Making of a cheese cake...

We are in the process of going through a 4d off, as a part of Thanksgiving holiday.

We had decided that we would make a cheese-cake on one of those days. The process to make was to go find a recipe (from book, net or ipad), get the ingredients by going to the store and then come home and make it.

I've this habit of picking up some odd books during garage sales - one such book was a big recipe book that details all kinds of cakes and dessert. So, it was the turn of DS to go through the book to find one. His DM gave him a start page to look at - he looked through it and zeroed on one of the recipe - my suspicion being he just pattern matched 'cheese cake' with one the first title he saw ! :-) But he is not supposed to get off that easy, right ? So I took him to index and told him to look for recipes under cheesecake, and page #s. He found several and kind of understood the difference between contents and index page of a book - we think so. Next is to look for recipes in iPad with the all-recipes and epicurious app. Found several again - the key learning here was the reviews - he understood the number of stars made a difference... In any case, we finally, rejected all the recipes and went back to a simple one from the recipe book.

Next step, go to the store and get all the ingredients. Shopping list - check ! But, both DW and I were pretty much clueless about where to find the ingredients - most of them. For example, the recipe list said 'softened cheese' - so how is it different from other cheese. Implies that we need to ask around at the store with the employees there - as we did this, we gave running commentary that we didn't know and hence we are asking around. Finally got all the ingredients and it was now time to make it.

I've probably stated this earlier in these chronicles. DS, although, doesn't like the sound of blender, has adjusted well with it at school during their cooking classes. But at home, he still has that - so typically, we work that when he is at the bath or out taking out the garbage. Yesterday, it was cold and I didn't want him to go out simply. So I told him the option of staying in a room behind closed doors; he didn't like it, got angry and said, he'd actually operate the blender himself ! He did so (and a day later, he believes that sometimes good things can come out of anger :-)). It was pretty good experience then on - he wanted to operate the egg-beater, to mix the egg, cheese, sour-cream etc... He was completely involved in the whole exercise, helping out, doing (or more than) his part, cleaning up, switching pots and pans etc...

Here is the photo of the end product...

Later on during the night, we went to the movie Real Steel across the street. He enjoyed the movie - also he broke a "rule" for that. He doesn't like to go to a movie after dinner, because it would imply a late-night movie, which he doesn't want to go to. Yesterday, we had dinner and then went to the movie - he really enjoyed it... the only question he asks these days is this - how long is the movie - he has had the Avatar experience - not a 3-hr boring movie ! :-) How true !!! I wouldn't want to subject my greatest enemy to that experience (in fact, not to any of James Cameron experience ! :-))

Type of Questions...

DS doesn't like to be asked questions. I believe it stems from the fact that he doesn't like to be tested, because he could be wrong. The same reason he is a not a big Math-liker. Because Math has only rights and wrongs and he doesn't like to be wrong...

...similarly questions are the same for him.

A few days ago, I had asked him a question as to why he likes Indian cars more than US cars. That put him in a spin. He started talking through his thinking and was not really clear why I had asked him that question. Did I mean that he should not like Indian cars ? Did I mean that he should know more about US cars ?

We actually discussed through that like part of it - what could be the reason; he had spent more parts of his life in India ? There were new cars every year in India and he could incrementally learn ? Always the first like is a lasting like ? etc etc...

But to us, it gave us a model... There are three types of questions:

  1. Learning Questions - the questions people ask him, when they do not know something. Like when he is asked directions
  2. Thought Questions - the questions people ask him, when they want to get his opinion or his reasoning - things that make him think about the topic or himself. There are no right and wrong, but its very subjective
  3. Test Questions - the questions people ask him, when they want to know what he knows.
of course, the #3 is the one he hates. But, this is the first onslaught :-) He now is aware that these three types exist. The awareness if the first step of internalization... Lets see where it goes.

Non-Expression is not same as non-emotion !

We had an incident that happened two days ago closer to home. Summary: A guy who got stressed out at work, got a gun, shot around 10 people at his work place (3 fatalities), and then drove his get-a-way car, abandoned it ~4miles from the incident spot, got into the parking lot of our (DD) company, shot a woman wounding her in attempt to car-jack that failed. He was at large for about 24hrs after which he was found and shot dead.

