A little on the quirky side.

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Alexis behind a Unicorn Mask. / Photo by KidZond.

 

Like any parent, I have a lot of hopes for my children. You bring these little persons into the world and try to teach and guide them so they can stand on their own. You wish nothing but the best for them, and wish with all your heart, that they will succeed in their life better than you. You’re fearful of the world, and what the world may do to them, but you know if you give them the right tools, they will be just fine.

Yet when you have a child with High Functioning Autism, the fear is magnified a hundred fold. The deck is stacked against her from the start.

We’ve only been on this rollercoaster of learning about our Autistic daughter for a little less than a year now. Dozens of meetings with doctors, counselors, school staff and reading. A lot of reading and research. At times for me, the challenges of giving my daughter the tools to have a happy healthy life are daunting. It can make you feel very small, very ignorant, and very angry.

Anger is my biggest problem. Most people don’t see my anger. I’m usually considered a jovial guy, even when subjects come up in the course of conversations that normally piss everyone off, I’m the guy who takes it all in stride.

Except when it comes to my kids. I’m very defensive.

Yes of course you should be defensive of your children. I’m not a helicopter parent, more of a military drone style. I’ll let it go on for a bit, then come in low with missiles ready to fire and blow you up verbally. It’s not a good trait, I don’t like being like this. But, it’s my kids. Still, until my wife pointed out that this drone style of attack wasn’t helping the situation, I had been lashing out.

She was right of course, I was wrong. I ran afoul of my own passion to defend my daughter, just to exacerbate the situation. I need to find a way to redirect, to work on getting those who can understand Alexis, to understand. Those who are incapable…well to just let it go.

Fairy Brides are Quirky.

For years I have been an avid Folklore buff. Mostly British folklore. In those stories that I have read and re-read, I have run across the Fairy Bride. A quirky set of tales that have not made it to Disney yet. Yet these tales help put things in perspective, and makes me wonder if Autism was a foundation for the tale.

Fairy Brides are a big part of British Folklore. A man meets a beautiful woman and marries her on the spot, so to speak. Yet his bride is quirky, she has trouble adjusting to the mortal worlds social norms. Fairy Brides tend to cry at Weddings, and laugh at Funerals. Much to the consternation of the mortal husband. They do socially inept things that often cause the husband to have to admonish his wife, to try to change her, mold her into being a ‘Good Wife’. Often the story ends with the Fairy Bride leaving the husband, his life now in ruins.

While the moral of the story is one about the fallacy of Love of Beauty alone, (for Fairy Brides are the loveliest of creatures) it also makes me think of Autism. A woman, from another plane of existence, has to adjust to a world that just doesn’t make sense to her. A world that demands she conform, behave as they expect her to, not as she is. Yet she never does, and in the end, goes back to a world that makes sense to her.

This is a problem I face with Alexis. Not so much her, and her autism, but to how others react to it.

Some people just believe that we are bad parents. That we need to correct her more. Others feel she is conning us, twisting things around so she can get her way. They get confused by her actions and react badly because they just don’t understand that she does not think like they do. That social norms they take for granted, are not to be found with her.

Now while some will learn, other will refuse to. No matter how I explain it. Even if I say those infamous words “Don’t take my word for it, read this…” , they still are locked into their opinion that this is some sort of great game to Alexis. That she is a puppet master and we are merely puppets.

Of course the part that really gets my proverbial goat is the “Fix it” or “Grow out of it” mentality I run across. Those who believe they can fix Alexis’ autism by doing this or that. Or that she’ll one day just grow out of it. She won’t. This is her, it is how she will be for the rest of her life.

And that is when I call for a drone strike, lashing out verbally against those who think this is all some sort of game.

And, I have to stop that.

Because my wife was right, lashing out isn’t helping me, her, or our daughter. You can educate people, help them understand that Alexis isn’t being a brat, it’s just that she thinks in a way that you can not fathom. I need to just learn that not everyone will get it, not everyone will accept her, and that my job as a father, and our job as parents, are to work with her to help her understand that not everyone will understand.

Our hopes are to give our HFA daughter the tools she needs to lead a good life. To enjoy family and friends. To have the career she wants. To teach her that although like a Fairy Bride in the mortal world, she can learn to adjust to our theoretical “Neural Typical” world, and still be herself.

Because like a Fairy Bride, with all her quirkiness, she is the Most Beautiful of Creatures to us.

