Category Archives: autism

A World Set Apart

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First impressions, in my profession as an Early Intervention Specialist,

included the homes we visited, the families we met, the therapists’

teamwork, and how to integrate appropriate lessons for babies from

age 3 months up until they turned 3 years old.

I was hired to perform the role of ‘facilitator’ or teacher. I enjoyed

every minute of those two years, from Fall, 1999 up until Fall, 2002.

I was busily transferring and evolving from my four years of being

an Activities Director into an EI Specialist. I was taking under-

graduate courses at Columbus State University, learning what were

the principle educational practices, strategies and current techniques.

Although a parent of three ‘typically developing’ children, helped

to prepare me, I had never been a teacher of this particular age level.

When I met Hunter, it was August, 1999. I was still in the “Orientation

mode” of my new job. His mother was going through a divorce, attractive,

living in a beautiful home where her daughter, April, was all things

‘girly,’ including ballet, My Little Ponies and her Princess-themed

decorations in her bedroom. April was like a ‘ray of sunshine’ for both

her mother and brother. She immediately made a positive impression on

us, by showering a lot of love and hugs on her baby brother. Hunter

would not smile or watch her, but he seemed to kick more while she was

in his presence. (Not developing ‘eye contact’ is a primary sign of

Autism.)

Rhonda’s son was quite the opposite from April, in his developmental

stages. Rhonda described his not wanting to breast feed, some failure

to thrive reactions to not wanting to suck on a bottle, either. She

told us she had felt overwhelmed, until she tried her 10th type of

bottle nipple and binky (or pacifier.) The baby had cried constantly,

reminding her of a friend’s baby who had colic.

Hunter, when we met him at age 3 months, was not outgoing, not responding

to many stimuli, it seemed. His overall, ‘outward’ appearance was of a

beautiful baby boy. Hunter was eating, sleeping and crying sometimes, but

being her second child, April instinctively had ‘known’ something was

‘wrong.’

Hunter’s physician had recently handed her a Morrow County flyer about

the building known as Whetstone River Family and Children Center and

its services within. It outlined a series of questions, that if your

child were not doing these age appropriate actions or stages of baby

development, there may be concerns. A nurse would come to the family’s

home and carry out the next step of the process of identifying needs

for treatment. The pediatrician recommended Rhonda call the nurse’s

phone number on the flyer. She set up a home visit where the nurse could

check out the baby’s weight regularly and help with some of her feeding

concerns. She also highly recommended calling the Early Intervention

phone number that was also included in the pamphlet.

In my new ‘place of work’ our building ‘housed’ offices for Social

Workers, Therapists, Big Brother/Big Sister Program, four classrooms

of integrated learning with typically developing children as ‘peers’

and children with varied special needs or delays. There was also, a

daycare center and two Head Start classrooms.

At the time, (Summer, ’99) the special needs adults were also located

within the building with a great group of one to one aides. Their ‘leader’

was Rita and her ‘assistant leader,’ Barb. They were busy receiving orders

for caning chairs, folding hats for Steak and Shake restaurants and other

special business orders for hand woven wine baskets from up on Lake Erie.

Walk-ins would ask for woven baskets of all sizes, once they viewed the

lovely examples. This whole ‘workshop’ ended up being moved to a

different location.

During the school year, Rita and Barb continued to teach the young

adults, education lessons in subject matters along with “Life Skills”

lessons in a classroom in our building. The site of Whetstone Industries

was a much better place, since the business had grown in leaps and bounds.

I studied and learned about two different programs that were being used,

in schools and learning centers to help bring out children with Autism

and ones who are considered “on the Spectrum.” I was able to understand

the positive and negative aspects and results of an ABA program versus

a Floortime Program. ABA is based on simple tasks, giving a reward and

then moving to another task. The A represents the first action and the

B is the reward, while another application of the A will be given. It is

actually a lot like B.F. Skinner’s behavioral analysis programs. (Not

that children are like ‘salivating dogs!’) Consistency, as in all actions

and lessons involving children, is very important in this ABA program.

Floortime was another program that seemed to reap benefits with children

with Autism. This was more of a freeplay, with some guided decisions made

by the one to one aides, playing with some ‘agenda’ or plans made for the

child.

Both ABA and Floortime were involved in Whetstone’s approach to learning

within a ‘center based’ grouping, involving only the children who were

tested and identified with Autism. These same children would also, spend

time within our classroom. Often, we would start our Early Intervention

class with freeplay, anyway, so that went along with Floortime, while

as long as the children seemed to be participating or at least, not

screaming, they would stay in our group setting. We would have story

time, circle time, crafts and fine motor activities and center time.

