Training: Training dogs, people, kids with Autism; post-combat PTSD; and therapy dogs

Watch this ad before reading.
Please IF YOU HAVE POST-COMBAT PTSD, read this post first.

This award-winning ad is from the Royal Dutch Guide Dog Foundation. Dogs are trained.  Cesar the Dog Whisperer shows that dogs are not just trained; their owners manage them. Moms of young kids everywhere may joke about training kids like they’d train a dog. Wives who have a helpful husband around may joke and say: “He’s well-trained.” (I’d be offended if I were him.) Workers get on-the job employee training.

I would like to say I’m teaching my son, rather than him, but it’s more like training than teaching. Mothers and teachers of children with autism sometimes say we’re training children. Not all of us do, but I can’t call it teaching when it involves a year of learning to fold clothes, as a teenager. Some things are very hard to learn: after 5 years of daily training, at age 18 my son W can answer the question “What’s your name?,” and be understood more often than not.

Dogs who are pets are paper-trained, then “trained” to walk, and then better or worse trained. Some dogs are trained to be more than pets. There are probably enough working sheep dog videos on youtube to make that point. Then there are some dogs of just the right temperament who are trained to be companions and helpers to humans. The programs for this are rigorous, but it’s more like teaching than training.

W’s school has such a dog at the facility, a therapy dog, who is at school every day from beginning to end. (She goes home with a staff member.) Canine Companions for Independence provided her. Now his school takes and trains puppies to become Canine Companions for others – puppies who graduate and go to higher levels of training, before they find their ultimate homes.

(If not for CCI’s school facility dog, my son would still be asking me for a dog of his own. I love dogs, but can’t handle the schedule at this stage. Thank you!)

Therapy animals make a difference. When W was 4 years old and had just lost his father, we went each week to a horse farm. He climbed onto a therapy pony, Champagne, lay down on the pony’s back, and felt the thick fur. Champagne was very calm, no matter how much W bounced on his back, rocked side to side, or made loud noises. The temperament was remarkable for such a small adult equine animal, 1 1/2 times the size of a mastiff. With Champagne underneath him, W could feel loved and hugged and accepted; the sensations were what he’d always gotten while napping on his tall father’s warm chest.

W and I watched the ad at the beginning of this posting three times through till he could fully understand it’s full meaning.

If you skipped the ad at the start of this posting, now’s a good time to watch it. If you saw it the first time, now’s a good time to watch it. If you’re looking for a worthy cause to contribute money to, consider Canine Companion for Independence.

If you’re a dog lover interested in contributing time, give a good long thought to training a companion or therapy dog.
If you’re looking for a worthy cause to contribute money to, consider Canine Companion for Independence.

There are lots of types of training and several organizations in the United States. Ask me for more information if you’d like, or search for it yourself. Thank you for reading this posting.

Shakespeare at the Mall

Shakespeare_Droeshout_1623Dear Blog-folk, yes, I am a widow, and yes I have a non-verbal son, and yes we lost his father in the World Trade Center, and yes we’ve had more troubles since then. Please read my blogs FAQs. It’s the weekend. We needed some levity. Gotta run, but posting this. Sorry, Bill Shakespeare. Your copyright expired, as have you.
Remember your college lit here. Hamlet’s more famous soliloquy@

To write or not to write, that is the question.

Whether ’tis nobler in the blogs of the ‘net

to write and post on a daily basis

or to take off whilst son and I take walkscentral park walk mall-l from parks webpage

and by postponing live life. To live, to write —

No more — and in nature to say it’s done

This blog, and the thousand posted words

This blog can call for. Walk’s a refreshment

Filially much desired of. The park, the snow —-

The mall — with luck the sales: oy, there’s the rub,

For in that walk with son what bills may come

When I have put aside this blasted blog,

Bills leave my purse. There’s the aspect

that brings bankruptcy from so many walks,

The BOGO trick, the one-ounce taste,

The night as day, the massage chair,shopping-mall

The dress that looks great on the rack,

The warmth indoors and the cold

That frigid lots and snow-glazed cars give,

When we might stay warm in our own glowing kitchen

With a warm cuppa? Who would want to edit entries,

To okay comments and type endlessly needing caffeine,

But that the fear of spending money we don’t have,

Retirement, for whose accountsforeclosure1

No American prepares, boggles my mind,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,

And thus our eager anticipation of parambulation

Is put on pause by the winter’s snow banks

And kills our plans of fitness. —- Rest you all,

My friends who surf! —- Hot yoga some day,

Be all my sins remembered.

To be, or not to be–that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

That makes calamity of so long life. ……..


