Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Causes: Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

I have 10 years experience in the field of sexual violence.  I first realized I was passionate about the fight against sexual and domestic violence when I was still in high school and sought guidance from Karla, a co-worker (at both of our part-time jobs) and friend, who had already been working in the field (her "day job").  Over the years, our work paths crossed in a variety of ways many times.  I asked her if she would write on the topic for me and she said she would, but also said she kept coming back to this piece written by a her colleague, Tony.  So, she asked if he would be willing to share it here, and he said yes.  A big thanks to both of them for making this contribution for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, an issue that doesn't get near the attention it deserves.
A child asks me to define myself in one word

One morning over breakfast, my 11-year-old daughter posed a seemingly simple question: Dad, if you had to describe yourself with one word, what would that be?

I couldnt come up with an answer, so I did what I think many parents do when their children stump them I turned the tables. How would you describe yourself with one word? I asked.

Im creative …” she began, and I like to help people, her voice trailing off as she realized she exceeded the word limit. We laughed about how difficult it is to describe any person with one word.

I never did give her an answer, but my daughter did an important thing. She forced me to think about who I am, what my role is in this world and what my role is in the lives of my family members. I am the marketing and communications manager at 360 Communities, a nonprofit that works to prevent sexual and domestic violence, ensure school success and promote long-term self-sufficiency. I spend much of my time at 360 Communities working behind the scenes to tell the stories of the heroes that work and volunteer here to better the lives of others. It has been easy for me to keep a distance from the actual work of advocating for others.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and 360 Communities is one of many organizations in Minnesota working to end sexual violence against women and children. Did you know that according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, nearly 1 in 5 women are raped in their lifetime? This statistic is not new to me, but with my daughters question still swimming around in my head, it now moves me to define a role for myself in changing this.

360 Communities believes that engaging more men to be our allies in the fight against sexual and domestic violence is critical to achieving progress. Without men standing up to be counted, meaningful change is difficult, if not impossible. We need men like me the silent majority who dont usually put themselves forward on issues like these.

It is daunting to look at complex issues like sexual and domestic violence and think about how to even begin to affect change. But advocates tell me they are not looking for male heroes to come and rescue them. In fact, they have already been doing the hard work on the front lines for decades. They are looking for male allies to walk beside them in this fight allies who will stand up to sexist, degrading behavior toward women in the absence of women. These are men who will work to change what passes as acceptable in conversations, in bars, on social media and more.

This may sound simple, but it takes courage. It is much easier to stay silent. I used to believe that by simply not participating in sexist behavior or refusing to join in conversations that were degrading toward women was good enough. After all, I was not part of the problem. But as one advocate friend pointed out, silence can be perceived as tacit approval.

When it comes to sexual and domestic violence, too often we want to believe that these things only happen to others and their children because of something they may have done wrong. That makes it easy to compartmentalize and tell ourselves it wont happen to us and our loved ones. However, the statistics tell a different story.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 42 percent of female survivors of sexual assault experienced their first rape before the age of 18 and almost 80 percent before the age of 25. One quarter of all male rape survivors were assaulted before the age of 10. This is an incredible amount of risk for children and young adults. I have two children. If someone told me that one in five kids were going to be hit by a car in our neighborhood this year, I wouldnt rest until speed bumps, stop signs and cameras were installed on every block. Why do I advocate differently for women and children when it comes to sexual and domestic violence?

None of us are immune to this. We need men to embrace the work of violence prevention and intervention with the urgency that these statistics we read about do not represent somebody elses problem these are our daughters, our sons, our wives, our sisters, our brothers, our mothers, our co-workers, and our friends.

Change will take critical mass. We need men from all walks of life business executives, teachers, police officers, members of the military, construction workers, bus drivers, athletes, college students and more to play a role in shifting the conversation.

This is new territory for me and I will be the first to admit that I am no expert. However, these are things I am doing that you might consider:

Learn about sexual and domestic violence. Talk to advocates at 360 Communities Lewis House ( about the issues. Visit the websites of other organizations like the Joyful Heart Foundations NO MORE Project (, Minnesota Mens Action Network (, Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women ( and the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (

Model respectful and healthy relationships for children. Call out degrading and objectifying portrayals of women and girls on television, in movies and in the media. Teach boys to respect women and girls.

Stand up and voice opposition to sexist and degrading behavior toward women.

Educate others.