The thing about this was, the suspect's work-place is about 1.5mi west of our home, and my work-place (where the attempted car-jack happened) is about 4mi south-east of our home and DS's school is about 2mi south. When the incident happened and the police were trying to find him, we were all stuck in limbo...
- DS was in the school-bus that got stuck in traffic near school and turned around. We (DW and I) weren't sure how to bring him back, since I had taken the car to work. But, fortunately, the bus itself dropped DS in an hour
- I could not get out of work, since there was a lock-down, since our company wanted us not to get out until the suspect was caught or the perimeter was safe enough to get to the car.
- 5hrs later, we were all evacuated since the police wanted to search our premises if the suspect was able to get in.

so, all in all a stressful day for all of us.

DS was quite worried about the safety of me, car when I was at work, and then as a family when we were all home. He was watching to the TV news to see if the suspect was getting caught.

I was quite concerned about DS's reaction and the stress. I had sent a note to his school asking if they'd have some counselling facilities and how they'd manage student's stress. I had talked to his class teacher about it. He had said that at school, they will talk about it as a class and see if any further counselling is required.

This is what I got from the class teacher today.
Just wanted to let you know that DS did fine today. He was a bit wound up but we expected it. We did have a class discussion about yesterday and he shared with his class how scared he was about being close to the first situation and then your being at He told us that he cried when he heard you call on the phone as were alright. He thought it was special time for the two of you being together last night as well. I think you know, he loves you deeply!
Was so touched and overwhelmed ! Yet another proof that debunks the fallacy. Definitely, the inability is around expression; not love.

2011: DS' Summer of Content & Contentment !

This summer has been one of the most satisfying ones for us. Something clicked, and it is as if everything was in sync and in rhythm... not just routine, but rhythm.
(To me
Routine = a set of activities done in a similar order, where as
Rhythm = a set of activities done in a similar order, but with great mental engagement and mind-share; where there is an emotional investment).
Here is what we did with DS during this summer:
  1. We worked on the comprehension. We have a guide who comes home for 2hrs/week and works on stories with him. Try to structure his imagination to a cogent set of thoughts. Some of the key words we have used are: "What is the central idea" ? "Central theme" ? "What is peripheral ?" etc.
  2. We worked on "structured Chaos" - Take an unknown situation, like assembling railway-model and then "try" it. The key-words we used were: "Lets try", "Lets make a guess, even if it is wrong", "lets take 3 guesses"
  3. Focus on the "effort" and not "result". I believe this has resonated with DS. Basically, in any thing, we want him to try; and we rated him on his "effort" in the scale of 1 to 10; and not made a big deal of result. So, when he does something, we used to say, "your effort today was "10", and the result was "7", but when you did the same thing a week ago, your effort was "10", but result was only "3". The intent being, if he puts in an honest effort, the results would improve. I think he has understood this.
  4. We focused on physical activity (with a physical trainer - Master Jay - see the link here - the write-up on the last para); Master Jay comes home and trains with DS twice a week - not just physical exercise that helps him in his posture, but also inter-hemispheric integration and proprioceptive awareness. We believe it has helped DS stay with a conversation, make him more perseverant and be present to the situation. Needless to say, when I work with him on rest of the days, I always have used the 'effort' and 'result' grading !
  5. We worked on his independence - ability to plan his time, calendar and finish per calendar. This is in rudimentary stage :-).
We will continue to work on the above 5... We feel very good about his progress and how DS has let us to work with him, this summer. He has started seeing with increasing regularity, within himself, the ability to be self-aware and self-regulate more and more. There are fewer non-negotiables for him these days...

Self Regulation in distress situation...

Major breakthrough yesterday. Usually, we talk about self-regulation for DS while he is acting silly; Yesterday was the incident about self-regulation in distress. This is the first step towards problem-solving in distress conditions...

Here is the incident:

He has this favourite you-tube video. It is called - "Fiat vanishing from Bombay'. This is a video about phasing out Fiat cars out of Bombay that someone has posted in you-tube. I believe he likes this because, he doesn't like the Fiat car; and it was something that is deep in his psyche. The first time he went to Bombay (aged around 2) to meet our sisters family, they had brought their Fiat to pick us up from the airport and the noise of the car perhaps scared him a lot.

