To Parents Everywhere

A Guest Post by Valerie Hodges

Playgrounds are for all kids….right?

Do certain behaviors deserve the term “inexcusable”?   This past Friday, while waiting for my son’s school to get out we had a playground incident.  As a mother who loves both my boys I would advocate for either one of them whenever I see the need, and it’s become clear to me that I need to increase awareness among the parenting community about autism.  Mainly, I would like to  share several  important facts:

“Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability; signs typically appear during early childhood and affect a person’s ability to communicate, and interact with others.” 1

“About 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.” 2

There are many signs and symptoms of ASD, but for the purpose of this letter I would like to focus on the fact that some persons with ASD do “not understand personal space boundaries,” and also may have “delayed speech and language skills. 3 

Definition of inexcusable – ”impossible to excuse or justify.” 4

I have two special boys that are one year apart in age. One of my sons attends a typical local school.  However, my youngest son has a disability called Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD for short. He goes to a different school where he and his 10 classmates learn and grow in a caring and inclusive environment. One where “mainstreaming” with “typical” children is encouraged to promote social growth, establish and foster new friendships, and prepare them for their future in this tough world.  My 6 year old who has ASD is non-verbal, meaning at this time he cannot speak his needs, wants, or thoughts, nor does he respond to most verbal instructions.  He does not heed or realize his lack of social graces.  He requires constant supervision for his safety.   He also is joyous and life loving, with an unencumbered disposition (a majority of the time), and a generous smile.  His unabashed laugh never fails to lift my spirit.

My son who has ASD

On Friday, before school was out, my son with ASD and I arrived at the playground waiting for his older brother to be dismissed. My son immediately ran to the play structure ladder and began climbing up so he could go down the slide. As he does not yet have the ability to say “excuse me,” I gently asked the woman who was blocking his assent (focused on her smartphone) if she could let my son pass as she was blocking the ladder.  She kindly got off the ladder and my son proceeded to climb up with great excitement.  Within seconds he was on the enclosed bridge ready to cross the expanse. However, a little girl, just a toddler, who appeared to be learning to walk across the bridge, was blocking his way.   I anticipated the ensuing predicament due to the girl’s age and my son’s inability to vocalize that he would like to pass; so I promptly told my son to watch out for others, and alerted the girl’s mom that my son had autism, and wouldn’t be able to say “excuse me”.  Moments after I expressed this to her, my son passed by the toddler, and in the process, the little girl lost her balance, and fell to her knees and began to cry.  She was not hurt, but her mother dramatically scrambled up the play structure and expressed her shock for her girl’s stumble, which she obviously felt was solely my son’s fault. This, despite the fact that her infant child,  one who was still learning to walk without assistance, was on the older  kid’s playground.

Somehow it was not registering to her that this event should have been expected when an inexperienced toddler is tentatively crossing a bridge without the assistance of an adult, and an excited 6 year old is also trying to cross to get to the slide (on the big kids playground, to reiterate).  I think a lot of six year olds, whether they be “typical” or with ASD probably will not verbalize “pardon me” to the younger kiddos on the playground.  However, I immediately apologized, and asked if her child was okay (as she obviously was; my apology was perfunctory and done in the spirit of compassion and civility).  However, she met my gaze with disgust, ignored my apology, while coldly and dramatically exclaimed my son was “inexcusable.”  I tried to apologize again and she still refused to acknowledge my words and said again it was inexcusable and unacceptable.

Wow.  I guess she felt my nonverbal son should be segregated and play on a separate playground, with the “inexcusable” children who have disabilities?   Or perhaps she possesses the archaic mindset that children like my son should be institutionalized to keep society safe?   It is this kind of ignorance that has moved me to write this letter.   You tell me, which is truly inexcusable? That a child with an inability to speak should pass by a toddler without saying “excuse me”?  Or that, due to incidents like this, where my son and I have been shunned, I have now regularly kept my son out of the public view, away from judgmental stares?   

Who is the one needing to change here?  Our family or yours? 

A generous smile and a joy for life!

So in the hopes to avoid future playground rage and facilitate co-play with all different abilities, I would like to suggest that it is the caregiver’s responsibility to assist all children. Regardless of age and ability, the adult must use their powers of perception for potential obstacles, hazards, and all the accidents that happen from kids being kids!  But even with that said, playground stumbles and fumbles are bound to happen, and unless a complete lack of regard for safety was exhibited, playground mishaps should be looked at as a learning experience (and not an “inexcusable” act)! My son with ASD may not seem to respond to your harsh words and looks, and he may not be able to speak out about how hurtful they are.  But believe me, he knows when people are disapproving of him. 