Recently I attended the fifth annual Sexual Assault Awareness Walk in Eagan. More than 100 people braved the rain in order to raise awareness about sexual assault and honor survivors of sexual violence. I was encouraged by the number of men of all ages who participated in the candlelight walk.

We live in a world full of safety admonishments for women and girls: dont dress that way, dont walk alone, dont drink, and many more. These messages are meant to keep them safe, but it places the ownership of their safety on them. Why dont we work toward a world where women and girls are not, by their very existence, at greater risk for harm? We need men to help shape that world.

And for my daughter, I will now describe myself with one word: ally.


Tony Compton is marketing and communications manager at 360 Communities, a Dakota County nonprofit which works to prevent violence, ensure school success and promote long-term self-sufficiency. He is also a husband, father, brother and son.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Causes: Autism Awareness Month, A Parent's Perspective.

My second guest poster on the topic of Autism Awareness Month is an internet friend, Nicole, from my Myra's Due Date Club.  She was due with her youngest the same month I was due with Myra.  I have heard bits and pieces of her older son's story, but reading it in its entirety was different.  Even though we've never met in person, it warms my heart to know sweet kiddos like hers are in such good hands.  Thank you, Nicole, for sharing Liam's story.

I still remember the day I found out we were expecting my 2nd child. I was absolutely overjoyed when I saw those two pink lines. Thinking about it still makes me smile. My pregnancy with this little boy, whom I would later come to know as Liam, was not without event. The doctors told me that he was going to be miscarried. Despite their predictions, he lived. My cervix began “funneling” at about 18 weeks, which is a fancy way of saying that it was basically starting to open. They told me that he would most likely be born early, and that he could even die because he would be too early to be viable. He stayed. He lived. He grew and thrived. I developed preeclampsia toward the end of pregnancy. They laid out all the risks to him and to me. But by then I knew better. I knew that he strong. I knew that he was a fighter. I knew that he was a force to be reckoned with. And mostly, I knew that my God must have big plans for this boy that was spared from death so many times before even being born.

He was born a few weeks later. He did not cry. I only caught the briefest glimpse of him before he was rushed away. A small crowd of nurses worked on him. The room was so quiet. No one spoke. I kept asking if he was okay, over and over and over again, sure that no one was hearing me. Finally a nurse came over and took my hand. “We don’t know,” she said. “They are doing everything they can.” I don’t think I will ever forget that moment. It was like I’d been punched it the throat. My miracle baby, my sweet boy who had already defied death many times over, might die. After the longest moments, I heard a nurse triumphantly declare, “Okay! He’s breathing! Let’s get him up the NICU.” He lived. He was strong. He was a fighter. He was a force to be reckoned with. God had spared him, yet again.
Liam was such an easy baby. He was truly a joy. He ate well, he slept well, and he rarely cried. As the months went on, his tumultuous start to life faded more and more into the background. He was alive. He was healthy. We were blessed.

As he grew, there were times when the little “mom alarm” bells would go off in my head. His core strength seemed low, he was constantly a bit late with milestones, and something just seemed different about him. My fears were eased by the pediatrician. He told me that all kids developed a little differently, and that there was nothing to worry about. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but in the deepest place in my heart, I knew something was different.
The first big clue was when he was still completely non verbal at 18 months. A lot of people told me that I was making too much of it. Plenty of kids didn’t talk well until later. It wasn’t just words, though. He didn’t grunt, didn’t point, and didn’t babble. He didn’t gesture, or attempt to mimic any sounds. He was silent or he was crying. There was nothing else, there was no in between. It turned out that my hunch was right. He was evaluated and diagnosed with a significant speech and communication delay. He began speech therapy at 18 months old with the communication skills of a 7 month old.

Through all of this, the idea of autism was readily brought up and dismissed by the developmental pediatrician, by the speech language pathologist, and even the audiologist. He didn’t look autistic. He didn’t seem autistic. He was sometimes willing to have “shared attention” which is not a typical trait of autistic kids.
He had a follow up with the developmental when he turned three. He started to ask a series of questions. I was a bit taken aback by them, and even more so by my honest answers.

Yes, he hates wearing socks. We buy him special ones that don’t have seams in them.
Yes, he hates wearing shoes. We have to get ones without laces that are a full size too big so he’ll even wear them.

Yes, he has difficulty with clothing, such as shirts with tags or pants with stiff seams.
Yes, he is obsessed with collections like rocks and cars. He likes to sort them, and line them up, and organize them, but he doesn’t really play with them.

