Thursday, March 28, 2013

California Workshop Days

It's not magic, and it's not rocket science, but PRT is definitely a new way of thinking.  Our final two days in Santa Barbara, California last month were where the rubber hit the road.  Alex had been tested and assessed, and they found the areas that we needed to work on.  These areas were:
  • What it means to be On-topic
  • On-topic commenting
  • On-topic questions
  • Conversation
  • Following Directions
  • Being Flexible
  • Academic success
Specifically addressed items beyond or within the initial areas were:
  • Reading
  • Handwriting
  • Resistance to outings
  • Limited food selections
  • Eye contact
  • Screen time
  • Conversation with kids
  • What parents should do when acting out
  • Stimming
  • How to apply PRT at home
  • Maintenance vs. Acquisition Tasks
  • Priming

We have been working ad-hoc on these areas since we got home, while we await the final report.  The report will also go over all the testing and findings.  They told us that in general his IQ scores have been rising in many areas.  There are still serious deficits, but once we have them pinpointed we can work to use his strengths to fill in the gaps.  "Alex has plenty of intelligence."  This is a direct quote from the clinicians.  That is what we have always suspected, and the mode we have operated in, but bringing that intelligence out is the trick.  I find it very interesting that the very first thing presented in his school testing was the IQ test.  In kindergarten he tested very low in IQ, and I wonder how many of the professionals who have worked with Alex looked at that result and made a whole cascade of decisions based on an assumption that the score meant low intelligence in general.  Maybe none.  Maybe only a few.  Maybe some.  I will never know.  But it chaps my hide to think that any decisions have been made on that basis, and that I have fallen into that trap too.  I do not know what the solution is.  I do not think we should throw out all testing.  But I also think we need better measures, especially where communication dysfunction is concerned.  Alex is not a native speaker of English, and he is not a native speaker of Non-Verbal.  He has learned, and learned pretty well, but it is still a foreign tongue that overlays every aspect of his interactions with people.  And perhaps causes people to question his intelligence.

I saw this first hand with another kiddo this week.  I worked very closely with an ASD child at work.  I found this child to be quite intelligent, and versed in getting needs met.  I felt very at home working with this child, and teaching the parents about some of the seemingly mysterious aspects of ASD.  It is all about communication.  Unusual communication, paired with a-typical language useage, but communication all the same.  This child learned and progressed quite a bit in just a short time on the unit, at least as far as what I saw.  Then I read an official report.  Another person of standing on the unit started and ended with "Low Intelligence".  It was heart breaking, and I hope the parents never see that particular in house report.  It could prompt them to give up, when this kiddo has a lot of potential for learning.  One thing I am learning is that intelligence and language are not the same thing, but many people make that assumption.

So, we have our work cut out for us.  The trip to California was not an end point, but another beginning.  Each question answered leads to many more questions and loads of work to be done, but that is okay.  That is what life is all about, right?  Problems, problems solving, celebration, and starting all over at the next level.  The final report will be in soon, and then we can begin our monthly consultations with the Keogel Autism Center, and continue on our way.  Problems, celebrations, and all.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Eucalyptus, Torrey Pines, and the Rarest Pine Cone in the World

Sometimes I feel like my life is a random series of very bizarre events that have no connections.  And then I have a day like today and it all starts to come together.  If you know me well, you know I have lived in New Zealand as a whitewater kayak and general outdoor instructor.  You probably also know I lived in Boulder Colorado, where I met my husband, and studied the art and science of massage therapy.  And you may even recall that I grew up in central Wisconsin, camping and running around outdoors at every opportunity.  And if you know me really well you are aware of my affinity for trees.  Trees figure heavily in my life.  From the Maple in my front yard that I spent many a happy hour in, to the tall pines at the campgrounds my family frequented, to my many tree friends across the world.  I hug trees.  I climb them whenever possible.  And I generally find them fascinating.

When I was in California last month I paid attention to the trees.  Especially the trees on the UCSB campus.  There were giant Blue Gums towering over the autism center we attended.  They were very comforting to me.  I know Blue Gums because I used to camp beneath them in New Zealand when I took kids out on overnights in the bush.  They are gorgeous and unusual, with a funky papery bark completely different from my beloved birch bark trees of the North.  Instead of white they are tan, and instead of bumpy they are very smooth, with the paper stripping off vertically. And so tall they touch the sky.  I have not seen one since NZ, so many years ago.  And there they were.  Gentle guardian giants.  A form of eucalyptus tree that made the whole area smell heavenly.

California is awash in different trees and plants.  Different from the stock at home.  Trees, bushes, and flowers everywhere, an assault on the senses coming from deep winter.  I could spend weeks just exploring and learning about them all.  As is was I got the briefest glances and smiles and wonders as I went by.  We were very busy on a different mission, but I could not help appreciating the flora.  And one thing in particular caught my eye.  Here and there some massive pines.  Massive, gorgeous, amazing pines.  We drove by one in Carpinteria on our last day, with a sign on it that said "1888" on it and half a city block to itself.  Oh how I longed to stop and visit that tree!  But we were late, so we drove on by and I sadly watched it go.  Later that day on campus I spied another huge pine.  Huge, beautiful, but no sign.  What it did have were massive pine cones scattered beneath it.  I could not help myself.  I had to have one.  I made the boys go on ahead while I searched out an intact cone.  It barely fit in my small bag, but I didn't care.  I nestled it in there and  brought it back home, along with two Blue Gum "acorns".  Why?  I don't really know, they are just good for my soul.

I have showed off my treasures since we got back.  I have carted them around and pulled them out like diamonds.  I am such a geek.  But again, I can't help myself.  To me they are beautiful.  And today, I found out more.  Looked up that tree in Carpinteria (ahh, the wonders of the internet), and it is indeed very special.  Look up The Wardholme Torrey Pine if you are interested, it was transplanted in 1888 by a judge that was also an exotic tree lover.  It has a long history.  Scrubby in the wild, when these trees are well cared for they grow to magnificent size.  I will be back to visit it one day.  It is the largest of it's kind at 20 feet 5 inches around.  It also turns out the Torrey pine is considered the rarest pine in the world.  Curious now, I looked up a campus map of trees at UCSB.  Again, the wonders of the internet.  I wanted to know what kind of pine I got MY cone from.   I knew it was big, and a pine.  And now I know it was also a Torrey Pine.  A cone from the rarest pine in the world.  It took 2-3 years for the cone to mature and drop.  It is as big as they come for the species, 6 inches tall and 6 inches across.  It even came with a dozen giant pine nuts that Alex kindly freed for us.  It will not grow in my home area, but we can show it off for years to come. 

What does it all mean?  That I am a nut, with a big pine cone and a good eye?  That my life is all tying together in a most interesting way?  That I am on the right path?  That I am pure crazy?  I don't really know, but it all makes me smile.  Smile, and laugh.  And smile, and laugh, and want to share a story of the crazy, beautiful, unexpected nature of this thing we call life.