Visit from Grandma Didi

Tristan’s grandma (my mom) is in town for the weekend. He’s taken well enough to her, but he is so very attached to us! We went to a park – Lakewood Park, I think – and she let Tristan wander around and explore, something we don’t often let him do anymore (I should make an effort to). We all went on the swings together and took pictures..

Later on, we put Tristan down for a nap and left his grandma in charge of making sure he didn’t teleport away from his crib, and then James and I went out shopping. Shopping and having lunch without a toddler is kind of nice, even when you forget to take advantage of this and go try on clothing while you’re at the mall. We got back to learn that poor Tristan had woken up from his nap with the Bloody Murder scream and she was sort of confounded as to how to deal with it – we forgot to mention his habit of waking up screaming at around 4:20 after going down for a 3:00 nap. They did not end up with him returning to the nap, so they had some peekaboo and other adventures and left us to our shopping.

As usual when we leave Tristan in someone else’s care, we have a ton of silly bad luck. This time, as we all regrouped, Tristan was lying on the chaise lounge. I noticed a large amount of liquid on his.. pants. Suddenly, he was soaking the chaise! His diaper had come loose. So we had a piss couch on top of the exceptionally fussy toddler on hand who missed half of his nap because he had gas pain, because we forgot to slip him the Mylicon. There are just too damn many things to remember in the care of Tristan. Or we suck at communicating them and remembering to do them ourselves. But in any event, one of our last possible remaining sleep surfaces has been urinated upon, so be aware if you feel the need to sleep in our home. (We advise against sleeping in our home unless you live here or are really good at not waking toddlers and being patient when said toddler decides to wake anyway and scream the Bloody Murder scream at 4:20 am instead of during his afternoon nap. That is a downside to the very concise floorplan we chose here.)

Tristan’s grandma put him in the bathtub (second bathroom, not the shower we normally use together) and splashed around with him for quite some time. He got fussy somewhere in there, but that’s no surprise – he’d managed to go more than two hours without food and drink. But before his fussing, they had lots of fun and many pictures were taken..

On Sunday, we all went to the Children’s Discovery Museum. My mom was thoroughly amazed with the intricacy of the place. James, Tristan, and I finally got to use the moving floor thingie as a family:

At a few other times, Tristan was observed doing something that resembled sitting quietly and playing. We were very confused:

Tristan took very well to his grandma. She also managed to not get him killed, which is a major requirement for getting to see him again. She spent a lot of time trying to stimulate him into talking and learning and doing all of the crazy shit that we’ve all been focusing on since the whole “maybe autism” thing. I’m sure he misses his play buddy – perhaps he will express that to us!

How I see sharing

This is what I’d teach to my kid if he does learn to understand it..

Sharing is a good thing. If we bring stuff of yours out, you can take turns at it but you should pass it on. You don’t HAVE to, but people will like you better that way. I will show you often how to share, negotiate, and defend yourself so I won’t need to do it for you. Don’t ever pick on someone when the fight isn’t fair – as a toddler, this means you don’t steal shit from kids who can’t walk or whose parents are going to be angry with them for being in the situation in the first place.

Making people like you is a really good thing, even if you are not interested in people, because people can help each other. If you are nice to your friends and share with them, they will like you more and they will be nice to you and share with you more unless they’re just mean people, in which case you find other people. If you only think of yourself, they will stop thinking of you because there needs to be a balance. We are part of a community, and that is based on things we share.

So, as a toddler, I will compliment you when you share, but for one reason or another.. I don’t think you yet get why people share. That’s ok! You’re 19 months old. But whether you get it or not, I do want to emphasize to you that sharing gets you more attention than hoarding or stealing.

Where is my mind?

I’m about to take Tristan into this world of ours just like everything is ok, just like we did last week. But everything’s not as ok. I’m suddenly uncertain. What am I doing? Is this what is right for him? Does he even learn this way?

I had such a mindstorm yesterday that I don’t remember much of the day at all. I had lots of things I wanted to say.. to people who know us, to the world in general, to my family. Right now I am sort of blanked out, because it’s annoyingly early and Tristan woke up screaming. Thankfully, he’s settling back down again.

I appreciate everyone’s carefully crafted words of comfort. But please know this.. I am kind of socially awkward myself. I know you can’t tell that because I seem to be really friendly and happy and care for you a lot. But once I go to try to contact people, even my own family, something fails. Please continue to contact us. But don’t worry about the carefully crafted words. I specifically just want to be surrounded by life as it is and not by people tiptoeing and worrying what to say.

