The Saturday Scientist

Years ago, when we were looking into alternative ways to educate our son, we ran across mention of the Saturday Scientist program.

Aside from the catchy title, the idea is to focus on science on a day everyone usually has off.  Experiments can be run, mentos dropped into coke bottles, magnesium strips burned in campfires, and so on.  In other words, a science activity performed – with the whole family participating – in a relaxed atmosphere.

Needless to say, we loved it.

Besides being a wonderful way to enrich an education, as well as present science in a no pressure, non-academic atmosphere, it’s also proven to be a great bonding experience.

In particular, a great father-son time (for us).

My son hangs on his father’s words.  He longs to be just like him when he grows up.  On the other side, my husband loves to share his knowledge (his very extensive knowledge) of science with, well, anyone.

When I see this dynamic kicking in, I try to quietly slip away.

After all, they deserve some time together.  My son’s busy soaking up science like a little sponge, and my husband gets to share one of his best-beloved topics of conversation.  And they’re interacting with each other at the same time!

Yes, I want to learn, too.  It’s fun stuff.

But, sometimes, it can be difficult for dads to find a way to interact with their children.  Many find it hard to communicate and find common ground with their  teen/pre-teen sons (or daughters), much as they may love them.

When you add something like Asperger’s Syndrome to the mix (in our case, on both sides), it can be even more difficult.

For us, the Saturday Scientist has been the door, the bridge, the way to overcome those little personality differences and satisfy their longing to spend meaningful time together (without driving one or the other of them crazy).

Note: There are lots of science experiments for kids available out there that are both fun and easy for parents to perform (just go to Google and type in “science experiment”).  So if science isn’t your thing, don’t despair, help is available!

Also, nothing says Saturdays (or Sundays) have to be about science.  If your specialized area of knowledge – that you wish to share – happens to be in another field, embrace the challenge and give it a try.  Our kids love to learn, and often learn best in a one-to-one situation (less noise, activity, and distractions!).  So good luck and have fun!

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AS and The Big Bang Theory

Watching the portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome in TV shows can be insulting, interesting, and sometimes even enlightening.  It’s a mixed bag of emotions, especially when these same portrayals can vary wildly in their accuracy.

That said, my husband and I were introduced to The Big Bang Theory.

For those not familiar with it, the show portrays a group of socially challenged physicists.  It’s a comedy, and yet the show actually retains a physicist on staff, so the science is pretty good.  They also paint their characters with feeling, so they don’t appear entirely flat.

Oh, and it’s funny.  Really funny.  If you like that sort of thing, anyway (which we do).

The reason we’d put off seeing it, of course, was that my husband was worried it might hit a little too close to home.  He has a degree in physics, after all, and had a few hints from co-workers about how they never would have understood parts of the show if it hadn’t been for him.

I think that would alarm anyone.

And so, after the very first episode, I found myself asking him if he was okay.  It was funny, but didn’t pull punches when it came to pointing out quirky behavior.  And one of the characters is VERY Asperger (Sheldon).  Of course, it’s not entirely accurate (his friends would value him more, he’d feel more loyalty toward them, and so on), but, wow, it comes close in many ways.

Seeing yourself baldly like that can be shocking and disturbing.  Even if you can’t help laughing at the joke.

So he’s been a little ruffled lately, but insists that he can handle it.  Enjoys the jokes, can’t help but see the parallels, and yet also points out the inaccuracies.  I’ve had to reassure him that he definitely isn’t Sheldon, that there are many obvious differences.

And I’m seeing some personal growth.  Some new recognition of inflexibility, and a sudden appreciation for those who see past it.

I think that any time one gets a candid glimpse at oneself, it can be both painful and illuminating.

Thank heavens I’m spared seeing myself (or a close approximation) on the screen.  I don’t think I could handle it anywhere near as gracefully.  Ok, I know I couldn’t handle it.  How many of us could?

As I’m always on the lookout for ways to teach our son about others and their feelings, I keep seeing bits of scenes and saying, “Oh, our son needs to see this!”  Particularly when it involves non-typical behavior and how others react to it.  Or sportsmanship issues.  Or insistence on one’s own way with no regard to others.