Yes, he has a limited diet. He refuses to eat anything that isn’t smooth and white.
Yes, he walks on his tiptoes a lot.

Yes, he flaps his hands as well.
Yes, he melts down in loud or crowded settings.

Yes, he fixates on spinning objects like wheels or fans.
Yes, he seems to want to play with other kids, but he avoids them most of the time.

Yes, he is often off by himself when a group of children is playing.
Yes, he gets a vacant look and spins in circles when a room is too loud or too busy.

Yes, he mouths objects a lot more than a 3 year old should.

Yes, he avoids eye contact.

Yes, he shies away from affection.
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Over and over again. Before the pediatrician even said anything, before he even finished asking the questions, it hit me.

These are traits of autism. He’s screening for autism. And I keep saying yes. It was both shocking and unsurprising at the same time. People had said over and over again that he didn’t seem autistic when he was younger. It was shocking that he could be. However, as I answered the questions out loud it all clicked into place. He was different. All the feelings that I had throughout his little life that he was different, that I couldn’t put my finger on were suddenly confirmed, right there in that room. We were sent for further testing from a child psychologist, which months later did confirm what the pediatrician and I both knew that day in that room.
Liam is autistic.

He is considered high functioning autistic. It was a realization that both rocked my world, and yet didn’t change anything at all. I felt more armed. I had more knowledge about what was going on, and I had a better direction to take to best help him. However, diagnosis and all he is still Liam. He is my sweet, funny boy that loves cars, and dinos, and mashed potatoes. He loves to run with his big brother and tickle his baby brother. He has an infectious laugh and a wonderful smile. He is bright, focused, and always tries his hardest.

Just over a year after he began, at about 2 and a half years old, Liam graduated from speech therapy. He went from testing at a level 11 months under his actual age to testing within the standard deviation of normal for his age. We were so excited! It had been long and exhausting. My husband and I had long conversations in the night about whether he would ever speak at all. We wondered if he would have a normal childhood, a normal life! Even his therapists were shocked and amazed by his progress. We credit God with every bit of his progress and we are so thankful and in awe.
Liam is currently in occupation therapy. His progress there is over and above what anyone has expected of him. I consider it a gift to watch him learn, and develop, and grow. He sees life through a different lens than most people. His progress is the unmistakable work of God.

Many people that I have encountered view autism as a disability. A disadvantage. A form of brokenness. But I don’t see it that way. It’s a difference. That’s all it is. A deviation of normal. And for my family, personally, it is a gift. Liam’s autism has changed our family. I now take very little for granted. I celebrate every small victory. I see more good in everything. And I praise God daily for the gift of having this slightly different little boy in my life. I’ve been asked by well meaning, but insensitive people, if I wished that Liam had been born normal. I tell them no with confidence. I have an extraordinary boy. Autism is a part of who he is. If he wasn’t autistic, he wouldn’t be the same Liam, and I love him just like he is.

A diagnosis of autism raises as many questions as it provides answers. It’s not well understood. It’s more of a classification of a combination of behaviors and traits. There is a lot of speculation about what causes autism, and no concrete answers. There is a strong correlation of a genetic component, but beyond that most guesses are shots in the dark. People blame everything from vaccines, to electronics, to GMOs, to ultrasounds. I choose to not guess. I choose to not speculate. I choose to not wonder because this is what I know.

Liam, like every person on this earth, was fearfully and wonderfully made. God knew him before the foundations of the earth and he knit him together in my womb. Diagnosis or no diagnosis Liam is exactly the boy he was created to be and he’s leading exactly the life he’s supposed to lead. God doesn’t make mistakes. Liam is perfect. He is strong. He’s a fighter. He’s a force to be reckoned with. God has great plans for this little boy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Day In The Life: Spring 2014.

One of my favorite bloggers does a "day in the life" post every quarter.  I believe she got the idea from another blogger I now follow.  So, last year I did a 24-hour post when Myra was 1 month old, 2 months old, and 3 months old (but never posted that one because that's when life started to get really miserable and crazy before we knew what was going on with her).  I was reminded of these posts recently, so I decided to get back into them.  