I repeat: if you have something you want to share whether that be “I noticed you and your kid doing some hand flapping” or “my kid just learned how to say complicated words” or “my relationship is doing horribly today” or “let’s talk about that health care vote.” Just please take the extra effort to tell me about your life and don’t worry about the words of strength. Or that I sort of suck at maintaining contact. That’s why I tell these stories via blog and not emails, anyway!

Anyway, a lot of what I think about is contrasting Tristan with other kids. The strange thing is that I really like him compared to other kids except when he’s just not interested in hanging out with me. I’ve been talking about these things I need to train him to do, like walking alongside me/us, and in some ways we have a free pass now. Who expects an autistic kid to be really good at doing shit like sharing and walking alongside a parent without extensive training by professionals? But the main point is for me not to stress out about it now and just go with the age he is..

Autism: no longer just a suggestion

We had the evaluation today.

The doctor spent a very short time with Tristan. The doctor pronounced that this is probably autism, and went on to say a “better than even” chance. The doctor said that Tristan probably will have a good life; grow up, have a job, have a family. The doctor said that he can learn to make sense of society but that this child really does think differently from the norm and has his own agenda.

We went to the KaiserPlex just like any other doctor appointment. Parking was horrible and we were lucky to get a spot by the rear of the building. We went in and Tristan had VERY high energy – it took me to chase after him while James signed him in for the appointment. Maybe five minutes later we were ushered in and put in an exam room, where Tristan started trying to flip out over being confined and measured. About twenty minutes later, the doctor doing the evaluation called us in.

We were led into a slightly larger office type room with toys. We got Tristan to work playing while Dr. Cohen reviewed Tristan’s file, and then he joined us all. The doctor spent a very short time playing with Tristan, trying to elicit responses to different toys and stimuli. No more than five minutes of such play must have passed. Then there was all of the talk.

Dr. Cohen came right out and said that although he’ll send out his report to us and refer us further, that Tristan’s probably autistic. He made it sound like another flavor of human, a flavor we’re quite accustomed to around here. He spoke hopefully of Tristan’s future. Once he pronounced the words, I was fairly stunned even though most of me was expecting them.

So, where things stand now is that we’re waiting for yet another phone call and appointment to be scheduled. This one’s going to be the half-day evaluation that will provide him with an official diagnosis or not.

What confounds me is that there’s all of this evidence that the brains of people with autism are different from the average brain. Why is all of this subjective bullshit required to tell for sure, then?

I’ve worked out all of the tears and “OMG why mes” but there’ll be a LONG way to go before everything’s OK. Even if he does not turn up autistic, he is significantly delayed in important sensory and social ways and will require special assistance with understanding the world and the people in it.

This is all that I have the clarity to write right now. Please understand..


* Tristan sort of points at small holes, like those found in metal benches and grate coverings. He especially enjoys exploring things like that, too. Anyway, he pokes the holes and I praise him for the “point.” I’ve seen a feeble point or two since then, but he doesn’t connect the gesture with indicating or thinks he does just fine or will learn suddenly or something. Or it won’t even matter. Or it’ll be the all important autism indicator. Who knows? I don’t. Anyway, pointingish behavior. Yay! It’ll be useful if he catches on.

* We have had a good day so far. We had a good evening yesterday. Before that, we’ve had some nasty temper crap that has been stressful. The “Fast Food Rule” from The Happiest Toddler on the Block is pretty remarkable at calming him down when we’re vigilant about it. We are still developing good strategies as situations with discipline change daily. For the most part, he is curious or bored when misbehaving as opposed to blatantly defiant or “evil.” Sometimes he’s saying something like “no, I waaaant it!!!” but without any of those words that would lead me to believe I’m right, so it sounds more like an overdramatic scream and crumpling of the body. I can pretty quickly stop that by saying to him “you WANT IT! You want swing!” in a very passionate voice (same method I use to sing, really). About thirty seconds of that over and over and he wanders off to do something else, bored, or tries his case again more quietly (walked over to the swing after stopping the tantrum). Yay! I can think of other ways to deal with that, and other ways I have dealt with it. Most of the “obey me now and stop screaming or we leave” sorts of methods do not work with him. He’d rather leave, so there is no lesson in stopping the behavior in that case. So silly-sounding toddler acknowledgement of feelings to stop tantrums it is. By the way, it’s useful for a lot of other opportunities to communicate.

