Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Minecraft...gateway to socializing

Chances are if you have been around kids between the age of 7 and 12, then you have heard them talking about minecraft.   Creepers, zombies, pigs, and some guy named Steve seem to be the talk of the town for the under 5ft crowd.   I'm actually pretty sure that other age groups are talking about it as well but that happens to be the crew I run with, or rather drive around in my car.
What is this crazy talk about?  It's a game that is kinda like legos in that you can build anything you want, but it's also an adventure game.  You know exactly what to expect, and it sucks you into it's world and out of your own confusing real world.   It's addicting for sure.  Escaping from reality to a place that you pretty much build to your liking.   
Because of the known addiction factor I know some parents who won't allow there children to play it at all.  Perhaps they see it as a waste of time, or an anti-social behavior.   Those of you who know me personally also know that I limit screen time like a card carrying hippie (not that a hippie would carry a card, but anyway.)  I'm very pro art projects, reading, and imagination.   However, this is a game that I can get behind.   
I have a tween who until recently wasn't too into communicating with others.  That is not until this little thing called an Ipod touch entered her hands.  Now she is instant messaging kids from school, posting videos that she makes and emailing up a storm.  This virtual world is an easier way of communicating for people on the spectrum because there is no eye contact, confusing body language, or constant need for back and forth communication.  They have time to think, form there sentences, make sure there is perfection in the words, and then press send.  If you don't want to email or text back right away, you don't have to.  The communication is under your control and can be put on the shelf whenever you want. 

I met my husband on the internet, he introduced himself with an email and then we would " hang out" in a chat room for hours at a time.  He was a wonderful company, funny and clever and full of dreams and imagination.  I looked forward to our chats everyday and after "talking" to him like that for several weeks we talked on the phone.  It was very confusing.  I was certain that he was not interested in me at all.  He seemed distracted, bored, and very distant.  I started questioning everything that I had thought before and when the call ended I was almost certain that he would never talk to me again.   Then, he came into the chat room again the next day and all was normal.  I was perplexed.   11 years of marriage later and several books on aspergers read (I recommend Alone Together if you have an aspie spouse)  and I now know why our phone call went so badly.  I thank God that there was an internet or I'm not sure how we would have got to know each other.  Also, he lived several states away so really, the internet was pretty invaluable.   The window to our getaway car after our wedding actually said "Thank God for the internet" courtesy of the groomsmen.  

So it seems like I trailed off and forgot all about minecraft, but I haven't.  The face to face communicating for aspie kids (or adults)  is tricky business.   You have to plan it out and follow lots of unwritten social rules. It's a very tiring experience.   However, when you are talking about your very favorite thing ( currently MINECRAFT) you have no trouble at all knowing what to say.  You share tips, tell about adventures, discuss things you built and how to build them. It's not just the aspie kids who are playing either, that is the beauty of the game.  It's not like you need to be labeled a Star Trek nerd, or know about some unique type of anime that is in Japanese subtitles.  It's popular with all the kids and so it gives the aspie kids a gateway into conversations with kids that normally would have nothing in common with them.    The aspie kid can talk to the neurotypical kid for long amounts of time and nobody gets overwhelmed or bored.  They are both genuinely interested not only in what they are saying but what the other person has to say as well.   I know once the games popularity dwindles so may the friendship but the experience of communicating together will last and who knows maybe they will magically drift off the topic of mindcraft and discover other things they have in common. 

This past week my daughter went to a day camp with the theme being Minecraft.  They played the game together (teamwork), and played other games like hide and seek or tag but with a Minecraft twist.  She had a blast but the other thing that happened was that she started getting phone calls from the other kids in the camp and requests for playdates, to no doubt talk about and play the game.    If you have a neurotypical (non-aspie) tween girl then the phone call and playdate request are most likely not a big deal.  You may wish your tween would get off the phone but it's a rare thing in my house so I am excited about it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Don't wait for Ellen

Sadness is pretty much everywhere if you look for it, and even when you aren't looking it creeps up.  We had two pets die in past week.  Peeps was our favorite hen and she passed away on Friday and then last night we lost a goldfish.   I am sure that each of you have sadness in your life as well, and I'm not suggesting that we cover it up or try to pretend it's not there.  It's important to acknowledge it, let it have it's time but we can't stay there in it for too long. After it's had it's moment we need some cheer.  

I used to watch Ellen all the time, that woman is amazing at bringing on the cheer.  She surprises people with love and gifts and really makes life a party.  I'm not really a watcher of Oprah but I know she does the same type of thing.  Changing lives by simple acts of bringing cheer to people when they least expect it.  When they are deep in the sadness.   When I was pregnant with my son I had a severe case of morning sickness (I wish I would have known then about catnip tea.)  I watched a lot of TV, and a whole lot of Ellen.  My daughter, two and half at the time watched it with me. She would  set up her little chairs in our living room with stuffed animals and pretend to interview them.  The day LL Cool J was on she pretended to interview LLMNOP.  So cute!  She also pretended to be Michael from the office running a staff meeting.   Michael is a spreader of cheer as well! Awkward cheer, but still it is cheer.

So, what should we do when faced with a world of confusing sadness?  When things happen in our lives that we don't understand, or maybe they happen to our friends, or to people we hear about on the other side of the country or the world?  I say, we step up and be Ellen, Oprah, or even Michael Scott if you're a bit awkward.  All it takes is a need and an idea and you have got yourself a potential cheer explosion.

