November 2009 Archives

November 30, 2009

Holiday Travel, Disneyland, and Autism: Avoiding the Meltdown For My Son

The Holidays are stressful, to say the least.  There are lots of people you don't normally see during the year that visit and occasionally stay, there are shopping trips, decorating chores, moving furniture, and big stints in the kitchen cooking meals and lots of fatty goodness.  All this extra stimulation is compounded when traveling. 

Now, I love to travel, as does my wife.  We spent a lot of time on the road, and both of us have flown enough times to know that the flight and a long haul on the road can be stressful for everyone.  That goes especially for those children with Autism. 

Now, this is not meant to be the one answer for all children with Autism, as each one is different.  This is what works for my son, so I thought I would share it.  If it's any help for anyone else, by all means, you are welcome to it.  But if your son doesn't respond to this type of travel or these travel tips, hopefully it will help you identify what might help. 

We have taken my son on both an airplane and in the car to San Diego, and he has handled both methods with stellar success.  It all comes down to how we get him to focus his mind, and how to keep his attention on those things he can control so he doesn't have to worry about those things he can't control. 

First off, we find A toy, not many toys, that he likes and will use the longest.  In the past this has been the water pen and tablet tools, or the magnetic stylus and slates.  Both are great because he can practice his letters and numbers, work on his writing, and it keeps his mind off the close quarters of both the car and plane.  Now we use the iPod Touch and the various apps he likes on that.  It's like having 20 different toys for him in one location, and each application we have for him is geared to help him learn something. 

Next, we have some snacks for him, usually fruit snacks.  Anything he will eat is fine, and he loves fruit snacks as a finger food (cottage cheese gets a little messy ^_^).  Finally, we make sure he is comfortable.  We sit with him, talk him through the experience, and walk him through each step as it comes up so he is prepared with what he needs. 

Now, Autism and Airlines have not gotten along in the past.  Southwest infamously forced a family with an autistic child off their planes and stranded them.  And people can be very, um, intolerant with children in general.  As such my wife and I have seen flying as a second option over driving. 

So we purchased a large enough vehicle to fit the family and a few extras for luggage, toys, food, etc.  I'm not saying it will work best for you, but it may work overall.  If you drive, keep in mind that children need to get out and stretch their legs.  Don't eat through the drive-through, but rather get out and eat if you can.  If you can't eat at the establishment you chose, look for a city park or something similar and have a picnic.  The exercise and open spaces can help reduce the stress of close quarters for long periods of time. 

As an example, my wife and I spent the last week in California at Disneyland and in San Diego.  We chose to drive, as we have a very fuel efficient vehicle for it's size.  It took us 12 hours to drive from Salt Lake City to Anaheim with all the stops for eating, changing the kids, and letting them run around for exercise. 

Disneyland was great, particularly because of a special pass available for anyone who is unable to stand in long lines for long periods of time.  It's called an assistance pass, and was definitely helpful for our son.  Instead of waiting for 40+ minutes in line, we were able to go right up to the ride.  For those rides with Fast Passes, it would work as a fast pass.  For those rides without a fast pass (i.e., the new Finding Nemo ride), we would enter through the accessibility entrance, and get placed as soon as possible. 

To get the pass, enter City Hall there at Main Street, and explain the disability your child has, and what would happen if they were to wait in long lines.  The distribution of the pass is not based on disabilities, but rather the results of the disabilities when waiting in long lines.  If you do get one, though, don't abuse it!  We want this pass to remain available for all children with Autism, so make sure you use it judiciously.  We chose to use it only on a select few rides, as our son could manage a 20 minute wait (just not 25, it turned out). 

Well, I hope this ends up being helpful.  If anyone else has any good recommendations that you don't see listed, feel free to post them!

November 19, 2009

Microsoft Office 2010 Beta: Initial Reactions

I'm a Mac user.  I've been a Mac User since 2007, and before that I was impressed with the Mac OS X line.  Why?  Because it uses UNIX as a core (version of BSD), and I could install retail software on it along with my open source software.  That was huge.  Before Mac OS X, I liked Linux, and used several distributions.  Before that, I used Windows like everyone else (though I preferred the DOS command line). 

But one thing I like about Microsoft is their Office Suite.  It's a great product overall, and very well done.  I've been teaching Office 2003 and 2007 classes since I started at the University of Utah, and the more I teach, the more I like it.  It's flexible, it's clean, and the Ribbon makes it easy to get a lot of things done. 

Yesterday I had a chance to download Microsoft Office 2010's Public Beta and give it a try.  Here are the initial impressions I got while running through the basic tools.

