Friday, December 25, 2009

Working Christmas Isn't Half Bad

There are no young kids in my family (the youngest cousin is 22 so she outgrew dolls and tea sets a few years ago), so I will admit that didn't put up a huge fuss when I learned that I would need to work on Christmas morning this year. It meant I would get to see my work kids (kiddos, kidoodles, babes, youguns, nutcases, crazyones, psychos, their names vary depending on my/their mood) see Santa and open presents.

I helped shop for all 18 of them a few weeks ago, and while it was an exhausting morning running up and down the aisles of Target with lists and gift cards in hand, picking out clothes and toys for the children that I've come to know over the last six months was such a joy. It was especially fun to find the toys for the ones who had been able to make their own lists and ask for specific things and I could picture their faces on Christmas morning when they opened their gifts.

Sure enough, when T. opened his gift bag this morning and found a sweatshirt, he proudly proclaimed that it was a GREEN sweatshirt, just like he'd asked for! Santa had gotten it right! And C. is so excited to have her very own MP3 player to listen to Disney songs on, D. loves the book of maps we picked out for him, J.'s got his own beanbag chair, and P. can bounce on his exercise ball whenever he wants (well, until he pops it). Sure, many of the kids are completely unaware that today is different from any other and that they've got a whole bag of new stuff just for them, but to enjoy a few moments with the ones that do get it, well, that was worth getting up at 6:30 for.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Ice cream: The great pacifier.

I took two of my more difficult and aggressive kids on what I like to call a "Drive-By Outing" today.

Really, we load up the van and go through the drive-through at McDonald's for a Happy Meal, or like today, an ice cream sundae. We talked about the cars, the busses, the trucks, the bulldozers, the dogs, everything along the way, but what really got them excited was whenever we mentioned those two magic words, "ice cream." One got strawberry (I think that's what he wanted) and the other most definitely and emphatically wanted HOT FUDGE!! (my kind of kid) A good outing was had by all.

After a day like yesterday and week like this week, it was nice to end on a sugary sweet note.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Some days are just hard.

Today was one of them.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's hard to let go.

One of the higher functioning teens I've worked with for the last 3 months moved to a different unit last night. It was the right move and he will undoubtedly grow and mature there more than he ever could have where he had been.

I saw him today with his new peers, and got a lump in my throat. Just surrounded by these new boys in his new environment, he looked so much more mature, like the teenager he is. I wanted so much to sit and talk to him and ask him how things were going, but it wasn't the right place or time. I waved as I walked out the door and had to blink back tears. Is that what it's like to watch a child grow up?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Always check your pockets before bed.

Tonight I found sticky jellybeans I'd been carrying around as edible reinforcers. Some nights it's Lite Bright pegs. Other nights it's broken crayons, peeled paint, puzzle pieces, dice, laminated pictures for my picture schedules. My pockets are like those mystery grab bags you get at the fair, only much stickier.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Winning can put a smile on any child's face.

It's been a busy week in my autism world! We went to the fair on Monday and I learned so much. A few of the kids won ribbons in the art contest and they were so excited! I also learned that sheep are soft, camels eat funny, and big slides and rides that make you feel sick are awesome.

Monday, September 21, 2009

After a week of rain, everyone needs a little fun.

Especially staff, who I think enjoyed playing volleyball and making collages even more than the kids did today!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

String Painting

Here is a sampling of the artwork the kids created on Thursday. Some of them are going to be entered in a fair next week!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Food coloring can turn your skin green.

Little known fact: In the English-Autism dictionary, "put in one drop," is translated as "squeeze the bottle as hard as you can and douse the Rec Therapist's hands in green dye."

Another little known fact? It doesn't wash off immediately, causing said Rec Therapist to somewhat resemble Elphaba for the rest of the night.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

There's beauty in the mess.

Even when things seem out of control and you're covered in paint and people are screaming and jumping and eating string and climbing on the tables, take a step back and look at what's been created. It just might take your breath away.

We did string art today, which resulted in an incredible mess and probably more paint was eaten and worn by the kids than actually got to the paper, but some of the results were pretty amazing. I'll try to post some pictures of them soon.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sometimes it's just time to go.

It might be earlier than you'd planned, but when you sense that the #^!@ is about to hit the fan, it's time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Skittles are magical.

