Friday, February 27, 2015

Third Anniversary Lists III: Choosing your Battles

Does anybody else obsess over self-driven cars?

One of the battles I am most loath to contemplate is that with my son over driving.  As focused as G can be, he may be easily distracted, especially in unpredictable environments -- and his judgment and sense are “still developing.”  If those self-driven cars could just hurry up and become available and affordable, I could sidestep the whole thing!

There are a couple of other battles we are fighting here and now, though, reducing the free time I have to think about future technological developments. I do this particular yearly list because it’s a handy format to share some insights from the last year’s struggles. While there have been a number of individuals and institutions that the Full Spectrums might’ve considered deserving of a nice smack with the hateball bat this year, I am going to stick with the positive, dedicating this post as usual to stuff you can try at home.

The critical differences between my children – my son is autistic, socially-awkward and very open-hearted; my daughter was adopted from china and has an attachment disorder; she is very savvy, and kind of a tough cookie – necessitate a lot of soul-searching in terms of how to best parent each/both. Parenting these two very distinct persons may (best case scenario) help me see what sorts of parenting strategies might work with a variety of children.

Here are some battle-choosing tips for my FULL spectrum:

1.      BOTH children benefit from Tackling One Task or Trait at a Time. I have found it’s better to monitor/learn something specific like “making the bed” over a more broad category such as “neatness.” The way that I CHOOSE which tasks or traits are addressed rests on which skills and traits will be most necessary to their lives as they grow up. With G, my choices tend toward practical skills and self-disciplines that will allow him to live independently; with Z, I tend to focus on skills and traits that encourage her to “grow the good,” to feel safe and secure enough to be kind and generous.

2.      (Try to) Be Consistent and Patient. Once you’ve chosen a battle, stick with it. It can take a loooooong time for habits to become ingrained. I am still working with G on “making bed,” while with Z it took a few days. Consistency is key – and a challenge to maintain on top of everything else…

If you are like me, you get t-i-r-e-d. Sometimes you may need to take a break from enforcement and get back to it once you’ve recharged. You’ll know pretty quickly whether you’ve been at it long enough for something to become a true habit when you start that break.

3.      Find the Right Reward. Z’s pretty easy: food. For a long time I was using “common sense points” for G and “goodness points’ for Z, and when they reached a certain number they got to choose a reward. This worked really well with G -- so well that he chose to stop doing it “because I have so much common sense now.” But it was, I think, a little too vague for Z, who never seemed to get above 10, anyway. So now we have malted milk balls that Z gets when she listens in school:  Specific Goal (see 1) and the Right Reward (3). For G, gum and screen time are enticing rewards; he has a lot of Specifics to work on, though and I haven’t been as Consistent as I should…

(Oh, I’m sorry…was that new-mama-ME who vowed she would “never bribe her kids”??? Welcome to reality, my old friend.)

4.      Assuming you’ve truly chosen worthwhile battles, you’ll want to eventually find ways to make the battles you are trying to choose for your kids become Their Own. Transfer control to them eventually so that you won’t have to do whatever it is (making bed) or remind them of it (be kind!) FOREVER.

I see autonomy as an ultimate goal and challenge for G, since his neurology can make basic daily tasks a struggle (mostly in terms of simply remembering to do them).  So a big goal and challenge for me, then, is to help him see why he should and how he can take on practical skills.  

Helping Z develop her superego (that part of the self that has a conscience and promotes pro-social, ethical behavior), so that she will be kind and honest when I am not monitoring her, is also an “ongoing process.”

5.      This last battle is not a FULL spectrum issue, as Z is a voracious and completely un-picky eater. But G, as with many people on the spectrum and/or with sensory processing differences, would prefer to “live” on a diet consisting entirely of white, sweet, bland food.

So, here are the Food Battles We Choose:

a.       The “One ‘No’ Rule:” G is allowed to refuse one item at each meal.

