5. A perceived wealth of any or all of the above on the part of some other individual
  6. Guilt

So what’s the problem with allowing others to tell you what you ought to think without concerning yourself with the rectitude of what that other (or those others) have to say?

Years ago (around seventy, if not more), there were many German soldiers who were given an answer essentially, this very same question. The answer was, “I was just following orders is not a valid defense or excuse.”

Put another way, just because you got your answers for things from someone or some ones, who seemed to be smarter, more able, more experienced or wiser than you; or because you chose an answer that was incorrect—though it helped to assuage or cause somewhat to abate your guilt, does not make your choice correct. To be clear, I’m not saying it makes your choice inherently incorrect either, just that you have no way of being even remotely sure if you don’t take the time to think things through for yourself.

A person can certainly argue for the likely rectitude of the answer of someone who appears more able in some sense, but in doing so, that person has essentially assented to that person’s choices, correct or incorrect. Put another way, your decision that someone is, in some wise, more able to make a choice or come to a conclusion about something, is no less making that choice yourself.

It may be a good place to start—looking at what others have said about a particular thing or situation and using that as a basis for your own consideration—but it is not a good place to end.

Whatever you may think, and whatever you may have been told to the contrary, your choices are yours, and that’s regardless that they’re based on the supposed intelligence or consideration of someone else.

Yes, I know it can be difficult to take the time and effort to really understand things. I know too, that at times, your “research” may not be as good as the work of others.

No, I am not telling you that you must ignore the work of others, in which they have invested time, energy, intelligence, experience, wisdom and potentially so much more.

About now, maybe you’re wondering exactly what it is I am saying. Let me see if I can clarify.

When you blindly accept the statements or considerations of others as valid or correct, you are placing your “personal stamp of approval” on those statements or considerations. Whatever you may think about that, doing so means you are adopting or accepting the ideas behind them.

I urge you to take care to not accept the ideas of others blindly. I ask that, instead, you take the time to consider what it is you’re anticipating accepting. Put it “under the microscope.” Really think about it. Look for flaws in what you’re getting ready to incorporate into your worldview.

In Nazi Germany and the USSR (and China, and Cuba, and North Korea, and Iran among others) things were allowed or accepted as facts by far too many folks that should never have been. Oh, to the folks in question at the time, they sound good and solid. Now ask those folks (or those still around to talk about it, or read what they have said) if they would make the same choices today that they made in the past.

I would be so bold as to venture that many would not do so.

The conclusion of this article can be summed up in a fairly simple way. Think for yourself. Do not allow yourself to be swayed by things that sound good. Decide for yourself what is correct and incorrect.

Yet again, I’m just over my “self imposed” word count. That being the case, allow me to wish you a good day and thank you for reading.

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My “Qualifications” to Talk About Health and Fitness Related Issues

I started writing an article for the Health and Fitness part of my blog, and came to the conclusion that I wanted a section of the blog post that talked about my experiences and why it might not be a bad idea to consider what I say. I got into this, and began to realize that this was probably too much information for most folks to digest when coupled with the actual subject at hand.

The result was, that I decided to turn it into a blog post in its own right and to make it a “resource” for easy access. You’re reading the result of that decision.

Anybody having known me for more than five or six years is likely very much aware that I have been fairly substantially overweight within that time frame. In fact. I started battling my weight in my early to mid twenties as a member of the United States Air Force (I was in the military from the beginning of 1983 to the end of 1991, so from the time I was just turning nineteen, until just before my twenty eighth birthday).

When I joined the military, I weighed in at 145 pounds (around 65.75 kg). After Air Force Basic Training, I had dropped ten pounds and came in at a quite lean 135 pounds (somewhere in the neighborhood of 61.25 kg).

When I went from my first permanent station (around the beginning of 1985) to my second (in the Republic of Korea), I tipped the scales right around 184 pounds (closing in hard on 83.5 kg). Nobody who was in the Air Force during that period need ask how I know. For the rest of you, you should be aware that the Air Force had a “Maximum Allowable Weight” (MAW) for a given height of airman. If you exceeded that weight—unless you got a waiver—you “fell onto” the dreaded Weight Management Program. Failure to progress, meant stiffer and stiffer penalties. You can trust that I spent far too much time interested in my weight back then!

My troubles didn’t stop when I left the military though (in fact, being over my MAW was a part of the reason I left the military—I won’t go into any of the other reasons at this moment in time, among other things, they’re not really relevant to this discussion). By the time I moved to Arkansas from Washington state (where I was when I exited the military and chose to stay) around the middle of 1996, I was certainly over my MAW and probably over 200 pounds (just under 90.75 kg).

At some point around 1999 or so, I probably hit 250 pounds (just under 113.5 kg) or more. I think it likely that by 2005, I was nearer to 300 pounds (around 136 kg) than 200. If I had to guess, I think I was probably somewhere close to 275 (roughly 125 kg) at my “peak.”

The above “journey” is not one I would recommend anybody take! To this point, I have managed to “dodge the bullet” on most of the related health conditions, but not all of them. I’ll not go into detail here, just keep in mind that the potential repercussions are far worse than you really ever want to know.

In 2005, I started working at a new position in a company where I stayed for nine years. While there, I substantially pared myself down in weight and size. I went from somewhere near my peak weight, to somewhere very close to 200 pounds. In the process, I went from a 42 inch (roughly 106 cm) plus waist, to somewhere around a 38 inch (96.5 cm) waist or below.

I really didn’t start this process until around 2010 and lost virtually all that weight (and waist) through walking (yes, you read that correctly, walking). I won’t say there was no change in diet, but my focus was on getting active (and for the most part, the diet took care of itself—and I made no drastic changes).

When I started, I was walking five or ten minutes once or twice a day and probably less than a quarter mile (around .4 km), by the end of that period, I was walking an hour a day, and five miles (around 8 km) in that time. As I implied, I left that position at the end of 2013

These days (at the end of 2015),  I weigh in around 194 (88 kg) on a heavy day (I often weigh in between 192.5 and 190). I have somewhere between a 36 (around 91.5 cm) and a 34 inch (about 86.25 cm) waist.

I spend half an hour in a “gym” and about 45 minutes walking and running (I walk about 1.5 miles or roughly 2.4 km and run another half a mile or roughly .8 km). And I do this on days that I work at the office only (and all walking and running is done outside, so if the weather is sufficiently bad—raining more than a drizzle, very icy or snowing at all hard—I don’t walk or run). I don’t do anything on vacation (unless I feel like it) or if I work from home.

Of that time, I spend less than 30 minutes doing the full two mile distance, and the rest in “cool down” time. In general, I average around 4.5 mph or around 7.25 kph.

My heart rate typically “maxes out at” a number less than 160 beats per minute and when I’m truly resting, I have a heart rate in the lower seventies. And as to my “recovery?” I can “come down from” a 160 beat per minute heart rate to under 112 beats per minute in less than five minutes.

I’m far from a superman and there are a good many people in better shape than am I. That having been said, you should understand that, where the are others who have been through a journey similar to mine, I have managed to successfully bring myself into moderately good condition and keep myself there for years (not days, weeks, or even months).

If this sounds like something you may want to accomplish, then it might be beneficial for you to take some time to look at what I have to say about health and fitness.