Wednesday, June 27, 2007

sensory updates

This is one of those feel-good, look-how-far-we've-come sort of posts. I LOVE those types of posts! And I'm thrilled when I can write one.

Two years ago, Jacob would only stand on the shore of the lake and would not even set a toe in the water -- he would allow us to carry him in and hold him (while he clung tightly to us), but the sensation of wet sand/earth beneath his feet was too overwhelming for him. Last year he would reluctantly creep into the water on his own, but only if the bank surface was adequately sandy and firm enough. This year, he's bounding into the water regardless of the surface, and is actually spending time making muddy puddles to stomp around in with his bare feet.

Last year Jacob made sand castles by carefully shoveling sand into a bucket of water (making sure not to splash, running in terror if it did accidentally splash), gently turning over the bucket, and stepping back as he removed the bucket from the pile of sand. This year, he digs and scoops the sand into the bucket with his hands, splashing and slopping it as he goes, then delights in jumping into the middle of his sand creation after removing the bucket. Note the sand all over his feet -- last year he would have immediately come in search of a towel to wipe it off. Now he doesn't even notice.

Last year Jacob would not turn upside down -- the inverted position was too uncomfortable and frightening for him. Just look at our little monkey now! Not only will he happily hang upside down, but will do flips as well.

As for our SOS feeding program, he is now able to tolerate a variety of foods in close proximity to his plate. We have even started playing around with putting some of the less offensive foods ON his plate. Slow but steady progress!

And, in the biggest news to date, here he is trying a new food! This icecream pop captured his attention because it was shaped like spiderman. He had a lot of difficulty bringing himself to take that lick (although it dripped on his hands several times and he was able to calmly wipe it off). And unfortunately, he truly did not like the taste once he did try it. But he DID try it! I've decided we're going to play the "icecream of the day" game at the beach this summer -- when the icecream truck comes, we'll buy a different type of treat each day and give it a try. Maybe we'll find something he'll like. More likely, I'll put on a couple extra pounds eating rejected icecream....

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

the next big thing

Following a pattern that he has right along, Jacob's scripting (quoting lines from movies, books, and conversations he hears) tends to increase steadily as he's working on a major developmental gain. He reaches a point where we think we're going to all scream "enough already!", but then suddenly we see something completely new from him that we've never seen before, and the scripting drops off again.

Jacob's scripting has been through the roof the last several weeks, getting worse as each day progressed. In fact, it got so bad, that he started exhibiting other classically Autistic behaviors along with it -- throwing his body repeatedly (perseveratively) into things, hand flapping, spinning. We figured he was either on the verge of something truly spectacular, or we were going to need to start RDI from ground zero again.

Tonight was the magical night where we finally saw what his brain's been working on this entire time.

We've been doing some spring (ok, so it's a little late....) cleaning around the house, and we moved the boys' dollhouse into a different room tonight. Of course, that sparked an immediate interest in it (funny how that always happens) and the boys, especially Jacob, started playing with it. He got things set up the way he wanted them (which is usually where the play ends unless Zoo Boy jumps in and gets a storyline going). The next thing I knew, I could hear a running conversation between the dolls -- but it was only Jacob's voice. I stopped what I was doing as I heard "Hi Hunter, hi Charlotte! I come to visit you from the time machine thing."
I shot a quick look over a The Map Man, who had also frozen in place. I said "Did he just....?" and didn't need to finish, The Map Man knew exactly what I was thinking and said "That would be incredible!"

What we were so astounded at was not only the storyline, being obviously invented and powered by Jacob, but also the use of the NAMES. Was it possible that, for the first time ever, Jacob actually spontaneously NAMED something? After years of trying to coerce him into coming up with names for pets, toys, dolls, creations, artwork, musical pieces, had he finally gotten to that point in his development that he had a desire to create his own labels/names for things?

I couldn't control myself. I scurried down the hall, grabbing my camera as I went. I tried to act casual. I watched the storyline play out a bit -- kids playing in their clubhouse, interacting with their grandfather. As casually as I could, I said to Zoo Boy, "I wonder what their names are..." Jacob immediately interupted his play to introduce me to his "friends". He said, and I quote:

"I named this boy Hunter, and this boy I named Fred. I named this girl Dorothy. And this girl over here I named Charlotte."

