“THE STATE OF THINGS” North Carolina Public Radio station WUNC

Click here for a link to the radio show

The program is “The State of Things” on North Carolina Public Radio station WUNC.  Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio hosts the program, which  this time  focused on autism.

The way Franc Stasio introduced me is a description I think describes what all autism moms and dads tend to be – strategists:

“… Jeremy is almost 22 now and  he is thriving thanks to an army of experts whose chief strategist and leader of the troops is his mother.” Frank Stasio, host of radio show ‘The State of Things” on WUNC, North Carolina Public Radio, April 2010.

I was on a panel that will include  Autism Society of North Carolina  spokesperson David Laxton; and a representative of the North Carolina TEACCH program, and Daniel Coulter.  TEACCH stands for “Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication Handicapped Children” and is associated with the North Carolina School of Medicine.

Jeremy Using an iPad

Jeremy has been trying to master turning the pages of a book. He loves to read, and he loves learning, but getting all his motor planning / sensory processing to move the pages of a book are a bit much.   Here you can see how with the use of an iPad he learned quickly how to turn the pages of a book  on the iPad. Great use of technology!

First he learned to slide his finger across the screen:

Then he learned to slide his finger to turn the pages:

I hope this encourages others!

How to Teach a Child or Teen with Autism the Concept of Waiting

There are a few things in life that are certain: paying taxes, death and waiting. No matter who you are, part of your life will be spent waiting. Unfortunately, the “waiting” concept is not one that is picked up by osmosis for many children  on the spectrum. Hopefully, they will have learned this concept  by the time they are teens, but I’m still including it in this column because it is a necessary life skill everyone needs to learn – on and off the spectrum. We all have to wait in line at the grocery store, wait at the doctors office, wait for a turn on our favorite ride at Disneyland, wait at the restaurant for our food. Children also have to learn how to wait  at holiday events,  when traveling, at home for things they can’t have right away or to go out for a ride in the car. As children grow into teens and become more responsible for their behavior, waiting is definitely a skill they will be expected to use in the community.

Teaching the concept of waiting


Here’s one way of teaching the concept of waiting:

  • Make a nice- sized (4×4 or bigger) picture icon that has a figure sitting  in a chair, and the face of a clock on it. Put it somewhere convenient and noticeable, such as the refrigerator.
  • Glue a piece of velcro  on the big icon for putting a smaller  icon of requested item on it.
  • Have a timer available.
  • Have small icons of the child’s favorite items that he likes to request.
  • Have those items (food or toys) within his eyesight but out of his reach (but easily within yours).
  • When child asks for item out of reach, show him the corresponding icon, place it on the bigger waiting icon, and say “we are waiting” and set timer for whatever his capability for waiting  is at this point (10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute).
  • As soon as the timer rings, give him immediately the requested item. Tell him “We are finished waiting.”
  • Do this many times  whenever the opportunity arises and extend the amount of time until the child can wait longer and longer.

Each child is different in how long this will take or for how long he can learn to wait (and this will change as well over time).  Eventually when he is asking for a ride in the car and you can’t go right away, you can tell him “Not now, in 10 more minutes your sister will be ready. We are waiting,” and he will get the idea that he may not get what he wants now, but he will get what he wants eventually. This will lessen his frustration, and subsequently, yours.

The Ultimate Sandwich Generation

This article first appeared in the April 2010 edition of Spectrum Magazine.

When my father passed away in 2007, we moved my mom to a skilled nursing facility near our home. Caring for my son Jeremy and caring for my mom—one affected by autism and the other by Parkinson’s—I’m continually reminded how similar their brain processing challenges are. One glaring difference, however, is that my son is gaining in skills (albeit slowly), while my mother is losing them.
As an older parent (I won’t say how old – a lady is entitled to her secrets), I’m now sandwiched between caring for my children, and caring for my elderly mother. The balance of time has shifted, and now it is my turn to look after Maman who once looked after me. In the trunk of my car I carry a change of clothes for my son and adult diapers for my mom.

Both Jeremy and Maman require high levels of support and are nearly the same in terms of stress, worry, and time commitment. Soon after moving my mom down here, I was overseeing my mom’s caretakers, as well as my son’s in-home support staff. That pile of insurance papers I already hated filling out for my son looked small in comparison with all the paperwork following my dad’s death and all that needed to be done for Maman. The number of phone calls I had to make to health professionals, therapists and agencies suddenly quadrupled. And then there were the Interdisciplinary Care Plan meetings in regards to Maman and the Individualized Educational Program meetings for Jeremy.

Sometimes, it feels like I’m not doing right by either of them. Meanwhile, I still have my work to do, with deadlines looming. “Squeeze as much as you can into a 24-hour day” seems to be the mantra around here. Because of course there are the financial worries that having a “Jeremy” entails.