The poster/owner of the youtube video, had removed the clipping yesterday. The usual DS would go ahead and cry and melt-down leading to tangential statements like not wanting the computer yesterday. However, yesterday, once he found that out, he went to the room on his own to "handle" it. DW and I were still unaware of all these, since we were watching TV. Appears after about 10 min he came and told his DM that his favourite video is gone, but he will go calm himself and come back. We could see he was struggling to keep calm and keep his tears off. Then he went away for another 5min and came back much calmer...

He is still disappointed, but we believe he handled it extremely well and is handling it well now. He has thought about alternate way to save some of his favourite videos.

I hope he is able to generalize this experience and apply to others too... Although its a 'proud moment' for us, we (particularly I) need to realize its a still grieving moment for him. And not talk to him about how proud are we, as to how he handled the lost of the video... because any such talk probably reminds him more of the loss ! DM has intuitively understood this and kept away from him and taken the pressure of usual routine off today.

Our belief is that his physical exercises (the training we started with a private trainer) along with DM's internalization of Pace's approach is helping the inflection.

How to extend the motivation ?

DS, we believe, is quite bright and understand things well. In our opinion, his two main areas, where he lacks are these: (1) Motivation and lack of it (2) Communication effectively what he understands.

We would love to find some "magic" on the motivation part. When he likes something, he goes all the way - not just with the cars (surprise !), but also his learning comes through clearly, in areas when he wants to apply. For example, he doesn't like math very much - my view is that, that is because, in math one is either right or wrong; and he doesn't like being wrong. So learning math is always stressful for him; he wants to check-mark it and finish whatever is in front of him in the paper. Thats the background.

His mother has instituted a process with him, where he earns money and spends money. The way he earns money is by doing things faster than the assigned time. So, if he has 20 minutes to do something, he finishes it in 15, he is 5m early - this will earn twice that - so he earns 10c. He uses this money to spend on what he likes - watching movies, taking breaks, chicken etc.

Few days ago, he was short on cash; he owed his mother some 18c, by end of the day. So, before he went to bed, he declared that he would do one of his chores in 14minutes (which has the allocated time of 20min) and will get the another chore done in 7 minutes (assigned time of 10min). That does take care of the 20c he owed. I was really surprised that he worked this out mentally - the equation I saw was 18 = (12 = [20-14] x 2) + (6 = [10 - 7] x 2)... This has mental addition, multiplication and subtraction...

So where does this motivation come from ? How do we leverage this ? Ideas ?

Anti biotics

DS was ill few weeks ago - and he was on anti-biotics. As he recovered from his illness (flu), we found him extremely engaged and high self-regulatory behaviour - for example, getting dressed quickly (with no dreaming), finishing his homework quickly with full mental engagement etc etc.

We went back and checked our notes (thanks to DW, who diligently keeps diary of each and every day of his food habits, his behaviour etc for the past several years), and we found similar impact/benefit earlier too.

Talked to the doctor here and he said he has heard similar stories from other parents.

Of course, during illness he is also on a very strict GFCFSF (sugar-free) diet, since he just eats Rice-dosa and rasam-rice... (but because of his dehydration, we did give him salt+sugar water).

Wonder if there is a connection between AB and being in the moment !

The Change

DS just had a flu and came out of it - He seem to have come out of the chrysalis phase suddenly ! Wonder if this is due to the Antibiotics, but more on that later..

I (DD) had called home from work. Usually DS doesn't pickup the phone at home. This time he picked up the phone and addressed me: "Hi Red" - this is the way he usually calls me. I was very surprised to hear DS speak. I asked him if DW had asked him to talk. DS replied, that he picked the phone on his own, since his mom wasn't available. Then I ask him, but you had said "Hi Red", what if it was somebody else. DS said, "I saw you name in the phone."... And to us, this was cool - this guy not only picked the phone that he usually doesn't like, but was quite engaged in the process and regulated his response accordingly ! Cool...

Another incident: usually he goes to Gym in the morning with his mom. Few days ago, he was holding the door for DW and her friend to come out. The friend of surprised at the chivalry - his response: I was holding the door for both of you like a gentleman. Additionally, he also remembered and thanked our friend for a very good chicken curry when he met her at the gym - the curry, the friend had shared the day before. He told her that the food was very good !

