What do you see? Most people see a Lego set that was put together with one piece missing. If you are on the autism spectrum you might see a completely imperfect set that was missing a major part that totally prevented you from following the instructions. Did you lose the piece? Where could it be? I didn’t hear it fall. I know I didn’t. When did I last have it? Did I ever have it? Was it in the box? Did they not put it in the box? How could they not put it in the box? Why would they not put it in the box? It’s not right if they didn’t put it in the box? What do I do? I’m going to cry and run away.
This is what I witnessed a couple days after Christmas. Mari has found something she really enjoys and that’s Lego Friends. When she first started putting them together she had a really hard time asking for help (another aspect of her ASD). We got past that after we talked through some strategies like me showing her how to put some pieces together and then taking them apart so she could do it herself. This incident was on a totally different level. I had no idea how to help her and so my suggestion was that I would figure out how to get the piece and that she should do something else in the meantime.
The next couple days I asked her if she wanted to go back to building and that she could finish the whole thing and just put the last piece together when we got it. She still couldn’t get past the idea of not completing the instructions fully before moving on.
A day or so later, I checked up on her and she was working on the set again and was almost done (except for the missing piece of course)! After she finished we had this conversation:
Me: How did you get past having a piece missing?
Mari: I just restated the problem.
Me: Is that one of your strategies for getting past problems?
Mari: No, it’s actually one of the steps for getting feedback. If someone says something not nice, you restate the feedback to something nicer.
Me: So you “restated” putting the Lego set together?
Mari: Yes, that is what I just said.
I was blown away. I don’t know exactly how she restated the problem in her mind, but the conceptual leap she made to take a step from receiving feedback and applying it as a strategy to get past a Lego piece missing is the most vivid sign that all her hard work in therapy is helping.
My daughter, Emiko, played in her first golf tournament on Wednesday. And while it would be a great story to be able to say she came in first, the truth is she came in last (and by quite a bit). Her score and where she finished in the standings takes nothing away from how proud and amazed I am with how she handled herself. It made me smile when she asked when she could play in another tournament.
After looking back on the day, I thought this post would be about what she learned from playing her first tournament, but it turns out this is about what she taught me.
- Coming in last does not ruin your self-esteem – Doing her best and working to get better have given her more confidence than any “everybody gets a trophy” sport she’s ever played in.
- This is life, not Facebook – Facebook is an amalgamation of special moments not a true picture of life. I don’t know how many Facebook moments I’ll have with her, but I’m happy we have life together.
- Learning is the lesson – Any situation can be positive if you learn something from it. She didn’t enjoy losing, but I saw her focusing on the things she needed to improve and that’s what made it such a great experience for her.
We Lutherans talk about how God uses our vocations to place us where we can serve our neighbor. In this case, I see how He has blessed me by placing me where I not only serve my daughter, but also learn from her. Oh yeah, it’s also a blessing that her mother “rides” me to take Emiko golfing.
Emiko and I finished the basic project book that came with the Arduino. The problem was that she was good at following the diagrams but had no idea what was really happening and wouldn’t be able to do anything other than follow them. So I found Exploring Arduino which goes through similar projects but explains in detail the circuits and programs. The explanation of voltages, currents, resistance, etc. went ok, but then we got to the programming. She had a very difficult time putting into practice the concept of a variable. I tried every way I could to explain it, but she didn’t and each with each attempt my voice got louder and louder. She teared up and was clearly frustrated and while we got through the exercise it wasn’t the best session we had ever had.
The next morning I kept replaying the events and what I remember most was that I had turned something that she thought was interesting and fun into the exact opposite. I really didn’t want her to lose interest in something because I had turned her off. I texted Erin to have Emiko call me when she was awake. When she called I apologized and she forgave me. I told her how sorry I was and that I didn’t want my being a bad teacher to prevent her from having fun and learning.
Since then I’ve asked her what I can do to be a better teacher. We’ve also done more projects and learned some difficult circuit and programming concepts. I’m going a lot slower and I’m not so focused on her understanding everything. She’ll gain that as she gets more exposure and if we can keep having fun she’ll keep wanting that exposure.
Me: What do you want to do tonight?
Emiko: Oh, let’s work on the robot! (That’s what she calls the Arduino since we are working toward a robot)
So we worked on a temperature sensor. It wasn’t super accurate, but she made it the readings go up and down by blowing on it. She also learned about Fahrenheit and Centigrade.
Me: Ok, 10 minutes till bed. What do you want to do? (Fully expecting her to ask for 10 minutes of TV)
Emiko: Let’s do the servo circuit!
That was shocking. So happy she is interested. Fun times ahead!
I’m far from the perfect father. I’m sure I violate conventional and new wisdom all the time. I’m not sure I agree with all that “wisdom” so I try to be aware of it, but it doesn’t usually doesn’t affect my day-to-day. However, there are some areas in which I know I need to improve. The number 1 is yelling / raising my voice. I have done this since I was a little kid. When situations frustrate me I raise my voice and after a certain level of frustration it turns to yelling.
I think I’ve made some strides in this area since Mari was diagnosed with Autism. It made me realize how it didn’t really help any situation, but it is such a long engrained habit that it is tough to break. One strategy that has helped me is to hug whichever girl I’m frustrated with before talking to her. I learned this strategy as a way to reset Mari when she was having sensory difficulties and it also works with Emiko, likely because it calms me down as much as anything.
Mari is a couple years from lessons but she learns by watching big sister.
This is the second time Emiko has swung her new clubs. First time at the range. She struggled a little with the length and weight, but should be fine by the beginning of summer. She still hit some good ones.
She was trying out the new putter as well. She was lining up each putt without me even reminding her.
Mari was just having fun and enjoying the sun.
Emiko and I worked on goals for this week. We went through her goals for the year and she picked out 3 to focus on this week. I then had her three measurable results to accomplish.
Flossing this morning turned into an opportunity to look at plaque under the microscope.
We also looked at some grey hair that did not belong to dad.
We finished her first project which was a blinking LED. I told her how to wire up the breadboard and she did that.
Then she uploaded the code to the Arduino. I explained a little bit about what was going on and let her experiment with changing values in the code to see how the blinking of the LED would be altered. Once we figured out what values did what, we commented the code.
When I got home from work we broke out the Christmas presents. Mari looked at some of the prepared slides under the microscope and I showed I her how to place them for viewing. Our plan is to look at some new things under the microscope every day.
Emiko and I broke out the Arduino. We read some basics about circuits and familiarized ourselves with all the boards and components. I downloaded the software and tomorrow we will do our first project.