* I think his teeth are really hurting him right now. This likely explains some of the nasty temper crap. We’ve been tossing him Tylenol for sleeptimes and will continue until those two bottom pointy teeth come through. And speaking of teeth, he tried to resist my cleaning his teeth yesterday – he tries to bite but I will open his enough to avoid him biting me. We still clean teeth with a cloth and mostly in the shower. I figure that I enforce teeth cleaning once every several days, so when it’s done I try to make it count. (Yes, we’re nasty like that and don’t necessarily bathe every day. We just spend an hour in the shower and play in bubbles when we do!) We’d been making headway on the cooperative teeth cleaning and with him even showing curiosity about his toothbrush. Anyway, teething sucks. I understand when these canines finish showing, we’ll have even more molars to work on. Le sigh.

* He seems to be understanding and trying to say more and more words. He’s trying to distinguish between “Ninja” for the cat and other things that could maybe be “no” or maybe even “mama.” He says “the” and “that” clearly. He’s starting to say “hi” to people sporadically but it sounds nothing like how humans say “hi” in English so they don’t know to say “hi” back (and he doesn’t learn to sincerely greet yet, and he rarely waves, like once per month.. le sigh 🙂 ) He tries to say “drink” and I will really be pleased when he has SOME way to say it.

* For a digression: I discussed a parenting methodology called Raising Godly Tomatoes with a mom from a web community I participate in. She’s Christian. Our family’s atheist/agnostic. The main impression James and I have is that the author does have some good points with discipline but that she’s a bit of an extremist. Applying most of the methodology is fairly counter to anything we believe in, but who knows if I’ll go back and eat my words later if Tristan turns out to not take our free spirit lifestyle properly? Anyway, we don’t spank as a general policy, but we do act swiftly when we mean business. We just don’t pick many fights with him. The author of this is dead on when it comes to being consistent as a parent in your goals with your children and that you must outlast a child if you intend to make a point of an order. But I personally like his spirit as it is and feel that training him to “obey me no matter what” will take a possible future engineer and turn him into a mindless servant, which is not what I need. I don’t mean that in a “my special snowflake” sort of way. I mean that I intend to train him to negotiate and demonstrate in order to work his way up, which is not really compatible with accepting my word no matter what. I also mean that in the sense that one who unquestioningly obeys authority does not take apart radios, learn secret passages, design innovative products.. that sort of thing. (I will require that he learn to speak to people as respectfully as the situation requires, at the very least, in due time and age appropriateness.)

Babbling about toddler accomplishments and parenting methodology takes up most of Tristan’s nap when I decide to engage in it. I can only hope that Tristan reads this in ten years and laughs at it, or is happy he knows who his mom is as a person and not just who he sees as mommy.


* Tristan is actually expressing opinions and preferences. He wanted milk to drink but not water. He wanted to be outside and not inside.

* I think he chipped one of his teeth on the bottom. It looks distinctly chipped. It doesn’t seem to be loose. I think he may have done it while sneaking into the bathtub today. I heard him playing in his room with some electronic toys and I believe he knows that while they are going, we will not come bother him. So he walked into the bathroom next to his room carrying a singing microphone toy. I heard the scream of a baby who thunked himself and ninja-ran toward his bedroom.. finding it empty. I stepped into the bathroom and he was sitting on his ass in the bathtub and howling his head off with no other evidence of injury. I picked him up and he calmed down shortly after, and I tried to examine him for major injury or obvious source of pain. The only thing I noticed was that tooth.

