December 22, 2012

They Are Each Other's

Jelly stayed home from school a couple of days last week. The runny nose and cough that had been making its way through her preschool classroom finally caught up with her. And though she protested "I'm not sick!" I kept her home.

Despite her cold, she was in my room at exactly 7:04 am, as she is every day. The clock by her bed lights up at 7:00, letting her know that it is okay for her to come get me. Our clocks are, it seems, four minutes apart.

Shortly after, I heard Moe stirring in his room, and Jelly wanted to come with me to wake him up. This isn't something she usually does. Moe likes to sleep in, and his home program allows him to do that. By the time Moe gets up, Jelly is dressed and eating breakfast, sometimes already off to school. Moe also likes to wake slowly, and Jelly's exuberance in the mornings can be a bit much for him.

But that morning, I let her come with me. We discovered Moe out of bed and lying on the floor, snuggled up over the heating vent. He had even brought his pillow with him and looked quite comfortable. I wasn't sure he would enjoy an invasion by his little sister.

Jelly is a little afraid of Moe these days. He has pulled her hair a couple of times. This is not an act of anger or aggression, but comes from overexcitement mixed with a lack of impulse control and understanding as to how to interact with this increasingly interesting little person. But Jelly doesn't quite understand that yet, and it doesn't make it hurt any less. So when Moe is agitated or running a little wild in the house, she gets frightened.

I decided, then, to let Jelly go to Moe. She laid down next to him, sharing his pillow. She crawled under a portion of the blanket. I positioned myself near them, ready to intervene if necessary, but held back. Jelly held out her hand to him. "Give me five, Moe!" she said gently. He did. She giggled and held out her hand again. He touched it briefly, palm to palm. They did this several times, back and forth. Sometimes he initiated by raising his hand to her, and other times, Moe would give me his hand. I gave him the palm squeezes and scratches I know he likes when he first wakes up. But Jelly would inevitably raise her hand again, and Moe would respond.

I have spent many hours pondering how best to forge a relationship between Moe and Jelly. But they seem to be doing this all on their own. Jelly watches Moe's ABA sessions, and can run programs. She listens to how we talk with Moe and does the same. She is insistent on giving him things that he likes. One time they dumped out a big bucket of farm animal toys and she handed them to him, one by one, and he put them back in the bucket. Though a simple exchange, the enjoyed the interaction, and Jeff and I loved watching it. She (and this is my favorite) always asks "Do you need any help?" when I'm changing Moe's diaper.

I can guide, but this is their relationship to build. They are each other's.

December 18, 2012

Favorite Cookie Recipes

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
The holidays are here, and I've been seeing lots of recipes for yummy cookies. This is anything but a food blog, but since I do love to bake, I thought I'd post some of my favorite cookie recipes. I've provided links where I could find them, and full recipes are at the bottom for the ones I couldn't find.

Enjoy and if you have one, please leave your favorite cookie recipe (or two) in the comments!

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies (from America's Test Kitchen)

Brown Sugar cookies (from America's Test Kitchen)

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies (Martha Stewart)

Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons (Sunset Magazine)

Seven Layer Bars (From the sweetened condensed milk can)

Oatmeal Butterscotch 

(from The Buttercup Bake Shop Cookbook)
This is a go-to recipe of mine. Very easy and makes a lot of cookies, 3-4 dozen.
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking oats)
1 1/2 cups (1 10oz pkg) butterscotch chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Lightly grease two or three 12 x 18 inch baking sheets (Note: I like to use the silpat for these.)
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugars until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix well. Add the vanilla. Add in the flour mixture and beat thoroughly. Stir in the oats and the chips until well incorporated.
  5. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto the prepared cooking sheets, leaving several inches between for expansion. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool cookies on sheets for a minute, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Peanut Butter Surprises 

From Martha Stewart. Makes about 2 Dozen. These are best eaten fresh from the oven, when the chocolate center is still warm.
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup roughly chopped, roasted, salted peanuts, plus 48 halves for pressing into tops
10 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into 1-inch chunks

  1. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; beat until well combined. Add peanut butter and beat until combined.
  2. Add the flour mixture all at once, and beat on low speed until just combined. Add the peanuts; beat until combined. Wrap dough in plastic wrap, and chill in refrigerator at least 2 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Pinch off about 2 Tbsp of dough, and make a well in your hand with the dough. Place one chunk of chocolate in the center, and enclose with the dough to cover completely. Roll dough into about a 1 3/4 inch ball with your hands.
  4. Place the ball of dough on the baking sheet; repeat with the reamining dough and chocolate, placing cookies about 2 inches apart. Press 2 peanut halves into the top of each cookie.
  5. Bake until cookies are golden, 16-18 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Remove from oven; transfer to wire rack to cool slightly.

December 17, 2012

Autism, Aggression and Violence

I have written on this blog before about Moe and aggression. And, in light of the recent shooting at Sandy Hook elementary, as well as speculation that the shooter was on the autism spectrum, I want to clear something up.

First and foremost, autism is not mental illness. Autism is a developmental disorder. It is a disability that can affect many areas of development, including communication and social skills, as well as sensory processing and regulation. Some people with autism also have cognitive or intellectual disabilities, others have average or above average intelligence.

Autism is also a spectrum disorder, which means that each individual is affected differently. You may hear the terms "low functioning" and "high functioning" although those are not especially descriptive or accurate. Some people may, for example, be unable to speak and have severe anxiety but are quite eloquent writers and fully independent. Others may be verbal and able to tolerate noises and crowds but lack the executive functioning skills to live independently. This is a gross oversimplification meant only to illustrate that autistics are a diverse group that share some aspects of a diagnosis.

So what about autism and aggression? Generally, and certainly in Moe's case, aggression is a form of communication. It is sometimes an impulsive reaction to an external stimulus that might bother him, such as the dog barking, or an internal feeling of emotional dis-regulation. Primarily, however, because Moe cannot speak, it is a way for him to express frustration in a moment. He is telling us something, whether it is that he doesn't want to sit in circle time anymore, isn't feeling well, doesn't want his diaper changed, or just wants to be left alone. We are working hard to help him communicate those needs in other ways, but it is sometimes frustrating for him when we aren't getting what he's telling us.

Sometimes, Moe will do something that appears aggressive but isn't intended to be. For example, a few minutes ago, he got very excited and was running around a little wildly. He ran up to his little sister Jelly and pulled her hair. This was not intended to hurt her - it was just an impulse. He was smiling and giggling and didn't know how else to interact. Moe might bite because the deep pressure is a way to calm himself down when he's over stimulated or upset. We have done a pretty good job of teaching him to bite a chewy toy instead of a person or himself.

What Moe's aggression isn't, however, is pre-meditated. It is purely in the moment, usually easily mitigated when we are paying attention to what he is telling us, or at least redirected to something more appropriate. He can, for example, crash his body onto a large pillow, but not onto the dog.

Could someone with autism perform a pre-meditated act of violence? Of course. Autistic people may have other forms of mental illness or can be otherwise driven to violence in the same way that a neurotypical person could, though people with autism and other disabilities are much more likely to be victims of violence.


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