Having trouble getting someone to do something? Give them a Skittle when they finally do it and, miraculously, they'll start doing what you ask! Just keep those Skittles coming.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Have a favorite tree and visit it often.

Just make sure getting there doesn't involve running from well-meaning staff who would prefer that you stay in the gym for another 5 minutes. It's also best if you're wearing pants.

This picture, by the way, is of my favorite tree. It's in the middle of a huge field in Cades Cove and I'd like to be sitting under it right now. (Thanks to petergrantfineart for the beautiful picture!)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Soft things are fun to poke.

This could include pillows, cushions, balls, mud, hamburger buns, stomachs, butts, or breasts.

[Disclaimer: I do not recommend trying the last three. Unless they're your own. But that's just weird.]

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Dogs are exciting!!

And when you see one, you should get everyone's attention and point it out because who knows how long it will be until you see another . . . ooh! Another dog! And another one! Look! Look! Dog! Look!!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sometimes autism hurts.

Especially when it comes in the form of a 14-year old boy tired of waiting.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Thoughts on Dateline's "A Dose of Controvery"

Since I don't work (most) weekends, I've been trying to think up something clever to post on Saturdays or Sundays. Highlight of the week? An activity that worked especially well? A "what the heck is Recreation Therapy" FAQ? Something completely unrelated to autism or work?

For today, I think I'll post a brief reaction to tonight's Dateline "A Dose of Controversy," about the suggested link between the MMR vaccine and autism. I'll be the first to admit that I am not an autism expert. I didn't go into this field with the intention of working with people with autism but have landed there and seem to be good at it. I'm the type of person though who, when presented with something, takes it as it is and goes with it. With my kids at work, this means that rather than sit around and try and figure out why they are the way they are, I observe, see how they are and what might work with them, and run with that. (I would have made a terrible journalist, which was my first degree!)

That being said, the autism mystery is of some degree of fascination for me. What exactly is it, how did it come to be, what is the outlook for these kids' futures, and most of all, why are so many more kids being diagnosed with it these days than in the past? Over the last few years, I've heard the rumblings of the vaccine connection but didn't know much about it. Tonight's program gave me the background, and I felt it was pretty even-keeled in giving multiple sides of a dicey and emotional story.

After listening to him, my initial reaction of Dr. Wakefield is that he's full of it. His research methods were sketchy to begin with (only 12 test subjects? drawing blood at a birthday party?) and there was definitely some conflict of interest involved. Plus, I almost fear that he's done more harm than good as parents are starting to NOT get their kids vaccinated because of the way his research results were presented and they completely misunderstood what he was trying to say. However, I can see the validity of his argument and hypothesis, the importance of his research, and I think he's on the right track. Research needs to be done, whether results are positive or negative. Again though, he should have been more careful about was how the public interpreted his findings.

Right, so do I think there is a connection? Maybe. Probably not though. Someone recently (I can't remember who) suggested that there may be a genetic predisposition to autism (and research currently seems to be pointing that direction) and that the vaccine simply served as a catalyst for the symptoms to appear more quickly and more severely. In other words, the child had autism already, but the symptoms may not have been as evident until later, say 18 or 24 months. I do know that a lot of the kids I work with were developing normally and then around a year or a little older, started to regress. Take that as you will.

But you know what? I don't know. People regularly ask me what causes autism, and it's nice to be able to answer, "We don't know . . . yet." I certainly hope we learn the answer in my lifetime though.

For more on this and on autism in general, from people who really are experts, check out these sites:
Dateline's Related Materials
(Includes videos and a very helpful statement from the CDC)
Autism Speaks
Autism Research Institute (Which seems to lean towards seeing vaccines as a trigger)
Autism Society of America
(Seems to have a lot of good resources, just now delving into it)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Stuck? The next step will appear eventually.

Just stand there until someone puts it in your path.

This was inspired by a rather amusing display of human Lemmings (the game) tonight. I set up some aerobic steps for the kids to walk up and down and they started walking up them before I'd finished the down side. They just kept walking up and piling on the steps, unable to turn around because other kids were behind them, and I guess stepping off the side never occurred to them. I finally got the rest of the steps set up and it was like the flood gates opened as they all came pouring down the other side.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Everyone has a wash rag in easy reach at all times.

It's called your shirt, and it's perfect for spaghetti sauce, finger paint, mud, orange juice, and other unmentionables.