After two years of being an EI Specialist, I chose to apply to be one

of the Preschool Special Ed teachers at Whetstone. I felt very lucky

to be chosen, since I was in 2002, 47 years old. I would have to be

interviewed and selected for the Master’s degree class at OSU, while

I did have a coworker find she could just apply to Ashland University.

I was hoping to go to Marion’s branch of OSU, while some courses would

take me to ‘main campus.’ The thought of driving farther north, since

I already was making a 45 minute drive daily to Mt. Gilead, did not

thrill me, to go to Ashland… it would have added another 45 minute

drive away from home.

If you are a parent or teacher,you may know other ways that are

currently practiced. The new studies, through research that scientists

and doctors conduct includes something called, “Affinity Therapy.”

There is a Dr. Palfrey, who has been studying and recording research

on this new practice.

To summarize progress in the two years I worked with Hunter:

We had found that Hunter was one who responded to his home visits

and group sessions well. He was helped by our suggestions to his

mother, Rhonda, who started to take him to public places, before

the crowds would gather, enrolled him in a Food Study program at

OSU, where they try to break food habits that have been established

by the family. Rhonda really missed him, since she could only watch

outside the glass windowed/mirrors, but Hunter was, at age 3 years old,

being given ABA style lessons in incorporating more of a variety

of foods. The children we met in our EI classroom, and later, in

my Preschool classroom, with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, would

tend to not eat foods with any kind of texture or colors. Bland

and soft were their foods of choice. The OSU program was ‘free’

since Rhonda applied for a scholarship, and Hunter ‘passed’ his

overnights for 5 days, being ‘let go’ before the whole week had

been used. Rhonda was shocked to see how quickly he adapted to

the regimen of trying foods, admitting that when Hunter ‘shrieked,’

she would ‘cave in’ to his wishes. She had worried about his

starving ‘to death’ for the 7 days. She was able to hug him and

give him a bedtime story, but all the rest of the time, she was

an observer on the other side of the mirror! He was able to join

a preschool classroom, full time after one year of a split schedule

where Hunter went to a classroom of children with Autism, in the

morning and in the afternoon an integrated special needs one. He

went on to kindergarten, with his IEP including a one to one aide,

and later, in third grade the one to one aide was discontinued.

While watching CBS Sunday Morning Show, (5/4/14), I was happy to

learn more about new ways children and adults were responding with

therapies, interventions and techniques concerning Autism. The people

who are on the Spectrum, were also being discussed. I had heard, from

a person who writes about her son, on a blog, that he was using a

facilitated computer program. She had shared that he was able to

express himself, by typing his thoughts on the computer. She says

he is a ‘typical’ hungry, self-centered teenager!

The Sunday interview was with a couple, Ron and Cornelia Suskind, who

had discovered their son’s life had been influenced and ‘directed’ by

his watching Disney classic animated children’s movies.

The book to read on this is called, “Life, Animated.” It is interesting

to know their son, Owen’s story. Ron told the interviewer (and at home

audience) that his son was a perfectly normal baby, from birth until

age 3 years old. He became withdrawn and silent, all of a sudden, without

any known reason. No doctor or specialist can explain, but he was in

his own little ‘world.’

Ron and Cornelia found that he was soothed and comforted by watching

Disney animated children’s films. They were used to his silence and

did many things to enhance his life. Owen had nutritionists, therapists,

and strong emotional support. The physical and occupational therapy

lessons included giving him a sense of balance, sensory perception

and overall health. Speech therapy was not able to draw results with

his oral participation.

One day, Owen blurted out a complete thought while watching a movie.

His father, Ron, grabbed a puppet of Iago, using an ‘actor’s’ or

character’s voice, so as not to scare him and to keep him engaged

in talking. They had their first conversation ever!

Owen has helped his parents to understand that he learned how to

sound out words and read, by reading the credits at the end of the

films they showed him repeatedly. He mentions the ‘grips’ who are

the background people who help get the sound recorded.

Other lessons he learned were on how you should feel, live and act.

The characters that Owen related to the most were not the leading

‘heroes’ but their sidekicks.

Owen can imitate the sounds, accents and tones of voice of different

characters he would view in the films. His favorite one is that of

Merlin, when he is transformed into a fish, in “The Sword in the

Stone.” This film, Owen says, gives you the message to:

“Try new things in the world.”

Both Simba, (“Lion King”) as an adult and the Beast in “Beauty and

the Beast” taught Owen to:

“Be brave and overcome obstacles.”