Sadly, the show is a little adult, so we have to play it in bits.  All the same, I’m storing scenes away for the future, as watching a show can be more enlightening than listening to an explanation.  Explanations just lack punch sometimes.  A picture is worth a thousand words, and so on.

Oh, and for all of you out there who have known all along about The Big Bang Theory, you’ll be amused to know that my son’s favorite game right now is Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock.  😉

Note: My husband got his laugh at me after hearing in the behind the scenes clip about how those who seemed to enjoy the show the most (in the physicist consultant’s point of view) were not his fellow physicists, but their spouses.

Related Posts:

How To Help… On The Sly

The Advantage Of Respect

Appropriate, Appropriate, Appropriate

General vs. Esoteric Knowledge and Conversation

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About That Special Topic Of Interest…

Walking Encyclopedias

Living with our knowledgeable, eager-to-share, amazing AS loved ones can be both wonderful and a bit of a challenge.

It’s wonderful to see them light up and sparkle.  To see them delight in their subject.  And to encourage the love of knowledge and share in the learning experience.

It’s not so great to see them shunned for monologue-ing about ONE topic.  And it’s not so fun, quite frankly, to be the subject of information download.  And we’ve all been stuck there at some point or another, pinned like insects, as someone goes on (and on) about their favorite subject.

I’m guilty of boring people about family, myself.  I can even bore my family about family.  Just ask my mother.  Or husband.  Or anyone.  🙂

But as for helping our loved ones, who can’t tell that their audience is yearning for escape, we can help them.  It can be done.

We, as a family, limit “special subject talking time” to about 15 minutes a day.  It may sound harsh, but think of it as training for life.  Nobody wants to be with someone who only talks about manned space missions.  Or dinosaurs.  Or whatever.

Don’t get me wrong; we fully support the pursuit of knowledge.  Knowledge is valuable.  Even the act of gathering knowledge is admirable.  So dinosaurs, drains, cattle migrations, space missions, the life and times of Batman… bring it on.  The subject doesn’t really matter.

But variety in speech is a necessity.  Or people – being people – will turn their backs, walk away, or even make fun.

We also encourage the asking of questions as an easy way to connect with people.  It’s more effective than approaching someone and deluging them with information, and it involves them in the conversation.  Questions like:  “Do you like dinosaurs, too?” or “What is your favorite animal?”  or “What are your thoughts on that” or even “What would you like to talk about?”  Think of it as a taking of turns.

And if the other person changes the subject, it’s okay.  Not the end of the world.  After all, the conversation’s not over yet, and hey, look at how they’re enjoying talking to you!  This means they’ll want to converse again.

It’s also good practice to remind someone, when he’s/she’s been going on for a bit, that it’s time he engages his audience (yes, we do phrase it this way, even to kids).  And again, a question is usually a good way to handle this.

There are things we can do, too.

Being direct helps.  For someone who has difficulty interpreting hints, tone of voice, and facial expressions, a direct and honest response is a godsend.  And it’s appreciated.

After all, we’re not talking about idiots here.  Just the opposite.  We’re talking about intelligent human beings with feelings and capabilities.

We can also remember to resist the impulse to be dismissive.

Just think of all the times we’ve suddenly realized that we’ve droned on about children, dogs, cats, or whatever our favorite thing is for too long.  The way it feels to watch someone’s eyes glaze over.  It’s embarrassing.  And just imagine if we didn’t notice “that look” and kept on going and going?

Giving others a chance to shine, to talk, to share… that’s what conversation is about.  Give and take.

And for our loved ones, it’s essential that we help them learn this.  After all, they want to connect.  They just don’t know how.


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Online Games and Socialization

Okay, I admit it.  I’m a bit of a gamer.

Whatever that used to mean in the past – the meaning changes every so often- right now it refers to online games.  Online computer games one joins to play with lots of other people scattered anywhere from North America to Australia to Europe.

Why on earth would I mention such a thing here?

