Find Out What Jen Finds

My journey on the spectrum of life … and the lessons I learn along the way …
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about Life Skills: dining etiquette for a hopeful future

  • January 3, 2012 7:15 pm

In 0.5 seconds… a teaspoon… with a quarter cup of rice and rib meat precariously balanced atop… racing toward his awaiting, gaping mouth about a foot away from his bowl… and his eye contact and attention are on the basement door as he tries to discern the sounds coming from the computer downstairs.

The Elder’s massive spoonfuls of grub being shoveled into his mouth at a high velocity rarely reaches the goal of getting food into his mouth as much as spilling it all over the table, chair, and floor. (Thank goodness we are at the point I can omit “walls” from that list!) I think his reasoning is “the faster I eat the sooner I can be done with this miserable task.” In this particular scenario I could probably tack on “and check out what’s happening on the computer.”

Those who have known him since birth know that motor skills and sensory defensiveness have not allowed him (or others in his vicinity) to enjoy how wonderful the experience of feedings can be. When it comes to meals that require utensils (mashed potatoes for some reason doesn’t fall under this category), he is actually a slow eater. He just stuffs it all in his cheeks like a chipmunk as fast as he can and then slowly swallows his food. It appears to be tactile foods like oatmeal or rice and boneless meat of the day (again I ponder why mashed potatoes aren’t on this list). Medicine also makes the cut to be swallowed slowly. Blech! It takes him so long to swallow a teaspoon of tylenol regardless of what flavor it is. But I digress…

I hope today is a turning point for this dilemma that has plagued our dinner table for years. I pray that we will have family dinners in the future of all of us sitting and eating together instead of one of us constantly asking if he can be excused before we’ve even started eating – or even have made it to the table!

As I watched that mountain of rice topple over (thank goodness back into his bowl!), The Ever Elusive Brilliance surfaced…

Brilliant Life Skill of the Day:
“If the food doesn’t fit in the spoon, then the bite is too big.”

I really wish I thought of this sooner. So simple. As soon as this logical explanation left my lips, I could see him reprogramming his brain and he began to process how much food was actually on his spoon. He not only slowed down to mentally calculate the food to spoon ratio, but he also significantly reduced the probability of speaking with his mouth full and we actually had a small conversation about

We have also employed a number of other “tricks” to reduced the stress of mealtimes – a big one being “keeping them seated” since without that they were just grazers and “meals” were a fleeting concept. What trials have you encountered and how have you resolved them?

about Early Retirement: Bring on those dirty dishes

  • August 2, 2011 6:05 pm

It is known that discipline, structure, and self-motivation have the potential to propel young ambitious ones to afford early retirement. But I have discovered the opposite is true…but with the early retirement of our dishwasher. Yes! Call me crazy. Demoting our dishwasher to a glorified dish rack has somehow brought out the discipline, structure, and self-motivation in my family. I might even dare say, it has brought order to our chaos. Well, at least for the kitchen.

It all began when I decided to “spring clean” our dishwasher. The door panel had stains (I’m hoping from coffee and tea) and crusties (displaced rice and grits, I pray) and really gross floaties swum around the bottom (don’t really wanna guess). I was able to do a really great job of scrubbing and making it shine and glisten… until I got to the floaties.  I delegated that to The Hub as I suspected that the standing water was probably a sign of a clog and I wasn’t quite brave enough to venture there. It’s not as much OCD or germ-a-phobia than it is a tactile aversion. I was wearing heavy duty gloves but there are some tasks where only the imagination suffices to make me avoid it. In the meantime, I was not onboard with putting another dish in it for its intended use, not convinced it could fulfill its purpose. I’m sure I would’ve had nightmares about dishwasher floaties coming after me every evening until The Hub remedied the issue.

No dishwasher?!? Oh no! Not sure which nightmare was worse…

I reminded myself that washing dishes by hand is not a big deal. The Brothers and I had spent most of the summer at the beach in a small condo that had a dishwasher, but with just the three of us, we used so little dishes that it rarely got filled up to justify running it. It was actually more irritating to try to fill it up than it was to just go ahead and wash them. Besides, when I was growing up, my mom only used our dishwasher to blanch ears of corn. Washing the dishes by hand was just something that we did, often together. And when The Hub and I first got married and moved into our first apartment, we stored our plastic shopping bags in our dishwasher. I remember actually baking his birthday cake and hiding it in the dishwasher because I knew he would never look in there and accidentally find it before its debut. So a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, washing dishes by hand was my way of life.