And so do I.

I don’t know how many people will take the time to read this, but if you did, I thank you for indulging my venting. And more importantly, I hope that by reading this we can agree that my son, and all differently abled children, can participate and fully enjoy their intrinsic right to the pursuit of happiness, TOGETHER, on the playground and beyond, with less judgmental stares, and perhaps more understanding.

Sincerely,

Valerie Hodges

Works Cited
1. Autism Society. (2016). What is Autism? Retrieved from autism-society.org: http://www.autism-society.org/what-is/
2. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. (2015, 02 26). Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Signs & Symptoms. Retrieved from www.cdc.gov: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html
3. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. (2016, 07 11). Autism Spectrum Disorder, Data & Statistics. Retrieved from www.cdc.gov: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html
4. Merriam-Webster, Inc. (2018). Inexcusable _ Definition of Inexcusable by Merriam-Webster. Retrieved from www.merriam-webster.com: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inexcusable

LABELS: Why humans aren’t like jars of spice

If only people could be labelled and sorted so easily…

Before my son was born, when I was in a complete panic about whether THIS baby (after multiple miscarriages) would really survive, all the “labels” people gave him were so reasurring.  “Listen to that active little baby’s heart”, the midwives would say, as we heard the water encased sound of “womp-womp-womp” at the speed of a hummingbird’s wings.  “Wow he’s really a mover!” said the sonogram technician, as she tried to catch a picture of a little shadowy body, rolling and turning and eventually soothing himself by sucking on his own toe.  “He’s so impatient, he’s ready to face the world NOW!” was a nurse’s comment as my water broke unexpectedly a week before a scheduled C-section.  My son had turned breech and then forced himself so low in my uterus that a male technician, reading the pre-surgery sonogram started laughing and pointed out the only thing he could get to show on the image from below – two perfectly round circles.  “What IS that?” I said, alarmed.  “He’s sitting directly on your cervix,” said the tech, chuckling, “and we know it’s definitely a boy ‘cause there they are – the family jewels!”

But soon after his birth, there was a definite shift in vocabulary and how labels felt.  First, he was a “challenging feeder”.  He lost weight rapidly and we needed to supplement his feeding constantly.  Then his newborn whimper cries turned to outright sobbing at only 3 days old, still in the hospital.  Exhausted and terrified I called a nurse and said through tears, “I’ve fed him, changed him, burped him, and he screams and screams and won’t sleep!  What more is there?”  She calmly took him in her expert hands and began all the baby tricks – swinging from side to side, gently bouncing, walking, shushing, rocking, on and on it went while my impervious son screamed as if his life depended on it.  After a long time, she shook her head, gently returned him (still crying) to his bassinet and shook her head.  “I’m sorry,” she said, attempting to smile, “He, uh, well he just doesnt seem to work like a normal baby.”  

Crying as if his life depended on it 🙂

At that point the label “colic” became the extremely unhelpful answer to any questions I asked.  Why didn’t my son sleep more than 45 minutes at a time, and only while being vigorously rocked in a swing or walked in a wearable carrier?  Colic.  Why did he scream for 7 to 8 hours a day?  Colic.  Apparently many babies have this – haven’t we come up with a friendlier name by now?  I vote for offended-to-be-stuck-in-a-baby-body syndrome.  Or maybe, Ear Splitting Screamer Disorder?  Trying to talk to people over my screaming baby was always awkward, but if I could have shouted “Don’t worry, it’s just ESSD!” maybe I could have gotten a laugh or two?

Little did I know, labels much more challenging than colic would be coming our way soon.  If people were like jars of spice, we could label my son and put him in the cupboard.  But it seems that I should have learned by now that any label can never fully explain a human and who they truly are.

In 2007, 5 years before my son was born, I was teaching adult English classes at a Quaker Friends school in Ramallah, Palestine.  Having lived in Egypt previously, I had a basic understanding of Arabic – just enough for my students to have a wonderful time mocking my “fil tariq”  accent.  This means “of the street”, or as one of my students so lovingly said – “you sound like a taxi driver from Cairo!”  Remembering some of the taxis in Egypt – many literally held together with twine and spewing black fumes constantly – I knew this was not a compliment.  The Palestinian arabic is softer, sounding closer to Persian to my ears, and I definitely wished I could have learned it there first.  

