Tag Archives | routine

MagnusCards™ – The life skills mobile app for people with autism and other special needs

My entire life is dedicated to helping autistics to feel safe, empowered and free to be themselves. To that end, I’m always reading and researching and looking for the newest programs and tools that can help. I am autistic as is my oldest son Cameron so this is near and dear to my heart.

Recently Colgate reached out to me, asking if I’d be interested in taking a look at something new that they’re involved in.

Colgate partnered with MagnusCards™, an innovative mobile app that empowers people living with cognitive special needs, such as autism, to independently manage daily skills such as tooth brushing.

So, before you continue, be aware that this is indeed a paid, sponsored post by the good folks at Colgate but also to be aware that there is no obligation on my part to be anything but honest. In fact, that’s exactly what they’ve asked of me… to review the product and “post honest and truthful opinions.” So that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

What is the MagnusCards™ app?

This is how their website describes it: “MagnusCards are digital how-to guides for everyday living.” That’s an oversimplification. This app is really a visual and audio, step by step guide on how to do virtually any routine task from household chores, travel and personal care such as brushing your teeth. There are currently 12 categories such as food, safety and more, each contains decks of cards. Each card being an individual step in completing the routine.

But the app goes even further.

MagnusCards™ offers rewards for completing those tasks and then ranks you in comparison to others that use the app. The more you use the app, the higher you rank.

The biggest feature though, in my opinion, is that there are pre-made decks that you can download to get started with, such as several decks from Colgate. There is in fact more pre-made decks now than there was when I first downloaded the app a week ago, so I’m sure there will be even more added as time goes on.

There is also the ability to create your own decks, including pictures and audio. This means that there’s virtually no limit to the ways in which you can use this app.

Using Colgate’s MagnusCards™

Checking out MagnusCards for the first time

Cameron (my son, 12 years old with autism) and I looked through the app a little bit together. We looked through some of the preset tasks and headed into the Care section. We hit the “Download More Cards” button and found all of the decks from Colgate. Cameron looked at me said “aww… do I have to do this?” Kids! Am I right?

He got the “Colgate – Brushing Your Teeth” and “Colgate – Using Mouthwash” decks and looked through them a bit with me on the couch. I said “Want to give them a try?” and he said “Ok.

Following the steps

My son went into the bathroom, set the phone up against the back of the sink, under our dirty mirror, loaded up the Colgate – Brushing Your Teeth deck and followed the cards. It was so simple. It was as if he had done it a thousand times before.

You know what?? It worked!

I mean, he’s always brushed his teeth when I ask him to but he’s never liked it and more so, would rush through it. I swear some days he’d walk into the bathroom and right back out again claiming he’s done brushing. But using this app, following the cards step by step, he did a thorough job. I’m sure it will go faster over time as he learns the cards but still, he’ll do a much better job than without.

He completed all the steps and pressed on the “I’m Finished All The Steps!” button and was pleasantly surprised to find that he earned points for a task well done.

Our Honest Opinion

After Cameron finished brushing his teeth and earning his points, I asked him what his honest opinion of the app was. He sort of shrugged his shoulders, as kids will do, and said “It’s ok, I guess.” Kids! I’m right. I know I’m right.

Pressing further, I asked if he thought this helps him and if he thinks it would help other children. He said that it definitely does make him brush better. Having the cards to follow really made him do a better job than when he does it on his own.

I’m in total agreement with him.

Thorough brushing

He did have one concern though. He said “I don’t know if it’ll help kids know when to brush.

Clever boy!

Yes, in my house I have alarms set up on our phones that tell us when to do certain tasks and that includes brushing our teeth. I give him full points for this and if there was one feature that I’d like to see in this app that isn’t there, it’s a reminder setting. Perhaps even if just one of the default tasks was exactly that… helping you to setup reminders to do daily tasks. That would be enough.

Aside from that though, this app really checks all the boxes. Doing banking, taking the bus, going shopping… all of that stuff is in there with pre-made decks.

The ability to make your own decks is incredible not just for tasks that you can’t find to download but also for that personal touch. Being your child, especially if they are autistic, no one would know how to explain things to them better than you.

