Live Tweeting – Raptors Vs. Bucks

A basketball in mid-air going towards the rim.

Live tweeting of the 2nd quarter as the Raptors took on the Bucks at the Air Canada Centre on December 12th. Image by Storify.

I have always wanted to take my daughter to a live sporting event; however, her sensory issues will likely prevent that for several years.

Basketball is one of my favourite sports, especially live, but it is just too loud. The music in the arena during play is at a volume level similar to a rock concert. One day, we will get there. Until then, I will watch (and tweet) from the comfort of our family room.

My Storify story captures the second quarter of Monday’s game between the Raptors and the Bucks. I hope you enjoy it.

Have you been to a live sporting event with your child? What tips do you have to overcome the sensory issues?

Christmas Gifts for the Senses

Have a child that is a bit hard to buy for? Looking for gifts this holiday season other than what you will find at the local big box store? Do you need to beef up your inventory of sensory toys? This post is for you!

I’m not saying not to get your child that Barbie playhouse or the Hot-Wheels set they have been eyeing. All kids want those toys and get great use out of them, but there are only so many of those toys you can buy.

There is a universe of sensory toys and products out there that your son or daughter will thoroughly enjoy and will make a great gift. Here are three potential gifts to get you started this Christmas:

 

Jumpstart Electronic Trampoline

A triangular shape trampoline with support handles for children.

The Jumpstart Electronic Trampoline. Photo by Joshua Jutras

My in-laws bought this for NJ three years ago and she loved it! She used this very heavily for almost two years and it has held up very well. At 8 years of age, she is a little big for this toy but I would certainly recommend it for kids 3 to 7 years old.

She enjoyed the trampoline so much that we upgraded to an outdoor trampoline for our backyard this summer. We held on to this one for our basement to use on rainy days and the winter months.

The only negative I would pass along was that this product proved quite difficult for my father-in-law to put together. This is one of those presents that you will want to start putting together in the days leading up to Christmas so it is ready to go.

 

Carousel

A sit-down spinner for children.

The Carousel from FDMT. Photo by Joshua Jutras.

We bought this unit two years ago to add to her play room and it was a hit. She enjoys the spinning motion and it has become a “go to” sensory toy. It is well-constructed and heavier than I had expected, but is till compact enough that you can easily move it from room to room or throw it in the trunk of your car when you go to your parent’s house for dinner.

Sticker shock is the only concern with this product. At nearly $200.00 (plus shipping), it is a premium product; however, we still get use out of it to this day. We considered it an investment in her sensory activities in addition to a present.

We have bought several items from FDMT and never been disappointed with their products or customer service.

 

Hopper Ball

I had a ball like this. You probably did as well. If you son or daughter doesn’t have one, now is as good a time as any. You can buy a variant of this product pretty much anywhere, but I believe in shopping local so I will highlight a new company in central Ontario.

My Special Toolbox was recently started by Natalie Edwards, a licensed ABA therapist. She offers an array of products that your kids will love, including the Hopper Ball. Available in three sizes, this is a must have for any child.

We actually had two similar balls when Natalia was younger – one for inside, one for outside. Like the trampoline, she loved the bouncing motion and it proved to be a great workout.

 

 

What sensory toys have you bought for your child? Did your child enjoy them?

A toy Santa Claus sits with his sack of presents in front of a tree on a fall day. Image by Pixabay.

“Silent Santa” – Coming Soon to a Mall Near You?

On a good day, our local mall is a sensory buffet. Loud music from the stores, bright lights and mannequins. Yes, my daughter is obsessed with mannequins. She has to touch them all, see what they are wearing and occasionally pretend it is a better dressed version of her mom or dad. Arms have been pulled off and apologies to the staff flow like chai tea lattes from the Starbucks in the food court. Needless to say, a trip to the mall is a stressful affair. When you throw Santa into the equation, chaos reigns.

Large Christmas ornaments hang from the roof of a mall during the Christmas season. Image by Pixabay.

Image by Pixabay.

Santa’s Entrance

A couple weeks ago, I took my daughter to the mall for one of her favourite meals – the “Perfect Combo” at New York Fries. She LOVES hot dogs and will eat almost any one you put in front of her, but she has become a “fry snob.” Our options were limited and since it had been made clear to me that ice cream would be the dessert of choice (only chocolate dipped cones from DQ are acceptable for our ice cream stops), I was left with no choice.