To crown this all (can there be anything more ?), DS is very scared of the vacuum cleaner noise, such that we use it at home when he is not around. At DS's school, they were trying to make the kids learn to use vacuum, but DS was so scared of it. However, in a class discussion, he had set a goal for himself that he'd use the vacuum and will overcome the fear of vacuum cleaner noise. Two days after that resolution, he spilled cheese by mistake. When the teacher asked" how are we going to clean", expecting DS to say, "I will pickup". To the teacher's surprise, DS said, "I will use the vacuum to clean" and went ahead to do so. His teacher was blown away...he immediately called home to let us know. Now DS feels very proud about overcoming his fear!!!

DS seemed very focused the past two weeks. A few days ago, I tried to teach him frisbee, by breaking down into micro-steps; last weekend, when we went to a picnic with his cousin, he very diligently tried throwing the frisbee and did so successfully !

We are crossing our fingers and toes. DS seems to have gone to the next level of self-awareness and self-regulation. He understands what could offend and is building concentric circles of social behaviour - what is acceptable within home isn't acceptable with his cousins; and what is with them will not be acceptable outside of them.

Will keep you all posted.

Transition Pains... ... and gains...

Have not posted for a long time. There were quite a few things happening at work and at home. Has been a year of tough transitions all across. It has been frustrating and uninspiring; not much motivation to blog... not only on this blog but on the other one too.

Regarding DS, he has moved on from the middle school (where he had really settled and doing well) into high school. In US, going to high school implies, one physically shifts school. For both, DW and I, this was one of trepidation. As expected, DS had enormous challenges in settling in the school. We started with resource classes and special day classes. He seemed to have hard time coping with difficulty quotient that he had become disruptive in the class; and we had complaints frequently. So we had to pull him off these resource class (and replace it with work at home - more of that later). Also, the school resource specialist have worked with the class teacher for certain techniques. Since the past couple of months, DS seems to have settled down very well at school and he now says he loves the school and the teachers in his class* (* see note at the end of this post).

Re his development, physically he has grown very tall - taller than 5'10" (and just hit 14) and stronger, helps me carry grocery bags from the car, including 20-25 pound rice bags. He continues to go to Karate & Tennis class. Over the summer, he has learned to swim the breadth of the pool without keeping his foot down and breathing between strokes. He now goes to once a week swim class, where the teacher says he is quite a natural in his back-stroke. As the soccer season got over, the basket ball started. He wants and is very excited to go to the basket-ball practices.

On the emotional intelligence side: he has become quite flexible - the techniques we learned at Pace Place has helped in getting him to break most of his inflexible rules - so much so that his mother can drive a car (but he would not sit with her - knowing how she drives, even I dont :-) ). He has learned to be in the grey area - or the understanding of it. He has begun rating his experience from 0 to 10 - so its always not black or white as it was before. It was a moment of revelation for us, when he rated two bad experience in negative. And articulated that -3 was worser than -1. He has pretty much on his own on the computer these days - surfing to check for cars, researching about maruti and see helicopter crashes... Sometime, I do wish he surfs the normal ;-) sites that teenagers of his age do !!

Socially, he is more in the group. During our annual winter pilgrimage to India, he was sitting with the group whenever we visited our friends. He also attempted and succeeded quite well in asking return questions to keep the conversation going. The biggest change we saw this time, he didn't try to remove himself from the group setting, but continued to sit with all of us.

On the learning side: His comprehension is improving; we are looking using Linda-Mood Bell of visualizing for reading comprehension. Somehow we believe the time has come where he is ready for higher level of comprehension, that may aid his learning. DW is reading a book on that (link here). We have also effectively used the captive-attention time, via long drives: we typically take a long drive through the suburbs in the sparse weekend traffic, during which we have a very fruitful and productive engagement. Stories (that he makes up) have become an effective way for him to communicate his thoughts and experiences. We believe, through the stories, he is not only getting the intellectual understanding, but also internalizing the message.

In the mindmap model I had posted earlier (link here), I believe, DS has made progress in the flexibility, problem solving, perspective taking, understanding the gray areas and some level of independence. He is also begun to accept failures, which implies he is no longer worried about being wrong and hence not attempting. Simply, DW instituted a simple approach - during the long drives, she will ask a question and DS has to attempt 5 answers including 4 wrong answers. Being ok with wrong, we believe, will in turn reduce some of his anxiety.

So, here we go ! 2011 will be the year of 20++ :-) That is how I want to look at this after the 2010...
* After all the tribulations of settling down in the high school, DS was one of the 3 students awarded for making the greatest progress since joining ! P....r....o....u.....d !! Of the effort he has made to get here.