Ramallah, Palestine

On the other hand, Palestine was a volatile place to visit, and to get to Ramallah from my East Jerusalem boarding house I had to go through military checkpoints and a massive barrier wall.  I had many heartfelt talks with my students about their hopes and dreams for someday being an independent nation.  The students were professionals in various fields like engineering, education, government, and hospitality.  They hoped to create a brighter future for their country by becoming fluent in English and engaging with the outside world.  Honestly, it was embarassing sometimes to be unable to answer their questions about past participles and present simple tense – they took it all so much more seriously than I did!

I tried to encourage open ended conversation practice with fill in the blank sentences like “My hero is ________ because he/she____________.”  This sentence led to a tense moment when one of the students loudly declared “My hero is Saddam Hussein because he was strong and never giving in to the enemy!”  Some students nodded, but others whispered fiercely to him (in Arabic) that this was a very rude thing to say to an American teacher.  The young man sat down with a mix of confusion and defiance on his face.  I looked at him, taking in his starchly ironed pants, button down shirt with gold stripes, and cloud of cologne that was redolent from a few desks away.  I decided to take the route of English teacher, and merely commented, “Ok, thank you for sharing, but remember to keep the tense of your verbs consistent.  It should be never GAVE in, not giving.  Who’s next?”

My students became more like friends as time went on.  One brother/sister team named Zaid and Amira invited me over for tea and showed me their wonderful garden and aviary – completely confined to a small porch off their upstairs apartment – so full of greenery and cooing birds that it felt like The Secret Garden.  Another young woman named Islan, who always had magazine-perfect cat wing eyeliner would frequently pull me into the bathroom during break to fix my hair, belt, or other fashion mishaps that were driving her crazy.  “Ahhh, teacher,” she would say, looking at me with disappointment, “don’t you know better what colors to wear?”  As I would work to suppress a laugh, she would smile and shake her head.  “You don’t even wear BRANDS!” she would lament with passion, and then lecture me on how to dress for the next class.  As someone who could never seem to care about fashion, it was a relief to blindly follow her intructions!

One day I had a conversation practice that went from interesting to frightening.  “In my free time (or vacation) I like to _________ because _________.”  Islan went first “In my free time I like to visit my family because family is important.” she said with a nod of her head, which was encased in a silvery blue silk scarf.  Other students continued, mostly choosing answers about cooking, reading, and travel vacations.  

Then a student who often merely shook his head at some of my questions raised his hand.  He was an older man who always seemed to wear bright orange shirts, and left class without talking to anyone but the slighty younger man who always came with him.  He sat stiffly in his desk, always choosing a seat far to the side and far from any female students.  I pointed at him to answer, realizing uncomfortably that I didn’t remember his name.  He stood up and said loudly and firmly “I do not take vacation!”  I pulled my head back in surprise, and he sat down.  There was a murmur of discontent around the room.  He had been disrepectful to me as a teacher, and worse he hadn’t answered the question.  I decided to act as if he hadn’t understood the question, whether or not that was the real issue.

“So we are discussing any kind of free time,” I explained calmly, “it doesn’t need to be formal vacation.  Just any time you are not busy with work.  What kind of thing do you like to do then?”  The man shook his head angrily, and muttered in Arabic to his friend.  The friend gave me an apologetic smile and hissed a response in Arabic at which I caught the word for “prayer”.  “Prayer?” I said in English, “You like to pray in your free time?  That’s a great answer!  Can you say it again in English?”  The older man was as stiff as a statue but his friend gave a nervous laugh, half-stood up, and quickly squeaked out “In free time…. to the mosque for praying,” and sat swiftly back down.  “Ok, thank you,” I said, trying to process the situation.  There seemed to be no use in forcing the original man to answer, and correcting his friend’s grammar might not be a great idea either.  Across the room both Islan and Amira were making frantic “come here” gestures.  

The flag of Hamas

“Everyone take a minute to work on the next phrase, please,” I said, and pointed to the next “fill in the blank” on the whiteboard.  Then, while the students began to write notes in their journals, I walked over to Islan and Amira.  Amira nervously tugged on my sleeve and pulled my ear to her mouth.  “Teacher!” she whispered fiercely, “they are HAMAS!”  I tilted my head in suprise.  Islan nodded, her eyes wide with what might have been fear.  “Please,” she added, “don’t ask them more questions!”  I nodded automatically and began to walk around the room to look at student’s answers.  My head was spinning as I thought about what the label “Hamas” actually meant.  Technically, Hamas is an Islamic terrorist group.  But in a recent complication, elections held in 2006 in the southern part of Palestine (called Gaza) Hamas had won and now had to be considered a legitmate government.  Our classroom was in Ramallah, the part of Palestine called the West Bank, where Hamas was a minority and the government was run by a group called Fatah.  

