Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Wheels on the Bus!

Thanks to a sweet sweet friend who gave a little girl a big ride! She was so excited to bump along on the big kid bus! ((Big Hugs))

Beep! Beep! Beep!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Autism Awareness Month: Building "I Can" Networks

Here is how to turn a child's perspective from I can't to I can!

While children and adults on the Autism Spectrum certainly need solid and as wide as possible "I can" networks, it's important to remember that every child and even adults need to be encouraged, sometimes even nudged a bit toward a spirit of capability.

Never underestimate the value that your skills, wisdom, or talents can bring to another person's journey or experience. And yes, you have something to offer. It's usually the simple things that are the most memorable and often make the biggest difference. And our time and attention are two of the most precious gifts we can ever give another person. 

Can you become another thread in someone else's support web? Can you play a few games with a child to help them practice taking turns and see someone modeling good sportsmanship? Do you know how to cook or bake? Sew? Oil a bike chain? Enjoy animals? Hiking? Changing a flat tire or one's own oil? A love of historical fiction? Botany? Carpentry? Gardening? Web design? Photography? Art? Music? Fishing?

You can!

There is really no skill so small that it is insignificant, because for someone who hasn't yet learned it, it is one more stepping stone on their journey to independence, confidence, or connecting with others. And the ultimate goal isn't really to make them masters at your interest or skill anyway. The most important lessons these one's can learn will be things like patience,  teamwork, and friendship.

Here is four examples of kids who many people probably would have though "can't", but did, because somewhere along the line there were people in the backgrounds of their lives who had told them you can. And when they found themselves in situations that would typically overwhelm a person with Autism, they found themselves doing the impossible. Meet KyleMaddoxLachlan, and Karson

This distance between two points really boils down to two words. Which two will you choose?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Play Therapy Part 1

A year ago I sat in my living room with a team from Early Intervention trying to explain my concerns for my then 18-month old. One of the things I expressed several times was that I was especially concerned about her regular disinterest in play. They seemed to not quite understand what I meant. Especially since she seemed plenty interested, even borderline obsessive about a couple of the toys they had brought to use in their analysis. It was challenging for me to explain. It still is.

As an infant, she had intense interest in only about three particular toys, for months. After that, she had no interest in playing with toys at all. The only things she would hold, examine, and of course chew on were not technically toys. They were usually household items, and her favorites were the metal lids from jars (the start of her love for circles?), her baby hair brush, and toilet paper rolls. This is not surprising to me now that I better understand her sensory seeking tendencies. The metal lids were cooler, and provided a stronger taste than plastic, and the brush and any paper products were very stimulating to her tactile senses, especially in her mouth, which is still where she craves the most stimulation.

As an older baby, she still didn't "play" with her toys. She took them one by one out of the basket until it was light enough to dump the whole thing. If someone attempted to put the toys back into the basket, she cried and yelled at us and physically tried to stop us. She didn't explore them, investigate, or interact with us when we tried to play with them with her. Just dump and scatter. By the time she was 18 months, she had figured out that helping put toys back in containers meant another opportunity to dump them, so she became a willing helper in cleaning up, only to dump them again, and then have a major fit when we took them away. Yes, this is typical toddler behavior, the disruption lies in the intensity and endurance of her repetitive obsession with it long after typical toddlers have moved on.

Shortly thereafter she did begin to show more interest in examining things. In fact she would examine things for very lengthy periods of time, and in unusual ways. When she played with the basket of cars. She took them out one by one, of course, and studied it very carefully. She felt it for smoothness? Uniformity? She turned it upside down and tested how well the wheels turned. Then she would appear to drive it on the table or floor, but after watching her for a while, I figured out that she was actually feeling how uniformly it rolled. Those she liked were put in one area, those she didn't either got thrown back into the basket with great heft, or pushed into a pile farther from herself. And those that were particularly bothersome were handed to me to get far away from her. She liked the monster trucks best it seemed because they rolled the smoothest. She also liked the motorcycles, but was easily frustrated that they would not stand independently, so they were often thrown back into the basket after several futile attempts. 

It wasn't long at all before she started lining up the ones that met her approval in long lines side by side and sometimes bumper to bumper. Not too long after that came color coordination. And within no time there were lines of objects everywhere she had been. Quirkle blocks. Playing cards. Poker chips. Playdoh tubs. Glass beads. Books. Movies. Baby dolls. Shoes. But that was the extent of her play. And in the bathtub she was interested in no toys at all, just plastic hangers which she would slide on and off her legs over and over or pick up one by one and sign the colors for each one as she sorted. Keep in mind that she was 19-22 months during this period.

