Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Kill or not to kill

When socialite and millionaire Gigi Jordan feed her eight-year-old son with autism a lethal dose Ambien and Xanax, the autism community once again failed. Last night sitting on my bed, phone to my ear chatting with a New York reporter about the latest mother-homicide related to autism and the reporter's words sent a chill down my spine, "...this is such an unusually, sad case."

Not really. Days after police were barging into Jordan's $2,000 a night hotel room, a grandmother in Coney Island locked her 11 year-old grandson with autism, alone in their house that caught on fire and killed the boy.

The unusually situation is not that a millionaire, mother thinks autism is causing her son pain and she decides to end his life and suffering, it is that we don't read about it or talk about it. All to often parents end parental rights or murder because autism can drain hope and reality right out of parents (of course, with the right dose of sleep deprivation). The one-time, quick-fix autism cures don't work and lead parents and grandparents down a path of despair when their child doesn't get 'better'.

Add the lack of federal funding for respite care and proven, effective interventions and parents can find themselves spiriting down the road of giving-up their child to the state or even murder. I am not condoning what these two women did or others who act similarly, but we are not giving parents practical resources to help develop a everyday that the whole family can live with.

Foremost parents need to value their own physical and mental health and know the warning signs that life is getting desperate and help is needed. Then where to go and how-to get help. Friends and family members also need to evaluate the health of primary care providers (mom and dad) to ensure everyone is getting the respite they need.

Growing a child with autism into a happy, productive adult takes many layers of family members, professionals, educators, and care providers over the lifespan of the individual.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Time-Out Strategies

Yesterday, I was chatting in the hall at school with a mom (of kid with autism) about discipline and guess what? She admitted that she only disciplines her typically developing children, not her child with autism. Since this was the third conversation about disciplining kids on the spectrum in the last three days, I thought this would be a good place to discuss the ins and outs of discipline strategies.

Today, I am just going to talk about how to effectively use a "time-out" for young (1-5) children with autism. First, if your "time-out" strategy has failed in the past, change the name and place (we actually call our time-out, break time) for a fresh beginning.

Set-up your time-out chair. Whether you use a chair or a bean bag or a step, keep it consistent and easy for your child to take a break and re-group. For children with sensory issues which makes sitting more difficult, try placing a Gymnic Disc in-between the child and the chair; it will give some sensory stimulation while allowing your child to sit longer.

If your child is a visual learner take a picture of your child sitting in the time-out chair, print out the photo, and tape it to the wall just above the time-out chair. Write "Time-Out Chair" below the photo to add another support. The photo will reinforce the proper behavior and remind the child why they are taking a break.

Free the time-out area of distractions; for example: clear toys away, turn-off the Ipod or the T.V., and allow your child time to re-group, so he will be available to make better choices.

Use a visual clock with timer so your child can see how long they need to sit. Typically one minute for each year of life, but children with autism might need to practice to sit in a chair for five minutes if they are five years old. So, begin with one minute and work toward the five minute goal. Keep the clock out of reach of the child, but in visual proximity. Now that your time-out chair is set-up and ready for use, now what?

When we are discussing time-outs (or discipline in general) often parents are ones that need the rules. We can get emotional and forget that we are teaching proper behavior and explode into a fast talking, babbling fool that our children can't understand. Here are some guidelines to follow for success:

* Be patient! Re-frame the situation. For example: Your child wackes you on the head with a plastic hammer and it really hurts and all you want to do is scream and jump up and down. Instead, breath, count, leave the room for a moment; whatever it takes to calm yourself down. Remember you are modeling proper behavior.

* Get down to your kid's level! That is right— bend on down, sit on the floor, slow down your rate of speech, and in the least amount of words give them a WARNING— "No hit mommy or time-out."

* Focus on your non-verbal communication! If you want your child to know you are mad, show them mad on your face, and in the tone of your voice. Slow your rate of speech, lower your voice tone, and put on your mad face.

* Follow through! If you have given a warning and the undesired behavior continues, it is time for a time-out. No excuses, it is teaching time.
  • Sit your child in the time-out chair.
  • Explain why they are there, for example "You hit mommy."
  • Tell them to sit in the chair.
  • Set the timer for a reasonable amount of time; remember you may have to increase the time as you practice the time-out.
  • If your child gets up, return them back to the time-out chair without using any language.
  • When the timer has rung re-explain to your child the reason for the time-out.
  • Hug child and go play!
* Start young! Kids need practice and the sooner you develop a discipline plan and stick to it, the better. Be proactive, think of teaching proper behavior instead of correcting poor behavior. Remember kids with autism are FIRST KIDS so like any other child they need boundries, consquences, and understanding.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I am back! After four months of healing from falling fourteen feet off a ladder and fracturing two vertebra and shattering my heel, I am beginning to reshape my life and getting back to writing on the Parenting Autism blog. My first professional step forward... many other steps taken (literally), with help of physical therapist, I am learning to re-walk.

While laying on the couch (my bed for eight weeks since I could not climb the stairs) my parenting plan of organic, whole foods and after-school activities like swimming, Lego club, art class, gymnastics, and karate exploded into hours of watching movies and eating cereal and toast for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Our after school plan was simply:

1. Roll my walker with one foot while sitting on the bench, that clearly states "Warning DO NOT attempt to sit on seat while moving", from couch to front door.
2. Get coat on and open door.
3. Roll walker out on the front porch and sit in the frigged, Vermont Fall.
5. Wave at kids and moms that are helping Tristan and Dylan off the bus.
6. Kiss Tristan and Dylan.
7. Inquire about their school day; trying to pry-out more than what they ate for lunch.
8. Open door and roll back into our house while reminding the boys to pick-up their backpacks, coats, and shoes off the floor, so I can get back into the house.
9. Sit at the door, yelling, "I can't get through with your stuff all over the floor."
10. Roll through the living room dodging any dropped toys, books, food, and collapse on the couch.

The above mission would take me about forty-five minutes to execute. After an afternoon nap I would lift my head long enough to help Tristan and Dylan with homework-- no executive functioning plans on how we would set-up our afternoon, straight and simply-- survival.

At first, the voice inside my head screamed that I was ruining my children-- Tristan would slip into his old patterns of reciting entire movies and only eating Veggie Bootie and pepperoni, Dylan would not learn to read by the end of kindergarten, and Liam since he was only two (almost three) would turn into a swearing, punching, kicking preschooler with the corruption of Stars Wars and Harry Potter.

Well, I can report four months later that Tristan, Dylan, and Liam did not spiral down into children that were feared by me and every other person. Instead, Tristan learned how to put the dogs "away" in their crates (so, not to eat their food) and how-to pour cereal and milk into bowls. They all learned to put away their clothes, dress, bathe, and brush teeth independently. Liam learned to sleep next to me instead of with me.

And I learned more in the last four months about life than in my prior thirty-five years and I hope to scribble some of those thoughts to you.

Last Thought:

Pause your life, right now. Take a deep breath into your soul. Thank yourself for all you have done and inquired. Be grateful that air can pass through your lungs and that you have this moment. Namaste.