Tag Archives: writing

Announcing: Slip

Do you remember the first thing you thought you wanted to be when you grew up? When I was four years old I decided that I wanted to be a writer. I could not yet read independently, but I so loved the books that were read to me that I wanted to write my own. I wanted to contribute to the universe of stories that enveloped me, entertained me, influenced me, and later, sustained me. I wanted to create worlds with words. And although I could not verbalize this at age four, I wanted to tap in. I wanted to be a part of the magic.

And so, at age five, I wrote my first book, illustrated it, and “published” it. I took a piece of cardboard from one of my father’s shirt packages and designed and bound my book with a cover. I even gave it a spine (although I didn’t know that’s what it was called). My accomplishment spurred me on, and I wrote more stories, “published” more books. I started a series about a mouse with a puffy hat and her animal friends. In sixth grade I wrote a novella about a mystery in my classroom. One of my friends illustrated it, my mother typed it, and my father took it to his work and had several copies printed and spiral bound. I just loved creating books. I continued to write more stories throughout high school and college, and then I had children and set my fiction writing aside. And although my boys are wonderful beings who completely enhanced my life, there was a hole where my writing had been.

So, five years ago I decided to follow the old adage “write what you know” and wrote a novel about a single parent raising two children, one with autism. It went through many drafts, was edited by a complete stranger who knew nothing about autism, or me, or being a single parent, and went through several more drafts. At no point had I attempted to solicit an agent. It’s not that I have anything against agents or the publishing industry! Definitely not. It’s just that that avenue was not this book’s destiny. This book was to be the culmination of what I dearly loved to do in childhood – write and publish my own books.

I still love to create worlds with words. And now, I’m thrilled to announce that my first novel, Slip, has been published! It’s available to order on Amazon, although they seem to be having trouble keeping it in stock (!) It’s also available directly from my publishing company: http://kovapublishing.com/books/

There’s a quote by James Allen that I read on the back of a Celestial Seasonings tea box years ago: You will always gravitate towards that which you secretly most love. And I’m happy to say that I’m still gravitating, still loving, still writing. I’m still tapping in.

The Lowdown

From time to time I receive e-mails from readers asking how I’m doing, often about things that don’t necessarily pertain to this blog, which is totally fine. Here, I write mostly about my experiences raising my two boys, one of whom has autism. I don’t go into much personal stuff because I think of this blog as a resource for other parents. But then I realized that when I read other blogs, one of the things I truly enjoy is a post on a more personal level.  I feel like I get to know the blogger a little better, identify with him or her, and often learn something new. And since I usually enjoy reading the personal bits, I figured that some of my readers might like that too.

So, in that vein, I’ve decided to occasionally write some personal posts to address those “touching base” e-mails that I receive. For example, I am often asked how my writing is coming along, especially since I’ve been threatening to publish a book for over a year now. Well, as with everything else in my life that doesn’t have to do with work and raising kids, it’s coming along slowly. I’m close, though! Really close! I just have a few more things to iron out, and then it’s off to the printer! I had considered having another editor look at it, but I gave it some careful consideration and think that I just need to bite the bullet and get it out there. It’s time (almost).

Here’s another popular question – am I dating now? And the answer is no. I have not dated for a year. For a while now I’ve been telling myself that I don’t have time to date, which is mostly true. But I’m also not that impressed with the caliber of single men I’ve met lately. And here’s a little story to illustrate that point. Okay, so Saturday night I go out with a friend of mine, another full-time single mom. It’s been weeks since either one of us has gotten out of our homes other than for work, errands, or appointments. A band is playing at a local pub, so we sit down at the bar and have a drink. After a few minutes, the guy next to me starts chatting me up. He seems okay, apparently a recently (by my standards) single dad whose kids are the same ages as mine. He’s even from the LA area, as I am, so I think those are pretty cool things to have in common. We keep talking, and my friend joins in. The three of us talk about our six collective kids, we make jokes, we’re having a good time. And then – brace yourselves – the guy blurts out, “Yeah, I’m really over the whole kid thing.”    

Really? You’re hitting on a single mom of two kids, and you think a line like that is gonna get you anywhere?