Explaining the character, Aladdin, Owen expressed these thoughts:

“Aladdin wants to show he is more than a nobody. (Implying, as

a person with autism, who was silent for a long time, he felt

like a ‘nobody.’) Aladdin was a ‘diamond in the rough.’

Owen attends college and has a girlfriend now. He has opened

a “Disney Club” where the young adults watch Disney movies

and discuss their feelings, lessons learned and the ‘moral of

the stories.’ His parents observed Owen, recently, being the leader

of this college extracurricular activity, with tears in their eyes.

The CBS program, did record this and it is really wonderful to see

how confident Owen is in front of a classroom of his peers. The group

sometimes watch movies together, along with sing the Disney songs.

They feel welcome and part of their own group.

There is, by the way, a great documentary called, “Autism is a World,”

about a college student who liked to play with spoons and water, while

she was a child. This routine ‘reward’ was used to get her through her

studies and education. The real person, now an adult, is Sue Rubin.

This fascinating film includes footage of Sue inside a college classroom.

It was Oscar nominated, back in the early 2000’s.

Another interesting character, a real woman who created intricate ways

for cattle and livestock to travel through different patterns before they

got slaughtered is, Temple Grandin. She studied the way cows moved, from

childhood on. She is a person who would possibly be considered to have

Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a high level of intelligence but still a

person with Autism. If you see the movie, “Temple Grandin,”it is a very

moving story, leaving you with a profound respect for people who have

the courage to work with children who have this and those who have it, too.

There is a wonderful tribute to Temple’s mother. If you did not catch the

Oscars when Temple stood up to proudly show the world she was autistic, you

missed a great moment in time! Claire Danes gave an outstanding performance

as Temple and Julia Ormond did an awesome job as her mother.

Temple is also an author of several books and an engineer, besides being a

professor. Her incredible story should be encouraging to people who are

afraid their relative may not be able to succeed. Temple Grandin did,

despite her challenges as a person living with Autism.

she

was an educated scientist and professor of animal husbandry at Colorado

State University. Her mother’s perseverance and determination gave her

the keys to learning, using flash cards.

My teacher assistant, Maggie and I had prepared a wonderful place

for children and babies to come and be ‘tested’ by the therapy team

consisting of a Physical Therapist (and her PTA), an Occupational

Therapist, (and an OTA), a Speech Therapist and a Child Psychologist.

Once we did initial family and child assessments on Hunter, we had

recommended his coming with his parent or parents, to WRFCC.

The first names of the ones who I came to know and love were Phillip,

Savannah, Elijah, Leslie, among many…

It was only the beginning…

A True Story and a Flight of Fancy

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The real story begins, in a small rural corner of the

world. There were four horses, Sapphire, Spirit, Lokie

and Summer. Recently, the cost was approaching the limit

of extra expenses for a country family who loved their

horses, so much so that they considered them ‘family.’

When a woman stopped to visit the horses down her county

road, she brought along her daughter who was challenged

with speech difficulties and her sister also, who had

never spoken a word.

Amy, the horses’ savior and owner, noticed from a

distance that the girls were pointing and making loud

shrieks. She approached through the muddy terrain,

leading Summer, the oldest horse in her stable. She was

making her way to the fence by the side of the road.

When the mother introduced herself and her daughters,

she also shared her frustration with Amy. Amy is such

a kind and wondrous soul, it is so easy to lean on her

and let all the tough times get vented. She does this

for almost anyone she meets.

The two girls’ mother said that she was considering

buying a horse since both girls had been diagnosed

to have autism.

The therapists at school recommended lessons at the

Flying Horses stable. This was sometimes the place

for field trips for the classes which had budgets for

such events.

This business is located in Morrow County and is

reasonably priced and known for their special

services. Many local merchants and sponsors help to

pay for lessons for children with disabilities or

special needs.

The woman was consoled by Amy, so thankful that she

was willing to listen. Amy offered to put each of

them on Summer, her oldest, most tame and trained horse,

and give them rides.

(An aside comment: I had not included Summer in my story

about filming nor the one where I mentioned a possibility

of houses and land purchases. Amy’s son in law was not

sure when the whole adventure will transpire but Summer

is Amy’s daughter’s horse. Summer is stabled with the

other three horses. Often Amy’s daughter rides on longer

hikes on the wonderful horse paths, at nearby Mount

Gilead State Park. Both horse and daughter had missed

the time when the film crew’s van travelled to their farm.

There are great horse paths at the Mount Gilead State Park,

where her daughter likes to take Summer.

