Archive | September, 2011

Handheld devices and the benefits to children with autism

I mentioned on Twitter the other day that my son wants a Nintendo 3DS for Christmas and a few parents got into a discussion about how great the handheld devices were for children with Autism. Also, when I wrote about taking children with Autism out to restaurants, a lot of parents were quick to point out that they often brought along devices as well to help.

So what is it about handheld devices that are so great for children with Autism? What are the downsides?

It’s all about control

handheld devicesHaving something right in your hand gives you complete control over it. That means that if you pause a movie, take a wrong turn in a game, flip pages in a book too fast… no one will be upset, no one will say anything… it’s only for you and you are in control of it.

You don’t have to wait for anyone to do anything, you don’t have to ask for permission before making choices… it’s all yours.

Doing what you love

My son loves to read books and play video games, which means that I can put a book in his hand or a handheld video game system and he’ll keep himself amused for hours. It’s what he loves and it’s right there in his hand.

When we parents think about bringing something to the restaurant to amuse our children, we don’t grab things they hate.. we get what they love.

Sometimes that takes trial and error but most likely you’ll find something pretty quick, especially since they get to control it.

Blocking out the world

The best thing about having something in your hand, engaging your senses is that it allows you to block out other input around you, such as sights and sounds.

If you have Autism, this could be huge. No more restaurant noises bothering you… however, if you’re a parent trying to get your autistic child’s attention while they’re playing a handheld game.. you may find yourself getting frustrated pretty quick.

Putting the three together… you have something you love, complete control over it and you can immerse yourself into that handheld world, blocking out the rest.

These are very important to children in general, more so to those that have Autism. People with Autism focus intently on the things they love, to the point where they need to block out the rest of the world.


Everything your child absorbs when they can control it, love it and focus solely on it is learned on a scale far greater than any other method.

And it doesn’t have to be an educational program or math book to do it either. There are life lessons in movies, there are problem solving and motor skill building qualities to video games. Your child will gain a lot of valuable knowledge and skill simply by being so engaged by that device in their hands.

There are no distractions, they love it and get to enjoy it even more when they have full control over it. What they learn… they learn. It doesn’t just go in one ear and out the other.

If you do get them reading a book, or doing an educational program on the ipad or something along those lines… all the better!

The one big downside

There is one major problem that most everyone will run into, Autism or not… but a child with Autism will find it even more difficult… that is when it comes time to turn it off.

The more a person loves something, is in control of it and is completely immersed in it as if it’s your whole world… the harder it is to have it ripped away.

I don’t know anyone that had an easy time getting a game, or book, or movie, or ipad, etc away from their child when they’re fully immersed in it. It’s going to be a battle…. at first.

But you can look at it more as a way to practice for the real world because let’s face it… if they don’t learn how to let go now… there will come a time when they’ll have to do it at school, work or just generally in public and if they haven’t had that practice, it could be a huge problem.

It used to be the #1 cause of meltdowns for my son.. he’d do great all day, get a game for a reward and then blow up when it came time to turn it off. But as I said, it “used to be”. He’s so much better now because he’s learned, over time, that it’s ok to put it down. It’s ok to put it off for another time because soon enough, if he behaves, there will be another time.

We just had to endure the meltdowns for a while to get to this point.

Handheld devices such as books?

You may have noticed I referenced books in with the other electronics in my examples… for Cameron, he loves books. A lot of the time, we can get a book from the library or from a friend and he’s more than happy to sit down with that for an hour.

He can’t read much of it (only really small words) but that doesn’t stop him from enjoying it.

You don’t have to force feed your child movies or video games… anything they love will do. Sensory objects, art work, books, money… yeah, my son also loves to sort out coins and such.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with movies, games or ipads… they’re all helping your child to learn too. You may wish to limit those things a bit more but still, there’s no harm in giving your child a good game or movie.

The escape, the interactions…. all of it is not only good, it’s important. Your child may have a meltdown when it’s time to turn it off but it’s still valuable coping skills they’re learning.

Don’t feel like you’re doing anything wrong by letting your child stare at something in their hands for an hour or two… it’s good for them. It’s a valuable growing tool.