Excel 2010:

  • No more Office button:  Now you have the File Tab, which does the same thing.  This is a transition tool that would have been helpful with Office 2007 - less confusion with a button that previously didn't do anything.  Now it's just going to confuse those people who just got used to 2007.  Microsoft, make up your mind and stick with it please!  As you can see, this is a pet peeve of mine.
  • Sparklines:  I like them!  Mini charts in a cell that are not objects.  I like the concept, and it makes some of the conditional formatting tools obsolete.
  • Slicers are cool too, because they make using PivotTables that much easier, and I love PivotTables.
  • Equations:  Now you can write an equation in Excel.  For a program that is all about Math, this was a long time coming.  It also equalizes the Office Suite. 
  • Adding Screenshots:  I'm not sure when I would use this in Excel, but I like it in Word and PowerPoint!  This is a good tool for training in particular.  Nice work!
  • Automatic Themes updates:  This is cool, because there is a lot of potential in the Themes formatting tool. 

Word 2010:

  • AutoText:  This was seriously lacking in Word 2007, but it looks like it's back in some form in 2010.  I had county clerks that refused to switch to Office 2007 because this feature was no longer available.  They will be happy now!
  • Insert Table of Figures:  This is just cool. 
  • Restrict Editing:  Nice, though I suspect it requires SharePoint for it to work.  That and Block Editors, so real-time collaboration can work properly.  Of course, this same feature is available in SubEthaEdit for the Mac, and without purchasing an expensive SharePoint Server.  ^_^

PowerPoint 2010:

  • Equations:  Here again, I like it. 
  • Animations and Transitions Tabs:  I like that they separated the two.  There is so much one can do for each, they needed to be in different tabs.  Not that you SHOULD be using all the transition options, or all the animation options, but it's nice to know you can separate what you want from what you need.  ^_^

Outlook 2010:

  • Microsoft wisely didn't mess with Outlook much in 2007, because it is the lifeline of many in the business world.  They let everyone get used to the Ribbon before they threw it in Outlook, which they did in Office 2010.  I like the ribbon in Outlook, because you can see the features for which you normally have to hunt.  The only problem is, will it go over well in the office?  That's going to be an adjustment, and I'm thinking we will finally need to start offering Outlook classes just to get people used to it. 

That's about it!  I didn't get a lot of time to play with it in relation to collaboration, as I was the only person in the office who had it installed, but from what I see it's a good move.  Outlook is the only iffy thing, but other than that I see it being a much improved version of Office 2007.  But there are a lot of changes I'll need to make to my curriculum before I can start teaching the classes.  Luckily I'll have some time in the Christmas Holiday to get it done. 

If you are a Microsoft user and haven't upgraded to 2007, then upgrading to 2010 will be a good move.  Will you need to upgrade from 2007 to 2010?  Probably only if you want to have the new features, or need the new features.  Now I'm waiting (im)patiently for the Mac release, which will probably be Office 2011.

November 14, 2009

Autism And Motor-Skill Problems

This week, while reading articles on NPR, I came across an article that perhaps focused the most on my son:  Writing Study Ties Autism To Motor-Skill Problems.  Basically the handwriting of several autistic children were compared, and it was found that most autistic children had trouble writing.  This isn't anything new, but the reason why they can't write was interesting:  the motor planning capacity in the brain was diminished, making fine motor skills difficult.What are fine motor skills?  Well, handling a pencil is one example.  Another is buttoning a coat, or zipping up a zipper.  Another example can be the capability to tell the tongue to move properly to control sound, rendering speech.  Children without fine motor skills tend to appear clumsy, and are unable to control their facial expressions in social situations.  Starting to sound familiar?So what does it matter?  Parents with autistic children already know they have these symptoms, as they represent classic autistic behavior.  But what it represents is a method of identifying autism sooner, and therefore finding a way to help children at an earlier age.There was no mention of a gene or other cause for this particular symptom, but that doesn't matter at this stage.  It's a relationship that has been established, and can be explored more directly.  If you are interested in reading the article, it is linked above.

November 10, 2009

Armistice Day: A Day To Remember Our Veterans

Tomorrow is Armistice Day, Veterans Day, Remembrance Day, or what ever the day is referred to in your country, and commemorates the start of the armistice that ended World War I in 1918 on the 11th month, the 11th day, at the 11th hour.  Since it was delcared by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, it has since become a day to remember all our veterans of any war, at least here in the United States. 

On this day, I thought it would be fitting to mention the veterans in my own family that I am aware of. 

My great uncle Buck was a veteran of World War II.  I don't ever remember meeting him, but we visited his grave every Memorial Day. 

My wife's grandfather who served in the Navy in World War II.

My uncle Bob was a veteran who served in the Army in France, though after the war.