Amy’s family’s budget has had to tighten with the higher

cost of heating the barns this winter. They can not ‘count

on’ the money from her daughter’s husband, until it is

given. The horses will continue to stay together until the

property is found and purchased.)

End of aside comments…

Once the oldest girl visitor sat on the tame and gentle

Summer’s back, she exclaimed and bounced. Amy led Summer,

holding onto the child’s leg on one side of the horse.

She had suggested that the mother hold her leg on the

other side of the fence, along with placing the younger

one on her hip away from the horse.

When it came time for the oldest sister to be taken

off, she did not shriek nor cry. She was pensive and

calm, as if the horse had ‘tamed her.’

The youngest sister had never having spoken a word,

despite Speech and Language Therapy (through the Early

Intervention program), since she was one year’s old.

It was now her turn.

The mother stood on one side of the horse, while Amy

placed the child on the horse, then she held on tightly

to the little one’s upper thigh. Meanwhile, the oldest

visiting daughter was placed on a tree stump to watch

from a short distance. Amy had never seen such a change

in demeanor in a child, as what she had witnessed with

the girl.

Amy knew the ‘littlest angel’ would respond to the

horse, since there was a light in her eyes. There was

a different and new kind of serious look on her face.

The child’s eyes were large and blue with eyelashes

long and beautiful. There was a determined set to her

mouth and a furrow between her eyes.

The little one started to giggle, she wriggled her

legs and started to gently kick them. She seemed to

know that she was on a great big horse. This recognition

spread to show a new affinity to the horse. Her motions

seemed to be saying, ‘Go!’

The mother’s face had tears streaming down her face. She

saw the magic going on and could not believe her eyes and

ears!

Then the little one said, “Ma!”

This one syllable sound emitted from the child, made Amy’s

eyes well up with tears.

Sharing Summer with the girls and allowing them to have

their short little rides, had opened up both the girls.

If you could put a label on the experience and the sense

of wonder felt in those moments, you may express it as

their showing the emotion of “Love.”

In studies of children with autism, many unusual elements

can create this feeling of well being. It is something

that is not easily examined or explained.

The simple element of water running over their fingers,

petting a dog or cat or listening to a certain musical

piece are among a few ‘triggers’ that bring calming

effects upon people whose wiring in their brains is

not still fully understood.

Amy did not take a dime for Summer’s becoming part of

the family down the road’s. Summer will come back to

visit, the woman promised. When her husband got off

work, they all walked down the county road, the horse

named Summer, the family with two parents and two girls

and Amy. They had an empty barn, clean and filled with

the hay they had purchased. The family had been on many

locations on their computer, having searched for over a

month. Their stop to look at Amy’s horses had been to

allow the girls to know this is what they were planning.

“Never in a million years,” the mother exclaimed, had

she expected this gift of Summer!

Her upkeep was going to be the responsibility of the

new family who appreciated such a generous gift. Amy

hugged her daughter’s horse, imparting a secret message,

“I love you, Summer. You will be so useful and helpful

to this family that I know you will live a longer life.”

The continuing tale is about the remaining horse family

which includes now, two sisters and a brother.

The three younger horses have been raised together.

They came from three different lineages and parents.

They were on their own, separated from their families.

They became part of a set that was purchased by my

good friend and coworker, Amy.

Their lives were very different before they came to

live in Morrow County, as a part of Amy’s loved ones.

They had ribs that showed, coats that needed to be

washed and brushed to become shiny again, along with

looks of belligerence and defiance that showed mistrust

of human beings that had been entrusted with their

care.

Amy was their ‘savior’ in their lives. Their lives

allowed for freedom to run and also, gentle children

to pet them, sharing treats with them of sugar cubes

and apples. Their barn was clean, their daily routine

more structured in that they were outside more than

inside. They were lucky to be alive and getting more

healthy every day.

One brittle cold day, the three horses were stuck in

the barn all day. Lokie, a paint horse, with her spots

having changed more than once in colors and tones, was

anxious for winter’s end.

Sapphire, her beauty and loveliness shining like her

name, had acquired more patience and more confidence

since she had become part of Amy’s clan. She knew that

there would be better times, she also knew there wasn’t

much you could do in the freezing cold.

Spirit, who had many times injured himself, not caring

if he had an infection or possible gangrene from the

metal barb wire he had got tangled in when he had first

arrived, was able to breathe in and then, snort, the

huge noise shaking the cats that were trying to sleep

in the straw in the hayloft. There was moist wisps

of his breath upon the air. He leaned against the

wall in his stable, starting to relax and breathe in

an even way, that set the tone for his ‘sisters of a

different mother.’