I took a couple photos then slipped out of the room as casually as I slipped in to rejoin the Map Man. He asked "Is that from...?" I shook my head. "No, so far as I can tell, that's entirely HIS."

We stood in silent wonder for awhile. In the background the dolls' conversation continued:

"Oh, hi there kids!"
"Hi Grandpa!"
"What are you kids doing?"

Child development is a mystifying and powerful thing.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

report on our latest RDA

We've spent the better part of the past week or so driving back and forth across the state to meet with our RDI Program Certified Consultant so that she could perform an RDA (Relationship Development Assessment) on Jacob. It was time to get an "official" view on where we're at with RDI, especially in terms of the new stages/objectives, and to make sure there aren't any holes that need patching.

We did, in fact, find a "hole", back in Stage 2. Which, although that might sound a little depressing given that we were starting to look at Stage 6, was actually good news -- it explained some of the subtle differences we were seeing in several stages worth of objectives that he'd pretty much mastered, but just weren't quite where they needed to ideally be. The Stage 2 objective we're missing has to do with him caring about what I think of his ideas. This is something that will stand in his way of being able to truly collaborate -- without caring about what his partner on a project thinks about his idea, there is no motivation for him to negotiate with his partner to come to a mutually agreeable conclusion.

In Jacob's case, this presented itself as him being too willing to just adopt whatever the partner (whether it be me or our consultant) suggested, even if it meant abandoning his idea altogether. The effect percolates up through many of the objectives above this stage, and certainly will prevent him from developing proper collaboration skills. So, obviously, it needs to be worked on prior to anything else.

Our consultant also assigned us a couple of other objectives (stage 5) that are in need of work, and are convenient to work on at the same time as the Stage 2 objective above. They also build on laying the groundwork for collaboration. In addition, there are a couple of Stage 4 objectives that we're going to keep in mind to make sure that filling in that Stage 2 hole will result in firming up of those objectives as well.

Since I'm desiring a couple months to slow down and actually have a break, we're just going to focus on activities that target these objectives through the summer months, and I'll put off learning about new objectives until the fall. By the time he masters what we're now working on, he should be ready to start working in a dyad (with an equally matched partner), which will add a whole new dimension to our RDI program. And with the new RDI Operating System coming on board at some point this summer, I'll have enough things to learn at the technical end of things to keep me busy for a bit.

So, in short, Jacob's made remarkable progress since our last RDA (when I was fretting over the fact that he couldn't even make the simplest of choices -- wow, but we've come a long way!). But he's still got Autism, even if nobody outside of an RDA session could identify it as such. And so our work continues.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

SOS success -- s'mores

I really wasn't sure how this would go over, but Zoo Boy badly wanted to participate in the s'mores making activity that was being held during a family parks day event we went to this weekend. So I went ahead and popped a marshmallow on a stick for Jacob too and handed it to him, guided him over to the fire, and got him toasting it.

After tending carefully for his marshmallow, Jacob let the woman running the activity pop it between two chocolate-covered graham crackers. Imagine my surprise when he readily took the oozy, sticky treat from me!

Then he completely exceeded my expectations by actually TASTING it. And guess what? He LIKED it!!!! (Well, duh, he loves marshmallow peeps, but I didn't even need to tell him that it tasted like those to get him to take a nibble.) He ate quite a bit of the marshmallow from around the outside before the sensation of holding all that goo become too much for him and he started frantically looking for a place to ditch it and some running water to wash his hands. (I found a place for him to ditch it -- MY mouth! It was YUMMY!) We talked a lot about that the rest of the day, how cool it was to try something NEW and how he LIKED it, and now we can have campfires this summer and make s'mores. We talked about REAL s'mores, and how they are made from marshmallows (which he just found out he likes), hershey's bars (a long-standing favorite of his), and graham crackers (also a "Jacob-approved" food). And he expressed excitement about future opportunities to make s'mores. (And I'm pretty excited about it too! :-)

In another SOS success this week, he willingly touched an icecream sandwich to see how cold it was. I commented at the time that it was made up of things he likes -- sugar cookies, m&ms, and vanilla icecream. I'll have to buy the same icecream sandwich again this week and remind him of the s'mores, also made up of three things he likes. Maybe we can even get a nibble out of him!

By the way, in case you're wondering, Zoo Boy did NOT try the s'mores. Or the icecream sandwich, although he did hold the icecream sandwich for a brief time and at least considered taking a bite.