Archive for kids

Who She Is

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on July 7, 2013 by penelopegeorge

I know people are put off by Shayla’s autism. I’ve seen it firsthand, and though people try to be polite, you can’t sugercoat rejection. Because it hurts to see my daughter rejected for what she cannot help, I’m working on a simple “how to” list for people we come in contact with on a regular basis. This is not the final draft, but it’s a good start.

Shayla isn’t rude. She has trouble choosing the right words, and she does not understand body language. But she is trying to understand you, and she is trying to communicate back to you what she thinks you want to hear.

She isn’t ignoring you. It takes her longer to process what you said, with context, subtext, and possible meanings. She does this better when she is looking away, because everything else is a distraction.

All distractions are major for her. They divert her focus completely away from her task at hand. She cannot stop it. It’s as automatic to her as reading facial expressions is to you.

She is quite happy in the company of others without interacting. But she is always paying attention. She can be prompted to interact, but she does not do small talk and she does not have the social tools for initiating conversations.

She prefers to write rather than visit. When she’s texting,,emailing, or messaging, there is nothing for her to decode except the words on the page.

She isn’t lazy. She has challenges with Executive Function, the instinctive ability to analyze, plan, organize, and schedule. Without it she cannot plan how to complete a task, and she is overwhelmed.

She isn’t stupid. In fact, she is be quite smart, and her brain has created clever pathways to cover what isn’t firing right. But the way of the classroom does not work for her. Give her a YouTube video with a visual – step by step (there’s that executive function stuff again!) – and she can learn anything. Give her a classroom, without the visual aids but with all the peripheral distractions, a disinterested instructor, and social and context cues her brain cannot decode, and she is lost. Take her out of the classroom and plunk her down with the kids who have far greater challenges than she, and her senses become overwhelmed. Just because she is the highest functioning child in the room does not mean she is high functioning.

Her mind is never blank. When she looks spaced out or dazed, it’s because her attention is turned inward.

She wants friends, but she needs people who accept that she has autism. She can’t be like all the other kids and no amount of avoiding her will change that, but when everyone grows up she won’t seem as different. Most 14 year olds have a lot of growing up to do. She’s just growing up on her own path.

She has value. She is bright, funny, creative, and loving. She wants to marry and have a family. She is surrounded by people who love her, and who she loves, too. She matters.



Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 9, 2012 by penelopegeorge

Earlier this afternoon, the Kinder Canada facebook page (which is maintained by the fine makers of Kinder Surprise) posted one of those status updates that spark, like, 400 responses in just under three minutes. The update reads, “Think fast! What was your favourite childhood game, growing up?”

So, like a multitude of other like-minded Canadians I gave this question the two-second “think fast” thought. The answer was obvious. I bet only a handful of people played this game, and I bet I know them all. My favorite game growing up was called, “Witchiepoo”.

The game itself was simple enough, but there was a strict routine to follow. It was a great game for a large group of kids, and perfect if they were of diverse ages. I remember playing it with the group on my block in the way, way back. There were maybe a dozen or so kids at any given time around our neighborhood, aged from nursery school and up. Logically, there must have been a cut-off age for playing with the neighbor’s four-year-olds, but these kids were the mysterious “teenagers” who rarely came outside.

I’ve since taught it to a few other groups, but though the kids loved the game, it never caught on like I remember. It  does take several rounds of the game, led by a Witchiepoo expert, to cement the storyline into the other players. And like any routine, it takes practice to really get it down. Plus, the game dates so far back it actually references smoking. This is so not cool for today’s generation, but for us it was just plain silly and therefore utterly hilarious. There is actually a mom, smoking a pipe.

Ha ha ha! Women NEVER smoked pipes! They smoked cigarettes!

Come to think of it, there were some major child-abandonment issues inherent in the game. I seriously doubt any of us noticed.

The game required a minimum of five players: a mom, a witch (these were generally played by the older kids), and at least three kids to play “kids” (a role well within the acting chops of your average four-year-old). It required a spot on someone’s front lawn for the “mom’s house” and a spot on someone else’s lawn for the “witch’s house”. Someone else’s lawn could be a block away and around the corner. Didn’t matter. If you could get a visual on both lawns it was all good, and in fact some distance made the game even better (we’ll get to that part later). The only real estate rules for the moms and witches was, “Who has the most shade right now and won’t kick us off?” If you had something fun on your lawn, you were Witchiepoo Central. (Side note – there were places on the block you NEVER played. I was pretty sure the strange, mean woman on the corner transformed into a monster at night to seek revenge on the kids who dared play near her property. This was reinforced by some episodes we had with her while she was in her human form. And though now I can look back through the eyes of an adult and understand she had a mental illness and would likely have been sweet and kind had the condition been treated, she was scary-mean to me at six.)

