Thursday, November 08, 2012

Learning to Race

Our son is now 20.  He has recently begun to run races.  The newsletter post for Train 4 Autism, Ventura County, California said, "Featuring Alan Baker."  I am thrilled to have permission to copy what Rolf wrote after Alan's fourth race.

Hold on to your Hat!

by Rolf Henriksson, parent
A few weeks back I was given the opportunity to run with a young man named Alan on a 5K run. His mother was looking for a runner to accompany her son on trail run in Ventura County and we connected through Train 4 Autism. I’m always up for a run, especially a trail run, so I was happy to volunteer. There was one condition however, his running partner needed to be fast. Of course, I asked “how fast?” and found I had beaten Alan in another race and I should do fine, but I was still curious how fast.
Later that week I got to chat with his mother. I tried to get a few more specifics about Alan’s pace, but she wasn’t a runner and didn’t have much to add that I didn’t already know. Mary, Alan’s Mom, really was more concerned about him staying focused during the race and not slacking off after the start. I convinced her I could do that and we and we agreed at a time to meet before the start.
I met Alan on race day. I actually remembered him from the previous race we both ran (he was dressed as an acorn and part of the race’s goals was to catch him), but we hadn’t spoken. I knew he had a better frame for running and more than a little youth on his side. In any case, we both had on our T4A shirts, so it was easy to find each other. He was with a small group that included some local politicians and Alan was very happy to have met his first government officials. I later learned Alan has quite an interest in politics and political satire. I also, learned his reward for racing was a Denver omelet, he liked classic rock, and was taking college courses in hopes of becoming a CPA. He proved his expertise with numbers by confirming the day of the week I was born (Friday) from my birth date and amazing memory by also telling me the movie 13 going on 30 opened on my birthday (2004).
This was a small race and the group of runners, including Alan and I, eventually moved up to a chalk line in dirt at the prompting of the race officials. Alan was digging in with his shoes and I had a good idea we’d be starting fast. I did ask Alan if he wanted to stretch, he did, but it was more like when you get out of bed in the morning (very charming). They counted down from ten and as the word “go” was shouted, we took off quick, me trailing Alan. There was little room in the crowd to run abreast as the trail was thin and a young girl fell almost immediately. Alan leaped over (she was okay) without breaking stride, happy with his ability to clear her like a “pole-vaulter” he said with a huge smile. After noting this achievement to me, he sped away as I chased holding my hat for the run to come. Alan was going a sub seven pace for sure, but I could hardly look down at my watch being off-road going so fast. There was no way I was ready to do this for 3.1 miles, but I hoped his mother’s prediction of slowing would soon come true. Luckily an incline came up after a half mile or so and I closed the gap, but as soon as I was along side of Alan, he saw me and immediately sped up leaving me in a desperate chase position again. This sprint didn’t last as long, but when I caught him again Alan sped up again. However, he eventually eased one more time and I learned to follow at a safe distance so I could recover. We finished our first mile at 7:17.
After completing mile 2 still trailing safely behind Alan I was confident I had this race figured out. I knew there was a good hill ahead followed by a downhill. The downhill ended with just a quarter mile to the finish line. So for the first time I passed Alan as he and many of the runners slowed on the trail’s steep incline. I was wondering if that was really the right move, but then I heard his feet pounding and he passed me. “Great, he wasn’t worn out,” I thought. So I passed him again as we crested the hill and kept a fast pace down the steep hill. “Was his downhill footing going to be okay?” Not to worry, he passed me and I followed close seeing his steps were well placed and solid. Finally I took my opportunity to run side by side. As we evened up I could tell he wanted to engage with me. I asked him how he was doing and he started signing “purple haze running through my mind.” Not just the line, but the whole song. I was amazed he wasn’t even a bit out of breathe. He paused his song only to ask if I knew who sang it. I confirmed I knew Jimi Hendrix. So he kept signing as we sped down the hill approaching the last quarter mile. Remembering I had promised Alan give his best effort to his mother I encouraged him to leave me behind, even though I was enjoying his song, and catch a runner ahead. He did so immediately without much effort.
Alan completed the race, running with a smile, and breaking his personal record by more than a minute. He got 3rd place in his age group 20 to 29 and for me? I got a 2nd place in a slightly less competitive group just for keeping up with Alan. I’m sure Alan will be happy to get his medal. It was very nice and engraved, but he didn’t hang around for the award ceremony. His Mom and Dad still owed him a Denver omelet and Alan was off again.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Migrating My Blog to Google Account

