Posts Tagged ‘ raising kids with special needs ’

Birdhouse For Autism: An App To Make Autism Parents Life Easier

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at Atypical Familia.


I bet you have a calendar where you write everything down. Phonebooks, memo pads, notebooks or scraps of paper with scribble on it. When you’re an autism parent, your life is all about keeping track of progress, meltdowns, bowel movements and sleep cycles. You have countless appointments and therapists numbers to remember. I know I do and no matter how organized I try to be, I still don’t have everything in one place. As a mom constantly on the go, it’s impossible to have Norrin’s information accessible to me at all times. And to be really honest, I can barely remember  the  passcode to  my iPhone –  I need everything written down or else I’ll forget.

I just downloaded Birdhouse for Autism; it’s an app that “keep[s] a running, searchable log of your child’s daily activities and behaviors, so that you can figure out what’s working and what needs to be changed.” The app was created by autism parents, Ben Chutz and Dani Gillman.

“We needed a better way to manage and organize all this stuff, and it was apparent to us that many, many other families needed a better way as well,” said Ben.

Unlike any other app, Birdhouse for Autism you can monitor your child’s day-to-day progress. Accessible via iPhone, Android or the web, parents can view and track their child’s sleep cycles, diet, bowl movement, moods, medications and any other information you’d like to note. You can also keep track of your therapists information, including how long they have worked with your child.

“In its current version, Birdhouse works best for families who are already in the habit of keeping some type of notes on their child’s day to day progress, or who have something that they are paying special attention to in their child. For example, one family was able to get a referral to a neurologist from her child’s pediatrician by tracking her sleep cycles. Another family used Birdhouse with their son’s special education teacher to build a case for the IEP meeting that her son be relocated to a classroom better designed to suit his needs.”

There are two types of memberships: free and premium. You’ll need to create an account on a full size (desktop/laptop) browser prior too using Birdhouse app. The free membership only allows you to log/track the current day but weekly progress must be viewed via web. The premium membership allows you to have all your child’s information on your phone and allows you to share the information with up to 3 other individuals. What makes premium membership especially unique is that it’s a “name your own price.” Families pay either $1 to $20 per month for the Birdhouse for Autism app.

I am excited about the Birdhouse for Autism app because I’ve been thinking about medication for Norrin. I know the app will make it easier to monitor. All of my information will be neatly and safely stored in one place that I will be able to access any time I need it.

Have you used the Birdhouse for Autism app? Would love to hear what you use it for?

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A Conversation with Ron Suskind, Author of ‘Life, Animated’ a Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at Atypical Familia.

It’s not every day I get to chat one-on-one with a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. But Ron Suskind, author of Life, Animated, immediately put me at ease. We both shared a common connection – raising an autistic child. Twenty years ago, Ron and Cornelia Suskind’s son, Owen, was diagnosed with autism. Life, Animated chronicles the Suskind family journey and “powerfully reveals: how, in darkness, we literally need stories to survive.”

***

Life, Animated is so different from your first five books. When did you make the decision to share your story? And what was it like to write about something so personal?

I lived a pretty public life over the last 25 years, as a national affairs writer for the Wall Street Journal and the books…Life, Animated is my 6th book. With so much going on publicly, it was important to keep some core of privacy. It’s easy to write about pretty tough stuff when it’s not about you. So it was a tough decision and had a bit of a funny revolution.

I started my first book, The Hope of the Unseen (started as a series in the WSJ that won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing), a month after Owen was diagnosed. As I went into this blighted urban school in the worst part of Washington and saw a whole building full of kids who were very much left behind…I looked at them differently having someone who was already so dramatically left behind living in the bedroom. I saw the way people stared at my son. In the other books that followed that first book, I was in Afghanistan and Pakistan, wrestling with presidents. And it became clear to me, at some point, that I had been writing about people left behind all over the world and the most dramatically left behind person, was in many ways Owen…who had no place at the table.

We lived in a planet of story and journalism. And friends – who were also journalists – would ask if we would write about Owen…[they said] it could be a great thing for people with autism, you’ve learned things that could be of value to others. But we mostly stayed out of that, we had our hands full.  When Owen was around 19, he really started to attain a self-awareness that we thought he would never get to. He was saying in various ways, that he was a special person and wanted people to know who he was. That started a conversation (around four years ago). It got to the point, where Cornelia and I, looked at each other and said: Can we turn the hot light of investigative reporting – what we’ve done our whole life – on ourselves? It was an emotional inquiry and a very tough decision. Basically Cornelia posed the question, “Could a book like the one we would write, could that have been of value 15 years ago when we were so lost, to us?” And of course, that was a yes.

Denial – especially in the early stages of autism, is a natural response for many parents. You share something that a family friend tells you – “Respect denial. It’s there for a reason: a way to cope with what we cannot face.” At what point do you think you and Cornelia were ready to face autism? 

