Saturday, February 28, 2009

Free Yourself

"1, 2, 3, 4, 5" Liam counts and then jumps from the dining room table into my arms.

"Mama, more please?" shouts Liam.

"OK, one more time, then no more jump." I say with my best "I mean business" look.

Most use their dining room table to lay out their best linens and grandma's china and of course practicing eating without drooling, but not us. We do sit and eat every meal at our dark, wooden, eight seater, but through out the day the boys could be standing side-by-side on the table performing the song "open shut them" or sliding to the tunes over the radio.

We do have rules and expectations for our children like no feet on the table while we are eating and everyone cleans their own dishes, but Peter and I have own guidelines to the stuff in our home:

  1. We never buy anything that is not well produced and sturdy.
  2. All the upholstered furniture can be machine washed or covers can be reasonably replaced.
  3. We don't purchase furniture that we will cause a "great depression" (emotionally or financially) if damaged. We are saving our artisan crafted furniture buying for when our children have their own off-spring.
  4. Finally, it has to look good! No frumpy, saggy hand-me-down furniture (when I was pregnant for the last time with Liam I drove all our furniture to the Salvation Army... more about this later).

I don't spend much time yelling at our three,"monkeys" about jumping on the couch or building a fort with the sofa pillows. Instead I can spend time encouraging their bonding and exploration while I get to sit back and check my email or Facebook page without feeling like I have to monitor the boys' every move.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ask Angela

Ask Angela

The Ask Angela section is printed in th Parenting Autism newsletter every month, so send your questions to

I have recently received a bunch of questions regarding potty training. I am not a master at this, I am actually pretty lazy. I don’t push my kids and Dylan and Tristan were both potty trained after the age of four. However it didn’t take much time once they were ready. To prepare for potty boot camp I (or sometimes someone at school) created a picture board with the sequence of pottying. Since Dylan can be very sensitive to having his own stuff, Dylan’s teacher made a picture board with his picture and name.

So, in our bathroom we have two picture boards— one for Tristan and one for Dylan. In the beginning of potty boot camp I will explain that I am not buying anymore pull-ups and they will pee and poop in the toilet. I give them the rules and the directions to follow and if it is all done according to plan a reward is given.

Now, they follow each step without prompting or help (or reward). Having everyone involved in the potty boot camp is the key to success— school, family members, and etc.
With both Tristan and Dylan I thought they may enter kindergarten in pull-ups but to my surprise they potty-trained within a weekend without much effort.

The keys were: being ready, visual supports, and a good reward (and maybe enough laundry detergent). Good luck!

Begin with a Smile

Last week I was driving along the zig-zag roads that climb and descend the Green Mountains to a Build Your Family workshop that I was giving to a bunch of parents. During the drive I replay my six hour workshop in my head, sometimes quizzing myself about the sections and going through the possible questions I would be asked. I do all this to squash the fear that someone may fall asleep as I explain the need to come to an understanding of your own fears, anxiety, and sometimes even depression before you can truly move forward to preparing your child for adulthood.

After each workshop I give, I call Peter to report how many sleepers I had. To my credit I have only had one attendee fall asleep and that was a medical student during a lecture about autism. At this workshop the conversation turned hot when discussing IEP meetings and the attendees scribed pages of notes. So, I thought this would be a great topic for a newsletter.

I been to many workshops about special education law and the IEP process which I think are all valuable resources and information every parent with a child with special needs must become educated in. However, what I teach during my Build Your Family workshop revolves around behavior— your behavior and the school’s behavior. As a parent you have to know the special education laws to advocate for your child, but how you advocate can change the outcome.

First thing, the only person you can change is YOURSELF. You are going to be in a losing battle if try to change other people. However, you can change how you react to people.

When talking to folks about setting-up an IEP or team meeting, people will tell me, “Well, I have my folder on special education law and I know my child’s needs.” And I will say, “Ok, so what is the first thing you do when you walk in the room?” I always get the look, like “this lady is crazy.” How you walk into the room sets the stage for the entire meeting.

