Monday, January 26, 2009

Something New Every Day

I enjoy watching Jeopardy!, even though I don't need dentures or “diabeetus” testing supplies. Part of the appeal for me is that I get to pick up little tidbits of information that I didn't know before. As a software developer, I find that I have pretty deep knowledge in my field, as one would expect, but that the waters become far too shallow or dry up completely in places when one moves too far away from the software area. Sure, this is the age of specialization, but I would like to be more well-versed in other areas.

Jeopardy! is pretty darn good at revealing what areas need the most work. If the category relates to technology, physics, math, English or Spanish, I'll probably do well. If it's history, art, literature, politics, sports or popular culture (not to mention the ever-popular “Potent Potables”), the odds are good that I'll strike out, or at least do poorly. Geography, chemistry and biology tend to end up somewhere in the middle. Even in the areas where I tend to do well, I will too often experience the distressing sensation that I used to know this in high school.

So I'm looking for ways to obtain more well-rounded knowledge. Watching Jeopardy! is one way, I suppose, but the problem with Jeopardy! is that what I pick up there doesn't tend to “stick” very well. An ideal solution would cover a wide range of subjects, encourage retention of the new information, not require a large investment of time each day, and be inexpensive or free. Any ideas?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Talking to the Others

My daughter is turning three years old this month and is starting preschool. It is a class especially for kids with autism, with expert instructors trained in helping them with their particular challenges. We're hoping this will help with a number of issues that are troubling her.

One of the big ones is that she feels an obsessive desire to close doors, not in the sense that she feels that any open door must be closed, but that if a door is going to be closed, that she must be the one to do it. Usually, if someone else closes a door instead of inviting her to close it, she'll have a meltdown. She's also very picky about her food. We'd really like for her to have more variety in her diet, but the introduction of most new foods results in a lot of screaming. The preschool will hopefully help her with these issues, as well as with things like social interaction and potty training.

The biggest issue, however, is talking. She is slowly showing more and more desire to say words, but it's still more of a game with her and she doesn't use them much to actually communicate. We've had the opportunity to use some software that offers several activities that help promote skills related to speech, but her reaction to them is mixed; she's enthusiastic about some and averse to others. The inability to communicate verbally is the biggest obstacle to her learning and progress, so if nothing else, any improvement the preschool can help us achieve in this area would be a big win.

Some good news is that she is much more proactive than before about asking as best she can for what she wants. She can easily and effectively communicate that she is hungry, needs a diaper change, wants you to play with her or is ready for bed. She also no longer resists taking medicine or going to sleep. It's amazing how seemingly small advances like these can make such a big difference. She is generally a lot happier now than she was a year ago, when she was so frustrated because she didn't understand why nobody knew what she wanted.

I try to imagine what the world has been like for her. I picture her in a cell with transparent walls. All around her, she can see people looking in at her, and can hear their voices through the walls. She tries to call to them and ask them to try to get her out, or at least stay and talk with her for a while, but she don't realize that the walls somehow let sound in but don't let it out. All she gets are uncomprehending stares and looks of pity.

She soon realizes that for some reason, the Others, as she's come to call them, can't hear her. As the days go by, she eventually gives up trying to talk to them. Sometimes, the frustration gets the better of her, and she screams and cries and kicks the walls and throws herself around the room. Other days, she just sits despondently and listens to the Others talking.

One day, she wakes up and sees something new inside her cell. Somebody has installed a device with a button on the wall. She pushes the button. A light comes on briefly, but nothing else happens. She pushes it again and again, with the same result. This doesn't help at all! She screams and hits the device over and over, and quite accidentally, she hits the button again. Suddenly, the Others react with surprise. Something happened! A little experimentation results in a discovery: when she's holding the button down, the Others can hear her! She doesn't know it (because nobody's been able to teach her), but this device is a called an intercom.

The button is faulty, so the signal is laced with static and frequently cuts out. Communication with the Others is slow at first, and nearly as frustrating as not being able to talk to them at all. It takes a lot of patience and learning on both sides: she has to learn how to apply just the right amount of pressure to the button to get the light to stay on and keep the signal from cutting out, and the Others have to learn to decipher her words amidst the static. But slowly, comprehension replaces confusion.

There's still a long way to go. It'll be some time before they get good enough at communicating that they can plan together how to get her out of the cell. There are still some days of screaming and crying, but not as much. She's no longer alone.

Monday, January 5, 2009

I've Kid-Proofed the House But They Still Get In

Like the family rooms of most parents with small children, our family room is kid-proofed, so one can leave the kids in there for a few minutes to do some task and be reasonably certain that they'll still be alive and have all their appendages when one returns. That doesn't mean, however, that they can't make some other kind of trouble. And as it turns out, the kind of room they're in doesn't make much of a difference.

If you haven't had kids, you may want to stop here. What follows is decidedly unpleasant.

Today, Gorgeous Wife had to leave the kids in the family room for just a few minutes to handle some laundry. When she returned, she discovered that our daughter had no pants on.

More importantly, she had no diaper on.

Naturally, determining the whereabouts of the diaper became priority one. A quick glance, however, told her exactly where it was. Our son had it.

He was eating the contents.

I had often observed that he was willing to eat just about anything, but this wasn't what I was thinking about. Naturally, what followed was a lot of yelping and scrubbing and bathing. I'm sure she'll laugh about it one day. But not today.