The object of the game really wasn’t really an objective at all. It was a clever ruse to bring together a group of kids into a game where no one kept score, no one was “it”, and no one was “out”.

Scene: a hot day in the early afternoon. Everyone has eaten lunch and has been kicked outside to play. The only people wearing sunscreen are the kids who burn. Older kids are under death threat orders to watch over their younger siblings and to protect them from cars, dogs, strangers, falling asteroids, and ~shudder~ scary lady down the street. Any older kids without younger siblings were under the same orders. You did not get off the hook by being unrelated to the ones being watched.

The “quick draw” method of volunteering was used to choose Mom and Witchiepoo (the first one to call it, gets it). Gender did not matter. We might have had “dads” instead of “moms” sometimes, but I’m remembering the boys mostly talking in falsetto to stay in character. Homes were established, with the mom and kids on one lawn and Witchiepoo on the other.

Mom faced all her darling children, and in “eenie-meanie-mienie-moe” fashion picked a favorite from the group, using this little rhyme.

I’m going downtown

To smoke my pipe

And I won’t be back

‘Til Saturday night.

So lock the windows

And lock the doors,

And don’t let Witchiepoo in.

You. Are. In. Charge.

(Can’t you just hear the respect and admiration we had for our mothers?)

Mom would leave (she could go anywhere except Witchiepoo’s house) with appropriate death threats to Kid In Charge, which were amazingly similar to the ones received from Real Mom right before we were kicked outside. With Pipe Smoking Mom gone, Witchiepoo approached the house and knocked on the imaginary door. Witchiepoo always knocked, maybe because this was the days before home invasions and everyone, including serial killers, knocked. Kid In Charge would answer, and it was up to Witchiepoo to trick the kid into leaving the door open and unattended. “Can I borrow some sugar,” was a standby but the game was no fun unless Witchiepoo got creative.

Kid In Charge was never supposed to be bright, because they would always go and fulfill the request, complete with all pretending actions, while leaving the other children unattended. Witchiepoo would approach a random kid to lure him or her outside in some manner we all knew never to fall for, such as, “Want some candy?” or “Help me find my lost puppy.” Witchiepoo then took random kid to her “house”. Next, Mom returns, does a head count, and gets Kid In Charge in Big Trouble. She then immediately lines up the kids to pick a favorite again.

But here’s the best part. Witchiepoo had to pick a category, like colors, shapes, or flowers, and assign each kid a word from that category. It was up to the kid to remember his secret code word, but if you were likely to forget the backup plan was to tell everyone else in the hopes that someone remembered.

Eventually, Mom came home to an empty house. Only then does Mom head to Witchiepoo’s and demand her offspring back. Witchiepoo had to give the name of the category. If it was colors, Mom had to name random colors until she had a “hit” and broke the spell over one kid.

Now we come to the reason why we had the “houses” so far apart. The kid who just had his code word called would beeline it to “home”. If you beat Mom there, you were safe. If Mom caught you there was a spanking. Spankings among the kids were pretty realistic so us little ones learned to run fast. This part continued until all kids were called and chased home. A new Mom and Witch were then chosen, again by quick draw, and the game started over again.

A round of Witchiepoo could take upwards of half an hour, depending on the number of players and how carried away we got with the various scenarios. We had some comedians in our group that made the game take a wondrous forever.

Childhood has changed, and the way I grew up is just not the way my kids or their friends live. We have more stuff and less time. We have schedules so tight cloud-watching is now played in the car more than on the grass. Organized sports have replaced front lawns for outdoor activity, but since no one merely drives anymore (how many drivers are phoning, texting, or eating while on the road?) getting the kids off the streets could be a good thing. And maybe Witchiepoo is gone, but I still have very fond memories of playing it with the neighborhood kids. So I say thanks to Witchiepoo, and to all the friends young and old who made it memorable.