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Guilt, grieving and other emotions when your child has Autism

There’s a lot of talk around the Autism community lately over emotions.. such as whether or not there should be a grieving period.. or whether or not we should be feeling any guilt.

“Should be”….  such a funny concept in a world of differences.

In my experience

emotionsI can only tell you about how it went for me… what I felt and didn’t feel. Because the truth is that everyone is different.

I have a pretty typical story in that I had heard of Autism but didn’t know much beyond that until I started to look for answers as to why my son acted the way he did. A lot of repetition, lining things up, aversion to a lot of foods and so on and so forth, had me reading website after website to see what it might be.

I recognized these signs rather early on and was quick to research all that I could… and despite a lot of conflicting stories, I can honestly say that I never once felt guilty about it. I never once thought that there was something that my wife or I did wrong or that there was something that may have caused my son’s Autism.

It wasn’t a foreign concept to me though, as family member after family member and friend after friend asked if we knew what had caused it, or if we were afraid that we had done something to cause it.

As for grieving… I think it’s funny how people have different interpretations as to what grieving is. Most people think that it means breaking down into a crying fit and feeling complete remorse and being depressed for a while, etc, etc.

For me, I think of grieving as simply being worried about the future, about missing the things that you can’t do with your child, or things you won’t be able to do… thinking about potential bullies, potential other issues that may come around (seizures, allergies, diets, etc).

No, I’ve never broken down crying and no, I have no problem what so ever with who my child is or who he will become.. but a small part of me does grieve from time to time. I still want more for him… more that Autism will make very improbable (not impossible).

“Should Be” does not mean right or wrong

What I try to tell people is that there is no right or wrong way to feel. Granted, I do feel that feeling guilty serves no purpose and benefits no one… but it’s not wrong to feel guilty. If anything, the only thing I could imagine as being wrong is if you felt nothing.. if there was no mixed bag of emotions. Because hearing that your child has Autism is a bit of a big deal. It can change the course of the rest of your life.

There is just so much emotional baggage that comes along with an Autism diagnosis that we can’t possibly all feel the exact same things at the exact same time. Some of us might not feel guilty, some of us might not grieve. Some of us, sadly, won’t ever be able to accept it.

It’s not right or wrong, it’s just different.

Fear of the unknown

For most of us, Autism is a very big unknown that can take all those plans for the future that you had and make your future into an unknown as well.

Unknowns are scary. We fear them. We try to justify them, give meaning to them, master them… we try to find the cause of it.

Eventually, hopefully.. we come to accept them. Not just Autism, but unknowns in general. There are just some things we can’t control, that throw our lives off course and we can either feel guilty about it, grieve over it or… accept it.

If you read posts by people that are grieving, don’t judge them because you didn’t grieve. If you read posts by people that feel guilty, as if they are certain that they did something wrong. Reassure them but don’t judge them.  They don’t really need to feel like they’re doing something wrong by feeling like they’re doing something wrong.. ya know?

Everyone is different and as much as we’d like for everyone to hate the people we hate, to fear what we fear, to accept what we accept and so on and so on.. it’s just not going to happen.

We all deal with life differently. It may seem that some people deal better than others, but the truth is that we just deal with it differently.

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Autism can’t stop my son from being a great big brother

This year, my younger son Tyler (3yrs old) started JK… his first time in school. He’s so very excited for it because he’s watched his older brother, Cameron (6yrs old), go off to school for 2 years now.

And even though Tyler is still only 3, he’s more than ready. He can count pretty high, knows his alphabet, goes to the bathroom on his own and most of all… he’s just so crafty. He loves to paint and build things… school is so perfect for him.

Still though, even when it goes perfectly for the most willing of children, school can be overwhelming for the first little while.

Still bragging about this school


Cameron - Big Brother

I’ve written many many times about how I picked up my family and moved over 850km away to get Cameron into this school because of their amazing Autism classes… this year, Cameron is back for his 3rd year (grade 1 this year!) and he gets the same teacher, the same teachers assistants and some of the same classmates.

A couple of children have gone off to IBI or to another classroom but his familiar friends are still there. Cameron is doing exceptionally well thanks to this.

There is another added benefit though, which I have not discussed, because we had not yet reached that point but this year is the year… his little brother gets to attend the same school!

It’s a normal, run of the mill public school but they have 4 special classrooms especially designed and equipped for children with Autism.