So it's easy to see why helping her learn to "play" was a big priority for me. She was for the most part happy enough while engaged in these limited and repetitive actions, but I was aware how quickly they can take hold as an obsessive and compulsive habit (they already were mildly) which produces anxiety both when they are engaged in them and when they are not. When we finally got her diagnosis and qualified for early intervention, interestingly, her Speech Therapist provided several ideas on helping her with play skills, because, a lot of these have a lot do do with encouraging speech. And Occupational Therapy began to help her brain get organized so that she was able to have a calmer body and calmer mind. Gradually, we started seeing her play!

To encourage this I engaged in "Play Therapy" with her nearly every day, often several times a day. Modeling and telling how to play. Her big brother and sister were invaluable in helping with this without even knowing they were helping with "therapy"! What ever her special interest was, I would find little ways to expand how she used them and gradually try to expand more and more. When she was comfortable with those types of play, I began to introduce more complex play, with multiple steps. By this point, she began to generalize some of these play skills, and was starting to show interest in things she never had before. She began playing cooking with the tea set and play pots, and making coffee and sharing it with us! And a lot more voluntary eye contact while she was engaged in play! That was so exciting!

She has made huge progress in the way of play! In fact, I would say that her play skills are finally on par with her peers for the most part, even advanced in some areas. She is still sometimes slow to show interest in regular play, especially in a new environment with new people around, but she has come so so far!

Below and in the next post are just a couple of things we do for Play Therapy, which over time I'm happy to say has become mostly just regular "play'!

Not to long ago I read an interesting post. In it was this sentence, which felt enormously reassuring:

  • Study #2 showed that kids whose moms and dads are more engaged in their treatment early on have better verbal and daily living skills as teenagers. Unpublished data showed that the kids with the best outcomes (e.g., able to attend college with no extra support) all had moms and dads who had been involved in their treatment beginning at age 2 (this should not be interpreted as assigning blame to parents if their kids do poorly though).

I'm glad that we didn't even wait until she was 2! Play skills are the foundation for practically every other skill we want our kids to develop, and it's essential to happiness! It seems a contradiction that some kids need to be taught how to play, but it is very true for some kids. For them, this might just be one of the most important life skills we ever teach them!

Play dough is a great sensory toy/tool to help develop a variety of play skills and serve as part of a sensory diet as well. Also certain movements, like rolling snakes or balls strengthens the hands and helps to integrate the reflexes. And it gets everybody involved! 

Pulling off stickers and placing them on a sheet of paper is also great for many different skills. It helps develop hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and creative thinking. Kit still prefers to sort them though. :)

And she refuses to use the broken ones! :)

We play games to mostly help her learn to take turns, and follow simple directions, as well as engaging with others. Candyland is fantastic because the colors are exceptionally motivating to her!

Especially the purple ones!

Purple is definitely one of her favorite colors!

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Understanding the Science of Depression

I've been researching a lot of information on depression and depression treatment.

I've been struggling with this condition to greater or lesser degrees my entire adult life.

The trench that I have been in recently however has depleted me and drained me and wrapped so much tighter around me than ever before though. And I recognized that this time I need more assistance to climb back up out of the void.

I have begun a treatment plan that is constructed of several parts.

The first is re-strengthening my spiritual routine. Regular study, prayer, Family Worship, and reading God's Word together as a family are our priorities. So is being at as many weekly Congregation Meetings as we can.

Another part involves working with a therapist. This is the first time that I am working with one. I am ambivalent, but my family needs me to be able and present and vital, and I want to be those things for them and for myself, so I'm willing.

The other major part involves implementing the six steps highlighted in the video below.

This is another video that has some really interesting insights into the science of depression, many of the conclusions by both researchers are the same. Ed: While I do not endorse the idea of evolution, because I believe our brains and body and our beautiful home of the earth were master creations by the most intelligent being that will ever exist (though not in six literal 24-hour days like much of Christendom claims), the argument still holds true that our brains were not designed to function under the unnatural pressures that are the result of imperfection and industrialization. The lifestyle humans live and the damage that they have done to this planet are not in harmony with the way our bodies, brains and planet were designed to operate in harmony together.