So I decided I wouldn’t just succumb to washing the dishes myself…I decided to commit to washing the dishes myself.

It’s a scary commitment. It’s not like at the condo where I took the path of less irritation. On a baking day at the condo, it sure was nice to have the option of tossing them in the dishwasher and let it take care of the greasy or caked on mess. But once we were a family of four again and in non-vacay mode, the daily dishes and pans consumption had increased. And once we had returned to our 2 story home, corralling the dishes is more difficult. It was not uncommon to load a kitchen full of dishes, only to find another sinkful-worth of dishes scattered throughout the house. How would I ever keep up without the dishwasher?!? I think I had a mini panic attack as I faced my dilemma. This decision may have started out as necessity, but turned into an opportunity.

Changes which have occurred since the early retirement of our dishwasher:

  • Discipline = Cleaner Kitchen Counter = Happy Mom = Happy Family

Before: Because we make our own bread, it seemed as if our counter was constantly littered with crumbs. But it also had its fair share of coffee/tea rings and other unidentified objects.

After: My mom taught me that after every dish-washing exercise I must wipe up the excess water in the surrounding area and the table and seats. Well, since I got the rag in my hand already, I might as well take care of all the counters and the stove to boot. It really doesn’t expend that much more time or energy especially since its 2-3x a day.

  • Structure = Less Kitchen Counter Clutter = Happy Mom = Happy Family

Before: Dishes would pile up beginning at breakfast until right before bed when dishes got loaded into the dishwasher. Just looking at our inventory all day long was enervating.

After: Breakfast dishes get washed and are dry by the time lunch comes, when they just get reused. Ditto for dinner. I’m thinking about a serious inventory clearance sale in our future.

  • Self-Motivation = Cleaner Kitchen Floor = Happy Mom = Happy Family

Before: We relied on The Skipper Dog to do the daily heavy lifting. But sometime the crumbs and the homemade gluten-free flour experiments got too entangled with his shed hair for him to successfully lap up.

After: The Hub has been bringing out the broom at night while I’m washing the dishes! On his own accord!

Honorable Mentions:
  • The kids are bringing me their snack plates and clearing the table on their own now because they see I’m busy washing the dishes (and because there is less clutter they have a place to safely put them).
  • I cook more. Even though it produces more dishes to wash. Maybe it’s the clutter-freeness of the counter that brings out the Rachel Ray in me. I do find myself being more efficient while cooking so as to minimize the number of dishes I wash.
  • I’m hoping this will possibly reduce our energy bill and water bill.

There is no more standing water in the dishwasher from the clog. I’m not sure if The Hub fixed it, or just sucked it all up with the wet-vac, and I’m not sure if I want to know the truth because I don’t want to be tempted to cave.

about Perspective (Part 2): What does High-Functioning really mean?

  • March 18, 2010 3:15 pm

What does “Low-Functioning” mean? Likewise, what about “Severe”, “Moderate”, and “Mild”?

I can see how a physical characteristic or wound can be labeled severe, moderate, or mild. I can see an talent, ability or a disability can be described as high or low.

But what do these term mean when used in the context of Autism. Below is just an excerpt of the definition of function. How do we know that we are all using the same one? Are we offending people and not aware of it? Are we assuming these are the names of “official” diagnoses because they are popularly used by the general public?

func·tion [fuhngk-shuhn]

  1. the kind of action or activity proper to a person, thing, or institution; the purpose for which something is designed or exists; role.
  2. any ceremonious public or social gathering or occasion.
  3. a factor related to or dependent upon other factors: Price is a function of supply and demand.
  4. Sociology. the contribution made by a sociocultural phenomenon to an ongoing social system.

-verb (used without object)

  1. to perform a specified action or activity; work; operate: The computer isn’t functioning now. He rarely functions before noon.
  2. to have or exercise a function; serve: In earlier English the present tense often functioned as a future. This orange crate can function as a chair.