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Putting on the Mad Hatter’s Hat.

And helping others get their Alice on.

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Alexis. Self Portrait.

 

 

A little fact about myself. I only have 9 toenails. I lost one due to a childhood accident. Now when I tell the story of how I lost it, I’ve never been asked the question will it grow back. Little children do sometimes, but never from adults.

This is typical. Most adults don’t go around saying to a one-legged person, “So when do you expect your leg to grow back?” or “It will get better, just keep working harder, relying on that prosthetic leg is not helping you”. I could never imagine saying that to someone, could you? No, you wouldn’t.

Yet I get this a lot with my daughter who is a HFA, High Functioning Autistic. There seems to be this perception that if we just teach her this, or that, her autism will go away. As if it is just a cold, and given time, it will go away.

It won’t.

People seem to get lost that because she looks like a typical 10-year-old girl, which she is…just one with HFA…they expect her to interact and behave like any ‘A neurotypical’ 10-year-old girl. Which she doesn’t.

Alexis has quirks. Little things that people don’t notice at first, and when they do? Well they become Alice in Alexis’ Wonderland. Just like the story Alice in Wonderland, where a little girl goes into a world, that doesn’t make a bit of sense to her, most people try to correct Alexis, believing it is all just bad behaviour. Not understanding that the behaviour they expect? Is just as alien to Alexis as Alice was to the Mad Hatter. Remember, the Hatter thought Alice was Mad.

I find people perplex by her quirks. Even after I explain her quirks to them, explain that she is HFA, they still just don’t accept it, and suggest she ‘grow her leg back’ so to speak. I am given parenting advice, tips, links to articles. All sorts of stories of how they were raised, and what their parents did to correct their bad behaviour. Because that is how they see her, behaving badly. A product of bad parenting. An extremely ironic stance if you know the history of autism.

Alexis doesn’t say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’. She finds those social niceties absurd. Often I run across the Adult who withholds giving her a toy, piece of candy, or some other object till she says ‘Please’. Which to her is traumatic, and frustrating beyond the comprehension of the adult, who is perplexed by her reaction. See, Alexis isn’t a child who needs to ‘learn their manners’, this is akin to me giving you a $1,000,000 check after I won the lottery and telling you I wrote Void on it. Your first response would be “Why would you do that?” and all I can say is Exactly! Welcome to Wonderland Alice, you have just stepped inside my daughters world.

This is the Mad Hatter’s Hat I have to wear sometimes. Stepping into Alexis’ world so I can tell all the Alice’s  of the world, why she acts the way she does. I have to play interventionist just so people can understand her, and not get frustrated by her reactions. Which they do often, but mostly, I have to intervene so she doesn’t get frustrated and slip into a traumatic state that will take hours, if not a whole day, for her to calm down.

Alexis does has quirks. She likes wearing certain clothing, namely, pajamas. She even wears them to school. Now you may find this cute, or inappropriate, or weird. Yet trying telling your daughter who is standing in her bedroom, wearing only her underwear, refusing to dress, because you forgot to put her jammies in the dryer last night. And do your best to keep calm as she melts down, crying, with only 10 minutes to get to school before the first bell rings. You see, it’s a tactile thing for her, certain fabrics bother her as fingernails on a chalkboard bother most of us.

Alexis isn’t a picky eater. Provided that the food she eats, say pork chops, tastes the same each time she has it. If I get a different cut, or use a different spice, she notices, and will refuse to eat it.

Then there are the constant routines, things that have to be a specific way or else it sets her off. Her pillow has to be just so, her blanket too. Stuffed animals arranged in a specific order. People coming over unexpectedly, or not coming over. Us staying a friends longer than what we told her originally, or someone staying at our place longer than she expected. Or say a substitute teacher at school, even simpler things like not having the cup for her drink. Those disruptions which seem so mundane to us, that I can say to my 7-year-old son, “It’s fine, Nick”, and it is fine for him, become an obstacle for Alexis, that she struggles to overcome.

To the Alice’s of the world, she seems nothing more than a spoiled brat who isn’t getting her way. Because they only pop into our Wonderland for a short time, they don’t live there like we do. Many want to correct her, or berate her. And by doing so, upset her. They don’t know she doesn’t understand why they are ‘mad’ at her. Nor why doing something their way is ‘proper’ and her way is ‘rude’.