I figured I'd just get it out of the way and do it that next I did.  Had I known how the day was going to go (not a "typical" day at all, yes there is such a thing), I would have picked a different day.  Not necessarily because I have a need to show you all how well every single day goes around here (ha!), but because about 2/3 of the way through the day, I was really sick of being attached to my phone to record all of it.  But, I wasn't about to quit 2/3 through and start over a different day, so this is what you get!  To give Myra some credit, I can actually say I have an awesome sleeper.  She takes two 1-hour naps every day (occasionally skimps on the morning nap, I guess) and sleeps 7pm-7am (or later) without waking up.  Those of you who know me well know we ALL earned this after how awful the first 4 months were.  Those of you who have FPIES kids can probably imagine.  So, although yesterday did not go like that, it does every other day and I am loving it. But, life is life and things happen and yesterday was one of those wonky days, and we survived.

Anyway, our day went a little something like this...

7:15 I woke up, Trevor was already up and had eaten, showered, and was starting his coffee

7:50 Myra up, playing in her crib (I leave her alone for a bit in the morning to give her some alone time.  She usually talks to her doll or the pictures on the walls.)

8:03 Now Myra is whining, Trevor got her quickly before leaving-she was stuck in the crib rails.

8:05 Time for a diaper change, bottle, play on the couch for a little bit.  I turned up the heat because it's COLD.

8:30 We eat (me-coffee and Coco Roos, Myra-canned peaches and freeze dried peaches) We can hear the birds chirping outside and Myra keeps saying "oo oo! oo oo!" It's her default animal sound that started as her version of woof woof but now it means everything an animal could say.  Except "who" which she knows is an owl and "baa" which she knows is a sheep.  

8:52 Both done eating.  I get Myra dressed-I leave her in pajamas for breakfast because she is a messy gal.  While changing her, she says "baby" (she is madly in love with her doll), "people" (when she looks at the people int he pictures on her walls), and "down" (the most recent addition to her vocabulary).

All done! (signing it and says "aahhh")

8:58 Myra plays upstairs. She would rather play with my dirty socks than her actual toys.  Rowdy is up there with us, she tries to give him my dirty socks.  Myra sneezed then said "sneeze" (or "tee!") and signed it.  She also says "Rowdy" frequently ("Row-wee") whenever he is around or she hears him.

Homemade toy - cut a hole in the top of her formula can, she puts stuff (craft poms mostly) in the hole.  Lately she has just been walking/scooting around the house with the thing hanging off her hand though. 

Playing with a turkey baster and her reflection.

9:25 I grab Myra to put her down for a nap so I can shower.  Since she slept so late, she probably isn't going to fall asleep yet, but it's worth a try since we have to leave in less than an hour for the clinic.  Realize she has a "poo poo" diaper (Myra's words) so I change that. She signs "I love you" to me a couple times and says "bye bye" when I pull up her pants.  I remind her we aren't going anywhere yet, it's time for a nap now.

I love our Dropcam.  Certainly not a need, but it's been helpful in letting her fuss for a bit (until she finds her baby) or knowing if she really needs us (stuck in the crib!).

9:59 I am showered and dressed, take a pre makeup selfie. Myra's nap no-go like I thought, but she's content just playing in her crib.  I brush my teeth, get Myra, pack my binder (Myra's food info), snacks, waters for both of us, and a bottle.  When I get to the garage I realize Trevor was kind enough to leave all his stuff from drill this past weekend in front of my car, so I move that then load up.  Myra has a stuffed bear that stays in the car and she asks for it every time I buckle her in.

10:19 We leave for the clinic, I'm totally annoyed by the snow, I check my work voicemail and return calls on the way. Myra yelling "bear bear bear" which sounds a lot like "beer beer beer."

10:27 We arrive at the clinic for Myra's appointment with the dietician.  The goal is to take a close look at her diet thus far and get some information so we can plan her next food trials.  I have a pretty elaborate system of selecting which foods to trial, but we want to make sure we're not missing something.

10:34 All checked in and waiting.  Myra is walking/scooting (she does this half walk where she sits on one foot and scoots with her other leg) around the waiting area, making friends with everyone.  She says "hi!" to people everywhere we go.  

10:42 Called in for our appointment.  I gave her a bottle then let her destroy the room/play with plastic food.

12:02 Appointment over-lots of good information.  Bottom line-we're off to a great start, have some good information about overall toddler serving sizes/daily food group goals, planned next 5 food trials.

12:17 Home, time for lunch.  Sandwich for me, avocado (current food trial) and ham for Myra. 
When Myra is done, she sometimes says "aahhhhh" and holds up her hands (to sign "all done"), but sometimes she just throws her food on the floor.  I'm not sure if she does that because she wants to get rid of it, or if she wants to share with Rowdy (he eats her food off the floor and she likes that). We're working with her to always say all done, but it's work in progress.

