Friday, September 30, 2016

A Matthew Kind of Museum

I did a google search with the words sensory and museum.  I discovered that there are museums with sensory friendly rooms and many museums offer sensory friendly dates when accommodations are made for families with children with special needs.  Many children's museums are interactive or multi-sensory.  In fact Matthew does love the Betty Brinn Museum.  One of his favorite spots is working on the car, because he likes to change the tires and go underneath the car to change the muffler.  His other favorite spot is building with the giant Tinker Toys.  If I let him he would go back and forth between those two activities, but with encouragement he will also spend (and enjoy) some time at the grocery store exhibit and riding the pretend bus.

I also googled vacuum and museum because I had heard that there was one.  It turns out there is not one, but two vacuum museums.  One in St. James, Missouri and one in Portland, Oregon.  However, as I looked at the images it appeared that both museums were really more for looking at vacuums throughout the years that were on display. So, even though we were just in Portland this summer, it's probably a good thing we didn't go to the vacuum museum because Matthew wouldn't want to just LOOK at vacuums...he would want to TOUCH and RUN the vacuums.

So I got to thinking...what if there was a museum designed just for Matthew? With all of his favorite things? A place he would want to spend hours. This is what I am envisioning...

The Jumping Room - This room would have both trampolines and bouncy houses.  It would also have employees (or volunteers) that want to physically jump him either by taking his hands to help give him leverage or he would face them backwards so they could lift him up and jump him.

The Swing Room  - There would have to be your standard rubber swings and a whole row of them so he could go from one to the other because even though they may all look the same, they obviously don't all feel the same!  In addition there would be some tire swings and swings that you can lay down on and the big plastic kind that go up over your head and buckle you in.  And I hate to even say this, but there would probably even need to be a baby swing - but big enough for Matthew to get in and out of without getting stuck. Again, there might be two workers ready and willing to take each hand and swing him between them or grab each end of a blanket with him on it and swing him and deposit him on a couch.

The Flapping Room  - (Author's Note:  These are items that can be flapped against the chin to provide input.) So many fun things in this room.  Receipts of all different lengths and tape in case he wants to tape two together to make them even longer.  Flags of various sizes just waiting to be waved.  And objects with the tags still on them.

The Footwear Room - Amongst this interactive collection would be slippers (and people that he could boss into wearing the slippers), winter boots, rain boots, fur-lined boots, sneakers, mens' dress shoes, crocs, and sandals, just to name a few.

The Scratching Room - This room would contain wicker baskets, egg cartons, corrugated cardboard, the inside of car doors, rest mats, a few shoes from the Footwear Room and one of Rob's fleece sweatshirts.

The Vacuum Room  - Unlike the vacuum museums in Missouri and Oregon, this vacuum display would be fully interactive.  There would be lots of outlets for plugging in the vacuums.  There would be every kind of vacuum imaginable, including a wet vac (this is on his wish list right now).  There is one vacuum that would not be there though and that is the old yellow LOUD vacuum that we ended up throwing out this summer. (We are "all done" with that one.)

I'm sure there are several more rooms that could be part of this museum, but if we make it any  more spectacular, he won't ever want to leave!  He'll want to live there!


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Double Edged Sword

Matthew has a special gift.  He has a way of making people feel special.  He makes them feel like they are the "chosen" ones.  When he slips his hand into theirs you can see their hearts start to melt.  I have several friends who tell me that "Matthew has me completely wrapped around his little finger."  or "I would do almost anything for him."

If he sees the neighbors to either side of us are on their porch, he will come over and wave and settle in next to them or on their lap.  If they are working in their yard or garage, he needs to come "help" or at least investigate!  At block parties (see this story for a block party break through - The Dreaded Block Party) he has learned to go up to neighbors and take their hand and lead them somewhere.  Around the campfire he snuggles into different neighbors and flashes his smile at them.  Just tonight he had a neighbor jumping him up and down, running him through the sprinkler, and dancing with him.

At church if you didn't know us, you might wonder which family Matthew belongs to because he likes to sit with other families.  He especially likes couples who are of grandparent age.  He snuggles in and rests his head on their arm.  One Sunday he fell asleep with his head in a lap.  After church the woman told me that her husband doesn't usually have the patience for children, but that he has a soft spot for Matthew.  Another church member calls Matthew a blessing.  He also has a way of getting people to rub his head by raking his hand through his hair and then grabbing their hand and putting it on his head.  If they are not doing it often enough he will just move his head back and forth while their hand is in place.

Herein lies the double edged sword. On the one hand it is wonderful that he is so loving and friendly.  It kind of breaks through the stereotype that some people have that people with autism are always in their own little world or not very affectionate.  But on the other hand he doesn't discriminate between people he knows well like church member and neighbors versus someone he doesn't know or is meeting for the first time.  When he were at a car dealership for several hours recently he became friends with several salesmen and sat on the lap of the young salesman in his early twenties.  During Abby's lacrosse season he got to know families from both our team and the opposing team.