This means that while Cameron is in his class of 4 children (including him), with 1 teacher and 2 aides…. Tyler, his little brother, is across the hall!

Overcome Autism? No problem with the right motivation

Cameron has never had a huge problem with hugs or showing his feelings but then again, it’s not as natural for him as it would be for most other children either though.

Trying to get that out of him where he’s not quite as comfortable is even tougher… like say, at school.

But that doesn’t stop him when Tyler needs him!! Oh no.

Tyler knows that his big brother is across the hall and when the anxiety gets too much for him, he knows to ask his teacher… so his teacher takes his hand, walks him across the hall, Cameron stops what he is doing, gives his little brother a big hug and tells him that he’s ok… and Tyler goes right back to his class, feeling so much better.

This is huge!

Cameron told me that he remembers when he first went to school… for the first 6 months or so, he had a very hard time because he “didn’t feel safe.” I told him that sometimes, Tyler might feel that way too but mom and dad can’t be there to help him.

Cameron stepped up to the task in a huge way and is genuinely eager, excited and willing to help out his little brother. He wants be the big brother that Tyler needs.

Not a surprise to those that know him


Tyler - Ready for his first day!

While I am excited about this, I’m not surprised.. and I’m sure those that know Cameron won’t be surprised by this either.

Still though, as a parent, I’m still so very proud. Also, if you’re a parent of a child with Autism, I’m sure you can understand that even though I’m not surprised, I’m still… well, I wasn’t going to believe it until I saw it.

Cameron amazes me every day, as does his little brother, but I still put no expectations on him before hand. He won’t disappoint me if he doesn’t do it, he won’t surprise me if he does do it… but it’s never necessary because sometimes, he just doesn’t do what some might expect of him.

And while it doesn’t surprise me, what does get me is that he’s so willing to stop what he’s doing… to break routine… to show affection right there in front of everyone… and to know and understand what his little brother is feeling.

In that moment, when his brother needs him most.. he is not autistic. There is no Autism. There are no teachers. There are no parents.

There is only Tyler. His little brother. And he loves him.

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My own little world – Important place to be but don’t get lost there

The phrase “own little world” is often used to indicate ignorance, that a person has no idea what is going on in the world outside of their own life.

I like to think of it more as an indicator as to what is important. You see, what ever is happening in my own little world has the utmost importance to me. It’s what I know best, it’s what I care for most and it’s what is most important to me.

There’s nothing wrong with your own little world, everyone has one and everyone should be proud of theirs.

My own little world

our own little worldFor me, my own little world consists of myself, my wife, my children and my pets… that’s it. That’s what I know better than anyone else, it’s what is more important to me than anything else and it’s what brings me the most joy.

For some people, it might be only their children, only their spouse… it may be just themselves, if they are focusing on their own happiness before starting or without having a family.

You protect your own little world even if it means getting a little bloody because there’s nothing more important in the whole world.. than your own little world.


Don’t forget there is a bigger world out there

I find that, especially when it comes to parenting, and 10 fold more when it comes to Autism, people easily get lost in their own little world.. and when they step out and look around, they forget that things are different out there.

I know I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know, but we all need reminders sometimes. Hear me out for a minute…

We Autism parents write about our experiences and sometimes, when we’re lucky, we write something that you can relate to.  However, the very nature of Autism, as we all know, is that the experience is different for everyone.

This presents a very interesting problem…  we write about our own little world, which doesn’t match up with other people’s little worlds… there are two possible outcomes:

  1. One or both parties recognizes that their own little world is different, accepts that fact and either does not comment or does comment, stating how their own experience differs
  2. One or both parties denies the existence of the other person’s little world, proclaiming that they are liars, misguided, ignorant or just plain wrong and that they are doing a great disservice to the entire world (which I’m assuming is their reference to their own little world but we both know it isn’t)

More often than not, I see #2 all over other people’s blogs. (pun intended)

Take a deep breath

The problem with this is that it requires both parties to remember and recognize the “my own little world” phenomenon and take a deep breath, relax and accept that we all have different experiences with differing opinions.

Not just both parties, but many many parties… the more popular a blog becomes, the more that little worlds come into contact with it… some of them collide.