12:44 Diaper change, down for nap (Myra signed "I love you" to me 3 times)

12:51 I check/respond to emails, start an episode of Scandal (I'm nearing the end of season 2) while I clean up the kitchen and fold laundry.  I hardly watch any TV (we don't even have TV, but Netflix), but when I do I usually force myself to do something productive while I watch.

1:24 Myra awake, hoping she goes back to sleep

1:28 And she's back asleep...

1:42 I start another episode of Scandal because I'm lazy-finding stuff to tidy (bathroom! eek!) and make myself useful (so I don't feel so lazy).

This is "Trevor's" bathroom, but we both use it.  He cut his hair before drill then left in a hurry and I wasn't down here much all weekend or I probably would have picked up sooner.  The toilet paper situation is intentional as Myra likes to play with it if she can reach it.  Side note: I dropped a whole roll of toilet paper into the toilet, clearly skipping a few important steps, this weekend.

1:47 Our fridge has been acting up.  Luckily it's still covered under the extended warranty we bought.  The service dude checked it out a week or two ago, but some dye in it so he could see where the freon leak is, called this morning to see if he could come by and check it out.  I figured he would call before actually coming, but nope.  So he came, Rowdy barked, Myra woke up not happy...I got her up, she calmed down quickly, we went to play in kitchen and watch the fridge stuff.  We had to completely empty it (freezer has been empty already since it's not working).  Myra was very curious.

2:10 Myra signed "more" (aka "eat" - working on that), so made her a bottle, it will be time for a snack soon

Still very curious about what is happening in our kitchen.

2:32 Well, the verdict is in.  We get a new fridge. The repair man cleaned up, I started moving stuff outside (actually thankful for the cooler temps this week, perfect fridge temp outside right now) and cooked the ground beef we had in there.

Tired girl.  She rubs her doll's pig tails when she's tired, sad, or falling asleep. 

Tired but too late for a nap now.

3:26 Everything moved onto the deck for now. Put cooked beef away. Myra having snack.

3:37 I get the mail (junk-won a prize!!!.......), MPR statement and invite to my great aunt and uncle's 50th anniversary party. Myra not eating much, her day has been totally goofy.

3:45 I'm losing motivation and patience as Myra is losing hers. Time for a change. I clean up from snack and off to the library we go!

Myra gets really excited when we arrive places.  She knows she needs to unbuckle herself, just isn't strong enough to actually do it yet (thankfully!).

4:00 At library.  I got a bird audiobook (new found determination to figure out bird songs) and a few DVDs (JFK because I just finished a book about him, birds, and one about the Presidents because I want to hold my own against my friend's genius son who knows them all!)

4:12 Done at the library, next stop: drop off expired meds at the police department drop box, then I took the scenic route home as I was on the phone with a friend and Myra was having fun singing away in the back seat.  Came home and let Myra make a mess while I finished my conversation.

4:53 My dad stopped by to drop off the tray to Myra's booster chair we forgot at his house yesterday.

5:20 Myra is TIRED.  It will be an early bedtime night, so I get her going on some supper and start some for myself.  I cooked some summer sausage with a little brown sugar (one of Trevor's recipes) just to get started.

Murder of the blueberries

5:41 Trevor home, he cooked egg sandwiches for the two of us.

6:06 All done eating.  Kind of a random supper but our food is all over the place and I don't have the energy to dig through thermal bags on the deck to put something together.

All done.

6:13 Trevor is getting Myra ready for bed while I feed whiny Rowdy.  This boy is so scheduled it makes me bonkers sometimes.  He knows when it is time to eat!

6:18 I bring Myra's bottle to Trevor, take her dirty clothes and spray her shirt with oxi clean (why did we decide to trial blueberries? so messy), then pick up her toys and Rowdy's.

6:22 I finish loading then start dishwasher and get a beer for Trevor and me.  I put Myra's potatoes in the fridge aka the deck (still annoying).

6:26 Trevor is done feeding Myra, brushes her teeth with her. I'm picking up random things while I wait to say good night.

6:29 Myra in bed. (30 min earlier than usual, but she's wiped!)

6:35 Trevor heads downstairs to do physics homework/study, I sit down to finish the episode of Scandal that got interrupted by the whole fridge fiasco (still annoying...still).