Spirit’s early battles of horse versus metal, with

his anger and frustration of having moved more than

the others had had to endure, had made him restless.

His stampedes against fences, shrugging off his saddle

in battles with Amy and finally submission had taken

time and energy.

Though Amy claims she has no patience, there was

evidence in the way Spirit was able to go through his

‘tricks’ and his jumps for the cameras that rolled on

that fateful day, awhile back.

Their dreams were usually the same, with few exceptions.

The three horses had an affinity to their roots, their

long ancestral trees that included where their parents

and grandparents had come from. Those roots made them

visualize very different places to relax and run wild

in their dreams.

Lokie’s desire to ride in her dreams, bareback and

trotting over the wild prairies with a sense of

vastness and freedom was a natural result of her

heritage. She was after all, a ‘paint,’ which usually

during the early American unsettled days, Native

Americans chose for their beauty and colors. Although

Lokie is not anything like her big ‘brother,’ Spirit,

she does have her own brand of spirit!

Sapphire’s pedigree and her lofty nature has changed

and improved over her time with Amy. She used to refuse

to associate with the other two. Her nose resembled

that of a ‘snob,’ held high up in the air. That lofty

nature was not dampened by her mean spirited old owners,

she kept it as her way to keep sane and enjoy her life,

despite its desperate direction it had veered off in,

a few years back. Sapphire loved her turquoise blue

satin ribbons that were woven into her mane and tail.

She adored her azure blue blanket that was put on her

back before the saddle was placed on top of it.

“Ah!” sighed Sapphire, at the vision of such lovely

finery and herself being so adorned.

She liked the idea of stars and a moon outside in the

cold air, to look up and see, guiding her to a better

life with Amy.

Amy was her ‘servant’ and she would help her go through

her paces. She would lead and gently nudge her with the

habit and get her to prance, gallop and trot. She would

also stand perfectly still, when a little one was placed

on her back.

Parades were in Sapphire’s dreams, as Amy had planted

the seeds of them early on. Amy had whispered that if

she grew more strong and beautiful that she would get to

be in the Delaware All Horse Parade. This would take

endurance and she would have to be a good horse to go

there. But the idea of having others’ watch her, admire

her and possibly clap, (like the little ones sometimes

did on her back) filled her dreams with happiness.

Spirit sometimes snorted in disdain at her sister’s

unrealistic dreams of being a princess herself. He was

still able to dream of being on an island, far away

from the cold weather. Amy had mentioned her favorite

book about “Misty of Chincoteague,” by and he had

listened to her tales of running wild and free, across

soft grass that was not mowed, where there would also

be warm sand to run in. Underneath his slight disgust

at the pretty dreams that Sapphire had, was his own

soft and gentle heart, he was fond of her… maybe even

would miss her, if his dream would come true.

Living in close quarters in the barn, with the chickens,

rooster, one cow and cats who were due to have kittens,

made all three horses happy. The bodies warmed their

place enough to not shiver and shake from the cold

outside.

Spirit thought about this, when he was waking from his

island dream again. Lokie shook her mane and stamped

her foot, irritated that it had gone asleep again.

While she had been dreaming of running through wild

grasses, stopping at a crystal blue stream to sip

on water that trickled over rocks, she has spied in

her dream a little child with dark straight hair

and almond colored skin. His eyes had been so shiny

dark brown, serious in his demeanor. Lokie yearned

for this child to be his owner, if he were not able

to ‘take Amy into his dream.’

Spirit saw Lokie’s calm countenance and her special

dreamy look upon her face, glad that she had an escape

in these cold days. It would have been boring to the

girl, had she not her Western dreams of romance and

history.

Sapphire may someday make her life more famous. Since

she was the one who had primped and paraded so well

for the French filmmakers and crew. This memory had

only reinforced her dreams of ‘fame and fortune.’

Rugged Lokie, although a mare, would have only liked

to have children or possibly Annie Oakley ride her.

Taming Lokie has not been as challenging for Amy,

as Spirit had been. Lokie had her sweet tooth, which

made her work for the treats more. She could do her

many tricks for a passing guest or a group now, too.

Spirit leaned again towards the gray weathered wall,

thinking:

“It is about another hour or two, until our caretaker,

Amy comes by after her work, to give us a new pitch

fork full of hay. Maybe I can remember the path that

led me to the cave on the island. I would like to

explore the passages…”

Before he drifted off to sleep, Spirit whinnied to

let the others know the message that a mouse had

given to him, that the squirrels had heard from the

little birds’ chirpings’ that Spring was on its way.

When horses snore, it is hard to resist and it can

become contagious…

“Z-z-z-z-z-z!’