Thursday, February 08, 2007

Living with Amelia

With the cold and snow (cold and snow that would make our northern acquaintances smirk), the local schools were closed most of the week. That meant that our daughter could not attend her special needs preschool classes.

Although we're very interested in homeschooling, this preschool program has been fabulous for Amelia. She gets expert attention and lots of stimulation. One of the biggest advances for her has been with picture communication. We have a three-ring binder with dividers in it. The dividers have strips of Velcro. Attached to the Velcro are laminated photos of various things Amelia might want to ask for. We mostly use it for food and drinks. It's much better than the trial-and-error method we were stuck with before, and it's much better than the vague hand gestures she uses when the pictures aren't available. Is she pushing the milk away because she doesn't want it, or is she pushing the milk toward the counter so I'll fill up her cup?

She's learned to use crayons, and play the drum, and clap, and walk up and down stairs properly. She's also learned to eat her snacks without scattering them all over the place. This last one is a big deal.

You see, one of Amelia's big motivators is sensory stimulation - especially tactile stimulation. Her favorite activities in the world at this point are: pouring liquids onto her hands, pouring sand onto her hands, pouring small loose things, like Cheerios or dried beans, onto her hands... you get the idea. So now at least, she has learned to grab that handful of goldfish crackers and pour it over her hands while keeping them inside a container. We still end up with a lot of crumbs, but nothing like before.

But here's the problem. With Amelia out of school, that means she's home all day. She doesn't really have much interest in interactive play. Her main goal in life is to find that tactile stimulation. As hard as we try, we can't figure out how to give it to her in a way that doesn't make a mess.

Here's a typical morning for Amelia:
6:30am - Wake up. Climb on top of dresser. Open top drawer. Empty contents.
6:45am - Open closet door. Empty contents.
6:52am - Bang door to wake up the rest of the household
7:02am - Stand in front of heat stove fan.
7:10am - Request snack. Eat a few bites.
7:15am - Request different snack. Eat a few bites.
7:22am - Request drink. Take a sip. Throw sippy cup on floor.
7:31am - Request different snack. Eat a few bites.
7:42am - Push kitchen chair to counter. Climb on counter. Open drawers and empty contents.
7:44am - Sit in open drawer.
7:45am - Complain about unreasonable house rules.
8:01am - Request different drink. Shake sippy cup to get droplets to fall on hands.
8:08am - Empty contents of craft cupboard. Dump crayons onto hands. Scatter crayons across kitchen.
8:17am - Get random plastic utensil out of kitchen drawer. Hold it against glass on the front of the heat stove until it melts, leaving a wicked mark on the glass and filling the house with toxic fumes.
8:32am - Open pantry. Take out cans and stack them. Knock cans down.
8:41am - Empty contents of craft cupboard again.
8:44am - Open hopper lid on heat stove. Throw pellets or corn across room.
8:46am - Complain about unreasonable house rules.
9:02am - Request different snack. Eat a few bites.
9:07am - Open hopper lid on heat stove again. Throw pellets or corn across room.
9:12am - Push chair to counter. Climb on counter and empty kitchen drawers again.
9:15am - Open door to garage. Complain that door is chained.
9:18am - Open door to garage. Complain that door is still chained.
9:24am - Request different drink. Spill droplets on table and smear them around
9:30am - Watch placidly as Mommy's head explodes.

Repeat until noon, when the school bus comes. (And no, this is not an exaggeration...)

If she's not in school, you can change this to "Repeat until bedtime." So besides the obvious benefits of her work with expert therapists, you can see why we really, really, REALLY hate it when school is closed. Amelia has this cat-like quality where she assumes that "NO!" means "not while I'm looking." She's also tall enough and strong enough to defeat almost every form of childproofing known to man.

We know that she is basically just bored. But there is very little that we as parents have found that will keep Amelia engaged, entertained, or occupied that doesn't involve making a huge mess. Huge messes are fine every once in a while, but not on a continuous basis. In the summertime, at least we can let her go outside, we can play with her in the kiddie pool or the sandbox, we can take her to the park... but when it's cold and snowy, there's only so much we can find to keep her out of trouble.

So, if you have any ideas or suggestions for keeping this little tornado occupied, I'd love to hear them...



At 2/10/2007 12:22 AM, Blogger Morgan said...

oh how I wish I had some tips!!!!!