Because he is by far the pickiest eater in the house, and the rest of us tend to eat all sorts of things, this seems reasonable.  On a given night, I may find myself picking spicy greens out of the mesclun, mushrooms out of the rice, eggplant out of the relish… before even presenting Himself with His dinner. Egg-zaust-ing. Now I allow one choice of a food that will not be on his plate; the rest is up to him as below:

b.      The “One Bite Rule” is the perfect corollary to 5.a. Sometimes it means at the very least that all the remaining foods offered will be tried, however reluctantly…Sometimes it actually leads to a changed opinion: one time, I made G try the romanesco cauliflower which had been his expected “no” choice and then, having decided he liked that better than expected, he chose not to eat the cooked bok choy.

Fascinating, I know, but the “One Bite Rule” does sometimes create such mini-revelations.

Coming up, the next Sensory Blog Hop plus… what you have all been waiting for!…the most popular, putrid post of the year! : THE COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT! FSM has been a smidge behind the ball these last few weeks and is very much still accepting last minute complaints at

Full Spectrum Mama

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Prosopagnosia! Prosopagnosia is one manifestation of Sensory Processing Differences wherein your brain doesn’t process faces in the standard way. It’s also known as face-blindness. And both G and I have it.

I didn’t realize how severe my prosopagnosia was until I moved to Vermont. Living in this state is harder for me, recognition-wise, for two reasons. First, the population is almost entirely white. Living in New York City and other more diverse, generally urban environs most of my life enabled me to identify people partly by skin color and hair texture. Second, there was a style factor in these cities which is, shall we say, not so much in play here: flamboyance of dress is not as common in Vermont as I’d like it to be – and not just because I can’t tell anyone apart. As my dear friend Fern once said when we were in graduate school at Columbia University – an environs that felt to us downtown denizens like a bastion of preppiness in the midst of a then-freaky New York City -- “I feel like a drag queen here.” Come to think of it, we need more drag queens in Vermont, too!

ANYway, in a state where most people are white and dress casually, sportily. I find myself frequently faced with a friendly person who knows me, and expects me to know him or her. Which I probably do. But not by face.

Oh and another thing: small towns. In small towns you don’t just see someone where they work or attend a specific activity with you, where you naturally might develop contextual identification. No…in a small town, you also run into them and are expected to recognize them IN OTHER PLACES.

                                             Figure I – Basic Distinctions – Weak to Strong Recognition

                                                    Figure II – Bonus Distinctions – Strong Recognition

None of these observations – from skin color to hair length or texture or color to age to gender identity…--- is a judgment for G or me (well, maybe style -but I celebrate style diversity!). We are generally much too engaged in attempting to navigate this neurotypical world to feel critical of others’ looks. Visual differences (there are others uncatalogued here that may be helpful: moles, glasses, braces…) are just ways to recognize people.

Once I get to know someone well, I am able to recognize them…most of the time. Certainly close-up! This is not the case for all people with prosopagnosia, some of whom are never able to recognize even their closest associates. G has thought other women were me from time to time, and continues to do so; only when he gets right in front of them is he able to see that he was mistaken. Disconcerting – but I get it. In fact, it was through watching G have some pretty notable encounters of this sort that I began to realize that I had the same tendency. Before this dawning, I’d been prone to wondering why I could not distinguish between most of the mothers at drop off (or their kids, or who went with whom…), but I’d just put it in my “quirky me” category, with a side of “pathetic.” Around the same time, there was a great article in the New Yorker by Oliver Sacks ****** on this very subject (which also goes into topographical agnosia – another form of visual agnosia [lit.: not-knowing] - that I also share, but, luckily, G does not), and I realized there was a name for what G and I were experiencing!

G realizes that he has this Sensory Processing Difference, and that it’s something I, too, deal with. He’s learned to check himself in this area, and he’ll often say, now, “…Is that? …No.” He’s become more careful over time of calling out to his peers unless he’s sure it’s the person he thinks it is, which, frequently, it is not.

As G grows, he will be able to develop tools for recognition and hone his skills in this area. As awareness grows, he’ll know his face-blindness is a sort of Sensory Processing Difference that is shared by many. He’ll figure out his own best Distinctions, recognition-wise – and never need to call himself “pathetic.”   

Full Spectrum Mama