* Today was a shitty tantrum day. At playgroup, I actually stepped in with some of the sharing issues to try to compromise with the parents of the kids involved, because none of us really require the same things of similar aged kids with regard to sharing and we all want to be fair to our kids in our own ways. I do insist that he not steal shit from babies who don’t yet walk, because they are not on fair ground. (I need to teach him the concept of not picking on the weak if you are a good person.. any advice on how to teach that at 18 months if it’s possible?) I also insist that he not steal shit from kids whose parents intervene and take the toy away from them whenever the kid is involved in a toy dispute – again, that kid is at a disadvantage. In any event, whenever possible I try to encourage two kids to play together on the same toy. But I digress.. the point is that he picked on the weak a lot today and although it’s best to skillfully ignore that to let it extinguish itself, it needs intervention for some sort of social propriety. He got frustrated and was already in the mood to be outside (communicates this by going to the door and putting arms up on as if to open it, and looking over at me). Somewhere in there, he just began the OMGWTF bloody murder scream. By somewhere in there, I mean after I calmed him down a few times from pre-tantrum. This time I don’t even see the obvious mistake that I always catch after such an episode, unless it was just “forgot the Tylenol in teething baby, dumbass.” This meant I had to leave epic-screaming baby in the back of the playgroup room, hoping that he’d get the hint like at home and get up within a minute to come find me and try again. Unfortunately, he had an audience… I do not blame people, because it is a heart-wrenching scream. But sometimes he needs to scream it out, and that is incompatible with being in public, especially in a closed room with other parents and children. For the record, if he stops screaming when I pick him up or if he is screaming because he is hurt, he is snuggled into happiness. It’s when the screaming persists when I hold him or he is blatantly uncooperative in a daily activity (sometimes comes up with diaper changes) that he gets shuffled off somewhere to scream it out for a minute (or ten, in case of mid-nap screaming). I came back to him to ask if he was ready to be picked up (“you want up up up?” and he indicates yes by reaching his arms up) about three times before making a successful pickup. Success is defined by him downgrading the scream to crying, whimpering, whining, babbling, etc. The message I am trying to send is that such a scream is an emergency scream only and that he is welcome to communicate his feelings in any other (non-violent, which is not a problem with him anyway other than that scream) way he can manage. But the good news is that I am discussing this without too much of my own emotion. I feel that I reacted properly with some sort of balance between my child and the other people present, so I don’t have that icky feeling that I get when I know I do it wrong. In other words, I felt in control and not like my soul was getting sucked out. I am a little upset, though, because it’s a little upsetting when there’s strong negative emotion.

The discipline ideas

I use this guide for determining how to change any behavior I am present of mind enough to try to change properly. It’s from Karen Pryor’s book called Don’t Shoot the Dog. This book pretty much goes back and forth between examples of animal training and human training, but you should read it if you have problems with people or other animals in your life. These are methods for untraining unwanted behaviors.

1) “Shoot the animal” – eliminate presence of subject
In the case of a marriage, that would mean divorce in polite society, not killing. 🙂
In the case of discipline, it means anything to physically remove the child from the situation. Sending a child to his or her room is a common way to do this.

This method is very effective at keeping someone from behaving in a manner in your presence. It is not effective at teaching jack shit other than general compliance when done gently, so it’s best used in emergencies or when you can’t really train a person (like a TODDLER) to know to leave something like glass alone. You go and grab your toddler who runs into the street, grabs for the stove, charges toward the stairs – and you do this way before you can teach some kids hot and cold, safe and unsafe.

2) Punishment
In the case of discipline, this would be the screamy lectures, the spanking, the slaps, taking away privileges or possessions – stuff that you do as compensation for the crime that doesn’t happen as a logical circumstance of the crime. In reality, when we do these things, we’re usually emotionally charged about our children’s behavior and very out of control of it. We feel overwhelmed and like we have no fucking clue why our child is being a little shit. So we yell or we speak angrily if we’re in pretty good control of ourselves through all of this feeling of being out of control.

Sometimes it works but it’s usually because you manage to plant some fear of disobedience into the heart of the child. Sometimes it annoys the child enough that he or she figures out that it’s just easier to do what you say. It’s not a good way to train behaviors, though – it may stop a behavior but not give the kid incentive other than not pissing you off. It really makes parents and kids feel lousy to have that sort of fighting and anger between them. Relying too much on punishment teaches kids to be sneaky and lie to you.

3) Negative reinforcement
It’s a little bit like punishment, but it’s under the control of the person receiving it. When you are in the process of being negatively reinforced, you are in some sort of discomfort that you can stop immediately upon changing a behavior. When you want a horse to turn, you usually pull the reins in a direction and the horse turns because it knows it can stop the fucking PAIN by turning. It’s how we learn to take care of our young babies – the baby howls and you try everything you can possibly do to get him or her to stop. In essence, young babies get their needs met by pulling on a rein. It is wise to train other ways to communicate needs as soon as possible so that you don’t have an older child who is impatient and screams to get needs met. Or like mine, who is just learning how to express that he’s hungry and thirsty because he was one of those loud criers and he trained me well through negative reinforcement. I can see why I am tired now – it makes people miserable to be on the constant lookout for something aversive!