I was so shocked that I couldn’t even say anything. My friend, however, had a few choice words to say, including, “How sad for your kids” as we turned on our heels and walked out. I mean, it’s not like I’m expecting to meet a great guy in a pub. I wasn’t expecting to meet anyone that night, nor was I wanting to. I just wanted to go out and kick back with my friend. Instead, we meet a jerk who’s been a single dad for three years and thinks he’s going to impress me by complaining about it and insulting good parents everywhere. Next!

In other news, I recently received the Friendly Blogger award from my friend Nicki at Slow Down, Gym Shoe. Nicki was a recipient of the Lemonade award that I passed on to her for her positive outlook. Thanks for this cool award, Nicki!

One of the rules for accepting the Friendly Blogger award is to post the most recent photo of yourself, so again – brace yourselves:

 

And that’s the lowdown – not much success in the writing, dating, and portrait-taking departments. Tune in for the next episode of Personal Posts, in which I’ll discuss convalescing cats, workplace gossip, and file cabinet organization! (Kidding, but who knows?)

Autism and Writing

Sometimes, when I’m writing, I just don’t know where to begin. A quote is nice as a hook, and so is a well-crafted topic sentence. Once I figure out the beginning, I can usually organize my thoughts well enough to write a fairly decent piece. But sometimes the ending gives me trouble. Or my transitions are choppy. It doesn’t always flow.

Nigel has trouble with all of these things, every time he writes. He usually has plenty to say (these days), but organizing all of his thoughts is difficult for him. He is back in regular school, but because it’s part-time, some of his subjects still fall under the homeschooling umbrella. Language Arts is one of them. Fortunately, I used to be a writing tutor, so I’ve got some experience in figuring out how to teach someone to write. I’ve worked with ESL (English as a Second Language) students, dyslexic students, and other students with special needs. But Nigel is my first autistic student.

Last year, I started off teaching him to type, which went very well, and then he wrote a few small paragraphs as reviews of educational videos he had watched. The trouble started this year when I had to explain to him that cutting and pasting paragraphs from Wikipedia articles was not an acceptable way to write an essay. But if I stop to think about it, that way of learning to write is exactly the way he learned to talk – by using words he had heard somewhere else. Yes, with writing it’s plagiarism, but I like to think of it as “echolalic writing.” So, just as he learned to talk when his speech was predominantly echolalic, I slowly guided him to use his own words in his writing. We began with a narrative essay, then an imaginative one, both three paragraphs long. Once he realized that he could write a full essay with his own words, I then upped the ante to a five-paragraph persuasive essay. He chose the topic – Stricter Rules Against Bullies. I helped him draft an outline, and then he typed the first draft.

One of the necessities of a persuasive essay, of course, is addressing the opposing viewpoint. Nigel, with his theory-of-mind challenges, declared, “I can’t mind read! How should I know what the opposing viewpoint is?!” And of course, that made all kinds of sense, coming from an autistic mind. I should have realized that the concept would have been difficult for him. After explaining that he should try to think of how he would feel if he were the other person, I realized that I was getting nowhere, and Nigel was only getting more frustrated. I finally had a brainstorm, albeit an obvious one. “Nigel,” I said, “read one of your reasons that you listed for why there needs to be stricter rules against bullies, and think of what you would say to someone who disagreed with you.” He took that and ran with it.

It’s Spring Break now, so he’s not writing, but when we get back to it in a week and a half, he’ll be working on his first essay involving research and citing sources. It’ll be a challenge for him, and will probably take him a few weeks to do it, but I think he can. I remember when he was not functionally verbal, and how glad I was that he could read, even though it was hyperlexia. I thought how wonderful it would be if he could learn to write, since he could not speak much, and he then could communicate by writing. I remember thinking that if he could write, it would liberate him to no end. And even though he can talk now, I still feel that way about him writing. He may have some difficulty with conventions, transitions, and thinking of good topic sentences. It hurts his hand to write with a utensil, which is why I knew I had to teach him to type. But now he’s writing, and that will take him everywhere.

It’s That Time of Year

I have decided that being a single parent of two and homeschooling the one who has autism and working two other jobs just wasn’t keeping me on my toes. I just didn’t know what to do with all that extra time on my hands. So I entered a contest to write a novel in one month. Yes, that’s right! I’m doing NaNoWriMo!

For those of you who are unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it happens every year in November. This is my first go at it, and I’m both excited and exhausted. The object is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Just for a little perspective, the typical word count in a whole month of my blog posts is approximately 8,500.