I don’t think Cornelia and I separated there. We both tiptoed along mostly side by side. We felt immediately the weight (in 1993/94) of the word autism and what that word seemed to indicate. As Owen starts to grow through the middle years of 5, 6 t0 11 – [we realize autism, PDD-NOS and Asperger's] it’s just a label game. I think it was a gradual process of giving up these notions or expectations and how those expectations distill  themselves into hope for a certain set of outcomes. As we started to give those things up a bit, the labels became less important and the natural issues of denial faded. And it happens within a few years.

How have your hopes and dreams evolved for Owen?

In a way that’s fascinating. You make life with what’s in front of you…Owen has stitched together a life. We try to appreciate – as Owen does – what’s in front of him and a lot of the expectations [that we used to have] we just don’t carry them around anymore. Owen is autistic and will be autistic the rest of his life. He still has many, many challenges. But we want Owen to live fully, to feel his life fully. And to have choices. That’s the big thing – to have as many choices as possible. We want Owen to be able to live an intentional life on terms that he needs to live it on. To be supported so that he can try things, that he hopes for things, that he can reach for things. Owen is now sufficiently self-directed and has built enough capabilities that you feel that happening. It happens in the pages of the book.

What are your favorite Disney movies?

The four favorites are the ones that have been the most useful to use, The Big Four: Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid. They were central to Owen’s emergence.

I know Life, Animated will resonate with many autism parents. What do you hope people outside the autism community will take away from reading your book?

We had many nominations for possible titles and the one Cornelia liked was, I Want So Much More Than They’ve Got Planned – the last line of the ‘I Wish’ song from Beauty and the Beast. I sang that with a group of autistic kids at the United Nations [on Autism Awareness Day]. If we can manage to allow [individuals with autism] with all their self-directed energies to discover so much more than we’ve got planned, then they will be better off and more importantly we will be better off.

Owen sees himself as “the leader of the sidekicks” and you dedicate the book to your older son Walt, “a real life hero”  - would Owen agree? 

Oh yeah. When Owen built the sidekicks philosophy, he started applying sidekick characters to us. So for birthdays or whatever he would make you card and draw a sidekick. I was often Merlin or Rafiki. Cornelia was often Big Mama – the wise owl from The Fox and The Hound. But the only one Owen drew as a hero was Walter – Aladdin, Eric or Simba. [Cornelia and I] realized that the dynamic of Owen and Walter’s relationship was arguably the most important in either of their lives.

It’s interesting because now Owen has come to realize that we are all sidekicks really, searching for qualities of the hero within ourselves.

***

Since publication, their site lifeanimated.net was created to keep readers informed about the book and to create a place for a community of people who want to connect and share the affinities of their children. Readers are invited to contribute to the Autism Artists Project, by uploading an image or link to a video of art made by an autistic artist.

 

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How To Help Your Child With Separation Anxiety

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at Atypical Familia (formerly AutismWonderland).

My son, Norrin, is eight years old and has autism. When he was a baby, he had no problem when I left him with the babysitter so I could go to work. Even as a toddler, the first time I put him on the little yellow school bus – he didn’t cry. And while it hurt to think Norrin didn’t care leaving me, it would have felt so much worse if he had. But over the last year or so Norrin has had difficulty when we separate. That’s the mother and son phase we’re in now.

It’s tough seeing my son in distress every time I walk out the door or have to leave on a trip. Here are 8 things I’ve been doing to ease his anxiety.

Mark it on a calendar. We talk about the days of the week and the months on a daily basis. During the times when I travel, I print out a separate calendar and mark the day I leave and when I return. While I’m away, my husband, Joseph, goes over the calendar with Norrin. I also communicate with his teacher so they can do the same, if Norrin becomes upset during class.

Map it. Last year, I went to California and before I left, I picked up a puzzle map of the United States. I showed Norrin where we lived and then showed him where I was going. Not only does the map help Norrin with the States, but it gives him a sense of where we are.

Show them where you work. Norrin has been to my office several times and he likes being there. And I’ve also taken Norrin to his dad’s job. Norrin knows where we work – it’s not some imaginary place. When we tell Norrin that we’re at work, he knows exactly where we are. I think knowing creates a sense of security.

Create a visual schedule. Many children with autism respond well with visual schedules. They like to know what’s next. By creating a visual schedule, you can let your child know when they can anticipate seeing you again. AutisMate is a great app that allows you to create a personalized schedule.

Time. We talk about time a lot. While Norrin doesn’t understand the concept of telling time – we tell him what time we’re doing things. We show him the time on the clock. On nights when I work late, Joseph tells Norrin what time I will be home.

Make time for Face Time. Modern technology helps families stay connected. When I’m away, I schedule a time to Face Time with Norrin. He doesn’t stay on for long but he gets happy seeing me.

A pictures speaks a thousand words. In the digital age, photos feel like a thing of the past. But I keep family photos in Norrin’s room so that he sees us. Sometimes a picture in your child’s pocket can be the comfort that they need.