Please understand, I am not anti-medication. I have a great respect for many medications and I appreciate the role they play in my life and health and other's. My personal research over the years has led me to feel that anti-depressant medication currently is not the best option for me, right now. That doesn't mean I don't think it's beneficial or even essential in some individual's treatments, or even for myself possibly in the future. I strongly encourage anyone seeking treatment for depression to carefully research all your options, and find the course of treatment that best works for you.

Here is my six steps and my goals to make these happen. I view these activities as a prescription for my overall health, but especially for my mental health. And so these are non-negotiable, even though I'm adding them in gradually:

1. Exercise - my aim is for 20-30 minutes of brisk walking, or other physical activity 3-4 times a week

2. Bright light therapy. 30 min of exposure to bright outdoor light or lightbox, within an hour of waking every day if possible. ( My plan is to drink my morning coffee outside. For the time being, this is my time, not kid time.)

3. Take a daily supplement that includes a min. 1000 mg of EPA, an essential Omega-3 fatty acid. As well as a Vitamin D3 supplement, since I tend to sunburn easily and quickly here in the very intense sun of the South. It was suggested to keep them in the freezer to reduce the fishy taste, I'm doing that and it really does help.

4. Healthy sleep.  This has been a huge problem for me. I have suspected that my habit of sipping coffee well into the afternoon may be partly contributing to my sleep difficulties. So I am cutting myself off at noon. This is approximately eleven hours before my aimed bedtime of 11:00 pm. As much as I miss my afternoon java, I am desperately in need of good sleep more. Also, I'm trying to train myself to go to bed at the same time every night, and much more difficult, wake up at the same time every morning. This helps to facilitate the release of a Melatonin burst before sleep.

Also, to help facilitate this, my goal is to use no screens at least an hour before bedtime, and use only very dim lighting such as a lamp or candle during that hour. I have installed an app on my phone called Twilight, that blocks blue spectrum light, so that if I need to look at my phone to set or check an alarm or other activity, it only gives off red spectrum light, not signaling my brain to wake up. Primarily, this is face time for Victor and I (see #s 5 and 6). But I can also use it for reading (real books or magazines) or journaling and I will post later my makeshift red spectrum book light :).

5. Stop Ruminating! I have a very hard time turning off my brain at night. While much of the time my mind is busy troubleshooting and problem solving whatever current puzzles presented themselves recently, I do mentally chew on stresses, obligations, worries, or things I spaced out or forgot earlier. And though I laugh a lot (including at myself, like tripping over my own feet on the way out of my therapist's office this week and "catching" myself on the closed door of the office across the hall, eliciting quite a scream from it's occupant! I was still laughing about it halfway home, it was like a scene from a comedy!) and am constantly on the watch to capture the highs of the day, sometimes I ruminate on negative experiences, difficult relationships, or painful emotions. Probably more than I would like to admit.

The best way to stop this cycle is to engage in a social activity. Physical activity is best, but any activity in which mental energy is expended on a more beneficial focus is helpful in breaking the cycle. If alone, journaling the thoughts and then leaving them with the page helps. So does engaging in any activity that leads the mind away from rumination. Reading, household tasks, games, etc. A plus for me is that I'm rarely alone, and my kids keep me I insanely busy, thus reducing the amount of free time I have for rumination to begin with!

6. Social connections, aka face time. As in with the actual person, screen free. We are social creatures, pack animals. The basis of human relationships is social connection. We all need it. As an introvert, I tend to prefer one on one connection or small close knit groups rather than lots of people at one time. That is fine as long as I make the most of those connections, and make them often. Especially with my closest connection, my husband. So anyone who would like to volunteer to baby-and-Grandpa-sit, so that we might have a few more out of the house dates now and then, you will not be turned away, and I'll happily pay in chocolate!

Most of the above six steps are very much in harmony with the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that I am exploring with my therapist. They link together like gears. Hopefully, I can get my gears back to running smoothly, because I have a lot of things to do and would like to get back to doing them!

For those who are interested, here are some links to the items I have chosen to implement:

The book

The Omega-3 supplements

The light box

I am not compensated in any way for providing these links or highlighting this lifestyle program. I personally feel it is the best fit for treatment of my depression, and I believe it can help others as well. I am not a doctor and I am not dispensing medical advice. I'm just sharing what I'm learning and implementing in my own life. Each interested individual is advised to carefully examine any treatment plan and discuss it with his or her personal doctor.