Posts Tagged ‘Autism’

Fireworks and autism’s toll on appliances

July 5, 2009

At the invitation of friends, we loaded up and went over to check out the local July 4th fireworks display from the north shore of Lake DeWeese.


The show was great, better than expected, with some interesting pyrotechnic patterns I hadn’t seen before. The bright light of the explosions reflected off the lake. However, this being a small town affair, it was probably a good thing it was held over water as a couple rockets didn’t make it very high off the ground.


It was my son Harrison’s first fireworks show. He was somewhat unfocused before the show began, running around and checking out the doors of neighboring vehicles. But once it started he settled right into the show.


Speaking of Harrison and doors, I changed out a door knob set in one of the bathrooms recently. He had locked the door and closed it so many times the unlock button was destroyed.


While I made the repair, I reflected on all the stuff we’d fixed or replaced in recent years. This was the third door knob set, and just last week the washing machine died.


Certainly all children put wear and tear on household items, but autistic children tend to be fascinated with doors, hinges and other things that open and close, not to mention buttons and controls to electronics equipment, and thus put undo strain on them. As a parent, you too simply wear out from redirecting, so sometimes you just have to let it go and hope the amusement factor wears off before something breaks or gives out.


And thus we’ve had to replace plastic racks for the condiment shelves in the fridge. There was a repair to the car CD player because a number of coins had been inserted into the slot. There’s a recurring problem with the oven door handle that is mostly due to a design flaw. We have mini-blinds that are beyond repair. The door to the CD ROM on my desktop computer is toast . . . and so on.


And there is the case of the missing kitchen cutting board. I know it must be hidden in some thin groove or slot here in the house but I can’t figure out where. I saw him playing with it one minute and the next it was gone. We’ve asked but he’s not telling where he put it.


As for the washing machine, Harrison would open and close the lid while it was agitating. The machine cut off sharply whenever the lid was opened and came back on when closed. We already had the machine repaired once within the past year. Last Sunday the washer died again and I found a small pile of parts and chewed-up rubber underneath it. I think so many abrupt stops and starts finally chewed up the clutch.


We replaced it with a new front-loading Samsung clothes washer. On this model the door will not open while the machine is running. That’s the good news.


The bad news is the new washer has a fascinating dial and a lot of buttons accompanied by lights. We’re trying really hard to keep him from playing with the new washing machine.

Graduation day

May 17, 2009
Harrison and his friend Mara on the class field trip the day before graduation from Custer County Preschool. Photo by Monica Backsen.

Harrison and his friend Mara on the class field trip the day before graduation from Custer County Preschool. Photo by Karen Gorley.

This is a sad tale. But I managed to live through it so I’m sure you, dear reader, can endure this little glimpse of the beast we call autism, and how it affects not only children, but also their parents, educators and, really, all those around them. Like an entire class of preschool kids and their families, for example.

The other day was the “graduation” ceremony at my son’s preschool. The kids rehearsed a couple of days before the event and made little graduation mortarboard hats as a craft activity.

Early in the ceremony I could already see that Harrison was having a difficult time sitting still. But Karen, the paraprofessional assigned to him, was managing to keep him in his seat. When the other children sang a song, he sang along with them — and without them — and also broke into other songs altogether.

Then the children filed out for the procession. As they shuffled back to their seats with their hats, it was clear that Harrison had somehow broken the mortarboard part away from the band and Karen was trying to put it back together.

I was still hopeful and turned on my camera for the big moment. Certainly Karen would have to accompany him to the podium to get his “diploma” but I was ready to get the momentous photo. But Harrison began to get more unruly and loud. We laughed nervously but it made us uncomfortable. I wondered how many of the other parents were even more uncomfortable than we were.

Finally he slipped away from Karen and headed for the audience looking for his mom. Mary held him for a while but his outbursts became more disruptive and so she finally carried him outside.

I sat. I didn’t want to cause more disruption, and I was hoping that perhaps Mary would at some point bring him back inside.

I learned early in life that when your last name begins with “W” you always get to bring up the rear of things, and of course his name was the last to be called. The teachers looked around the room and then at me. The other parents were silent. All I wanted to do was take a picture, like the other parents did, of my kid getting his preschool diploma. But now I had to speak out to a quiet room full of people.

“He was being disruptive so she took him” was the only thing that came to mind. I turned my camera off and sat quietly as the ceremony ended.

Meanwhile, outside, there was a very upset little boy who really didn’t understand why he had been removed from the ceremony, and an upset mom trying to come to terms with why her child sometimes behaves like this.

The day-to-day challenges posed by autism are invisible to most people. In fact, often when I mention to people that my son has autism I get a blank stare, or the question, “What exactly does that mean?”

As ridiculous as it sounds, that’s actually a really great question.

What it means is that often things don’t turn out like you think they will. It means that you learn to live with that fact. And it means that you move on and hope for a better day.

Diploma or no, he’s off to kindergarten.

Equine therapy, donkeys and autism

April 26, 2009 recently had an interesting piece on therapeutic horse riding for autistic children.


We raise and train large-breed donkeys and my son Harrison, who is now 5, has been riding them since he was 3. In fact at age 3 he rode on a three-day pack-trip into the Sangre de Cristo mountains. He was diagnosed with autism at 4.

I try to get him out riding fairly regularly when the weather is nice. This weekend he rode both days for about 45 minutes per ride (about three miles) on the trails at Bear Basin Ranch. I lead the donkey from the ground and keep a watchful eye out for any safety issues, such as wildlife, horses, or my own dog crashing out of the brush.

Reading the CNN piece renewed my interest in Harrison’s riding, and the use of donkeys in this type of therapy. Perhaps one piece to the autism puzzle has been right here under my nose all along. Donkeys seem very well suited to this type of equine therapy since their movement is virtually the same as a horse, yet their generally calmer nature makes them less scary than horses.

There is a difference between therapeutic recreational riding and hippotherapy, which is done under the guidance of a licensed therapist (speech, occupational, physical, psychologist). Still, as he rides we practice singing songs and even reciting books. Harrison has several songs memorized and can bring to voice entire kids books word and verse. While riding.

This activity is also therapeutic for a parent — actively engaging the child in an enjoyable activity while freeing yourself to walk and enjoy the outdoors.Harrison and Ace.

Harrison is prone to screaming and tantrums. Both days this weekend I noticed considerable improvements in his disposition and behavior after riding.

In addition to helping with autism, getting out on the trail for some equine-assisted therapy also helps fight NDS (Nature Deficiency Syndrome), which is at least as rampant in our society as autism. We regularly point out and name the different types of trees, wildflowers and animals that we see along the way.