6:43 Myra appears to be asleep.  Sometimes if her naps are that screwed up, she gets over tired and struggles to fall asleep so nicely.  Phew!

7:22 Myra whining.  She blindly searches for and finds her baby in the crib, so she'll probably go back to sleep now.

7:31 Myra still whining, I went in sang her a song and put her back down. Have I mentioned I hate when BOTH naps get screwed up. Ended up going in again, rocked her (until she got in my face and said "hi...hi..." then kissed her baby "mmmmmm-MAH!" OOOKAY little girl, time for bed.)  I put her back down and she was quiet right away.

8:05 Check monitor again, Myra definitely asleep

8:19 I sneezed. Ha-this chunk of time would have been empty, had to put something.  In reality, I was just sitting there watching more Scandal while I relaxed a bit.  This is why I force myself to be useful if I'm going to watch TV during the day, so I can do this guilt free at night.  When our nights start out goofy like this, I get stressed out because it reminds me of how crazy (CRAZY!!!) our nights were when Myra was 1, 2, 3, 4 months old.  So I still get a little anxious and agitated until she's actually asleep, which she is now, so I can just relax for a bit.

8:56 I empty the dishwasher, put a few dirty dishes in it.

9:19 I brush my teeth, wash my face, put on pajamas.

9:43 Trevor done studying, asked me to come look at what he's been working on.

9:57 Ahhh... in bed.  I'm listening to Unbroken (audiobook-my new favorite bedtime ritual).  Won't last long before it's sleep time.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Causes: Autism Awareness Month.

