Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sunday Blues

This weekend we had Merry's very first day of Sunday school, and it was a spectacular failure.

That statement has been heavily edited, because apparently I'm the kind of person who can't curse freely, even anonymously on the internet. But if you reread that line with a few choice words added back in, you get a more accurate scope of how bad it was. Or at least how bad it felt.

Church is always a challenging proposition for young kids, but when you add in verbal stimming and sound sensitivity things get really interesting. Luckily our parish is full of young families and is the kind of church that has no nursery on purpose, so some level of noise and wiggling is an accepted part of every service. 

I usually take Merry to the Sunday evening service, which has a praise and worship style band that heavily features piano, guitar, drums and choir. Merry's not only used to it, but seems to do better when we sit next to the band so he can watch all the action. On the other hand, the two morning services have more organ-heavy traditional music (my personal preference) and feature vocalists that pour on the volume and vibrato. This must be pretty hard for Merry, who acts up more whenever circumstances lead us to the morning services. The Gaffer is totally on board with Merry for this one, he says the featured singers are pretty hard on his ears too. (I hate to admit this because it feels like I'm insulting the musicians who grace our worship services with their talents. I love the music, suspect its a sensory thing.)

Unfortunately, guess when Sunday school is? Right in between the two morning services. I tried taking Merry to the early service, which he'd never been to and doesn't have quite as strong a vocalist, but whether it was the music or the change in routine we didn't manage to spend more than a minute in our seats before the fussing was too much even for our tolerant congregation. I bounced us back out to the narthex where we spent the rest of the service. Being out in the narthex means no books, no toys, no running around, lest little ones learn to prefer it to sitting in church and act out in order to leave the service. So Merry was bored, noisy and on edge for the next hour, after which we headed to the social hall.

The church has limited classroom space, so the younger kids are all in the large social hall--three different age groups. In separate classes. At the same time. And Merry was asking me to turn the lights off, so they must have been bugging him too. (light sensitivity is a new thing, I can't tell how much is actual discomfort and how much is a desire to be in control, but he was super unhappy either way) Anyone familiar with ASD is starting to realize what a perfect storm this built up to, and sure enough we only got halfway through before full meltdown set in and I had to grab our stuff and flee. 

So now I have to write an apology to his teacher and figure out a strategy going forward, ideas include:
  • Visual timer to help Merry keep track of how long he has left
  • Spending the hour before class letting him run around and play to burn off energy
  • Sat evening mass? Sun evening mass? Its a pain to make two separate trips, but might be necessary
  • Reserving the coveted W alphabet mat for Merry's use if he behaves for the first half of class (this was the breaking point, he was super excited to see the alphabet mats but another kid got to 'his' mat first and didn't want to trade)
  • Other reward system for good behavior
  • Ear plugs/muffs

Friday, September 26, 2014

Writing Experiment

I'm trying something new now that we're getting back into the school routine and I can reliably and regularly have a few hours of relative down time. Each day while Merry is at school I'm sitting down with my laptop and a timer on my phone. 30 minutes to write and publish a blog post on whatever comes to mind that day. (not gonna pretend it's 30 minutes uninterrupted with Pippin wandering around on the floor, that's what pause buttons are for)

Like many avid bookworms I have literary ambitions, but while my head is full of ideas and dreams for novels and blog posts, years of 'oh I need to write more' have resulted in very few words on paper or screen. So even though the quality will be pretty shoddy on these half hour pieces, at least I'll be writing something, making habits, getting practice. Actual talent aside, I'll never be any kind of writer if I never write at all!

Hopefully I'll eventually expand to more writing with better quality and more purpose than practice, but baby steps for now.


With winter coming, our summer routine of parks every day will be coming to an end and yesterday we headed to the children's museum. We've been going to various children's museums regularly since moving to the northwest, they're a real sanity saver during the long wet winter when playgrounds are miserable. The more I learn about autism though, the more surprised I am that Merry has very little trouble with what must be a crazy sensory overload situation.

Merry loves to visit the museums and handles the noise and bustle very well, but I suspect he copes by he going into heavy focus mode. He'll pick one activity (trains are a big favorite) and disappear into his own little world. Good luck trying to suggest a new activity or area, or trying to introduce interactive play--this boy is gonna do his own thing.