It was towards the end of the lunch hour. We walked by Santa’s house, located right beside the food court and he was not home. She was having a bit of time already with how busy it was so I was pleased that we wouldn’t have to deal with the all the commotion that usually surrounds Father Christmas. Not to mention that we had just attended the local Santa Clause parade the previous evening.

Not five minutes into lunch, I hear a faint jingling of bells and a “ho-ho-ho” in the distance. I figured he was coming from the other direction and would just head to his chair, which we could not see from our table. Not 90 seconds later, I hear the thunderous roar of a mall Santa that sounds like it is coming from 10 feet above my head. Turns out Santa is now coming down the escalator about 20 feet to our left. Game over.

She bolts out of her chair and takes off as fast as I have ever seen. I manage to grab her before she got to him, but a sensory overload, which we had been teetering on since we waked in to the mall, was now complete. She starts stimming, then screaming into her stuffed animal. Forget about eating lunch – we needed the next 30 minutes to get our control back.

There Must be a Better Way…

When we do go to see Santa, it never ends well. Massive lines, loud noises and crying kids. I don’t need to tell you how bad it can get.

Then I saw this.

Our local chapter of Autism Ontario recently held an event on a “Santa Train.” It was a two-car train that went about 25 minutes up an old rail line and back again. Our group had one of the cars, which helped take some of the pressure off the parents. Santa came down through the train and spent a few minutes one-on-one with each child. While it was low-sensory, the experience of being on the train proved a bit challenging; however, it was a much better experience than we had ever had in a mall setting.

While I wish that malls everywhere would be like Londonderry Mall, you do have options in your community for a low-sensory Santa experience. I would encourage you to visit the Autism Ontario website to find an event in your area.

What was your family’s worst Santa experience? What did you learn from it?

Your Autistic Daughter does Taekwondo?

Let’s start by clearing up a bit of an elephant in the room – autistic kids can do sports. It continues to astonish me that people don’t understand how my daughter can participate in a sport. Is she that different from a “normal” child? In some ways, most certainly; however, in most respects, she is very much like any other child. She puts her pants on one leg at a time, she can run and play and she is desperate to fit in.

This leads me to a fundamental question faced by so many – is she being defined by adults and other kids not by what she can do, but by her autism? Let’s think about that one for a little bit and revisit it in the near future.

 

An Example for All

I believe in the power of sport. I believe in not only the obvious physical benefits of being active but in the many other skills that anyone can learn from a team or individual sport. I believe that, in those moments, she feels just like the other kids and that alone makes it worth the effort that you as a parent will have to put in.

 

After our first attempts at skiing, we had to take a bit of a break. Like I said in the last post, that failure was on me. My lack of preparation doomed us before we had even begun. So I went back to the drawing board. I took my own advice (yes, the steps work well if you follow them) and we landed on Taekwondo.

 

Encouraging Your Child to Kick and Punch?

A group of children do warm-up exercises during their taekwondo class

NJ going through warm-up drills with her taekwondo class. Photo by Joshua Jutras

 

Putting your child with ASD in a sport that involves punching and kicking is a good thing. Is that counter-intuitive? On the surface, absolutely. With some of the tantrums we see our kids go through, I wouldn’t blame you for closing your browser window right now. This advice makes no sense…until you go through the steps and analyze the situation. So I start by asking you a simple question – will your child enjoy kicking and hitting things? Assuming 98.2% of you answered yes, let’s briefly examine the benefits.

Taekwondo promotes an environment of teamwork, learning and focus. A good instructor (which we have thanks to our planning and research), will have experience teaching kids with ASD. He or she will know when to push your child a bit and when to cut them some slack. Your future ninja will be encouraged to work with the other budding martial artists on drills and skills. Above all else (for this dad), the focus and attention to detail that the sport demands have carried over to other areas of life that my daughter has difficulty with (focus in school, interacting with other kids, and so on).

 

“Another Brick In The Wall”

To be clear – I am not advocating this as a silver bullet type solution. Getting your child involved in a sport can have many of the same overall benefits as ABA (applied behavioural analysis), IBI (intensive behavioural intervention), or speech therapy, for example. I place a high level of importance on it but would never elevate it above your other therapies and activities. Instead, use sport to compliment and reinforce the learnings from these other sources.

Finally, don’t forget to get involved. Learn with your child, model that positive behaviour you want to see and please, please have fun with your son or daughter while you’re doing it.

Learn from my mistakes! Do your on-site visit(s), take pictures, ask the right questions, get yourself comfortable and prepare your child.

Practice Makes Perfect?