Next up in my Causes series is a post by my friend, Kallie.  She is an Autism Specialist Social Worker and has many years experience working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in a variety of roles.  Although she is a mom, her perspective is that of a professional.  Thanks to research and awareness efforts, we are hearing a lot more about ASD, but there are still many misconceptions.  I enjoyed reading and learning more and I hope you all do, too! (If you would like to get in touch with Kallie, please let me know by leaving a comment or clicking the Contact tab at the top of the page and I will be happy to connect you two.)
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder.  There are many misconceptions about cause and onset of ASD...some feel it is due to vaccinations, others to food enzymes, and others due to environmental factors.  There are also a lot of unanswered questions about Autism.  Studies continue to be done to find a common entity for individuals with ASD to see if a 'cure' or preventative action can be taken.  People continue to become concerned about ASD as the numbers seem to rise.  In my opinion, I feel the numbers rise due to the awareness we (professionals and parents) have of ASD.  Kiddos are being diagnosed significantly earlier than in previous years as well as kiddos that are 'higher functioning ASD' or Aspergers.  Some kiddos years ago never received a diagnosis and were just considered 'quirky'.  Now, I think because we have the DSM-IV and the DSM-V with particular criteria including other criteria that previously wouldn't have been considered, we're getting kiddos the diagnoses they need that make sense.
So, great, your child is diagnosed with ASD... now what?  That's where I come into the picture.  In the past I worked with kiddos on the spectrum doing ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) in a center and doing in-home based services.  Now, I am an Autism Specialist Social Worker.  Different roles completely... but helpful non-the-less!  In my opinion, there is nothing better than starting services as soon as possible... the younger the better!  Because kids on the spectrum lack social awareness (part of the diagnosis) it is common to see increased challenging or problem behaviors when something does not go their way.  Sure, I'm guessing a lot of you are thinking, 'well, doesn't every kid throw a fit when they don't get what the want??' Yes!  They do!  The difference here is that typically developing kiddos learn that it is socially unacceptable to throw a fit in public, or without end, as they get older.  (and yes, I realize this is still a struggle for some kids!)  Kids on the spectrum don't learn that.  We (parents, professionals, teachers, paras, therapists) have to teach them how to respond to situations.  We have to provide them with the information they need to know how to process the situation and respond appropriately, or move on to the next activity.  Does that make sense?  I'll give more examples...
Kids/individuals with ASD can only process what they've been given.  Think of the brain (any brain) like a file cabinet or Google.  Brains of individuals with ASD need to be filled with information.  If we were to search their Google, we're only going to get what we've put in it.  You'll find that generalizing one situation (place, time, season) is more challenging.  When there has been one experience in one place... it is hard to carry it to another situation without having experienced it.  When I worked with kids for this process, we'd teach as much as we could of a variety of skills across different settings (community, in-home, center, school, etc.).  If you think of typically developing kids, think of how they respond to things in different settings?  Doing homework at a desk at school is different than doing homework on the bedroom floor at home... Right?  Some kids that have lower functioning abilities and are maybe non-verbal often do really well with a visual schedule.  The more specific and step by step the schedule, the better.  Schedules that use pictures that are of that child and real life situations, make the most sense.  Using visuals and a schedule for everything one possibly can is the best route to go for these kids! 
The last thing that I want to talk about is reinforcement and behavior.  So, as I mentioned, it is not uncommon for children with ASD to have more temper tantrums that typically developing kids.  So how do we teach them and how do we make them stop?  Million dollar question, right?  Here's the answer... reinforcement.  A reinforcer is something that is strong enough to elicit a change in behavior.  This is much different than a motivator (helpful, but not strong enough).  Think of it this way... we go to work because we get paid and can pay bills, buy things, have fun... right?  Money is reinforcement for us to do our jobs, and do them well.  Most of us get paid at least monthly if not more frequently.  So, how are we 'paying' kids to learn?  How are we 'paying' kids to follow a schedule?  I know it sounds like bribery... but would we do our jobs if we weren't getting paid?  My guess is most people would not.  I know that I would not sit at work all day if I was doing it for free... Don't get me wrong, I love my job, but I also have to pay for things!  If we're going to teach kids how to behave, we want to do it with positive intervention.  That means, we are not going to say 'no, stop, don't' unless it is immediate safety related.  We are going to say 'quiet hands' or 'let's walk'.  We are going to provide other alternatives to self injurious behaviors (i.e. a kid who bites his hand when stressed might need a chewy).  We are also going to find reinforcers that will change behavior.  We are going to praise, give tokens, give points, to reward appropriate behavior (the things we want to see) and ignore or simply redirect the behaviors we want to get rid of.  Also, providing 4:1 attention to kiddos for appropriate behaviors is quite an essential. This means that for every negative interaction or redirection (stop, no, don't, do this, etc.) it is crucial to provide 4 positive attention actions/touches/hugs/looks/praise etc.
A lot of kids will learn that 'if I do this, I get this' which works in our benefit and against us.  For example, if a child has a meltdown in the store because Mom said 'no' to a piece of candy, and she gives in to give the candy because she's waiting in line and people are looking at her and it is easier in the moment to just do it... she's unintentionally reinforcing the behavior (yes, we are all guilty of this from time to time... just an example that is easy for most to relate!)  So let's break it down and look at this... child cries, mom says no, child cries more, mom gives in, child stops crying, child gets candy.  A child on the spectrum would likely pair this as being rewarded for having a behavior because that is what they are communicating at that time.  So, accidently what's happening is we are reinforcing the crying to increase or continue when there is a want... even if it just happens once every now and then.  It is kind of like playing the slot machines... we don't often win, but when we do we get a big pay off and it is worth enough to continue to try until it happens again.  This shows us that the candy (or the money from the slot machine) is a strong enough reinforcer that it gets us to continue to behave that way... I sure hope that makes sense!
I could continue to go on and explain more behavior perspectives of working with kiddos (and adults) on the spectrum... and would gladly do so if you have questions :-)  I hope this is helpful to anyone who wants ASD information.  I often get questions about behaviors and how to change them, that is why I decided to write so much about that.  Let me know if there's anything else I can do for you!
Click here to see a list of the other posts in this series.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Date Night & Alpacas.

Just a quick post about our weekend.  On Friday night, Trevor and I headed to Oceanaire in Minneapolis for a date night.  My dad had the easiest babysitting job ever and Myra behaved very well (she slept the whole time he was here).  We were there to celebrate my brother-in-law's birthday (Oceanaire is definitely not in our 'regular night out' budget, but it was a good excuse to use the 'very special occasion' budget).  It was great to get a night to ourselves, enjoy good food and wine, and good company. 

 I got the Hawaii Swordfish

Trevor got the Bigeye Tuna

Rhya and I shared Key Lime Pie

Then on Saturday, Myra and I headed to the Minnesota Alpaca Expo in town (while Trevor slaved away in his study den).  Myra is getting pretty excited about learning animal sounds and her default is "woof woof" so that's what she had on repeat as we walked up and down the aisles of alpacas.  We ran into some friends and family there, too, so that was fun.  (Mostly fun, until a cousin got trampled by an alpaca...but she was okay, scared, but okay.)

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