Because, contrary to popular misconception, it’s an area where  social skills do play a part.  And it’s a more significant part than can be immediately appreciated by looking at a box or reading a game description.

So how can a computer game require social skills?

Well, in these games, people often work in teams.  And communicating with other people – via typing or actually putting on a headset and mike and talking with other people – is a vital part of teamwork.  Communication means social interaction.

And people are just as sensitive to nuance – the unsaid implication, the social niceties and all of it – online as they are in person.  Even if they can’t see a face, they can hear anger or kindness in a voice, and they definitely pick up on courtesy (or lack of it) even in the typed word.

For example: “Shut up and leave me alone!” vs. “Can you give me a moment to think about that, please?”

So when I run across an article about online gaming being the new haven for the socially hopeless, I take it with a grain of salt.  I’ve just seen too many people ostracized or picked on – yes, people are the same everywhere, even online – to think of it as the “perfect” place for our socially challenged loved ones.

That said, there are many advantages to the world of online gaming and its different form of social interaction.

No eye contact is required.  There is no body language to decode.  Sound can be controlled, you can wear whatever you like, and nobody’s stinky perfume is in your face.

With games (whatever the game), people respect ability.  And respect often translates into tolerance.  So if someone’s got that attention to detail and capacity for learning that our loved ones often take for granted, that’s a huge head start.

Many of the social skills required are simple ones; ones that parents can help with even if they don’t know the first thing about the game.  Like thanking others for their help and encouragement.  Like handling disappointment as gracefully as possible (as in any game).  Or like simply refraining from negativity (in type or speech).

For example: “Congratulations on reaching level 20!”  and responding with: “Thank you.”  That may seem obvious, but believe me, not everyone sees it that way.

The biggest problem that I see for the socially challenged – and I see it often – is a tendency to monologue (sounds just like real life, doesn’t it?).  Others will ask him/her to stop talking so much (people are more direct online, which is usually a positive), even if by “talking” they mean “typing”.  If ignored, they’ll then begin to grouse about how talkative that person is, pick on him/her, and then finally work actively to kick that person from the group.

Yes, it can be sad.

However, online gaming can also be – like it is for my husband – a positive experience that introduces a whole new group of supportive, accepting friends.  They may be scattered across the world, but hey, they exist.

People really are the same everywhere.  Whether they can see a face or not, they are very sensitive to social behavior.  And they can be pleasant and open to new and interesting people, or they can be close-minded and intolerant.

Does that mean online games are just another social minefield to fear?

Well, yes, in a way, and no, in another.  They have their positives and their negatives.  It’s a judgment call based on the individual. They’re not for the very young (obscenity filters can be removed, and people are not always kind).  They may not even be for every teen out there.  Then again, they may be perfect for that shy young (or not-so-young) adult who needs a different kind of place to fit in, or a way to socialize without actually having to be overwhelmed by people and their smells, demands, and noises.

But what they stress to people like me is that they’re not a social vacuum.  They’re not even that different from clubs, groups, or playgrounds.  The venue might change, but the underlying truth is the same.  What it’s really all about is helping our loved ones learn appropriate, acceptable behavior in every setting, from the playground to school to work to online interaction.

Related Posts:

Balance And The Wii

Handheld Games: Friend or Foe?

Sportsmanship And Games

Success With Games

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Asperger’s Syndrome In Mothers And Daughters

A Story For AS Mothers

As you may know, stepping outside of oneself and thinking of others doesn’t come naturally – or easily – to our kids.  It’s just a part of AS.

And it’s a part that can be helped.  A skill that can be improved upon.  Ask any intelligent, caring AS adult.

For the rest of us, placing ourselves in another’s shoes is relatively easy.  We’re not inherently “better” or anything, it’s just the way we’re wired.  Just as people with Asperger’s Syndrome are gifted with that attention to detail and incredible memory.

But what if the parent – or parents – of an AS child also has Asperger’s Syndrome?

It’s not uncommon.  Just as you see siblings, cousins and other family members with AS, you also see parent and child.  There seems to be a genetic link – at times, with specific instances – with Asperger’s Syndrome.