In my last post, I talked a lot about insanity. Some days, raising a child on the spectrum makes a parent feel like they are going crazy. And that’s on a normal day. What about those days when you dare to try something different, like organized activities or sports? Each parent’s experience with this is bound to be as varied as our children, but by the end of the day most will say that they passed the point of insanity hours earlier.

 

There are very few things in life that I am exceptional at. One of them is downhill skiing. It is something that my dad infrequently but that I developed a passion for at a very young age. Like anyone learning a new skill, I had a rough start: I cried, I got discouraged and I got hurt. What I didn’t do was give up. My parents signed me up for lesson programs, which evolved to joining a race team and skiing three days a week. That love of the sport stays with me to this day and I am excited for January, when the local Thursday night adult racing program begin. I was equally determined to pass this skill along to my daughter. Nothing would stand in my way.

Looking back on it three years later, I can honestly say that our first attempt on the slopes was one of the stupidest and most selfish things I have ever done in my life. She deserved and needed so much better than I gave her on that first trip, which made the other attempts that season all the more difficult. As time machines have not yet become available at your local big box store, the best I can do is help you to avoid my mistakes.

My first mistake was a complete and total failure to prepare my daughter for the experience. Preparation for a successful ski season must begin in the fall. Most ski areas in southern Ontario have annual ski swaps, which occur anywhere between Thanksgiving weekend and the middle of November. These events are the perfect opportunity to show your child the sights and sounds of where he or she will ski. Show them around the chalet and the rental area where they will get fitted for their skis. After that, get outside and take them to see the beginner hills and lifts. Make sure you take some pictures of everything with your phone as you will need them in the weeks to come.

My second mistake was trying to teach her myself. I maybe an expert on the subject, but I, like many other parents, simply do not have the skill set or patience required to teach a child a sport. For the sake of your sanity and, more importantly, to give your child a positive learning experience, sign them up for a lesson. Shortly after the ski swap, contact the ski school at your local hill about lessons. Ensure that they have staff trained in teaching kids with intellectual disabilities how to ski and that they can handle any concerns you have that are specific to your child. Finally, pay the extra for the private lesson. This does add to the cost but in my experience the student to instructor ratio in a group setting is far too high to properly teach and keep a child with ASD safe during the lesson.

There is bound to be a gap of two months or more between their first visit to the hill in the fall and their first day on skis, which brings me to my third tip. Every so often, take out your phone and show them the pictures you took of them in the chalet and on the hill. Keep up their comfort level with the sights and sounds, but don’t do it to the point where they obsess over it. This is certainly a delicate balance, but believe me when I say it will be a disaster if you just show up at the hill on the first day without preparing your child.

Last but not least, prepare yourself for a long day. Get there early. Be happy and heap praise on your child like you have never done before. You are going to be excited when your child learns to “make pizza” for the first time but don’t forget to watch your child’s cues closely.

A father skis close behind his daughter, who is raising her arms to celebrate successfully doing a snow plow.

NJ celebrates “making pizza” while dad keeps a close watch from behind. Photo by Danielle Jutras.

 

I was so excited when she was starting to get it that I didn’t realize how long we had been out there. Nor did I pay attention to the obvious signs of sensory overload that resulted in a two-hour tantrum. Take that break at the right time and, if they have clearly had enough, pack it in and come back another day. Do whatever you need to do to get them out of that first day with a positive memory, which includes reminding them how well they did in the hours and days that follow.

These tips can very easily be adapted to help get you and your child involved in many sports. I cannot overstate how much I regret not taking the time and effort to adequately prepare my daughter for her first time on skis. Please, take the time to make the necessary preparations.

This post was about learning from my mistakes. Fortunately, these mistakes led us to success. Taekwondo is probably the last sport you would consider for a child with ASD. Next time, I will share with you why it should near the top of your list of potential activities.

What activities have you been successful at with your child? What would you do differently if you had the chance?

Dad Wants to Teach his Autistic Child a Sport? Is he Insane?

I will start this off by saying that I think men are insane, just not in the Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary sense. For my fellow man, I prefer the simpler (and admittedly overused) definition attributed to Albert Einstein:

A black and white photo of Albert Einstein.

Albert Einstein – Photo by Pixaby.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

This leads me to a single question – is it insane for fathers to try and teach their autistic kids how to play a sport? Through experience, I have learned that the answer to this question is a firm maybe. Should that stop you from trying? Absolutely not, provided you stay flexible and have realistic expectations.