There is more of course, the personal hygiene, physiological issues that come along with autism. Well, at least my daughter. Even being HFA, there are issues. Because Autism is truly a Wicked Little Tailor that makes a suit for each person it affects. You learn to deal with those issues, while working hard to avoid public embarrassment for your child.

Alexis is very high functioning on the Autistic spectrum. By guiding her, help her deal with all the Alice’s of the world, she can find an inner translator for her Wonderland. A Hatter’s Hat, so to speak, that she can give out, to all those who just don’t quite get her quirks. Till that day comes, I don the Hatter’s Hat, get out my translation book, and tell the Alice’s of the world that No, she will not act the way you think she will. And No, this is not bad behavior, or being a brat. And NO, this will not ‘go away’.

 

 

 

 

 

The Day the Moon Melted.

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The total eclipse of the sun. Art by Nick / photo by KidZond.

By Js Kendrick

 

In case you missed…and I have no idea how you could have…we had an eclipse this past Monday. For those of us who live in the contiguous United States it was quite a show. Passing from the west coast to the east coast. The eclipse was all over the news and throngs of people went to view the eclipse, to be in the path of totality.

There was also the scary bit about the moon melting. Oh? did you miss that part on the news? I’m sorry you missed it. It was a big deal here at my house. Because when the moon goes in front of the sun, well, come on! It’s the Sun! The moon was definitely going to melt. Or burn up, either way, the moon was toast.

Despite that little thing called Science, to a 6-year-old boy, the whole idea of the moon blocking out the sun is a tad concerning. Simply because he lacked perspective. Actually that has been going around a lot lately, but I digress. My son Nick had a concern which I needed to address.

Being 6, and fairly smart for his age, and me being very childish for my age, he had me puzzled as to how to explain it. I showed him diagrams, even videos, explained the Sun is approximately 93,000,000 miles away from Earth. And that the Moon is around 239,000 away…so we had a good 92,750,000 miles and some change, comfort zone. Nada. Just didn’t compute. He could not grasp the concept.

I would have to say his concern wasn’t exactly real. He didn’t break out the tinfoil and fashion a hat. Nor did he carry water jugs down to the basement. But he did ask if it was going to rain ‘moon drops’ when the sun melted the moon. I just narrowed my eyes and wondered if he was pulling my leg on all this.

What Nick lacked was understanding of the science. What was going to happen when the moon passed between the earth and sun? He just couldn’t fathom how it wasn’t going to be a catastrophe. Yet Mom and Dad were not panicking, nor were the neighbors packing their bags and heading for an underground bunker. So he knew that, yet it didn’t quite make sense to him.

Then, on Sunday, out on our front deck I had an epiphany. Nick was standing against the railing as I sat in a chair and I realized I couldn’t see the mail box. He was blocking my view.

“Hey Nick.” I said.

“Yes?” He said knowing dad was going to try to explain this eclipse thing again.

“Come with me, I want to show you something.” I said getting up and taking him to the mailbox.

Our mailbox is on a wooden post that stands about 5 feet tall. Nick isn’t there yet, he’s about 4 foot 5 inches. So, I used the post as comparison. Then took him back to the deck and I had him sit in the chair.

“Can you see the post?” As I stood where he did. Blocking his view.

“No, but you’re taller.” He said, got me there. I scooched over.

“Can you see our neighbors door?” I asked. He frowned. The door was taller than me, wider too. Yet I blocked it. He frowned then smiled.

“No.” He said. I pointed to our neighbors door and told him that is the Sun, and then at myself and said I was the Moon.

“I’m on earth?” He said. I nodded. Then I pointed to the sky.

“You’ve been on a plane before right? The plane is pretty big, bigger than a school bus, but when you see one up in the sky how big is it?” I asked.

“Little.” Full smiles now as the wheels turned in his head.

“Yeah, you can block it with your hand, and you known that the plane is bigger than your hand. So, see? That’s why the moon won’t melt, it’s perspective, how you see it, compared to what its actual size is. The Sun is really far away, too far to melt the moon.” He nodded, seemed to grasped the concept and went off to play, content that the moon would not melt. Although disappointed it wasn’t going to rain ‘moon drops’.

So we had an eclipse on Monday. The moon passed between the earth and the sun. The moon is still there, didn’t melt a bit. And I was able to explain perspective to my son.