Now, when you use this on your kids, it can be far more civilized. I’m teaching Tristan not to scream for his food and drink by giving it to him only when he quits screaming. It’s the first step in getting him to actually ask for food and drink. This is painful, as it involves him crying out a tantrum instead of me trying to soothe him in some way, but it’s been necessary for him to learn to approach me calmly when hungry and indicate that he would like food or drink. It’s a technique I’ve used a lot lately in dealing with the “really, WHY are you screaming over this?” sorts of tantrums and he is really doing a shit ton better with both not melting down and expressing his needs.

4) Extinction – letting the behavior go away on its own
The best way to do this regarding any behavior in any person is just to fail to respond. This is the real way to stop being cruelly teased by other people. This is the way to get your toddler to stop doing most sort of irritating but not actually shitty behaviors. This is the way to get your spouse to quit nitpicking.

Just. Don’t. Pay. Attention. It’s a really easy way to discipline, because it’s the free-spirit method – just let them be. Respond to weird social behavior like sticking out tongues inappropriately, hitting occasionally, defiant behaviors.. by ignoring it. A lot of kids are little devils because their parents are quick to converse with them when they are misbehaving to get this behavior corrected, but these parents aren’t very quick to respond when their kids are doing things they’d like their kids to continue doing.

Bad publicity is better than no publicity. Kids will start to misbehave because they earn attention that way. It’s sad, but your kid would rather have you pissed off all of the time than not there. If you are in essence “not there” when annoying shit happens and “there” when neat shit happens, you will have a happier kid who’s more cooperative. I’ve believed this since before Tristan was born and Tristan is a very cooperative kid who delights in play.

Anyway, what goes on is that good behaviors will extinguish (stop; go away) with a lack of attention. But the good news is that a lot of annoying ones do as well!

When someone is being an asshole to you, treat them as though they were doing something you do not understand, like speaking in a language you do not understand, and then do your best to treat them as if no such thing happened.

5) Train an incompatible behavior
Some things can’t be done while doing some other things. Use this to your benefit when you are considering how to get your child to quit doing something. When your kid’s upset, sometimes a good tickle does the trick because you can’t really giggle and sob. Singing and dancing are incompatible with fighting and self-pity. Actually, exercise in general is usually incompatible with self-pity! But a dog lying down across the room cannot beg for food at the table. Identify the behavior you want to change and try to find something fun that can’t be done at the same time, and work on training that as a replacement.

6) Put the behavior on cue
This is a shiny and fabulous way to deal with the toddler who wants to get into things and do things himself. Tristan started closing doors on us pretty soon after he was a year old. Any sort of door he found that was opened, he closed. This is pretty annoying when you are doing household chores or trying to get him a drink of milk. Anyway, we started having him open and close doors on command once he was able to understand the words, and now he does it proudly on cue to show off and not so much for the fuck of it. This means I can even do laundry and load the dishwasher around him these days. Anyway, if you have something that you really don’t want done often or at all, you teach the child to do it on command and then stop giving the command unless the behavior is appropriate or at least not too annoying. 🙂 And with Tristan, I think he’s going to be kind of cooperative about doing stuff right around the house since he gets to do the important things like open and close doors now.

7) Shape the absence of the behavior
Call attention to/positively reinforce any behavior that is not in the category of what you want your child to stop doing. It will become a lot more fun for your child to do what you’d like. If your child is doing something you’d prefer he not do, a way to get him to stop doing that is to praise him for stopping the moment he does and withdraw attention if he starts again. This is a process, though – it will most definitely TEACH the child not to do whatever it is, but it will not stop most dangerous behaviors on an immediate basis. I’ve used this to get Tristan to stop throwing and spilling his sippy cup (in front of me at least :)) by praising the hell out of him for handing it to me or standing it up somewhere instead. And look – now he has two very useful commands!

8 ) Change the motivation
A child who is behaving like a little shit usually has an unmet need or want of some sort, or is in pain or discomfort. A young child does not have the mind to understand why he or she should not grab for mommy’s shiny breakable things. Take care of any needs (food/drink/sleep/elimination especially), comfort any pain, babyproof your home so that the scary stuff isn’t all tempting. When dealing with people in general, consider what unmet needs they have that are making them behave like that, and then it’s a lot easier not to be mad or overly caught up in the drama.