I’ll be honest, I’ve seen other apps that do help autistic children with communication, and routines and more. In comparison, MagnusCards™, on the surface, seems quite simplistic, like there’s not really a lot to it. The more that Cameron and I used it though, the more that started to feel like an advantage rather than a disadvantage. This app does exactly what it sets out to do and it does it with surprising versatility when you really break it down. Being able to create your own decks quickly and easily is a very powerful tool. Having pre-made decks from some very big sources like Colgate is also a huge factor. None of those other apps I’ve reviewed have that.

The best part though is that it’s free. The decks are free. It’s a really tiny app. Takes up no space, uses practically zero battery power. And it’s very easy to use. So let’s say you do go ahead and try it and it doesn’t work for your family (and let’s face it, no one thing works for every single family), then you uninstall and try something else. Right? There’s no reason to not try it unless you already have a system that is working in which case, I don’t think anyone would fault you for sticking with it.

Colgate is sponsoring me on this and I have promised to share some of that with Cameron as he helped me review it. Regardless of that, I absolutely would and will recommend MagnusCards™ to people I know. I really think people should at least give it a try. Watching Cameron use it a few times now, I have to say that for as simple as it is, it works.

Check out the Colgate MagnusCards™ at http://colgate.magnuscards.com and let me know what you think!

Colgate MagnusCards™

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Two of a Kind

 

To my 13-year-old Alex I give the command typically heard on a school morning: “Put on pants, socks and shoes.”

 

There’s this thing about the socks. Most people wear a pair that resemble each other. Alex doesn’t.

 

I take inventory of his sock drawer. Balled up: the green and dark-blue “Sunday 7” socks that my wife Jill bought at H&M. Separate: A pale green and a pale blue, each with white stripes. The black and orange I would wear if they were big enough. The “Monday 7.” The blue and black “Wednesday” (how come no number?). The “Tuesday 2,” the brown one with the white stripes. Why is there always this yellow and black “Saturday” without a partner?

 

I collect a pile on my knee of those 10 socks whose partners have been plucked, alone and ragged out, by an autistic young man.

 

Jesus, the other blue and black “Wednesday” in the bottom of the drawer. I ball them up. I find the dark blue ones with the light-blue stripes in the dark confusion of the opposite ends of the drawer, Lovers lost in a way to shatter a heart. I ball them up feeling a little like God. And there’s the light blue one with white stripes! I ball it up with its partner – not that Alex will keep it that way on the school morning of school mornings.

 

I’ve given up trying to match them when doing laundry. I drape the socks over the bars of the laundry cart one by one, each seeming to hope for their old partner or, as we all do in our hearts, hoping for a partner new and thrilling. Why is two of a kind beyond Alex?

 

He’s had clothing obsessions. Once upon a time it was black T shirts. His current one is khaki pants. Next? Some of the garments bear the fading STIMPSON of summer camps over the past few years.

 

How does Alex look to the world in mismatched socks and the old, short Kmart khakis, the only ones he’ll wear until they rag out? Does the world understand that? Does the world understand how he looks, and what do they think of me as I begin to rag out myself?

 

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An incomplete task will likely result in an autism meltdown

My son, Cameron, has never done well with leaving something unfinished… it’s especially evident when it comes to video games. It’s for this reason that we try to steer him away from games that can take weeks or months to finish. Certain Mario games consisting of 8 worlds comes to mind.

Asking him to stop in the middle of playing a game, painting a picture, playing with his toys, trying to read, watching a movie… just about any of these things can cause him to have a complete meltdown.

Sometimes it’s not even something that he particularly enjoys… but if his mind is focused on it, he will not cope well with having to leave it before he has a chance to finish what he started.

It’s not always a complete meltdown… sometimes it’s a mood switch. Where he’s been doing great all day, gets interrupted this one time and then, for the rest of the day, he’s moody, grumpy or just plain… not himself.

These are the methods we’ve used to avoid this from happening.

incompleteMake sure it ends

Simple enough right? But this is the best method, obviously, that we’ve found to ensure that there is no issue.

This means that art projects are short, or at least, will never take longer than the time allotted. Movies are played through to completion and that video games are only about an hour long.

The Mario Party games are perfect for this, or racing games. He can start and finish a game in about an hour.