Now this next part I want to be clear is not a brag, it's more of an example of just how easy it can be to spread some cheer.  There is a beautiful family that goes to my church.  The mama of this family is in my bible study and let me tell you they are wonderful.
Not long ago they had been planning their first ever family vacation to Disneyland.  Then my friend discovered that there was new technology and a new therapy in Utah that could possibly allow communication with her son.  Now, Disneyland is special but obviously this was a lot bigger than Disney. The family decided to take the savings and instead use it on the therapy.  
Of course there is joy in a new tool for their son, but I know there was also sadness in having to cancel that trip.

We can't get rid of  all the sadness or stop every situation from happening, but this one seemed like maybe something could be done.   As I heard my friends story I felt led to do something, another friend of mine felt the same way.  She emailed Ellen and encouraged others to do so too.  I emailed Monkee See Monkee Do over at Momastery.  It didn't stop there though, because I know that Ellen and MSMD both have hands and inboxs that are no doubt overflowing.  This seemed like something that we could do.  The truth is that people are full of love, and people love spreading cheer.  Lots of them are just waiting for an invitation.  That is really all it took to turn a cancelled vacation into one that is happening later this month.
A couple announcements at church about the family and the fundraiser idea, a few emails, and a lot of love.
I'm happy to say that not only did my friend and I make this happen, it was actually easy to do.  Meaning, you can make things happen.  Anyone can make things happen and very simply change someones life and spread some cheer .  Everybody can be Ellen!  or Oprah! or Glennon or Choose Your Fav Philanthropist.
You don't have to be a super influential millionaire.  You just have to have an idea and the guts to put it into action.    I want to add that after we finished our fundraiser MSMD contacted me and they were so happy about what we did that they decided to chip in a Visa gift card as a bonus for their journey.   Wow!

I heard a story on NPR yesterday that actually lead me to write this blog post.  A regular woman in South Dakota was inspired by Oprah and thought she could probably do something to help too.  Through her one idea they now have a program for veterans where they can take a vacation with their family to a beautiful cabin in Black Hills, S.D. for free. When the guests arrive they don't have to spend a dime other than transportation costs. They are given coupons for free activities in the town.  The land was donated by the city, the leather furniture was donated by a couple who heard about the program and called her up, the blinds were donated by a family who lost their son in the war.  People came out of the woodwork and stepped up to help and add to her vision.  She just had to speak up, say "I have an idea..."   It can be scary to speak up, but it can do so much good.   You can listen to the story here, it's awesome.

I once heard the wise advice that if you are going to start a revolution you need one enthusiastic person and one very organized person.  If you have two enthusiastic people they will get really excited but never get anything done.  If you have two organized people they will have everything well planned but never pull the trigger on bringing it to action.   One of each and you get things going, organize them well, and set them into motion.  If you don't have a partner please don't let that stop you.  I think you can still do it and maybe a partner will step up along the way.  My friend who worked on the vacation surprise with me  was very organized.  I have maybe 1% of organizational skills in me.  I needed a partner and I'm thankful she was there.

So, what do you think...ready to spread some cheer?  It doesn't have to be a huge vacation, maybe you just want to hand somebody a candy bar when they are having a bad day.   Don't think about it too hard, most likely the idea will come to you.  It's up to you to listen and go with it.  

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Bicycles and Swimming Pools

I live in a city that bikes. We have bike lanes, bike paths, and more bike stores than I can count.   Kids learn to ride almost as soon as they can stand up.  Families go on bike rides to the store, around the town, or by the river.  There are recumbent bikes where the rider sits back in a chair sort of thing, double tall bikes, unicycle riders (I am not kidding.)   It's like a bike circus out there on the streets of our town.  I am happy to say that my children can finally join the circus.

 I now have two bicycle riding kids in my house and while this may not seem like a big deal, or maybe it's coming across as braggy... I'm just really happy.  See, for the average kid who isn't dealing with sensory processing stuff and an awkward body that won't do what you want, riding a bike isn't a big deal.  You can maybe even master it when you are five.   For my kids it's a huge deal and I actually wondered several times over the past years if our family would ever be able to go on a bike ride together.  Maybe if we lived somewhere else it wouldn't be a big deal but there was always a peddling toddler whizzing by me at the park to remind me of what my kids were missing out on.  The fun of that foot powered machine and the breeze zipping across your face.  

When I was a kid I loved my bike.  I would ride it back and forth in a huge field in upstate NY and do tricks.  I watched PeeWees Big Adventure way too many times and made my parents call me PeeWeece when I would ride my bike.  NO HANDS! STANDING UP! ONE LEG OUT!   I was pretty awesome (super dorky.)  The point is, that bike brought me joy.  I lived far from other kids but I could spend my day happily speeding along without need of friends because I had my wheels.   It's kind of sad to me that kids who are socially awkward have to be bicycle awkward too.  I know they have lots of other things that bring them joy but I am happy that now my kids have bikes too.  

I taught them using a method I saw on YouTube that I would like to share.  It's very repetitive and although my girl went through every step (last year) my son this year would skip ahead on his own and I let him.  They know how many times they need to do each step so let them break the "rule" if they want.

Our next hope is for swimming... if anyone has tips for that please share.  We have tried lessons many times and almost had it but an incident happened and confidence was lost.   My plan is to hang out at the pool a lot and build that back up but I would be happy to hear if anything worked for you or your child.