The other day I took Jeremy to visit my mom. When we got there, Maman was sitting in the communal living room, where there is not much living going on. Maman was slumped in her wheelchair, staring blankly at the TV screen. We walked in and greeted her, but she did not respond. Maman was ignoring us.
“Maman, what’s going on?” I asked.
“I’m mad because you didn’t come yesterday,” she replied, refusing to look at me.

The day before, Jeremy’s tutor had called in sick, so I’d had to stay home and supervise Jeremy getting his homework done. Maman doesn’t get that sometimes I have to choose between her needs and my children’s needs. Tough situation to be in, but it is the reality of those of us in the sandwich generation.

I apologized for my absence, but Maman was still pouting. “And Monica didn’t come today.” she stated. Monica is my sister in L.A., a two-hour car ride away.
“Maman, Monica is coming tomorrow, Friday. Today is Thursday. But I’m here now, do you want to play cards with me?” I asked. Maman loves to play cards.
“Non,” she replied.
“Fine, then I’m going to play a game of solitaire by myself.” I pulled out the cards and set up the game to play. Maman didn’t react at first, but after I played a few rounds, she slowly moved her hand, picked up a card and moved it to where it belonged. Good, I thought, I got her interested.

Meanwhile, Jeremy sat at the table, quietly stimming with one of Maman’s little stuffed animals. She keeps them in a bag hanging off her wheelchair, along with the playing cards and a book. As he was stimming, he rocked, and his chair started to slide backwards. Not a good thing considering that very old people in wheelchairs were right behind him. I asked him to budge, but he ignored me, so I got up and pushed his chair back in closer to the table. I sat back down, and Maman was back to staring at the TV screen. I tried to get both Maman and Jeremy interested in the card game, but nothing doing. I pulled out one of Maman’s Paris Match magazines—they both like to read those—but they just sat there unresponsive, each in their own little world. I continued my game of solitaire. There I was with two of my closest family members, and I had never
felt so alone.

Back home, there was a reminder email from Rebecca’s high school about an upcoming meeting. This is Rebecca’s senior year, and there are all these things I am supposed to be doing in order to help her choose, apply, get into, and pay for college. Things are much more complicated now than when I was in high school. Although I know all the ins and outs of special education, I am at a loss when it comes to college prep, and I feel like I am already behind in helping my daughter to navigate through all that she should be doing. Gosh, have I been spending so much time taking care of Maman and Jeremy that I have seriously messed up my daughter’s future? Something else to worry about, and now I will have to skip a visit with Maman to attend this meeting. It’s tough having to choose between being there for your child and being there for your parent.

Every one of these people whom I love and cherish requires and needs my attention. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and I think, “How did I get here? How did I become the primary caretaker for so many needy people?” And of course just asking the questions makes me feel guilty.

Then it hits me. I don’t want to rush through any of this.  I want to savor the next few years. Spending time with Rebecca is a joy; I don’t want to miss a minute of my teenage girl’s transformation into a young woman. She will be out of the nest before I know it. Maman has only a few years left, and I want to be there for her the way she was for me when I was little. Jeremy is evolving into adulthood, and it is gratifying to see how mature he is becoming. I don’t want to miss a minute of any of it.
This sandwich generation stuff is tough. But soon, my husband and I will be all alone and I’m not sure I’m ready for that. I’m lucky to have all these people to care for, needing me, surrounding me. My plate is very full, and yet that is what gives my life the richness and flavor that makes it worth living.

Temple Grandin and Jeremy Sicile-Kira to Keynote on-line Autism Conference

No-Cost Virtual  conference and new book highlight Autism Awareness month.

In honor of Autism Awareness month, momsfightingautism.com is offering a free virtual conference with 17 different presenters over two days on Saturday, April 10th and Sunday 11th from 8:00 to 5:00 PST.

Temple Grandin, PH.D., subject of the recent HBO movie: Temple Grandin starring Claire Danes, will be the keynote speaker on Saturday April 10 at 8:00 am PST. Dr. Grandin is a designer of livestock handling facilities, Associate Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and a bestselling author (Thinking in Pictures). Dr. Gandin will be discussing Teaching Through Specific Examples, and will also discuss the Importance of Sensory Processing Disorder and it’s place in the DSM V which is currently being updated.

Temple Grandin and Chantal Sicile-kira

Acknowledging that autism is a spectrum with different abilities and challenges, the keynote on Sunday April 11 at 8:00 am PST will be given by Jeremy Sicile-Kira who was highlighted in the MTV award-winning True Life episode, “I Have Autism.” Jeremy will present on Learning With Autism: A Personal Viewpoint using power point with voice output. “Jeremy has experienced home schooling, special education and inclusion, and many types of therapies in California, France and the UK. It’s not often we get to hear from someone as impacted as Jeremy about what it is like to be on the receiving end of therapies and treatments,” explained Chantal Sicile-Kira, autism advocate and award-winning author who will be moderating both keynote presentations. Her latest book, 41 Things to Know About Autism, has just been published by Turner Publishing. Continue reading »