As of yesterday, I passed the half-way point and am right on track with my word count! As I focus on the second half of the novel and the home stretch of completing it, I’ll be scaling back on my usual posting schedule here at Teen Autism (just for the next two weeks). But for those who would like to take a peek at my other writing, click on the link below and that will take you to my NaNoWriMo page. Then click on the “Novel Info” tab, and you can read a synopsis of my book and an excerpt – the full first chapter! Keep in mind, this is a really rough first draft. But I kinda like how it’s shaping up! You can also keep track of my word count, which is updated daily, and see if I’m going to make it!

http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/user/433097

Wish me luck . . .

Spiderfan

Any kid who loves a movie character will probably want to write a fan letter, and Nigel is no different. After beginning with Tigger (“Dear Tigger, jumps note, Piglet and Pooh”), Nigel progressed in one year to write, at age seven, the following letter:

DEAR   PETER   PARKER

MAY    I    HAVE    THE   SPIDER-MAN    SUIT    PLEASE

YOU    CAN   VISIT   US   IN   OREGON

I   MISS   YOU   IN    NEW   YORK

YOUR   WEB   SHOOTERS   ARE   COOL

WHY   YOU   STOP   GREEN   GOBLIN

LOVE      NIGEL

He typed it on my computer one afternoon. I guess, not realizing that a sequel was in the works, Nigel figured that Peter Parker no longer needed the Spiderman suit now that the movie was filmed. And I guess Nigel thought that Green Goblin was pretty cool, too. Who can really know for sure what an autistic seven-year-old thinks? The number of words contained in this letter is far more than Nigel ever spoke at that age.  I remember being so glad that he had found a way to express himself, even if it was only about movies. At least they motivated him to write, and to communicate.

Learning to Write

As I had written in a previous post, I believed that once Nigel learned to write, that would “liberate him to no end.” Last night I came across a description I wrote seven years ago about Nigel learning to write:

Near the end of the year, Nigel began printing his name. Just a month before, he refused to hold any writing utensil, as he had been doing since age three when we first tried to get him to scribble; he seemed to have an aversion to holding pens, pencils, crayons, and markers. But now, at six, he has begun. Being a bit of a perfectionist, he gets very frustrated with himself because he has trouble making the letter G, both big and small. But he perseveres, and now, just three months later, he writes full sentences, short “letters,” even. (“Dear mom, Mom get string cheese, Love mom” – I’ve tried to tell him that he needs to say “Love, Nigel” on his letters so that the people know they’re from him, but I guess he thinks, Why wouldn’t you know who it was from? I just handed this to you, so you must know it’s from ME.)

He has also started drawing for the first time, which is fabulous. The first things he drew were little cars with smiley faces. I will always remember how happy I was when he started writing and drawing. The first night he did, he came to me and asked me to “write a letter to Tigger.” I told him I was washing dishes and I would do it as soon as I was finished. A few minutes later, I turned around and there he was at the kitchen table, hunched over a piece of paper, writing diligently, struggling with the Gs in Tigger. I looked over his shoulder just as he was finishing, and saw that he had written, “Dear Tigger, jumps note, Piglet and Pooh.” He put it in an envelope because he wanted to mail it to him.

Since then, Nigel has been writing and drawing every day. He went through a sign-making phase. He put up signs all over the house saying things like, “Warning: Do not let mom out of the house” on the back door, “No children allowed” inside the front door of Aaron’s [his father’s] house, “No smoking,” on Aaron’s closet door, “Reward: Do not let dogs out of the cage” on his and Aidan’s bedroom door, and several “Missing: Stuart Little” signs all over the living room when he couldn’t find his Stuart Little video. Currently, he has been drawing traffic lights and houses. He also recently drew an adult male lion and a lion cub, and when I asked him who it was, he said, “Simba and his dad.” I initially thought that Nigel’s writing and drawing would be a way to communicate his needs, but it has revealed more about his emotions and priorities than I ever would have imagined.

Assessing Development

Development sometimes seems so elusive and immeasurable. When you’re with your child every day, it is often difficult to see any development. For me, it becomes more apparent when Nigel returns after visiting his father for seven weeks every summer. It is then that I notice changes in development. Some are subtle, such as a slight increase in speech, and some are more obvious, such as being two inches taller. Every year Nigel progresses, whether it is obvious or not.