What could I do with the fact that outright terrorists were in my English class?  Was this the kind of thing people had warned me against when taking this job?  Having been there only a month or so, I was still trying to understand the actual situation of Israel and the Palestinian territories.  My East Jerusalem boarding house was in a Palestinian neighborhood, but an Israeli bus picked me up just around the corner.  Getting a taxi home one night had become impossible when my Jewish driver learned the address and flat out refused to take me closer than 4 blocks.  This was confusing to me as the neighborhood seemed competely safe.  A fellow teacher, Patrick from Ireland, had tried to help me understand some things by drawing parallels to his own experience in Belfast.  

“I remember when we heard that some English soldiers had been taken up the hill near our house and shot in the head,” he said with his charming brogue, “my dad was trying to explain it to me, because I wanted to know who the bad guys were.  But he said – no story is that simple.”  Patrick told me of the founding of Hamas, how the word meant “courage” or “passion” and that the founders had been poor people whose land had been taken by Israel.  “They see themselves as freedom fighters,” he explained, “starting a revolution to take back control of a land they believe they have the rights to.  Not unlike your revolution against the British, hey?”  His roguish smile seemed challenge my understanding of my own country’s history. Depending on which news outlet I looked at, Patrick’s explanation of the Israel/Palestine conflict seemed either completely correct, or willfully false.  The complexities of the issue were beyond my short term knowledge.  But I now had personal experience to know that the label “terrorist” didn’t mean what I had always imagined.

If they were labeled like spice jars would we throw them out of the kitchen? Were they “the bad guys“?  Yes, the Hamas men in my class were apparently prejudiced against me and other women.  Yes, they were often rude.  But did they plot my death?  Definitely not.  Did they have a genius evil plan to destroy the world?  No, and they didn’t have the grammar skills for it either.

As my son grew from a crying baby to a wide eyed, curly haired toddler, the labels he was given continued to challenge my view of him, and the world. 

Toddler with the curly hair…who also has SPD

First it was Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), a recognition that small sounds or touches could drive him crazy, that his body processed certain sensory information in a way that was completely different from my brain.  A few years later he received a diagnosis of autism, and his school entered him in the Special Education department.  This was one of the most confusing labels I had ever encountered.  My son’s IQ was incredibly high, and he had taught himself to read literally before he even talked!  How could he be in Special Ed – a label I associated with kids who could not learn?  But there it was again, the power of the label.  Call someone a “terrorist” and we are all afraid of them.  Call a school department “Special Ed” and people (like me) assume it means remedial rather than the actual name – special – as in, unique or different from the typical.

No label can ever tell the story of a human being.  In fact, it can tell us only one thing about that person.  I absolutely disagree with the “terrorist” practice of bringing terror to your enemies by violent acts.  But remembering that a “terrorist” can also be a father, a student, or a son can broaden our understanding of their humanity, and maybe even change their practices someday.  Knowing that my son carries the label “autistic” has caused me a range of emotions from proud to scared, and more.  But he’s not a jar of spice, and I hope I’m learning – every day – to trust less in the labels we give people.        

Keeping Your Child Safe: Part Two

What To Do

Note: This is a playground, not baby jail 😉

So how can you keep your child safe?  After reading Part One of this series you are probably feeling extremely worried and possibly sick to your stomach! That’s how I always feel when I research or talk about this issue. But take heart, there are some very practical steps you can take to help protect your child from this danger.

First, educate yourself to learn the facts about how a predator acts. Remember, 90% of abusers are well known to the child. This means it is not a stranger with a mask – it is most likely someone within your circle of family or friends. But there are patterns that predators follow that can help you know when it’s time to be suspicious. Here are a few:

  • Forced Teaming – Trying to make you feel like you know them well already and are a team. Statements like “We adults have to help each other,” or “We all want kids to be happy,” etc.*
  • Charm and Niceness – Looking you in the eye, smiling, complimenting you and your child, etc. Remember this person is a con artist, they have become an expert at making people trust them.*
  • Discounting the Word “No” – This is a dangerous sign in anyone.  If you say, “no, thanks, I’m fine” to someone and they don’t listen to your “no” but just keep offering and insisting there is good reason to believe they will not listen to your child if they say “no” to that person also. Respect for personal boundaries is one of the most important parts of our social contract with each other.*
  • Excessive Gift Giving – Giving gifts, money, trips, and/or performing special favors for child. Many people in your child’s life may love them and give them gifts. But when its someone who seems to have no clear reason for this, pay attention.^
  • Excessive Bodily Contact – There are appropriate times and places for affectionate touching. But some predators use this as a way to desensitize the child to their own body boundaries through nonsexual touching like tickling, backrubs or wrestling. Then it may escalate to “accidental” touching of privates and/or walking in on bathroom or dressing time. The eventual goal would be sexual touching as the child slowly looses the idea that their body is their own.^
You can find more helpful information like this at https://childluresprevention.com/ or in the book Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker.

Second, make a determination that you will NEVER allow your child to be alone with someone, no matter how nice they seem, until you have thoroughly screened them yourself or can trust someone else has screened them. If you are dropping your child off at any type of child care it’s always important to ask a few basic questions:

  •  What is your philosophy about discipline here? How do you deal with difficult behavior?
  • What is the screening process for child care workers? Does everyone go through a criminal background check?
  • What is the policy for bathroom use? What is the policy for an adult worker being “one on one” with a child?
  • What are your “child safety” practices? Do workers get trained in recognizing and preventing abuse?

Yes, being the irritating parent who asks all these questions while it seems everyone else drops their child off with no cares in the world is not the funnest job. But you may be the person who pushes for a change that saves a child from abuse – your child or another innocent victim.

Finding a babysitter you trust in your home will also need screening, see this excellent book for tips:

Third, begin discussing safety issues and body boundaries with your child at the youngest age possible.  Ask them to name who in their lives is “safe” and part of your trusted circle, and who is not.  It’s hard for children to understand the difference between a waittress at a restaurant (I know her name, so she’s a friend) and a babysitter you have carefully screened. Teach them that there are different levels of closeness and trust – some are people are in our “inner circle” and are “safe” and some are not. 

Help your child to learn boundaries over their own body.  Teach them what are “public” and “private” body areas (a good rule of thumb is “what a bathing suit covers”). Make sure they know that is always ok to say “No” to any physical contact they do not want. Children are often carried here and there, hugged, kissed, snuggled and tickled. Is it any wonder that they are a good victim for someone who wants to violate their body boundaries? There will always be certain things we have to make children do that they don’t want to (brush teeth, go to bed, etc!). But intimate touching – like hugs – should always be optional and up to the child’s decision. This important lesson of consent will protect them for their entire life.  And reassure them that you will always want to hear anything that happened that made them scared or uncomfortable, no matter who was involved.

This book is a great resource for having those conversations with your child:

Finally, decide in your mind that you will always choose to do what’s necessary to keep your child safe whether or not it is rude or inconvenient.  Our society assumes that teachers, priests, pastors, police, doctors, and other professionals are automatically trust-worthy. While many are, there’s no profession that is predator-free. We also have an ingrained desire to be “polite”, and especially women often find it hard to ask questions or point out situations that aren’t quite right as it seems “rude”.  But ask yourself this – which is a bigger problem? To be a bit rude, and make a situation that might have been safe slightly uncomfortable? Or to keep quiet over a suspicion or concern in fear of being rude and find out something truly terrible did happen? Trust the discernment you have, speak out about anything suspicious, ask questions to make sure your child is safe, and say “no” to any situation you don’t feel good about.  There is nothing to regret if you were wrong and a situation WOULD have been safe, but there is everything to regret if you ignored your bad feeling and something bad happened. You know what to do to keep your child, and everyone’s child, safe!

*from the book: Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker

^https://childluresprevention.com/parents/

Keeping Your Child Safe: Part One

Know The Danger

So, is teaching your child to walk a bad idea? 😉

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare – suddenly their child is kidnapped, snatched away by a total stranger!  I’m sure we have all imagined this terrible scenario.  Most parents try to prevent it by teaching their child some protective phrase like “Stranger – Danger” at a young age to help prevent such a thing.  But is that helpful?  Will it save your child?

Before we decide what’s the best way to keep our children safe, let’s first ask – What is the actual danger most likely to harm them?  I studied this issue for an organization I was working for as we developed our Child Safety Policy.  At the same, this scary video became popular on YouTube:

This video can be found on YouTube

It shows a man doing an experiment, with the permission of the children’s parents, to see if he can lure the children away with a puppy.  It is disturbing how quickly it works.  At the end of the video he says “Over 700 children are abducted a day.”  While I appreciate the issue the video is trying to address, I found out that this scary statistic doesn’t really get to the facts.  It’s unclear where that number was from, but it is not an accurate representation of the official statistics on missing children.  In fact, it seems this video is more about playing to a parent’s worst fear instead of helping them actually protect their child.