So how do you teach a child something like social skills if that area is already a challenge for you?

It’s really hard.  As I know from a friend of mine, who has been going through this for the past several years.  Call her Mary.

Mary does what she can for her daughter.  However, she gets a little bitter – understandably so – when teachers and other parents criticize her for not noticing how (and when) her daughter has been shunned by her peers.  Or her odd behavior.  Or monotone voice, ritualized behavior, and general lack of any social skills whatsoever.

But how could she notice these things when she suffers from them herself?  When she struggles to understand why the people around her think and react the way they do every day?

She does, however, have a unique way of helping her daughter, even if it’s difficult to show her the social niceties.  She can share her own experiences.  She can understand what her daughter is going through in a way that nobody else can.

For instance, she remembers suddenly losing all of her friends in high school.  She remembers going from friend to outcast in a matter of hours.  To this day, she still doesn’t know why it happened, or what she did or didn’t do.  Or what they did or didn’t do.

This is a typical story for someone with AS.  It’s very hard to learn to find those nuances that connect action and reaction between people.  Especially when it could have been something as simple as not saying or doing the expected thing at a crucial moment.

But knowing that others have been through this, that one is not alone and a freak (not my wording), can be tremendously helpful.

She can also share her learning process with her daughter.  My husband, for instance, shares his way of understanding other people, and it’s enlightening in a special way for our son.  Enlightening and helpful in a way I could never be; simply because he’s been there.  He’s felt the pain, the confusion, the frustration.

And sharing those experiences helps both of them.

For the rest, Mary depends heavily on the people around her.  She relies on teacher and guidance counselor communications (which is great, but how I wish they would set aside liability concerns and be more open with her!).  She listens to other mothers when they talk about social concerns.  She’s attended seminars at our local CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disorders), and we’ve enrolled our children in the same social skills classes in the past.  She runs a girl scout troop and enforces fair behavior.  She and I have passed books and helpful advice back and forth over the years.

Having this support network – friends, family, teachers, etc – has been tremendous for helping her to cope, and for her daughter to learn skills she wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed to.

But is it enough?  Her daughter still struggles with bullying, meltdowns, awkward behavior, and being shunned.

Having a loving, caring family, though… that can’t be replaced.  They bend over backwards trying to help ensure a good life for her.  They attend meetings, are active with her school,  and do what they can to help her.  And while, at the moment, she’s busy blaming her mother for anything and everything (like a typical teen), she knows she’s cared about.

So yes. In my books, that’s enough.  That’s more than enough.  We should all be so lucky. 🙂

Note: Happy Mother’s Day to all you amazing mothers out there, Asperger’s Syndrome or not; your care and efforts have helped shape us into who we are today.  And for all you younger mothers: keep up the good work!

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Every once in a while, some skill or habit we think well and truly destroyed rises up once again to slap us in the face.  Everyone out there has experienced this.

And then there are the ongoing issues.  I don’t need to list them.  You know them (only too well!) already.

A Chick In The Oven... A Hot Chick?

And then there’s slang.

Yes, it’s an ongoing issue.  But it’s a sneaky one; it doesn’t do the decent thing and remain the same.  It changes as time goes by.  So even if parents teach the old stand-bys, the new stuff can really catch you off guard.

Of course, there are those out there who would be scratching their heads at this point.  Slang?  What’s the big deal?  Who cares if a kid can’t catch onto the latest and greatest hip sayings?

But of course that’s not it at all.

Our AS kids are very literal-minded.  This means they have difficulty de-coding ordinary things like slang.  For instance, “hot chick.”  I kid you not, a friend of mine once told me her son believed this referred to poultry that had been kept in the oven for too long.

Life can be a little challenging if you don’t know what the people around you are actually saying.

The other day, I heard my husband ask our son what was up.  He stood up, smiled and said, “me!”  We both chuckled.  Later in the evening, I heard strange noises emanating from his laboratory (otherwise known as his room), and asked him what was up.

He did the exact same thing.