Yesterday while he was running excited, overjoyed laps around the electric train display Merry picked up a couple of companions:  a little boy in a blue shirt who was probably a bit older than he was and a girl who was probably a bit younger. I don't think Merry ever spoke to them or even looked directly at them but they were all having fun watching the trains, pushing the buttons and running around.

Then Blue Shirt decided he wanted to play in a different room--one that projects the kids' movement onto a colorful psychedelic screen. It had never been a hit with Merry (visual overload, much?) but Blue Shirt wanted his new friends to come along. He asked Merry repeatedly, tugged on his sleeves, very persistent. But it was a no go. Eventually Merry ran off to the airplane exhibit and the other two followed him. It was both heartwarming and worrying to watch them follow Merry's lead through several different exhibits, join him in the cockpit of the airplane to push buttons, run through the farmyard and toss beanbags around. But although I think Merry enjoyed the company, I didn't see him actually interact with the other kids. When they got distracted and stopped following him around, he didn't turn to rejoin whatever new play they'd discovered or attempt to keep up the following game.

There are several areas where I'm confident that Merry's problems are temporary, areas that simply need more work and support, but this social oblivion is a different beast. I've heard it called the root of autism, and I suspect going forward that it's going to be our biggest challenge.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Small Happy Places

Thanks to God's grace disguised as coincidence, we live close enough to Sam's preschool to walk him to school in the mornings. I absolutely love this; the exercise and the chance to get outdoors is so good for all of us.

As the year goes by we can see the season's changes in front gardens, field and roadside that become familiar as beloved faces over time. There's one tree in particular that I notice every day after the droppoff on the way back home. It's a maple that overhangs a border wall, giving me a quick glimpse under its canopy of elegant spreading branches dressed in spots of moss. Glowing green or gold, shining with rain or boldly winter bare, it's a small dose of beauty that warms the heart.

Maybe I associate it with the peaceful glow in the small accomplishment of getting my boy to school, or maybe the familiar but unlooked-for* beauty turns my mind outward to gratitude, but either way it's a happy place.

*and now that I've put this all into words, it'll be harder to keep it this way :-p

"Say your prayers in a garden early, ignoring steadfastly the dew, the birds and the flowers, and you will come away overwhelmed by its freshness and joy; go there in order to be overwhelmed and, after a certain age, nine times out of ten nothing will happen to you."
-- C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Vancouver Adventures

Vancouver BC--downtown tourism and outdoor beauty at one go! We had a wonderful trip over Labor Day weekend, at once too short and just long enough. I would have loved to stay longer, but traveling with the kiddos is exhausting and we needed the two days to recover that we included in our vacation planning.

We decided to ride the train instead of driving; none of us had ever traveled by Amtrak before and Merry loves trains. It was a fun experiment: the scenery was beautiful, the train was comfortable and convenient, the Gaffer enjoyed not doing most of the driving, and Merry was on cloud nine because train! and tunnels! There were a few drawbacks though--Pippin is at the age where he wants to crawl around all the time so juggling him for 4 hours each way was wearing for all of us, while in the car he'd be securely strapped in place. Going by train also meant relying on public transit; not a huge problem, especially since Vancouver has a very nice system, but it did impose a few limitations. Next time we'll probably take the minivan, but we'll def keep Amtrak in mind for future travels.

Once we made it to town, it was basically all Stanley Park. This huge city park is right next to downtown, and offers gardens, playgrounds, beaches, a miniature train ride (moar trains!), aquarium, hiking, and probably more that we didn't have time to discover. I loved being able to stay in the elegant downtown area with comfy hotel (even though we didn't get to take advantage of the nicer restaurants *sniff*) and then take a short bus trip across to the beautiful park.

Here's some tips and recommendations:

  • Second Beach. Beautiful, tons to do! There's a playground, the beach, and an outdoor heated "pool" that's more like a small water park.
  • White Spot restaurant. Family friendly, gfcf options, tasty food!
  • Bella Gelateria. Amazing gelato! We Yelped the closest gelato/ice cream spot and I popped out after the boys were asleep, planning to get a quick treat to bring back to the hotel room. But apparently it's a Really Big Deal and I ended up spending half an hour in line before triumphantly bringing home a bowl of Texas pecan with sour cherries and salted chocolate. Totally worth it! Dairy free options were available, but we never made it back while Merry was awake because we're terrible or something.
  • DeDutch. Delicious breakfast, gfcf options, and the location near the convention center looks over Vancouver Harbor.