Structure and/or Repetition

One good method is to simply know what to expect each day. This is especially effective at school… when one class ends and another begins, he knows that his time is up even if he’s not done.

It doesn’t affect him as much because it’s how it always is. The same thing, every time.

It’s a bit like my next point, except without having to know how long minutes or hours are.

5 minute warnings

This one varies, since it doesn’t always have to be 5 minutes but essentially, we tell Cameron that his time is almost up, to finish what he’s doing and to get ready to do something else.

This gives him the time to wrap up and put what ever finishing touches he needs on something to help him walk away from it without having a meltdown.

It doesn’t always work out perfectly and he’ll either need a little extra time or we’ll just have to deal with the meltdown but for the most part, this helps him get ready for what’s coming.

Timer

Most children have no idea how long 5 minutes is… which is largely due to our own inconsistencies. Since we’re often doing things ourselves, 5 minutes can sometimes be 6, 8, 10… sometimes even 15 minutes. This can be very confusing and frustrating sometimes.

Cameron does really well now, not really caring just how long 5 minutes is… but at first we had to be pretty rigid.

We’d do this with a timer… having a smart phone with a timer on it is very handy.

When he heard the timer ring, he knew that his time was up. It would sometimes still be a problem since he might not feel he is finished though… again, sometimes having to spare a few more minutes or deal with the meltdown.

Does it ever get better?

Well, Cameron is only 6 so I can’t say for certain if he’ll ever be able to cope well with it… everyone is different after all.

But so far, it’s very encouraging because he copes a whole lot better than he did when he was younger. Which of course, is very much reflective of age just as much as autism. Children in general don’t handle that sort of thing well.

We still have meltdowns to deal with sometimes, particularly if it’s something he really enjoys like a video game or a new movie… but it’s far less frequent now than it was in the past.

We don’t need to use timers anymore since “5 minutes” is generally good enough for him to know that he needs to start finishing up.

Personally, I don’t like having to leave work while I’m in the middle of something I really want/need to get finished. I don’t have a meltdown by any means but it’s hard on me. So I’d imagine, if my son is anything like me, he’ll never fully get over it either.

But he is doing great and has come so far already so I am confident that he’ll manage just fine with dealing with things like that in the future.

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Why don’t you celebrate New Years Eve?

I get this question a lot, because it seems very much out of the ordinary to not be up at midnight, getting drunk and kissing someone at the stroke of midnight. To not do it is… blasphemy!

The answer is really quite simple.

happy new yearI wake up at 5am many mornings, sometimes earlier, sometimes I wake up often through the night. I have 2 children that require a lot of my time and energy even when I work 8 – 10 hours a day. By the time it’s 9pm and my boys are asleep, I’m ready to go to bed myself but I can’t because there is still more work or chores around the house that need doing.

So I get to bed around 11pm and again, sleep 6 hours or less if I’m up often due to the boys… and do it all again. And I do this 356 days a year.

So already the answer is forming…. but there’s more.

My oldest boy, Cameron, has Autism. That means that we can’t just hire any teeny bopper with a need for some cell phone minute money to come in and take care of my children.

In fact, even most responsible adults are not really ready to take on that task. Only those that know him well. And those people tend to have full lives of their own already so are not readily available.

Take a special day like New Years Eve and.. well, those older, responsible, living life people are already doing something on New Years Even that doesn’t involve being stuck in my living room while some kids that are not theirs are sleeping.

So no… we don’t go out and celebrate New Years Eve. In fact, we don’t even stay up until midnight.

Because when you add it all up, when you really stop to think about it… the needs of your children, the happiness you get from their achievements, the importance of you being there for them when they need you… all of what entails being a parent…  Dec 31st becomes just another night.

You’ll still be ready for bed at 9pm that night.  The kids will still wake up early the next day.

Besides, it’s not that I don’t “celebrate” it… it’s just that I don’t do what everyone else thinks I’m supposed to do. I give my wife a hug and kiss. We say “Happy New Year” to each other and to others as well.

It’s just different and believe me, different is one thing that we’ve become quite comfortable with around here.

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Sometimes Autism makes things easier

Most of the time, Autism makes things much more difficult… even the most simple of tasks. But sometimes, in some interesting ways, it actually makes some things easier.