Making Memories, Part 2: Early Family Experiences Matter, a thin layer of neuroscience

Everything we do is experienced through our senses. There aren’t 5; there are at least 9 and maybe 21. (Want a list? See below.) Every experience we have (doing a math problem, a mosquito sting, a song, a sunset) is made up of sensations. Every sense, except for smell, passes through the emotional center in the brain, and then pauses to form a short term memory.

More emotion makes a long term memory, a stronger memory. Stronger memories stick in the upper reaches of the brain with more, and faster connections to our working mind.

Here’s the kicker: early childhood memories stick more strongly than new ones. I’ve worked with people with dementia who couldn’t tell you what century it is, but
…..they remembered the name of their first dog; or the person didn’t talk at all, but
…..she’d sing a children’s nursery song or carol.

Socially-coded memories from time with family count. Make more today.

Continue reading

Making Memories, Part 1: raising happy kids, #parenting , #raisingchildren , and #loveyourmotherinlaw

“We were making memories!”:
My darling mother-in-law Grace, now 93, used to say about when her kids were young, that she and Marty were “making memories.” Car trips, family picnics, cold winter walks on an empty beach, cousins’ get-togethers. Thanks to them, their kids turned out to be decent, caring, curious,stable and confident adults. That’s not a coincidence

Today We Manufacture Kids:
We think in this helicopter-mom world that raising a child requires constant motion, tutoring, stimulation, and homework. (My son with disabilities has homework 4-5 days a week plus a fitness program!) We debate the activity and its effect. (Math, sports, music…) We advocate for time to play. Families complain no time is left for church.

What’s Missing:
You recognize the debate now. What’s missing? Family, doing not much together, but making memories, and doing it regularly. The home base is the platform that a child launches from. You can’t test for that. You can’t measure church’s value either.

Truth is that you appreciate what you do not have anymore. When my husband died and W was age 4, because I always analyze, I asked what does family mean, and what does family do. What are the functions and purpose?

Understanding Being Human:
A confident child’s formative foundation is family-centered memories. I can say this with near 100% certainty, personally and scientifically. My son W’s early problems (allergies, health, and language), meant that for many years, we couldn’t join extended family events.The two of us were not alone in the house. People were in our lives, and we thought some of them would be forever. But it is still the two of us. We are the family.

Continuing what my husband and I had done for the first 4 years of our son’s life, we went places to “make memories.” We cooked and ate lots of foods (hypo-allergenically), drives in the country, and took lots and lots of long walks. I said “I love you,” a lot. (W’s a teenager now, so he’s less interested!)

Being Human, taking trips and tripping-up:
My #epicfails could fill113 blogposts.  Some are still too awful; there’s oversharing. My first share: I almost lost W on the street in 4 different cities. (I count Brooklyn separately). Police were only called twice. The mistakes don’t matter now as much as the positives – we’d made a memory together. We laughed about the missing person events later. (TG!)

The warm fun with family from early in life endures. They’re what a child feels in his adult bones decades later. You can make negative memories, or happy ones. Homework is not fun, which is why it’s called “home-work”. Some kids enjoy church, but they’ll enjoy it a lot more as adults. Sports are often competitive, or stressful, or painful. What is fun for families together? How about walking, fishing, cooking, playing catch, barbecuing, sharing sights, appreciating nature…

What Memories Did You Make? Share them. I would love to hear yours.

What is Autism – Love is the Drug (autism treatment, autism families and SLP/SLT, autism professionals)

What is Autism, anyway:
Autism can be slippery. We don’t know what it is. We give it a name. We diagnose it. Diagnoses shift (…DSM-IV, now DSM-V…) Autism doesn’t come with a set of medical charts showing where it comes from or how it does its business. We give drugs for it. But drugs are really given for something else, not for Autism. This drug may mask some symptoms for awhile in some people. That drug may cure an intestinal disease that hitchhiked in with the Autism. Neither drug changed or reduced the autism. Most symptoms of Autism don’t match up to any drug that’s ever been produced.

Love is the Drug:
The only drug that helps everyone with Autism at least most of the time more than doing nothing is …. training. We can call it therapy, or education, or play intervention. In each and every thing we do for someone with Autism, we’re pushing the individual with the disorder in a way that’s hard for them to do on their own. We who work with people with disabilities believe everything we do and do not do is changing a neural pathway, stimulating myelin production, improving coordination of the indirect pathways in the brain, and helping.

Tracking Progress = Watching Paint Dry:
Usually the progress is slow. If progress is fast, if there’s major improvement, you can bet that the person’s own neural network is healing. Even if the treatment made a difference, Autism is such a mystery that it’s arrogance to claim the treatment did it all. Give the child some credit, too, since it’s the child’s neural network that was reacting quickly to your stimulus. It was the child’s acceptance of whatever strange-looking thing you did with him.