In my mid-thirties, I forget how bad I was at sports when I first tried them. I think fathers have a revisionist memory with sports that has us strapping on a pair of skates, skis or jumping on a bike as a four-year-old and just knowing what to do. No falling, no tears and no frustration. Surely, our child will learn this skill almost instantly, just like their old man…right?

Well dad, I have bad news for you – when you first tried a sport during your childhood, you weren’t very good at it. In fact, you were probably pretty terrible at it. You yelled. You probably cried and you fell, over and over and over again. It took years of practice, encouragement and dedication to find the skills you enjoy today.

Both on downhill skis, dad takes NJ by the hand and pulls her towards the "Magic Carpet" lift.

Dad teaching NJ how ski. Photo by Danielle Jutras.

Now that I have made you relive traumas from your childhood, I want you to come back to today. You are a father to a child with autism and you need to understand what he or she might be feeling. To calculate that, simply take the angst and fear you felt learning a sport in your youth and multiply that by exactly one-million. After a two-second analysis of the impossible number that just appeared in your head, most will come to the conclusion that the task of teaching little Timmy or Jenny your favourite sport is impossible. Additionally, it would be the height of insanity to continue. For all I know, you could be right. But what if you’re wrong? And what if your favourite sport is the wrong fit for your child?

In my next post, I want to dive deeper into navigating your child through sports and autism, as well as pass along NJ’s journey to a sport I never would have considered.

Until then, know that it is possible. Getting autistic children involved in sports has its challenges, but the rewards can benefit your entire family.

Moreover, think about the definition of insanity I quoted a couple minutes ago. For parents with autism, success largely comes from setting that routine and practicing it every day. In anticipation of something different, like Halloween, we prepare and we practice. For high-performance athletes, success comes from practice.

Is practice, by Einstein’s definition, not insanity?

 

A Father’s Guide to Autism & Halloween

 

Football. Sunday afternoon in late October means football. There is nothing else, right? Wrong!

Lighted pumpkins and ghosts laying waiting in the garden for trick-or-treaters.

Halloween can be challenging for autistic kids and their families, but fun awaits those who prepare. Photo by Joshua Jutras.

Tomorrow is Halloween and as a father to an autistic child, you have work to do. If this is your first-trick-or-treating adventure with your child or you have had problems in the past, this post is for you. With the proper planning and a little practice (yes, practice), you too can have a great experience this October 31st.

 

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare….

A lot of what I am going to suggest may seem like common sense; however, thorough preparation will ensure a successful evening for your entire family. First piece of advice – if you have not yet done so, get your child in their costume, NOW! If your child is scared because of the mask, the fit or the type of material (my daughter freaked out over some krinolin in her first costume), you still have time to alter the costume or go back out to the store for a new one.

If you have been successful in getting your child to wear their costume, don’t hurry to get them out of it. They’re likely going to be in it all day at school and during the evening hours, so let them get used to it. Take some pictures, make a fuss over how cute they are and continue your preparations by getting him or her outside.

Reconnaissance

A home welcomes kids with a series of fun Halloween inflatables.

Know your route. Keep your eyes open for the friendly houses and the spooky houses. Photo by Joshua Jutras.

Once outside, walk your target route with your Ninja Turtle, Elsa or Power Ranger (they are making a coming back). Show them how all the houses are decorated and carefully note any your child reacts negatively to so you can take extra care or avoid them on the big night.

Practice

Allen Iverson’s comments on practice aside“Practice makes perfect” could have been another title for this blog. This age old quote applies to just about everything in autism and your Halloween experience is no exception. When you return from your recon mission, practice by having your little one ring your doorbell and getting candy from someone in your family. Repeat the process of walking up your driveway and walkway to ring the bell and receive the candy a few times. Yes, they will get a bit of extra candy but think of it as an investment: it will pay dividends in the future.

Bonding

Finally, a quick note for dad. Halloween is a great time to get out and bond with your child. Leave your spouse/partner at home and take your son or daughter out to have some fun. Encourage them to be brave, model how to have fun and be a steady hand on the wheel if things go south. Remember, look for the cues that they have had enough and cut it short if you need to. The last thing anyone wants is to carry their screaming child home in the dark.

Two pumpkins sit on the living room table prior to be put outside.

Two pumpkins get ready for the great outdoors. Designed by NJ, cut by mom and dad. Photo by Joshua Jutras.

What are your Halloween Traditions? How do you prepare your child for the big night? How do you make Halloween special for your child?