Routine

All children need some sort of routine… even if that routine is a complete lack of routine. Wait, does that make sense? Anyway, when things are predictable, children feel the most safe and at ease.

This is ever more so important with autistics. Think of it as… obsessive compulsive disorder with a photographic memory. Now, obviously, not everyone is to that extreme but it should give you a good idea of what some people have to deal with.

If your child can memorize the placement of 1500 items around your house and NEEDS them to be in the exact same place at all times… you may as well invest in super glue because those things are not allowed to move.

So how is this a good thing? Well, think about it… your child kind of forces structure into your life, whether you’ve had it or not. You will always know when supper time is, bath time, bed time… you’ll always know which movie(s) or book(s) you’ll have to choose from… you’ll always know where you need to be and when.

Ok, imagine this.. you have one child with Autism and one without. Nap time is at 2pm each day. At 2pm every single day, your autistic child runs off to their bedroom and gets mad if you’re not there to turn off the light. Your other child? (S)He’s in the living room screaming and crying because they don’t want to have a nap today.

See the difference?

Same goes for bath time, bed time… you name it.

When the clocks were changed for Day Light Savings time one year, my son had a meltdown because we tried to keep him up a little bit later to adjust him to that extra hour. He was mad because he wasn’t going to bed when his internal clock told him it was time to do so.

My other boy? He has a tantrum when it’s time to go to bed… at bed time!

School

Dropping off my autistic son at school, in the beginning, was easy. You take him in, he sits down, picks up a book or a puzzle or a toy and you walk out. He did what he needed and at the end of the day, he went home. He’d have the occassional meltdown, not listen or what ever… but the fact that there were other people, that we weren’t there.. that life was just happening around him, didn’t seem to matter a whole lot. (this is aside from the break in routine, as discussed above. He did not like the routine change, but I’m talking about how it was once school became a routine… anyway, I digress)

My other son, on the other hand, was super excited about school because his older brother went there every day. It was a magical land filled with friends and games and stuff to do and you got smarter doing it. However, when you’re 3 and your parents abandon you at the door and there’s strange people all around you… that perception of the place quickly changes.

I’m writing this mid way through November and my son still cries when we leave him at school… he started at the beginning of September. It’s not a routine for him yet. It’s not feeling safe for him yet. He has a lot of emotions going on and a lot of needs and, while is doing very well at school because he listens and does his work, it’s a bit heart breaking to hear him bawling his eyes out as I walk back to the car (don’t look back, don’t look back, don’t look back!)

Presents

My son with Autism told us what he wanted for Christmas in July. JULY! While that may not be all that surprising in itself, what is a bit of a shock is that it has remained and still is the same wish. See, most children want what other children have or what they see on the television or what they hear is the next cool thing to have… my son figures out what he wants and that’s it. There are no other options. In fact, you can’t even ask him for other options (“What else do you want besides that?”) because there is nothing else. He spends a great deal of time thinking about it, but comes back with no answer. He wants what he wants.

By the way, heaven help us if we don’t get that for him! Yeesh!

My other son…  put it this way, when family members phone me and ask what to get for him, I say “I have no idea.” It’s not that I don’t know him, I do…. it’s just that his tastes change, his desires change and, this is totally just my boy, but he has no specific want.

When I ask him, he tends to say something that he knows his big brother wants… why? Because there is nothing specifically on his mind.

What I expected is that his mind would change from product to product as he sees them on television or passes them in the store, and to an extent that does happen, but once all that is removed and we’re sitting around the dinner table, he has no Christmas wish list in mind.

One, I know what to buy for… the other? Haven’t a clue!

enjoy the little thingsConclusion

That’s only 3 examples but this is getting long already so I’ll end with this… Autism truly is a disorder and as such, can cause much disorder. In your life, in your family… it’s a struggle and no one can argue with that.

But there are positives. There are some ways in which you can appreciate the good differences. Not just the savants, not just the lessons of life in being more appreciative and patient and loving… but also in just realizing that it’s not all doom and gloom.

Take the positives, no matter how minor or insignificant or trivial they may seem… and smile.

I’m not asking you celebrate with me as my son doesn’t care if I leave him with strange people or not… but smile. Because it’s different.

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