I have not posted on this account for 3 years. Google said I would lose my "legacy" account if I did not migrate it to Google, so I am doing the migration so I will not lose my previous posts and in case I want to resume posts.  If you have been a previous reader and get this post, please comment or bear with me while I decide.  Thanks.  Mary

Monday, July 06, 2009

Trying New Foods
Alan is actively trying out new foods. On our recent trip to British Columbia, he ate easily in restaurants, always finding something on the menu for something he enjoyed previously or even trying something new. This past weekend, he ate broccoli instead of corn one evening and replaced BBQ chicken with chicken with rice soup. All the new foods are his own idea.
When his 17 month old niece demonstrated that she relished smoked salmon, Alan decided to eat smoked salmon, too, and ate it yesterday. He asked for a smoked salmon avocado sandwich from our friends, the Cormies, when we visited them. He first ate this sandwich on June 23.
He says he is going to try other soups like he has done with the different flavors of Near East Rice Pilaf.
I am glad he is getting his braces off this summer, either in August or September, because he can then eat the crunchy foods in salad. He used to eat salad and also ate baby carrots with hummus before he got his braces.
We are getting him to get his own cart at the grocery store and I hope to see him pick up some new items next time.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Alan Skypes with his Grandma
Yesterday, Alan's Grandma turned eighty-five. I was extremely tired all day yesterday and laid down in my bed at 9 p. m. I could hear Alan in his room. I realized he was on Skype and he was greeting his Grandma. I don't know if he has ever Skyped with her before. He has Skype on his computer in his room and I don't always know when he is using it. It sounded to me as though he was greeting her appropriately, wishing her a happy birthday. I don't know what all they talked about as I did not listen to it beyond that. Around 9:30 I shouted to Alan that he needed to take the dogs out. When he came in, he came to see me. I asked him how his call went. He thought it went fine. I asked him how he ended the call. He said that he had to go now. I sure hope it went as well for Grandma as it sounded from what I could get from Alan. Initiating a birthday call and carrying it out on Skype seemed to me wonderful progress.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Some Flexibility Progress and Social Progress
I have been thinking about writing about how Alan is progressing in being flexible. He has shown many such instances recently. Just tonight, his dad and I went out to shop and I got him a couple of long-sleeved sweater/pull-overs and several T-shirts. During the shopping, I called Alan and asked him if he wanted a T-shirt with The Beatles on it. He said, "No, I want plain shirts." I did get him one completely plain one and one with a stripe and a different color on top of it. Dad picked out a Bob Marley shirt with an up-beat saying on it. I got another one with a music design with a microphone since Alan likes to do karaoke at his acting class. None of them were the skulls Dad had teased him about at the supper table.
Once home, at first, Alan rejected all the choices. He even threw down the blue sweater (a steal at $6.95 which will fit him next year also). I suggested that he needed to look the shirts over and also to bring down the shirts he is done with. He said that he thought his shirts needed an update. He brought several too-small shirts down. I selected one to return to him and took the rest for donation to the charity which is coming to our door in the morning. Dad told Alan he wants him to wear the Bob Marley shirt next Tuesday night when he goes to gymnastics because Justin always wears a different shirt with some graphics on it. Alan did not object.
Several times lately, we have had to change the order in which Alan has done one of his activities or his books. Sometimes he has objected but always without much fuss now. In fact, he is often able to talk himself through it. He does a lot of self-talk aloud which lets me know the progression of his thinking over what is happening.
On a recent Monday, when Alan wanted to get to the Teen Center on time, I was late picking him up from Janet's. Alan tried to reach me on his cell phone, but mine was set on mute and I could not quickly figure out how to change it to the audible setting, so I simply drove as safely and fast as I could to get him. In the meantime, he had begun to demand I return immediately while with Janet and Ian. Janet managed to get him to realize that if he made me nervous or upset, it would take me longer to get him there. When he got into the car, he calmly took my phone and took it off mute with a couple of button pushes. Then he simply rode quietly for the few minutes it took to get him to the Teen Center. He was calm when he entered the building a few minutes after the door was opened. Phew!