Now, my son loves his joke.  A little too much.  He’ll sometimes repeat himself or do the same action that made others laugh in order to make them laugh again.  He has yet to really grasp the concept that it isn’t funny the third or tenth time around.  And that’s okay.  We’re working on that.

But this time I knew it was about the slang.

After some questioning, he finally broke down and admitted that he had no idea what “What’s up” meant.  He’d been standing up and saying, “me!” because he took “what’s up” literally.  However, his friends at school thought it was his little joke, would laugh, and the issue would go away.

Just like it had with us.

So I congratulated him on his use of humor (intentional or not).  Humor is a great way to deal with people and defuse situations.  Even sarcastic humor can turn the tide and put the teaser/bully on the defensive.

And then we got serious about slang.  Again.

So as I’m writing this, I’m planning to listen, really listen, this afternoon at our middle school chess club.  And not just for what I expect to hear, either, which is what most of us hear in the first place.

Tonight, I plan on learning some current slang.

Wish me luck.

Note: It’s always good to go over old slang (so many of us still use it), as well as school lingo and old sayings.  What may appear obvious and like old hat to us, may not appear that way to our literal-minded – and yet wonderful – children. 

Related Post:

The Literal Mind

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It’s IEP Time Again

NOTE: Although now a veteran of my share of IEP’s and IEP meetings, I cannot claim to be an expert on them.  Since it’s such a subject of concern and apprehension for most of us, however, here are some of my thoughts and experiences.  I hope it helps!

As IEP meetings are scheduled, worried over, and being prepared for, I thought it would be appropriate to touch on them this week.

For those of you new to the public school system, an IEP (Individualized Education Plan or Program) is a document drawn up by the school.  It includes information from teachers, speech therapists, guidance counselors, autism coordinators, and the like (from the school side).  It may also contain information about anything from standardized test scores to doctor recommendations to parental requests.

It’s a sort of catch-all document.  Obviously.

Once the diagnosis/diagnoses and test scores are listed, problems/challenge areas are identified and clear, quantifiable goals are set.  Accommodations are then agreed to by parents and the school.  Herein lies the importance of the document.

And yes, “clear, quantifiable goals” seems problematic, doesn’t it?  Especially for kids like ours.  But if these goals are not stated, then it’s all haziness and pie in the sky ideas.

Here are some examples:

  • (child’s name) will turn in homework assignments on time 80% of the time or better for 4 out of 4 grading periods
  • (child’s name) will demonstrate organizational skills by labeling papers/assignments independently with name, date, and subject for 9 out of 10 observations
  • (child’s name) will demonstrate modification of impulsiveness to interrupt, answer for others and participate in turn taking 80% of the time

By setting these goals, the school is agreeing to help the child reach them.  I know, at first glance it appears to be a laundry list of demands upon our children;  however, it’s really a sort of contract between parents and school.

And yes, quarterly reports regarding goals are sent home to parents.  I’ve found they usually arrive around report card time.

Since these goals are an acknowledgment by the school that there are challenge areas for our children, accommodations can be built around them.  This is where we can help our kids deal with everyday problems, such as those late turn-ins.

Accommodations examples:

  • Flexible Scheduling – may have extra time to complete tests/quizzes if needed
  • Flexible Setting – may take tests/quizzes in a quiet, small group setting if needed.
  • Increased time to turn in assignments as needed

and so on.

But to make all of these things happen, and in fact to bring the IEP into existence, a meeting must be put together that includes parent/s and school officials.

This is a source of great anxiety for most of us.  Myself included.  After all, the Meeting can be a friendly gathering of like minds, or a clash of misunderstandings.  My single best piece of advice would be to bring a guest (you are entitled to bring one if you like, or even have one available to answer the phone), as stated in IEP Meetings.

If your IEP contains a particularly well-worded accommodation or goal, please share it with us.  Our kids have a lot of the same issues in common, and your experience may help someone else out there.

Related Posts:

IEP Meetings

Before Diagnosis

Letters To Schools

Volunteering At The School

Snapshot Brochures For Teachers

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