The moral of this story is Perspective. In life, we often encounter problems that seem disastrous. Overwhelming and beyond our control. Yet often it is simply a matter of perspective. It may not be as severe as the Moon being melted by the Sun, and yes, at the time the problem can cause great distress and be daunting beyond belief, but years later, we tend to look back at those hiccups in our lives, placing them in perspective, and realizing that as bad as it was then, it could have been worse. You know, the Earth could have melted.

How to lose sarcasm in 7 days or less.

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The sarcastic Cheshire Cat. Illustration by John Tenniel / Illustration from Wikipedia Commons.

 

By Js Kendrick.

 

A week ago today I was asked to do something I thought was impossible. Stop being sarcastic. Now, very few people can ask this of me and actually get me to even think of doing that. My daughter Alexis’ therapist is one of those people.

Alexis, my 9-year-old daughter, is a high functioning Autistic. Most people wouldn’t even notice what I have been learning to notice. They would pass it off as bad behavior or that maybe she was tired, hungry or just having a bad day. Yet people do catch that Alexis is sarcastic.

Yeah, that ones on me.

To say I speak to others sarcastically is putting it mildly. Usually it is in good fun, to keep thing from getting tense, or just because that is my nature. My conversations drip with sarcasm. If you call me a ‘Sarcastic Bastard’ I will just profusely thank you for the compliment. Sometimes I get so bad I have to say, “No, actually I’m being serious”. Just so people know I am. Even then I might have to convince them.

Yet Alexis, who has a father who jokes, says the wildest things, and teases (nicely) all the time, well, she doesn’t see the difference. She thinks speaking sarcastically is normal. You know? because that’s how daddy talks.

 

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Alexis and I ‘smiling’. She started to ‘look mad’ for smiling about a month ago. 

 

So, I’ve had to stop being sarcastic. Okay, around her. Let’s be real, if you are a sarcastic person, stopping is nearly impossible.

However I know when to stop. I don’t tell a Police Officers who pull me over for a broken tail light that,  “I am surprised you guys finally found me”. Or tell my boss when he asks me to come in early that “Sorry, I’m still on the North side of Mt. Everest, can I come in at my normal time?”. I do know when and where sarcasm is acceptable. Alexis can’t filter that.

Here is an example of how her mind works. The other day we watched ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’. It’s a good little movie set in the Harry Potter Universe, by author J.K. Rowling. If you know anything of the Harry Potter Universe you know they have all sorts of creatures. Which of course is part of the movie’s plot line. When I asked my kids if they wanted to watch it again, having to call it the “movie with all the magical creatures in it”, she said to me:

“Yeah! But they’re not real creatures are they? Because they don’t exist. It’s just made up right?” She asked. Her brother Nick, who is 6, said to her they were just ‘made on a computer’.

Now you might think, as I had in the past, she was just confirming that there are no such monsters like that in the Real World. But that isn’t what she was doing. It wasn’t out of fear, but out of the need to reaffirm that there is a difference. Differences trouble Alexis. It’s the simply social cues that we take for grant that she struggles with.

As her brother Nick knew right off the bat, those creatures do not exist. Alexis knew, but wanted a confirmation that they were fake. She does this often. Confirming if something is funny, or scary, or dangerous, or true. Truth is important to her, along with facts. She often tells me why I am incorrect, because the facts don’t support my statement.

Thus the problem with sarcasm. Sarcasm is literally speaking the opposite of what is the truth.

“Wow, you just hit your thumb with a hammer, did that hurt?” I may be asked. To which I would respond sarcastically. “Oh no, I do this once a week just for fun”. Obviously a contradictory statement to the facts.

Usually when I hit my thumb with a hammer it involves very Bad Words and sarcasm. As in “Well that blanking felt lovely”.

So discerning the difference is hard on Alexis. So she has learned to be sarcastic. As you might have guessed, this isn’t a quality you want in your 9-year-old. Especially with school right around the corner.

My project for myself this past week has been dropping my sarcasm as much as possible around her. Try to be more Black and White in my speech so she picks up that and not the reverse snarky speech of sarcasm.

It has been a helluva a week for me.

No, serious.

This may Bug you.

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Just a toad looking for a princess, in vain. / Photos by KidZond.

By Js Kendrick

 

I hope you like nature. As in bugs. This post has bugs, and toads, and a frog for fun. Creepy, icky, things, and children’s love of them, is what this post is about today. If you have children, or are thinking of having children. You might want to take notes.

