Category Archives: Social stories

Spontaneity really is overrated

Way back in my twenties I took a creativity course wherewe ‘practiced’ being spontaneous. And man, did I need practice. I’ve always loved having a plan and a recent conference helped me realize how much Ryan needs one too – and not just at school.

I’ve always known how helpful checklists and plans are for kids on the spectrum, and we often use them to plan unstructured time and to prepare for new events or happenings. But I’ve been reluctant to be too rigorous about everyday use at home – feeling it would be too restrictive and controlling of Ryan’s time and choices.

Then I attended the Autism Awareness Centre’s annual Halifax gathering in April and heard what education expert Catherine Faherty had to say on the subject. Faherty shared an amazing letter she received from one of her adult clients about how his daily checklists are lifesavers for him: how they help him use his time effectively, reduce his anxiety, and support him taking better care of himself.

Well, two days later I was in Staples picking up clipboards and laminate and working on checklists with both of my boys. And guess what? They LOVE them (especially my neurotypical son!). We have morning routine and a bedtime routine complete with boxes to check off when an activity is completed and they both include lots of choice time. We named the lists after their favourite Wii game (The Kirby Morning Routine and the Waddle Dee Bedtime Routine) and they each got to pick their favourite picture off the web to decorate their lists. (That’s what took the most time!)

The lists are helping them track their time better, rather than me nagging them all the time. And they are helping Ryan integrate some important activities into his daily routine without being constantly reminded . Mike went to the conference on the second day and the key message he brought home was about mastering skills – where an activity or behaviour becomes so engrained and known that reminders or prompts are no longer needed.

Ryan made his bed without being asked several times this week and automatically took his dishes to the counter – small, practical achievements that I couldn’t help but see having implications for organizing his time in high school and later on in his life.

The boys even realized that getting dressed before coming downstairs for breakfast means more choice time and less time spent going back upstairs to get dressed later, so we changed our checklists. The boys played for 30 minutes before school and were thrilled, and for the first time in years I got through an entire newspaper – my very own choice time. Like I said, spontaneity is overrrated: Long live the list!

 

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Filed under ASD events, Family, Planning for the future, Social stories

Asperger’s and expectations: a summer of surprises

I’ve learned a lot about expectations this summer. We’ve spent most of our time travelling to visit family or holidaying with close friends. Every second week we’ve been off to a new destination – one trip involved a five-hour flight and seven-hour drive that took us right across the country, another included living with a dog the size of a small horse.

We did a social story about Buddy the dog and then we just crossed our fingers!

Given Ryan’s fear of dogs and his love of routine, I expected some serious bumps along our holiday highway. I was cursing myself for failing to see the big picture as I booked these various trips at different times of the year.

 But Ryan surprised us at every step of the way. The five-hour flight was breeze (Thank you Teletoon!), the seven-hour drive included only one major meltdown and détente was declared with the dog on day one.

As we watched Ryan adapt to new surroundings and new people every week, I was reminded of some wisdom shared with us during our quest for a diagnosis: a health care professional urged us to beware one of the pitfalls of diagnosis: lowering our expectations. I understood what he meant: we would ask less of Ryan, go ‘easier’ on him because he had a specific challenge.

Of course we have made allowances such as:

  • Using visual aids rather than relying on verbal instruction
  • Helping him choose appropriate extracurricular activities
  • Acting as bridge in building friendships
  • Being more understanding about his social faux pas
  • Respecting his sensitivity to smells/sounds

But our psychologist was equally clear with us early on: don’t let Ryan disappear down his rabbit hole of special interests or stay in his small comfort zone. Keep him engaged in our daily lives. Expect him to join in, to be a part of things. And for the most part it’s worked.

Our parents’ group recently had the honour of meeting a high school student with ASD who candidly shared his experiences of growing up with Asperger’s. He shared so many valuable insights:

  • How swimming provided him with an outlet for his anger/energy
  • How his Asperger’s led him to argue endlessly with his parents because his way just seemed better or smarter
  • How theatre became a passion for him and helped him learn how to interact more successfully with others

 But the biggest lesson I learned from this remarkable young man had to do with expectations. His parents had high expectations for him. They expected him to succeed. They pushed him to do his best. And even though he found it challenging, in retrospect he appreciated it.

His words underscored a key part of bringing up any child, but particularly a child with additional challenges: we need to help them push their limits – to stretch themselves – so they can feel the exhilaration of unexpected success.

An unforgettable day: swimming back from the raft

If you’d asked me in June if Ryan would a) go ‘tubing’ attached to  power boat b) jump off a six-foot dock or c) swim out to a raft in the middle of a lake, I would have answered ‘none of the above.’ But there you go, it’s been a summer full of surprises.

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Filed under Diagnosis, Family, Managing Anxiety, Social stories, Sports and extracurricular activities

Social stories: Saying goodbye

Here’s another example of a social story.  Last year Ryan went through a big change at school, so I tried to prepare him for the changes and let him know that while some things would be changing, others would be exactly the same.

Saying goodbye

When I was in Grade Primary, Mrs. Wallace was my Learning Centre teacher. She was lots of fun.

Then I said good-bye to Mrs. Wallace and Ms. Choyce came to the Learning Centre. She was great too and we had lots of fun together, like during the Olympics when we put up flags from countries and cities all over the world.

I learned a lot from Ms. Choyce. We did different activities every week and I learned about breathing and being a good friend. I even did yoga, which I’m going to do with my Mom and little brother over the summer.

Next year when I come back to school, I will have another new Learning Centre teacher. Her name is Mrs. Paul. Ms. Choyce is going to a new school closer to her house.

Sometimes, when I think of something changing, or someone leaving, I feel sad. But it’s like when Mommy goes away on business trips, it feels upsetting at first, but once it happens I realize I’m okay.

Saying good-bye to Ms. Choyce may feel sad, but if I miss her, I can look at this picture and remember the fun we had together. I can even send Ms. Choyce a note on email if I need to talk to her. I can also hug the teddy, since he is staying in the Learning Centre to keep me company next year.

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Filed under Building social skills, Managing Anxiety, Social stories