The most important thing to know about kidnapping is that a stranger snatching your child off the street is extremely unlikely.  In 2015 86% of missing children in America were “runaways.”  This means mostly teenagers who left home of their own choice.  10% were family abductions, usually a custody battle.  2% were lost rather than taken.  And the numbers go down from there.  Of course we MUST protect our children from danger, but there is a much more common danger that we rarely discuss.

See this website for more details on kidnapping:  http://www.missingkids.com/KeyFacts

1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys are sexually abused while under the age of 18*.  Take a minute and think about how horrible that is!  This is a very real, very likely danger to your child.  Even more concerning, 90% of abusers are well known to the child.*  This is not a stranger, this is someone in your close circle of acquaintances.  There is a very helpful book I highly recommend for parents called “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin de Becker.  It covers how to choose who is safe for your child at a very young age, all the way up to how to help your teenagers protect themselves.   

Here’s a link to the book on Amazon

So how do we protect our children from this horribly likely danger of sexual abuse? The first step is to realize – This does happen, and only you (the parent) can prevent it. You are going to have to stop trusting just anyone to watch your child, especially in situations of privacy or physical intimacy. A friend asked me recently “Do you think I’m being silly?  I went to a church group and I asked the girls in the child care to call me if my son needs a diaper change.  I just don’t know them very well.” 

“You are NOT silly,” I said, “You are being wise.”

I recommended for her to ask the leader of the group how the child care workers are screened and trained for their jobs.  If there is no screening in place, the workers may be perfectly nice people, or they may be actual child predators who are using the trusting environment of a church group to get access to children. Ask yourself: What situations right now do you drop your child off, and why do you trust that the people watching them are safe?

A former prosecutor of child predators named Boz Tchividjian has founded a special organization called GRACE to help churches and faith organizations understand how important it is to screen all child care workers and have safety protocols in place.  Here’s a chilling quote from a convicted child predator that motivates his concern:

“I consider church people easy to fool…they have a trust that comes from being Christians.  They tend to be better folks all around and seem to want to believe in the good that exists in people.  I think they want to believe in people.  Because of that, you can easily convince them, with or without convincing words.”

If you work with a church or other faith group you will want to read more on Boz’s informative blog here:  http://religionnews.com/2014/04/26/sex-offenders/

Although most abusers are men, there are some women who also commit this terrible act.  One of the most disturbing things I learned is that most predators have a warped idea that they are doing nothing wrong.  They were most likely abused themselves and have come to believe that sexual touching with children is actually a way of communicating love.  You will never be able to tell who is a predator by just looking at them, they look like a normal person rather than the monster we imagine.

To better understand the mind of a predator, watch the movie Spotlight, or the documentary Leaving Neverland.

Here are a few more statistics to convince us of the danger:

90% of abusers are well known the child and/or their family.*


A study conducted by Dr. Gene Abel revealed that the average convicted male abuser who molests girls averaged 52 victims, while those targeting boys averaged 150 victims.+ Only about 3% of the crimes had been prosecuted.  When asked if they had been suspected of abuse in those other times but not prosecuted 100% said yes.

12% of abuse of children under age 6 is by women.^

 23% of all sex offenders were under the age of 18.^

81% of the time, abuse occurs in a “one on one” situation^

In the end, there is a minuscule chance that your child will be kidnapped but there is  HUGE risk that your child will be sexually abused.  So it’s only logical to put your time and effort into preventing the harm that it VERY likely to happen, rather than the one that is unlikely.  Some researchers consider that child abuse is like a cancer or virus rapidly moving through our society, unchecked because of lack of knowledge about how to prevent and stop the disease.  In Part Two I will discuss practical steps every parent can take to prevent this tragedy.

Be the one who who protects your children and all the little ones around you starting today!

*https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/childsexualabuse.html

+https://www.churchmutual.com/169/Sexual-Abuse-Prevention

^https://childluresprevention.com/resources/molester-profile/


Sensory Stuff

Spinning but never dizzy!

Top five “sensory” products that were actually worth the money:

How often do you search online for something to help your kid with their sensory needs – whether to stimulate or soothe – and then wonder…..ugh will that be worth the money?  I have definitely spent money on many things that turned out to never be used again.  (Maybe I should also do a list of worst and most useless products?)  But these 5 products, listed from good to amazing, have in our home been definitely worth it.