So, next time you have an IEP or team meeting, try my beginning meeting strategies:

  • Get there early or at least on time.
  • Leave your emotions at the door. Try to separate the emotions from the tasks at hand (I will write more about this later).
  • Walk in with a smile on your face and look everyone in the eye as you greet them.
  • Sit at the head of the table (you are the meeting facilitator).
  • Bring a recorder and place it on the table and turn it on; so you can listen and engage everyone and still have “notes” from the meeting.
  • Bring an agenda of the topics to be discussed (email then to the team in advance to have everyone able to participate and bring copies for everyone).
  • Begin the meeting by thanking everyone for coming and working with your family.
  • Ask everyone to stick to the topics on the agenda so you can finish the meeting on-time.

After the meeting, process how the other team member reacted to you, were they more or less responsive through out the meeting? Did you work toward bettering your child’s educational experience? Was there less or more struggle? Did you feel accomplished and heard?

Next week I will discuss other ways that behavior can dictate your IEP or team meetings.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Back on Track

Sorry I have neglected you again. I can make excuses, or show you my filled calendar, or plead for your forgiveness, but I think I won’t. You all know how it is when your household revolves around all your commitments and then at night when I should sit down at the computer and tell you about my latest adventure, I fall asleep! Right there in bed with a kid and a pile of allergy infested dust-mite collectors (Dylan’s loveys Snowy 1, 2, and 3), my only alone time taken by sleep.

Well here we are mid-February and currently no one in our house is sick, but that could change at any moment and by tonight we will all be praying to the porcelain throne. Since we veered into the realm of viruses I will add my tips to surviving a sick household.

  • When you are healthy cook some chicken or turkey soup to freeze for the moments when your family has been kidnapped by germs (see recipe below).

  • Buy an additional waterproof pad for the bed (not fitted). It looks like a waterproof top sheet that you can throw down on top of the bottom sheet. I find it especially helpful when I have already changed the sheets once and I don’t want to change them again. If you are lucky the vomit will stay right on the waterproof sheet and underneath is a clean, dry sheet.

  • Keep a bottle of white vinegar and Borax in the laundry room. I don’t scrub or rinse. I just add a cup of white vinegar and a cup of Borax to the laundry detergent and wash with warm water. It will get out all the smells and stains.

  • Stack-up old towels in an easy to access (when kids are vomiting) place, so you are ready for clean-up.

  • Store a box of crackers in the pantry for the patients. It saves a trip to the store with sick kids.

  • REST because if you don’t you will be the next to be feeling the pain.

    Angela’s Chicken Soup Recipe

    1 whole chicken
    3 cloves of garlic (chopped)
    6 stalks of celery (chopped)
    5 carrots (sliced)
    3 onions (chopped)
    1 bag frozen corn
    1 pint of mushrooms
    1 teaspoon tarragon
    1 teaspoon celery seed
    1 bay leaf
    Salt and pepper to taste
    1 tablespoon of lemon juice
    1 tablespoon of soy sauce

    Directions: Preheat the oven to 450. Place the whole chicken in a roasting pan and massage the chicken with olive oil and salt and pepper. Place the chicken in the oven for 1 hour to 1 ½ hour depending on the size; continue until fully cooked.

    Pick all the meat off the chicken and set aside. Place the bones and fat into a large pot and cover with water and ¼ cup of salt. Place on the stove on the highest temperature until it boils. Continue to cook for 2 hours (more if you would like) and add celery ends (leaves too), one carrot, one onion. Cook for another 40 minutes, then strain the broth out into a bowl and set aside. Compost vegetables.

    Place the large pot back on the stove on a medium/high temperature add olive oil and sauté 2 onions and 3 garlic cloves until light brown. Then add carrots, celery, mushrooms, and corn and simmer until cooked. Add tarragon, celery seed, bay leaf, salt, and pepper to vegetables and stir. Then add the reserve broth, lemon juice, and soy sauce and simmer until warm. Serve or store in the freezer.