Without Kids, Humans would be the next mass extinction:
There’s a child involved. (Whether growing or full-grown, they’re still our children!) They are unique individuals. (Grammarians, relax, it’s still a word in English!) You can’t assume that the interventionist – parent or professional – is a genius. You can’t blame the interventionist – parent or professional – for what you see as failure. Who sets the standard? What are we comparing progress against?
the boy next door who’ll get decent grades in a 2-year college?
our image we have of a “successful” disabled person?
the last kid we treated with the same diagnosis or symptom?

Parents: we all have them:
We all want our kids and students to be successful, in all circumstances, and with all kinds of people. Even poor matches between teacher and student are experiences that can help the child work through difficulty.

Let’s be kind to each other. When someone’s not kind, draw a line, but you’ll never know what the other person is going through. Behind closed doors, you don’t know if you’d ever want to switch places. I know enough speech and language therapists to say most are thinner skinned than the Wharton MBAs I went to school with once. I know lots of parents of kids with Autism, and we admit we’re often tired, worried, and skeptical.

Every one of us has limits. Some limits are regulatory. Some are fiscal or non-reimbursable. Parents’ limits are time and money and other children and maintaining a marriage. These limits are all real. Children don’t make steady progress on all fronts all the time. Regressions are normal. (Typical children lose 2.6 months of learning every summer! Focus on the child, and remember what the professional’s scope of practice is. Remember, don’t shoot the messenger.

Autism Education Isn’t Enough: Developmental Disabilities Last a Lifetime

This is an open letter to the community about the future of people with autism. I’m in New Jersey, but this is national. You thought that your children’s childhood was tough. Our kids’ adulthood will be just as tough because the supports that most us expected for our adult children will be gone. No centers, no residences, no special programs for those in Medicaid.

Medicaid said… “Okay, we’ll insure everyone, but we can’t pay for everything; and why should people with autism (which an epidemic!) get what people disabled by brain injury, chronic illness, stroke survivors, and the mentally ill do not?” Because of that Goodwill and other workshops will be defunded, Camphill and other farms for the disabled will close, people will be given the false choice of living in private homes, or bear responsibility for their own apartment leases. No more than a small fraction of residents in a building can have any disability. Otherwise they lose Medicaid. In time, residential schools for children may close, too.

I was talking with a teacher for the hearing impaired this week. In reality, she was talking, and I listened, and cried. Decades ago, Vermont closed all the residential schools, except for one school for the deaf, and it de-institutionalized adults with developmental disabilities. A few years ago, a pair of men in Vermont with autism who are non-verbal starred in a documentary, Wretches and Jabberers. They were both: (1) living in private houses, and (2) actively taken out by advocates for the disabled to regional policy meetings. One man lived with his adult sister in a country home where he had a simple art studio. The other man, with full facial hair, was shuffled every couple of nights to a different house, and said he is “homeless.” He showed his own small room with TV in a modest house, and his belongings fit into a backpack. He struggled to understand his purpose in life.

The State of New Jersey is taking Vermont’s path, but it isn’t alone. Medicaid at the state and local levels, intends to leave our kids “homeless” as adults. February 26 was the deadline for comments, and it’s a done deal by all states in another month. A cousin in the State of CT reported its rules are restrictive, perhaps not as extreme as NJ’s. The State of PA won’t open new day programs. Providers of residential services in NY are concerned.

There should have been a clarion call 1 1/2 years ago by our national organizations when Medicaid first put out this rule. But national organizations were watching genes and kids. When all children aging out of special education n NJ were advised to enroll in Medicaid (even my son who has Medicare), the community didn’t protest. When the DDD transitioned from DDD case managers to contracted PerformCare, it looked like outsourcing. But it was a prelude to cutting the adult division. When the developmental centers were closed, it still looked like private development might be allowed to proceed if you were wise and well-heeled. Now we see that for a long time, there has been a plan to shaft our kids. We parents won’t abandon our kids, but the next generations will have tough choices: to leave them in the cold, or press families and siblings and our grandchildren into lifelong caregiving. We can and will work to chip away at the margins on Medicaid. Given that this state has refused since Florio’s time to fund obligations such as roads, and our governor is refusing court order to pay the pension settlement, we have to fight for a place in line in Trenton.

Ultimately, our kids with and without disabilities will have to fight to retain any public support in this home-rule, nickel-and-diming culture of no-new-taxes, and pay-your-own-way for every little thing. Every one of our kids deserves self-advocacy training. That’s what we can do for their future now.

Blogger, MBA, MS candidate,
Proud to be a special needs hockey mom to
my son with autism, age 18, who lost his father in 9-11