Important disclaimer:  The Amazon links below are part of the Amazon Associates program, so if you click on one and buy it I will make a small profit (no extra cost to you).  We are talking small as in, 3 percent or so….just enough for me to get a $5 gift card from Amazon and then buy more stuff there 😉 It’s possible I have an unhealthy relationship with Prime lol.

5. Body Sock:

My son has really enjoyed this.  It’s hard for me to tell how much it “works” for sensory soothing or meeting that need for pressure as he uses inconsistently.  Some days he flat out refuses it, other days he wants to wear it constantly to hide in while he reads books, and other times he uses it as kind of resistance work out (Push, pull, flail wildly!) 😀  For the frequency of use, and joy it seems to bring him, it has been worth it.

Here’s the one we use. Click on the image to buy it on Amazon.

4. Super soft blanket:

A super soft blanket has saved us from a meltdown turning violent too many times for me to count.  If only it worked every time…..  But anyway, while my son likes most blankets, and when he wants deep pressure ALL the blankets in the house, super soft blankets are his favorite.  I tried to buy one for my bed, but thats the one he most frequently steals and wraps himself in while watching TV.  Maybe its to feel near me….or maybe just because it annoys me so much that he takes it out of my room and gets crumbs all over it?  Let’s face it, he does like to annoy me 😉 We got ours at Costco.

3. Chewable:

Is your kid like mine – most of their T shirts with little chew marks showing evidence of how delicious the collar was? 

We tried many different chewables….most memorably I spent DAYS making a cloth covered bracelet with a velcro fastener that I thought would be the BEST EVER and he refused to chew on or wear it (sigh).  But eventually through much trial and error we found one product he will actually use.  These little P and Q letters seem to be the perfect mix of soft but sturdy.  Some chewables he chewed holes in almost immediately.  Others didn’t give him “chewing satisfaction” because he couldn’t get a good bite.  But these have survived for months and are still used.  I wish they came with a way to wear or connect them better.  I have tied them with string onto essentially a name tag holder and that works pretty well.  

Click here for an Amazon link to these Chew Tubes

2. Super spinner swing:

For kids with vestibular sensory issues this will either be the best or worst thing ever.  My son is one of those unusual kids who actually does not like regular “back and forth” swinging very much.  But he is obsessed with spinning and seems unable to get physically dizzy.  So this swing specifically designed for spinning has been a dream come true!  If I’m totally honest I get a slight headache watching him spin so fast…but he is very happy!  I hung it from a strong tree branch with a doubled up nylon rope and a carabiner.  It comes with it’s own stiff hanging ropes and two carabiners that can clip into a swing set if you have one.  But I purposefully clip it into one spot to allow for the insanely fast spinning that brings my kid the most joy.   Honestly, I get a headache when I watch how fast he spins, but it gives him SO much joy!

The Super Spinner on Amazon.com

1. Therapy swing: 

Or as my son calls it, his “room hammock”.  My son had an outdoor spinning swing for a year and absolutely loved it (see above) but because we lived in a rental I never could get him the type of swing you have to install indoors with a heavy duty bolt.  When the day finally came I wondered….will this just be money I spend on something he never uses?  

I’m happy to tell you we have the opposite problem!  He adores the “hammock” and it has been wonderful as a place for him to go calm down in.  He actually chooses to climb in there some days just for the calming sensation.  True, he loves it so much that I can’t leave it in his room at night because he will then fall asleep in it and fall out a few hours later….but for a day time experience it has been amazing!

Most amazing to me, it has been a big help in dealing with his aggressive episodes. In a future post I hope to talk more about this…if you’re a parent who’s so sad to see the painful moment your normally sweet child becomes suddenly and frighteningly aggresive please know you are not alone. And having a designated calm, safe, soft place (whether a hammock, tent, blanket, or something else creative) can be a very vital part of the process of dealing with these episodes.

The therapy swing we use 🙂

So there are my five fab faves! What other tools have you found that help your child (or yourself) to meet those sensory needs? I’m also curious about any products people have created themselves. I have made a few things like lotion bars and “calm balm” that I offer on my Etsy store. They aren’t in any way guaranteed to work or “treat” sensory struggles, but just having them as something I can offer to my son has been comforting for me at least! What’s your favorite sensory item?

When Puzzles Are Scary….