At 2/10/2007 12:31 PM, Blogger Mia said...

Will she do a job? What came to mind reading your post was Beo's Mom telling the story about how when he went to Grandma's he would get out his dump track and transfer all of the potatoes from the pantry to a designated bin. Kept him busy forever. Could you find something that would allow her to do something like that, providing her with tactile stimulation and giving her a start-end point? Maybe get a big bin of those foam shapes, and give her a second bin on the other side of the room, challenging her to take them one at a time. You could even do different things like asking her to see how fast she could do it, how slow, how many she could carry at a time, or give her plastic cup measures to carry them in and dump them out. The potatoes and dump truck might work too if she would enjoy it! Does she have something to stimulate her tactile senses while doing something else--like one of the fleece blankets with fuzzy tied edges that she could finger while doing something else? Does she have enough fine motor coordination to string large wooden beads that are different shapes, or even cheerios onto a string? Just random thoughts--I don't know what will work for your Amelia. I know Sprout and Bird have plenty of challenges of their own that are difficult to overcome for us.

At 2/11/2007 8:02 AM, Blogger e4 said...

Morgan - thanks, me too. :)

Mia - Thanks for the ideas. It's hard to get across a true sense of Amelia. When it comes to almost any activity, she tends to have tunnel vision. By that I mean that her entire attention is usually focused on the stimulation. All other sounds and activities are blocked out. A multi-step task is tough, especially with her very limited communication skills. But I do appreciate the suggestions and we'll see if there's some adpatation we can try.

At 2/11/2007 10:04 PM, Blogger gtr said...

Hi... I wish I could be more help, too, but just came across this site by accident:

Not sure if that will help or not. Good luck!!

At 2/12/2007 9:07 AM, Blogger e4 said...

Thanks for the link gtr!

At 2/12/2007 3:23 PM, Blogger network_weasel said...

Wow. I can only beam "good wishes for you and yours" your way. I have trouble wrapping my brain around what it must be like for you and her. No chance there is a super sensory toy which just happens to be ever changing, indestructable and can capture her attention for more than a few minutes, is there? Didn't think so.

At 2/13/2007 2:41 PM, Blogger Kati said...

there's a reason I'm exhausted after a visit from my Granddaughter -- and she's around "normal" on the Busy Scale! i get tired these days just thinking about the schedule Granddaughter's parents are on, the busy-ness of their lives. i feel for you and what you are trying to deal with (although i must say Amelia is very huggable and adorable in the photo). i wish i knew of anything that might help!

At 2/13/2007 3:04 PM, Blogger e4 said...

Thanks NW.

Thanks Kati too.

Yes, she's very huggable. She's about the happiest kid I've ever met.

So here's my brainstorm for today: Necklaces. I'm going to try tracking down some cheap fake pearl or bead necklaces. Something similar to dried beans, but you can pick the little bits up a couple dozen at a time on strings...

At 2/14/2007 4:03 PM, Blogger Suzer said...

I don't know if you have a heated garage, or possibly a basement with a concrete floor...but how about putting a kiddie pool filled with sand, plastic balls, styrofoam packing peanuts, etc. and letting her get in with her clothes on and roll around. It might help to keep the mess contained and a shop vac would make short work of over flow.

At 2/14/2007 4:08 PM, Blogger Suzer said...

P.S. Try Oriental Trading Company for the bead necklaces. They are super cheap and have a strange variety of things. They also carry great craft projects and supplies for kids.

At 2/15/2007 7:59 PM, Blogger JBTW said...

There are many comments to the side, so sorry if this is already mentioned...

Have you tried a rice bin (or packing peanuts, uncooked beans, etc.)? If you get a big plastic bin, dump the rice in, she can sit in it for the sensory aspect. You can hide objects within for her to find & retrieve.

I suggest opening up a blanket or table cloth & put the bin on top, it makes for easier clean up. Then just put the lid on to contain & put away until later.

:) Good luck.

At 2/15/2007 8:21 PM, Blogger e4 said...

Thanks Suzer and JBTW. Yes, we've used dried beans, packing peanuts, etc. But we can't keep it available for any length of time because she'll start tossing it across the room. They use that technique at school too. It's just hard to get enough stimulation throughout the day. But thank you for your suggestions.


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