Case in point, Mr. Toad (No not the one above) was a perennial visitor to our porch when my older daughters were younger. One night I stepped out and saw Mr. Toad just sitting there. I figured, hey! What a great learning experience! So I called out to my daughter Jenelle. She was about 4 at the time.

“Hey Jenelle, come see whose on the porch!” Being cutesy about it all.

Jenelle comes out, I point to Mr. Toad. Eyes grow wide, slight shake of the knees. Points inside the house. 

“I’m going inside now.” She announces in terror. Never to come out for the rest of the night.

She of course learned to love toads, frogs…well there was that poison dart frog she killed, but it was just a case of mistaken identity…and other creepy things when she was younger. Her sister Kayla too.

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Not a poison dart frog. And this lucky fellow lived. Jenelle didn’t stomp on him like she did his predecessor.

 

Kids generally do like the creepiest of things. Depending, certain creatures have to be explained. Like Harvest Mites, which look like a spider but aren’t. They’re pretty harmless unless your believe everything Abraham Lincoln posts on Facebook.

Over the years I’ve had the good luck to find critters and give my children a quick explanation on what they were and how they fit into our ecosystem. The migration of Monarch Butterflies is always an interesting tale for children. Also the story of the Viceroy Butterfly who mimics the Monarch is just as fascination. It’s a good lesson in deception that will help them later in life when they date.

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He was friendly. Toxic little sucker! Yes, Milkweed is very toxic.

 

One thing about my four children I did not expect was the boy. Now while each of his sisters didn’t mind bugs and other critters growing up, at 6 years of age, Nick is obsessed with them. He hunts them out and captures them only to ask me to identify them. I’m not an entomologist, nor am I a zoologist. So I have to give him some rules to follow.

1.) Don’t pick up anything you haven’t picked up before without my approval. Some may bite, sting, or suck your blood.

2.) Never pick up a wild animal. The key word is Wild and it will go bad quickly. Squirrels are not ‘pets’. If you see one hurt, get an adult.

3.) Baby birds are best left in their nests (He asked for me to take one down once) and if you find one on the ground. Leave it be. Especially if it is a BlueJay’s fledgling. Mom and Dad have very sharp beaks. I know this from personal experience.

4.) Definitely leave the black and white kitty with the bushy tail alone when you see them. You will regret it, and I do not stock that much tomato juice in the house.

5.) Sticks that move on their own are a type of insect. Walking Sticks. Branches that move on their own are called Snakes. Back away, don’t touch, tell a grown-up.

6.) Leave little bunnies alone. They aren’t abandoned, their mommies leave them in a safe place while they eat. They’re fine, exactly where they are at.

7.) That is not a loose dog, that is a coyote. He’s fine, keep your distance.

8.) No, you can not pet the wild turkeys.

9.) And finally, if you don’t know what it is, leave it be. Ask an adult.

10.) Oh! I’m not sure why there aren’t any cicadas in our yard this year, they go in cycles.

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Think Cicadas are bad? You should see the 3 inch long wasps that prey on them.

 

Explaining nature to kids is a fun thing to do. Yes, bugs can be creepy, slimy, icky, and yeah…nasty. But they open up a child’s mind to a bigger world. They learn that this planet is pretty big and we humans share it with a host of other critters. Some are nice, like our pet cats and dog. Others like bees and wasps have to be given their distance. Respect them and they will respect you. Except Honey Badgers, they don’t respect anything. Please note, Honey Badgers are not indigenous to the Americas, Europe or Australia. Be thankful for that. My sincerest best wishes never to meet one for the rest of the world.

The trick of course is cute does not equal safe. Black Bears are very cute looking. But they are still a bear. Many people get tricked by that every year. YouTube is full of videos that show what happens when you assume cute is safe.

Look but don’t touch has been my motto over the years with my kids. Some critters are okay, as in having a butterfly or moth land on you. Yet others, such as Tussock moth caterpillar, are not to be touched. Kids are of course curious, so their hands work faster than their little brains sometimes. Yet as I help them explore nature ( often with the help of google) I hope they learn to appreciate it more. And eventually, pass this knowledge onto their children in time.

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As cool as this Tussock Moth Caterpillar looks, it gives you a nasty sting if you touch one. Think of him as a fuzzy bee.