Promise a special treat. Whenever I travel, I always promise to bring a little gift back for Norrin. Nothing extravagant – even a peace of candy will make him happy.

Does your child experience separation anxiety? What do you do to help them work through it?

Plus: Find cool activities to keep your kiddo occupied while you’re away.

Living Life with Sensory Issues
Living Life with Sensory Issues
Living Life with Sensory Issues

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The Importance of Playdates and Kids with Autism

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at Atypical Familia (formerly AutismWonderland).

My son, Norrin, playing with his friend, Dylan.

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” -  Fred Rogers

When my son, Norrin, was first diagnosed with autism he had no appropriate play skills. He didn’t even have much interest in playing with other children. Norrin was content playing by himself. I never pushed playdates because our schedules consisted of work, school and therapy. Most of the other special needs parents I know juggle the same kind of schedule. So working on socialization and playdates with peers wasn’t a priority for us especially since we knew it was being done at school.

A few weeks ago, I hosted a party and invited a few moms with their children. It was our first party in years. And it was the first time I had other kids with autism in our home. Unsure of how to host while entertaining children, I asked our ABA therapist if she could help out for a few hours.

I’ve seen Norrin at the playground. Sometimes he’ll run around with another kid but it’s never for more than ten minutes. I’ve seen him in school sitting beside a classmate but not really engaging. Watching Norrin interact with kids  in his own environment was eye opening for me. Norrin was talking and sharing and wanting to play with the other kids. He even read his guests a story.

At eight years old, Norrin is finally ready for playdates. And since our little party, he’s been asking for all his friends to come over and play.

I’m no longer tied to mainstream dreams. I just want Norrin to be happy and be as independent as he can. I also want him to have at least one friend. A friendship will never form unless I start cultivating the value and meaning of a friend now.

A few weeks ago I shared that I was ready to start cutting back on our therapy. I’ve spent the last five years focusing on all the skills I thought were more important, always putting socialization on the back burner. It’s time to take play seriously.

Do your children have regular playdates?

 

Have you heard about my #EverydayAutism Photo-a-day Challenge - go check it out on Instagram!

 

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The Importance Of Talking To Your Kids About Disability

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at Atypical Familia (formerly of AutismWonderland).

I once asked a friend if her son knew that he has autism. “No,” she said, “We’re not that kind of family.” I left it at that because I understood what she meant.

Growing up we never talked about my sister’s intellectual disability. My sister’s original diagnosis was mental retardation and on the occasion my mother  referred to it,  she’d say, “She’s not retarded. She’s just a little slow.”

I can’t fault my mother for not being open about my sister’s disability. My mother’s of another generation. And my sister – who is in her mid-twenties – is quite “high-functioning.” She works part-time, she goes to the gym, she takes the train by herself.

The other day we were out for a family dinner – talking and laughing the way families do. And as my sister was telling me a story, she used the “r-word” to describe something she thought was stupid.

There are times when I hear it, I speak out against it. And there are moments when I let it go. But whenever the word is used in front of my son, I can’t let it go. I will not allow anyone to use the r-word in front of Norrin. I will tell them to use another word.

Hearing my sister use the word upset me and I couldn’t let it go. She used it in front of Norrin. She used a word that degrades herself and every individual with a disability. When I explained to her why I didn’t want her using the word, she apologized. “It’s just slang,” she said.

My sister believed it was slang because she was never taught otherwise. We never talked about the r-word at all in our house.

But the r-word is not “just slang.” It’s a slur. It’s a word meant to insult. In a recent Huffington Post article by John C. McGinley, he writes:

…however blithe the everyday practice of spicing up one’s speech with the words “retard,” “retarded” and the suffix “-tard” has become? The (presumably) unintended result is still the same. A population of people, who has never done anything to harm anyone, is circuitously targeted and suffers from a trickle-down discrimination that is very real and very painful.

My sister is a hard worker, she is a talented artist and she’s bright. She’s a young women worthy of respect, not ridicule. I wouldn’t want anyone to use the r-word in my sister’s presence and I certainly don’t want her using it.

My son Norrin doesn’t know that he has autism, he is not capable of understanding his diagnosis just yet. But we don’t whisper the word autism. One day, we will tell Norrin he is autistic. It’s not about being a certain kind of family. It’s about teaching him who he is. And teaching him to stand up for himself when he is being discriminated against.

Today is the day to Spread The Word – the annual day to raise awareness about using the r-word. I admire this online movement and those committed to taking the pledge. But awareness needs to begin at home. We need to talk about disability and the words that we use. We need to talk to them about respect for all. We need to talk to them about the weight of their words. Words are powerful weapons and like any other weapon, we need to teach our kids how to use them responsibly.

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Understanding Autism: Developing Social Skills
Understanding Autism: Developing Social Skills
Understanding Autism: Developing Social Skills

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