Today, Alan had both gymnastics and climbing at Boulderdash. I made arrangements with the coach so that Alan took his lesson early, without the other students. Alan got ready early and arrived with no bother. He listened to the coach and did several things he had not done before in class. Right afterward, I drove him to Boulderdash. While there, he was able to engage a couple of kids and an adult in conversation. One girl took his cell phone and put her cell number in his phone and she put his number in hers, telling him they had the same model of phone. While I cautioned Alan that he could not simply call her up repeatedly and that he had to wait until she texted or called him, he was elated that she did that. Prior to going to the event, Alan asked me about some possible topics of conversation. I also suggested that he ask her what she had been doing lately. While I did hear him announcing that he had recently had a hair cut, for the most part as far as I know the topics were reasonable. Alan did sit down next to her on some bean bags at one point. She motioned to another girl to come sit with them, between them, and he did make room for the other girl. Then he got up onto his feet and joined another line waiting to climb. All in all, I think he would agree with me that this was a successful afternoon for him.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Transferring Alan to a New Computer
Alan's computer is near the end of its useful life. In addition, his Dad has stated that Alan needs to learn Power Point and Excel. For these reasons, Dad has bought a new computer for Alan's room.
Alan has vehemently rejected the new computer. He has said that he "can't afford" a new computer. He has said that he can't have a new computer because his old one has iTunes. Dad has assured him his new computer will also have iTunes. Alan has claimed that the new computer can be downstairs but not in his room. Alan considers his bedroom his private domain. Unlike other teens, Alan does not appreciate the new computer at all.
I have suggested to Dad that all further negotiations about this new computer onto which Dad is loading programs be done in written form in short notes. This will at least spare my ears and also require Alan to give reasons for his rejection and perhaps make allowances until he is ready to accept the new computer.
I am hopeful that transferring Alan to the new computer will be as successful as getting him to wear his new athletic shoes on the treadmill has been. He wears them now and ties them himself.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Getting Our Son to Wear Shoes with Laces
Sometimes, children with autism get into ruts. They have thinking ruts and behavior ruts. Sometimes, their parents indulge the rut a long, long time.
Years ago, our daughter, Dana, taught Alan, not once, but twice, to tie lacing shoes. He refused to wear shoes with laces. We bought him slip on shoes. At the time, I reasoned that there were other things he needed to learn rather than tying shoes since his manual dexterity then was not great.
This situation continued for years. When Alan went to the bowling alley or to skate, it was so infrequent that I tied his laces for him and did not ask him to do it.
Recently, our daughter Cate and her pediatrician husband, Jim, let us know that Alan should be wearing athletic shoes when he is running. His feet would appreciate the support. Alan runs daily on the treadmill.
Last night, Alan's Dad and I talked with Alan and told him he needs to wear athletic shoes while on the treadmill. We talked about how he needs to be able to tie his laces when he goes to the bowling alley in two weeks for a birthday party. We said he wouldn't want his new friend to know he can't tie his shoe laces. We talked about a skating event coming up and also another bowling trip in the new year. With some arguing, but no meltdown, Alan went with us to get athletic shoes and brought them home.
Today, when we finished his table work, I told him he needed to bring me a shoe and show me how much he remembered from his lace tying lessons. He did and lo and behold, he remembered completely how to tie a shoe.
We went to the homeschool park day. Alan was disappointed that none of the kids he can talk to were there. He handled this disappointment well as I promised to bring him again next week and also suggested that he set up via e-mail with one friend to bring their basketballs and meet at a certain time next week. He liked that suggestion.
When we got home, he wanted to run. I told him he had to wear the athletic shoes. He put them on and tied his laces without my supervision in any way. Afterward, I asked him how he liked the new shoes. He replied, "I like them. I was being silly."
You know what, the thing that made this struggle easier was that it really wasn't much of a struggle. Getting Alan to do any flexible thinking was really hard before. Often he would melt down and pound the wall while yelling. There were no signs of melt down yesterday or today. Even with the disappointment Alan had at the park, he was not at all brittle in his behavior and he was completely able to put on the shoes and tie them without my help or cajoling.
He and we parents are at another place where there will be a leap ahead, I am certain, not just in tying shoes. He's ready for more challenges to be flexible.