Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Autism and Claud Monet

Spurred on by a fascination for a Disney cartoon for young children called Little Einsteins (a program created to introduce kids to fine art and music), our son developed an interest in the impressionist painter Claude Monet.  Whenever he saw a library book about the painter he'd borrow it...  whenever he saw a print of the Waterlilies, he'd point it out.

Last year, building on Tom's interest, we did a homeschool unit on the impressionists.

We started with a set of BBC videos created specifically to introduce viewers to each of several French impressionists - and we learned an awful lot about where the term "starving artist" came from.  We read a children's book called Linnea in Monet's Garden.  We read about the artists, finding books that included full-color prints.  And, of course, we painted.

Most of what we did took place at home.  But the Big Field Trip was a trip to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.  There, in one of the museum's huge galleries, hangs the REAL Waterlilies...  and over a dozen other original Monet's.  There are Cassatts, Gaugins, Cezannes and Manets too - all of whose work Tom knew from the videos and books.

True, sister Sara (who prefers soccer to museums) was bored.  But for our son with autism - it was a great adventure.  As it was for his mom and dad.

Interested in taking your child with autism to the Metropolitan Museum of Art?  They offer special programs for kids and adults with disabilities, with a unique offering called Discoveries just for people with developmental and learning disabilities.  Don't miss it if you're in New York!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Autism in the Community: Making it Work

It may sound a bit odd to call a book about autism “Get Out, Explore and Have Fun.”  After all, autism is a disorder – and for most parents, getting out and exploring is hardly the first priority.  But the fact is that, while therapies and school are important, getting out and exploring the community with your child on the autism spectrum may be even more important.


There are a few big reasons, and a thousand smaller ones.  The biggest reasons, of course, are your child; your family; and your community.

If you have a child with autism, you’re probably barraged with information about your child’s challenges…  and you’ve probably heard very little about his abilities.  But if think about it, your child with autism is being asked to learn in the world’s most difficult setting: school.  He’s asked to work with words all day long – something that’s tough for every child on the autism spectrum. 

In fact, though, we KNOW that people learn in many different ways – through their eyes, their hands, their ears…  through music, and through their whole bodies.  Plenty of researchers have done the work to prove it, and of course you already know all about non-verbal learning.  No one TALKS swimming to death – they get in the pool and work on swimming skills.  No one expects a musician to describe music – they just need to play, or sing. [This kinds of learning is called “informal education,” and there are journals of all sorts out there that document the reality that hands-on, bodies-on learning really works.

Your child with autism needs and deserves the opportunity to learn and express her abilities outside of school and outside of therapies.  Maybe she’s wonderful with animals.Maybe she’s an outstanding visual artist.  Maybe he can learn to play the piano.  You’ll never know – and neither will your child – if you spend all your time in little rooms, practicing skills, language and behavior.

In fact, your child with autism may even become a real asset to organizations in the community.  In writing my book, I’ve learned about kids on the spectrum who have become language tutors…  winning athletes… and prize winning artists.  my own son has become a solid clarinetist, and a member of the local advanced jazz band.  These aren’t just make-work opportunities :our kids on the spectrum are authentically included in real-world programs, activities and events.

And what about you and the rest of your family?  Many moms of children with autism and depressed, many marriages are stressed, and many siblings are frustrated because so much time, money and energy are spent on therapies – and on worry.  But if you’re willing to take a little time to get out and explore as a family, you may it’s not as tough to have fun together as you thought. 

Even if your child with autism can’t sit through a full-length play – yet - there’s a good chance he can enjoy a hike in the woods, an hour in the pool, or an afternoon at the beach.   And there’s an excellent chance you can enjoy those things together.

Then there’s the community.  How can the community benefit from opening the doors to your child with autism?  There’s more in it for them than a feeling of having done the right thing.  If your family decides they can enjoy the zoo together, won’t you be likely to become a member?  If you’re impressed with the zoo’s willingness to support your child, you might even be interested in giving to the annual fund.  And if the zoo decides to create a special program for kids on the spectrum, they may well be eligible for special grants.  With autism at 1:100 kids, community groups can no longer afford to keep the doors closed – and that means the YMCA, the Boy Scouts, and many other groups are already out there creating better ways to make our kids welcome.

My new book, Get Out, Explore and Have Fun is a guide to finding, creating, supporting and even funding community opportunities for your child with autism and your family as a whole.  You’ll find info, tips, and even materials to copy and share with coaches, instructors and clergy.  I’ll be honest: authentic inclusion isn’t always easy, and it’s rarely worry-free.  But when it works – and it will work – you’ll be astounded at what your child can learn, be, and do.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Brett Miller's Review of Get Out, Explore, Have Fun

Thanks, Brett Miller, for your review of an early galley of Get Out, Explore, Have Fun on "Good Reads." A short excerpt:

If you are the parent of a young - or not so young - autistic child, you should get and read this book. And give a copy to your child's teacher, their IEP case worker, the IEP team.

Life is for living, even for an autistic child, and this book reminds us why this is true and how to make it happen.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bowling and Autism: Making it Work

Bowling and autism?!

Bowling takes coordination, arm strength and patience, involves a good deal of loud noise, and takes place in a location where strong smells and florescent lights are the norm.  Sounds like the last sport a person would autism would take up.

Yet over and over again I've seen kids and teens with autism thrive in bowling allies.  I'm not sure what it is about the sport...  maybe it's the repetition (get up, bowl, sit down); perhaps its the fact that there's no need for non-verbal communication among team members.  Or maybe it's just fun!  Whatever the reason, bowling is well worth exploring with your child on the autism spectrum.

Here in New England, we do have ordinary ten pin bowling.  But we also have another sport we like even better: candlepin bowling.  What's so great about candlepin?  The balls are light and can be held in the palm of the hand.  You get three chances to bowl as opposed to the usual two.  And the "dead wood" (fallen pins) become a part of the game.  It's like a cross between ten-pin bowling and bumper pool!

If you do decide to go bowling here are a few tips to bear in mind:

  • Spend a little time ahead of time watching bowling on YouTube or TV, so your child knows just what to expect.  If you can, write a social story that includes the details: changing shoes, being assigned a lane, choosing a ball, etc.
  • Reserve a lane in advance, so that you don't arrive and then experience waiting-room melt downs.  Ask, too, if stocking feet or other shoes are ok for bowling, just in case your child rebels against bowling shoes.
  • Ask for bumpers - those rubberized strips of metal that keep balls moving down the lane.  Gutter balls are tough enough for typical bowlers, but may be even more frustrating for kids with autism.
  • Bring a snack.  There's a good chance that the food available at the alley will NOT be your child's favorite (and it most certainly won't be gluten free!).
  • Have a plan B in mind.  If you your child really doesn't take to the sport, that's okay - but it's best to come prepared with another possibility "just in case."
  • If siblings or other kids come along, be sure there's a second adult available to manage if your child with autism needs extra support.
  • Keep it light.  If your child is having a good experience, it really doesn't matter if his form is right or his score is high.  If two-handed bowling works better for her, go for it!  It's all about getting out and having fun; winning can come later (or it may never be a concern).