Just this morning I tweeted: Autism is like a rainbow; it has a brighter side & a darker side, every shade is important & beautiful and it hides something golden.

To which, one angry parent was rather mad that I’d call it a rainbow (I didn’t, it’s a comparison), proceeded to remind me that Autism is a serious disability and that “fluff” like that doesn’t help those who suffer from Autism.

He didn’t take a deep breath.

He completely skipped the “darker side” reference as well as the part that says that it “hides something golden”. I mean, yes… I’ll admit to the “fluff” but it’s not all peaches and cream either. I felt it rather adequately expressed the darker points… the “suffering.”

Anyway, as I said, he didn’t take a deep breath, instead acting instinctively to attack me for not telling his story… for not telling everyone about his own little world.

However, that’s not my place. I can’t tell other people’s stories for them.

And so…. I take a deep breath, and I remember that his own little world is what he knows and is what is more important to him. In his way, he’s protecting that.

My own little world is different. I can accept that.

And when I read about his experiences and his story… I’ll remember to respect that his own little world is vastly different than my own.

Please keep in mind that, what you experience in your own little world, might not be what someone else experiences. Their story is completely different. They share their story, not to fight with you, but to show you just how different things can be… and maybe, sometimes, just how much the same they can be too.

Take a deep breath. Your own little world is not threatened by others sharing their own story. Your own little world is still your own, you still know it better than anyone… and most of all, it doesn’t mean that anyone thinks you are ignorant of what’s going on outside of your own little world. At least, it shouldn’t.

Just take a deep breath. In fact… you should rejoice that no one else’s little world is the same as yours. If it was, it wouldn’t be your own.

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The discrimination you hate but should really learn to appreciate

It’s back to school time which raises a lot of emotions as well as a lot of concerns. Rightfully so.. it’s a rough transition to go through.

As such, the media lights up and bloggers all start to sing in harmony about the troubles, struggles and issues pertaining to “back to school” time.

One such issue that I’ve been hearing a lot about is discrimination… not that some children discriminate against other children but that of the schools or teachers themselves.

The Problem

What we find is that a lot of schools or day care providers are unwilling to even accept children with special needs, or if they do, they do not treat those children fairly. They don’t provide them the leniency they require or the special attention they need.

In some cases, the children aren’t cared for properly nor treated properly either.

Welcomed Discrimination

discriminationIt’s rather painful to accept but honestly, I’d rather that children were not accepted into schools or day cares if those people are not trained, not equipped or otherwise unable to treat those children properly.

When I read about the nine year old that was locked in a room and then hand cuffed by police while at day care, I stop and wonder… could it have turned out very differently? Not better… but differently? Think about this:

If the day care provider had refused to take the child in the first place, would there have been a news story about discrimination against Autism?

Perspective Discrimination

I read all the time about Canada refusing to let in children that have Autism, sometimes the whole family is denied. That is so very wrong. It angers me.

But it’s not that they are turning them away that makes me upset. It’s that Canada recognizes it’s own inability to care for any more children than it already has and is doing nothing about it.

In fact, Canada is unable to care for the number of children it already has… current wait lists are proof enough of that.

But now, when people try to bring their children into the country, they’re turned away because the government deems them a burden on an already failing system.

And it is. It’s failing. It’s not keeping up with demands.

And it knows it. It turns away children because of it.

And it’s doing nothing about it.

The schools are trying, but the funding isn’t there. The police are trying, but the funding isn’t there.

There is discrimination but it’s not by the teachers, or the day care providers, or the schools or the police… it’s by a system that knows that it isn’t doing a good enough job and yet does nothing about it.


So when a child is turned away… don’t get mad at them. They’re doing their best with what they have and they know that if they do take your child, your child won’t receive the service that they need and then that will be what gets into the news.

When that teacher or day care or school fails that child, there will be hell to pay and it won’t be the government that takes it, it’ll be them. Despite there attempts at doing their best and getting themselves in over their heads… they’ll falter because they don’t know any better, or don’t have the resources, or the training or man power… a child will get hurt, or lost or put into hand cuffs…. and they’ll be dragged through the coals for it.

It’s either that…  or discriminate against Autism.

I’ll pass on the hand cuffs… I’ll take the discrimination.

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