I must admit that in the past, it used to make me extremely irate whenever someone would describe The Elder (or The Hub) as “mild” or “high-functioning.” I even had a mom (who happened to also have a son with autism) tell me shortly after we received The Elder’s dx, “Oh…well that’s the good kind.” These labels offended me because it made me feel like I didn’t have a right to be affected by it or that the impact wasn’t too far from normal. I felt totally blown-off and invalidated. Maybe you can relate if your loved one has HFA or AS? My family (and others on this side of the spectrum) has many high- and low-functioning skills with their diagnoses. Many of which are invisible or intangible because they are mental/emotional/sensory processing skills. Yet because they can read, talk, walk, even run a marathon, etc – the tangible traits – no one knows just how much they struggle every single day to merely get through a day that involves any kind of interaction with another person…even with just their spouse.

On the flipside, it would formerly make me equally perturbed to hear a person labeled as “low-functioning.” Perhaps this person cannot talk, make eye contact, or only expresses him/herself through gestures and stimming and meltdowns. By definitions #1 and #1 (lol) above, these functions are indeed lacking. However, because of current testing procedures and standards this person may be categorize as mentally retarded or psychotic. It fills me with wonderment to imagine just how brilliant one can be if only we had an effective communication tool, as in the case of Sue Rubin.

Severe, moderate, and mild are much more accurate in my opinion, yet I still do not personally 1 like using those terms because “mild” insinuates that a person’s situation is easier than if it were “moderate” or “severe.” That is different for each person. “Severe” would make my heart sink whenever I heard it, and although it is the most accurate descriptor for many people on the spectrum, it was just plain too depressing for me to say.

So I adopted new terminology for my new life-long journey to keep me in my happy place. This way, I wouldn’t get mad at people, I wouldn’t offend anyone (I hope), and I wouldn’t make myself sad over vocabulary words. Over time and nowadays, I accept that people will always use those terms, so I just needed to get used to it and get over it! And even though it still doesn’t make me do the happy dance, I’ve used the terms on occasion, but not without also using air-quotes (with the accompanying intonations) or appending my preferred jargon.

Find Out Alternative Ways to Describe your Loved One with Autism

Instead of: I prefer to say: 1
autistic, has autism, aspergers, pdd-nos, etc on the spectrum, has ASD, has an autism spectrum disorder 2
low-functioning/high-functioning, mild/moderate/severe non-verbal, verbal, on the left-side or right-side of the spectrum, mild/medium/spicy 3
autism as a general description/explanation for a specific challenge

  • Her autism makes her sensitive to noises.
  • Because of his autism, he cannot participate in gymnastics.
specific dysfunctions, eg. delayed motor skills, sensory issues, being male, being [insert age here], etc 4

  • Her auditory defensiveness makes her sensitive to noises.
  • Because of his gross motor skills, he cannot participate in gymnastics (yet).

Rosenn's Diagram of the Autism SpectrumThis is the visual I picture when I used the terms “left side” or “right side.” I really like this image because I’m a statistics nerd Rosenn’s diagram not only depicts a horizontal spectrum of diagnoses, but also a “spectrum” for each point on on the diagnoses spectrum illustrating the range within each diagnosis. Note that the wedge is not a population count. In other words, it doesn’t mean that the right side is more common than the left. It merely means that those on the left side most likely have similar characteristics of autism from person to person. In contrast, those on the right side may have completely different characteristics from individual to individual. So, if there was a comprehensive list of indications of autism, those on the left may have all or most of them checked, whereas those on the right side would have a smaller percentage of the items checked with the likelihood that any two persons’ checked items are not the same.

Clear as mud?

“If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.”

–variant of a common phrase in the autism community

1 This is strictly my preferences and not a judgment on those who use the terms in the left column. Yes, I do use the those terms on occasion, but I also prefer to have a clean house…
2 Stay tuned for an upcoming article in this series on the terms autism, aspergers, spectrum disorder.
3 Please do not be offended by my warped sense of humor.
4 A hybrid alternate: referring to the dysfunction as a characteristic of autism.