I keep a file (several, actually) of his school records, IEP reports, and my own writing describing his development over the years. I have been looking through the files this week and am enjoying reading about his development, marveling at how far he has come. This is an excerpt from ‘Nigel at Six:’

I had intended to start writing this sooner. Pictures are not enough to remember these early years. Videos help immensely, but they do not capture thoughts and dreams, concerns and hopes.

All people change and grow, but I think I will spend my entire life learning about Nigel. Who is this little boy? Part genius, part tough, all loving. He has been with Child Development Center for two years now, and I can communicate with him levels above how I did when he started. He is a wondrous person, a gentle soul. Trusting, yet fearful of new situations. I can’t explain to him why he needs to sit at the table in restaurants and stay near me in the grocery store. Of course, I must remind myself that it has gotten better. He understands more of what I tell him, but too often I don’t  think of what to tell him until it is too late. Last time we tried to eat in a restaurant, he went up to some other patrons at their table, got right in their faces and proclaimed, “Balto!” because he had watched that video earlier in the day.

He is starting to use pronouns now, usually at home where he is comfortable, although he confuses which one to use when, “I” for “you” and vice versa. We are still hearing nonsensical words, words he uses when he’s trying to imitate a line from a video and he doesn’t know what was actually said. For example, in The Lion King when Simba tells Zazu “Hurry!” in an urgent voice, because he needed help. Nigel thought it was said in an angry voice, so whenever he’s angry, he yells, “Urr-reee!” and has for about two years now. Or he would say, also in anger, “It’s my gun, you’ve got no right to take it!” from the Swiss Family Robinson. Fortunately that was short-lived. Another good one was from the Scooby-Doo video. When Aidan split his chin open, we had to go to the doctor for stitches, and the regular doctor had just moved to a new location. So we got to the new office and were just about to walk in the front door when Nigel stopped and said, “I don’t like it,” as Shaggy had said when they were about to go into a haunted house. Nigel had used the phrase in perfect context as a way to indicate his fear about a new situation.

He’s even come up with some phrases on his own, emerging spontaneous, non-echolalic speech, which is wonderful. When I got back from a three-day trip to Paris, he emptied my backpack and filled it with his own shoes and clothes, put it on and walked around the room saying, “Nigel go to Paris. Nigel is tripping [meaning, going on a trip].” He has learned in school to comment whenever someone participates by saying, “Good catching,” “Good throwing,” “Good drawing,” “Good sitting down,” and when he can’t describe something specifically, he says, “Good job in doing,” which I love.

And the boy who taught himself to read at three and a half is sounding out words he doesn’t even know. Yes, it’s hyperlexia, but at least he shows cognitive strength in that. Unfortunately, he seems to have difficulty with holding pens – even fat ones – and trying to write. He is very resistant. He loves to watch other people write, but he freaks out if I try to put my hand over his to get him to do it. It’s a shame, because I think that once he learns to write, that will liberate him to no end.   

Paragraph Practice

As part of our homeschool program, I am trying, ambitiously, to teach Nigel how to write essays, since he will need this skill to achieve any success in his future academic career. It is proving to be difficult, needless to say. In his mind, an essay is a pasted-together document of sections of text written about a subject (usually found on Wikipedia). He cuts and pastes a paragraph at a time, until he has cut and pasted six paragraphs, clicks save, and triumphantly announces that he is finished with his essay.

After I explained to him the concept of plagiarism, and he got mad because his easy essay-writing method had been thwarted, I decided that we should back up a bit and focus first on paragraph writing. I had him watch an educational video about horses and had him write a one-paragraph summary. I had told him that the paragraph needed to have 5-7 sentences, but he claimed that if he combined two sentences that they should still count as two sentences. So his paragraph consisted of two compound sentences and one concluding sentence. Below is his paragraph, written in his own words, titled “The Horse.”

The first horse came to be 5.5 million years ago, but had 3 toes on each hind leg and 4 toes on each front leg. As time passed, the forests turned into grasslands and the horse lost all but one toe on each leg and those turned into hooves. The reason why a horse wins the Kentucky Derby is because it is just following it’s gut instinct.

Aside from that apostrophe, the paragraph is grammatically correct. But what impresses me the most is the complex idea that he takes as a given: a horse’s “gut instinct.” What is a horse’s gut instinct? Running? Feeling its hooves hit the ground? Trying to find its toes? I like the fact that his writing makes me contemplate different ideas. It also gives me a little insight as to how his mind works, and that is something I value and enjoy.