My uncle George served in Vietnam in the Army. 

My father missed Vietnam by 3 weeks, and the Gulf War by 3 weeks.  He has served in the Army, National Guard, and the Army Reserves for years. 

My Father-in-law who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and the Gulf War.

My big younger brother is currently serving his Nation in Afganistan, and his tour of duty is due to be up in April, if I remember right.  He gets some time on the computer and can post on Facebook, letting us know he is still alive and doing well. 

I have cousins in the Air Force, Army, and Marines.  While I have not sought a career in the Military myself, the plight and concern for our veterans has been of interest to me for years.  My wife as well, as she grew up on a Naval Base in San Diego. 

As the 11th of November comes around, and you go about your daily routine because schools and businesses do not close anymore in honor of out veterans, I want you to think about why we have the holiday.  Take a minute and think on those friends and family that have served and are currently serving in the military, and what they are fighting for.  This isn't a day for political posturing, incriminations, accusations, or attacks on the Military, but rather a day to reflect on the freedoms we have and the freedoms others do not, and who made those freedoms available to you. 

These are the veterans that I am aware of that are close, as of the beginning of World War II. 

November 3, 2009

The Holidays and Autism: How to Cope With the Noise

Holidays are very stressful times of the year.  People spend money they don't have, cook tons of food that never gets eaten, and invite relatives over to their home they never want to see again.  Outside of the family dramas, stained carpets and floors, and the cleanup from all the gifts that will be returned after the party, there are some families that will have an added stress:  a child with autism that becomes overly stimulated and has meltdowns in the middle of the fish course or the turkey bowl. 

Please note that the above is a worse case scenario, and not necessarily the experience I have every year.  Yes, there is family drama, but no, it's not that bad.  I do want to see my relatives again...  sometime in the spring.  ^_^ 

Anyway, recently Reuters ran a public announcement from Autism Therapies, which I think is definitely worth mentioning:  coping with Autism and the Holidays.  Every holiday is different, and these seem to be focused around gift-giving holidays, but it works for all holidays in general from religious celebrations to reasons to get drunk and fall off the bar stool. 

Some of the suggestions made by Autism Therapies include:

  1. Decorating the house in gradual stages:  this gives the child with autism more time to adjust to the change in their surroundings, and as such more able to deal with those changes. 
  2. Avoid crowded malls and last minute shopping:  I think this is pretty much a no brainer.  As a rule I avoid crowded malls, and especially so with my autistic son.  But Holidays are a special time of year when the desire to get that special toy is stronger than the safety of other people.  Don't believe me?  I'm always shaking my head at the number of people who get trampled each year on Black Friday.  So, get your shopping done early, or get it done online.  Don't try to get it done at midnight on Christmas Eve, because it's just not going to be fair to your autistic child.
  3. Wait until just before the holiday to set out gifts:  Very important in general if you have a child who is curious, but doubly so if your autistic child is curious.  The gifts will be unwrapped faster than you can say "Don't do that!", which to an autistic child is an invitation anyway (they don't hear "n't" in the conjunction, just the "do").  My wife and I have found it helpful to put the tree in a corner, and put gifts under the back of the tree, where they are out of sight.  That may work too, or you can place them in your attic, garage, or other out of sight and reach place. 

Now, I know I've had a little bit of fun with this article with a lot of sarcasm thrown in.  This is mostly because of my feelings about the holidays and the concerns of commercialism and such.  Sometimes I think Scrooge had it right, if you throw in a bit of Tiny Tim. 

Anyway, the important thing is to keep your autistic child in mind.  Don't have massive parties in a small space, if you can help it.  Give your autistic child plenty of space to stretch out and run around.  Often times you may find that some holidays can be booked at a local church or other community center for a lot less than your cleaning bills will be, and your nerves will be less of a wreck. 

If you need to spend a lot of time preparing food or party favors, etc., make sure someone is watching your autistic child, and they KNOW they are watching the autistic child.  My wife and I always make sure we are looking at each other before we say, "You have him, right?"  That way we know the other person is aware of their responsibilities. 

Lastly, find some time during the party or dinner to have some alone time with your child.  I love this bit, because I get out of a lot of games, er, I mean I get to spend time with my son in a quiet corner.  Sometimes it's just sitting downstairs with my son next to me, letting him play a game on my iPod Touch while we watch or listen to a show.  Something like that can help your autistic child decompress and manage to take control of his senses.  He's focused, quiet, and not tearing anything apart.

Come to think of it...  these same rules can work for any family.  Hmm..  What a concept, having a non-stressful holiday.  What will they think of next?  ^_^ 

If any of you out there have some suggestions, feel free to post them! 

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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