Can a missing puzzle piece scare you?

Have you ever seen a child in a wheelchair and been filled with compassion?  Maybe you wonder…how hard is every day life for that child?  How do they view themselves as a person?  And if you’re a parent you probably think – how as a parent do you manage every day life and make it as ‘normal’ as possible for that child?

Now picture a different scenario.  You see a child in a public place, maybe a store or a restaurant.  That child begins screaming or flailing around for no apparent reason.  So….is your first thought: SOMEONE needs to control that child!  Why won’t their parent stop them?  Or do you realize that you may be seeing another kind of disability?  Not one that means a child needs a wheelchair, but one that affects their brain and perception of the world.

My son has Sensory Processing Disorder.  His basic senses – sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch don’t function the same way a typical child’s would.  He also struggles with proprioception – that is your body’s sense of where your arms and legs are.  And he has a problem with his vestibular sense – that is the part of your brain that tells your body when you are dizzy or falling over.  Every day I have to try and anticipate which things my son is experiencing that might be a problem for him.  If the sun shines too brightly in my eyes, it’s only an inconvenience, but for my son, his brain interprets it as serious physical pain.

If too many uncertain and unexpected physical sensations pile up at once, he will have a massive meltdown that includes screaming, flailing, and sometimes violence like hitting or pinching.  It is terrible to experience as a parent, but as we’ve worked with a therapist and learned more about his disability, I’ve come to understand how terrible it is for him.  His brain functions differently and sometimes it overrides his mental control.  It’s almost like having a seizure but it’s from a different part of the brain.  He knows its not normal, and he feels great shame at his own inability to control his body and its responses to the world.

Today we were playing with one of his toy puzzles.  It’s one of those wooden types with pegs and spots for each piece.  He has played with it many times and loves it, but today….. a piece was missing.  As soon as I noticed that, I began desperately searching, hoping to find it before things got out of hand.  He noticed, began asking about it, and slowly my panic rose.  We have gone through this many times before.  When something visual and familiar like that cannot be ‘properly completed’ my son almost always has a huge meltdown.  His sense of sight has a malfunction in his brain, which is called “over-reactivity”.  When he has seen something a certain way many times before, and suddenly it doesn’t look that way, his brain interprets that as something very dangerous, very risky and upsetting.

Since the puzzle piece absolutely could not be found, my son began crying.  I wrapped him up in a soft blanket to try and ease the panic. Due to weeks of working with him in therapy and at home, he was actually able to calm down a little bit.  We have been working on expressing emotions in words rather than actions and I asked him, “How do you feel about the puzzle?”  He thought quietly for a long time and then said one simple word that melted my mother-heart.  “Fear.”

The puzzle was scary to him because it didn’t look right.  And I understand how he feels.  All humans know this sensation.  When we see something that we don’t understand, or that does not fit our model of the world ‘as it should be,’ our gut reaction is generally negative.  I have seen people react to my son and his struggles with the same kind of fear and dislike.  It breaks my heart.  But I also know that fear can be an instinctive response to the unexpected.

So ask yourself, is that child you see flapping their hands or repetitively rocking back and forth trying to distract people and be disruptive?  Or are they someone (maybe with autism) who needs small movements like that to stimulate their brain and focus on what they are doing?  Is that adult who keeps talking about how sad they feel just a negative, downer person who should be avoided?  Or are they someone struggling with depression, trying to be honest about it and ask for help?

Puzzles with missing pieces can be scary if you have a certain type of brain.  And people acting unusual can be scary if you don’t understand why.  If we can all learn to understand and “normalize” the fact that different brains respond to stimuli in different way maybe the world won’t be so scary…. in many ways.

Our days and nights are harder because of my son’s Sensory Processing Disorder.  A loud motorcycle driving by can upset weeks of calming and auditory processing work.  But at the same time, we have special joys that come out of all this work.  As we have been working on understanding emotions, we have used some of the ideas from the children’s movie “Inside Out”.  The emotions there are represented by colors, with yellow for joy and blue for sadness.  Sometimes my son will say he feels “red” when he is getting angry.  Recently, he was doing a therapy session where he was in a stretchy hammock that completely cradled him.  His sensory needs were so well met that he grinned with delight.  Then we covered him with piles of stuffed animals and he sighed and said,

“What’s this color, Mommy?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Loving!” he explained.

I don’t know what the color “loving” looks like, but if we can learn to react with sympathy and understanding, rather than with fear, to people who look and act differently, then maybe we will all see that color a little more in our lives.

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