I brought my concerns to his therapy team.  I want him to understand that there are personal boundaries and that we react to people differently depending on our relationship to them.  He has started working on a Relationship Circle.  Right now, he is just at the stage where he identifies where Mom goes (family) versus one of his friends from school.  As he masters those two, more people will be added.  Along with that will be learning which actions are appropriate to do with people from various parts of the circle.  For example it is perfectly okay to hug a grandma, but not someone we are meeting for the first time.

It will take awhile for him to understand all the pieces but I think it's important.  As he gets farther along in learning the circle, I will probably need to take it with me when we go places so he can be visually reminded of what we are working on.  I think it might help if I show people what we are working on so they realize why I might not let him sit on their lap or snuggle them.  It also might get a little confusing at church because even though most church members would technically be placed in the friend circle, there is the language that we are all in the family of God and that we are brothers and sisters in Christ.




Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Power of Persuasion

In my last post, Doesn't Everybody Kiss Blenders?   I explained how Matthew uses some creative signing and methods to get his message across.  Since that time (please forgive the gap in posts!) he has been doing even more communicating in a special way at school.  Written Communication!

Here's how it works. He gets an idea and then communicates it through signs or pointing to photos on his ipad.  School staff then write his message on a card in all capital letters. They read each word to him as he points on the card and then finds the letter on the keyboard.  The particular program that they are using says the name of the letter after each keystroke, each word when the space button is pushed and the whole sentence when a period is put in.  Many times he includes a picture either from our photo library or an image search.

One of the things I really like about this new form of communication is that he can request to have it read multiple times.  (Sometimes multiple times before we make it home from school, while we are waiting in the parking lot for Abby.)  Since I know he used mostly signs to create the original message,  I have him sign what he can while I read the message.

Here are a few of the messages I have gotten over the last few months:

DEAR mom

I want 5 sandbox toys.

I really want a new shovel.

Mom could drive to Target.



I want to play with my riding toys.

I want mom to drive and buy toys.

Abby wants to sleep.  She wants a pink mat.  Mom should drive to Target.

There does seem to be a common theme...a lot of Mom driving, particularly to Target and Mom buying things.  He definitely seems to favor the genre of persuasive writing.  And if you are wondering how effective his persuasive writing is...let's just say I spend A LOT of time at Target!


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Doesn't Everybody Kiss Blenders?

What if you wanted to tell someone something, but you couldn't talk?  What if you used signs, but didn't have one for everything you wanted to say?  I don't know about you, but I think I would get pretty frustrated! I might even cry or scream!  But that's the thing that amazes me about Matthew.  I'm not saying that he never gets frustrated or cries, but it's not typically because he can't get his message across.  He is and always has been extremely motivated to communicate.  The following scenarios are just a few examples of the creative ways he lets us know what he wants/needs.  

Right around Christmastime we got a food processor.  Matthew was very excited about this new machine and of course the packaging that said machine came in.  I took our old blender down to the basement for storage.  But it turns out the blender was better for certain things like making smoothies.  So the blender was brought back up to the kitchen counter and the new food processor was relegated to the basement.  I was busy in the kitchen, but out of the corner of my eye I saw Matthew blow kisses at the blender.  I thought, "Oh my, that's goofy!"  And then he went over and kissed the base of the blender.  I called Abby over and asked her, "What is he doing?!?!"  "Being Matthew..." she replied.  Pretty soon he started waving at the blender....Lightbulb!  "Do you want the blender to go bye-bye?"  He nodded yes.  "Do you want it to go back in the basement?" Again, he nodded yes.  He followed me into the basement as I put it away.  He pointed to the food processor.  He wanted that to come back upstairs!

Early in January we went out to eat with Grandma and Grandpa.  He had unsuccessfully asked to ride in their car at least ten times while we were in the restaurant.  As we were walking out to the cars with them, he knew that he couldn't ask again so he started scratching on my hand and arm.  At first I thought he was doing it because he was upset, but then...Lightbulb!  It turns out he was trying to tell me that he wanted to scratch the inside of their car.  He likes the way it feels and the sound it makes.

A couple of weeks ago we arrived at Social Skills a little early on a Saturday morning.  We got there and there was only one other boy there.  Matthew started signing "more" and another sign that looked like water. I was confused because he didn't have any water, how could he want "more".  I watched him carefully and he continued to sign more and held up two fingers.  Then he pointed to the window...Lightbulb!  He wanted more than two friends to be at Social Skills.  Luckily, I was able to reassure him that more friends were indeed coming!

While I have received messages in his home-school communication notebook before about things that he has told them that he wants me to know, this week he took it to the next level.  He handed them his home-school communication notebook and a pencil and then signed for them to tell Mom that he wants to go back to the "jumping place".  Two days later he also told them to write that he wanted a new water noodle, an orange riding toy, and a new mat for his birthday.  Next time he'll have to give me a little more notice, seeing as he told them to write this ON his birthday!

I can't wait to see what creative ways to communicate he comes up with next!