Sunday, March 4, 2012

Greatest Inventions

This week, I will administer our Indiana state proficiency exams, the ISTEP+, to my seventh grade students. Every year my colleagues have me tell the story of a student I had in class years ago who apparently misread the writing prompt for his essay, which we still find amusing years later. The students that year were to write about the greatest invention in history. As I walked around the room to monitor the students’ progress, I noticed this student had entitled his essay “My Hamster.” I gently suggested that he re-read what the assigned topic was, and as he did, his eyes widened, and he began erasing what he’d written and hopefully chose a more appropriate topic. [Sadly, under the more stringent rules the state has given test proctors this year, I wouldn’t be able to help that poor kid.] Yesterday, I ran across an entertaining blog entry from Look At My Eyes entitled “The Greatest Invention for the Autism World EVER???” [Click here to read this blog entry.] No, the greatest invention wasn’t a hamster, but the electronic timer instead, which holds a special place in Alex’s heart, as I’ve written in previous blog entries. While I’d be hard pressed to choose the greatest invention for the autism world, five items—in addition to the beloved electronic timer—come to mind.

Betty Crocker gluten-free yellow cake mix makes my life so much easier. Before this wonderful product came on the market last year, I had to bake all of Alex’s cakes from scratch. Gluten-free cakes that have a good texture and flavor require measuring three different gluten-free flours (tapioca, potato starch, and rice flours) and adding the proper mix of xanthan gum to help the flours stick together without gluten along with baking powder and/or baking soda to make it rise. With Betty Crocker’s GF cake mixes, I just dump the mix in a bowl with three eggs, a stick of Fleischmann’s unsalted margarine, a little water, vanilla extract, and orange extract (my own addition that Alex really likes), mix with the electric mixer, pour in a pan, and bake. Not only is it easy to make, but also topped with Duncan Hines vanilla frosting, this is one tasty cake.

I’d personally like to thank the creator of the Game Show Network for entertaining Alex for hours on end. Between Family Feud, Lingo, Deal or No Deal, Press Your Luck, and others, Alex has not only enjoyed watching these shows, but he’s also learned some information and strategy by playing along at home.

I don’t know what Alex would do without his beloved calculators. He has calculators of every shape, size, color, and format and can spend hours punching in numbers. Of course, his love of math and numbers has shaped his affection for these handy gadgets. When he was a toddler and had to sit through faculty meetings with me, I’d put him in his stroller and hand him a calculator to play with, and he never let out a peep, fully amused by punching the buttons. Early on, I guess I knew how to keep him happy and calm in such a simple way.

If it were not for melatonin, we would have spent many years sleep deprived. When Alex suddenly developed insomnia around age five, he would wander around the house and watch middle-of–the-night tv, such as CNN. Of course, we couldn’t allow him to be up without our supervision, so we had to give up sleep, as well. The first night he started taking melatonin under the guidance of our doctor, he easily fell asleep at a reasonable hour and slept soundly through the night. I really suspect that he did not have enough natural melatonin in his system, and this supplement provided what he needed. Fortunately, he has overcome this problem and can sleep without taking melatonin anymore, but for those years he couldn’t, I’m thankful he responded so well to this supplement.

For Alex, I think the greatest invention is the computer and the Internet. He has learned so much by playing games, doing Google searches and subsequent research, and typing information into spreadsheets and word processing programs. As I mentioned in a recent blog entry, he is currently fascinated with a website called “Ask God,” and now he begins every morning by consulting with this artificial intelligence site. He shares his worries with “God” about rising gasoline prices, and apparently, he has some good sense about not sharing his identity online. Last week, “God” asked him his name, and he typed in [game show and talk show host] Regis Philbin. Ed and I thought that was pretty clever of him. In addition, I’m pleased that he knows the best way to start the day is by having a conversation with God; now if we can teach him that prayer is better than the Internet, we’ll have taught him well.

“Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; Talk of all His wondrous works!” Psalm 105:2


~B~ said...

I have read from a lot of other moms who have children on the spectrum that they have put their children on gluten-free diets. You will have to forgive my ignorance because I am new to the game. What is the purpose of this? Does it help in terms of behavior? My daughter has constipation problems, and I'm wondering if it could help her with that issue alone. She's picky about her foods and doesn't get enough fiber if you ask me. A friend suggested a GF pasta that tastes just like normal pasta (Tinkyada brand). I may try that on her to see if she notices the difference.

Pam Byrne said...

Hi B,
Your questions are excellent, and I'm always happy to share what I've learned along the way, especially with those who are just starting on this adventure. In fact, your comments inspired me to write a post last week specifically about the CFGF diet; I hope that might be helpful.

Many parents believe that the diet helps their children's behavior and their digestive health. Alex had sensitivities to glutens and milk products, so he needed to avoid them for health reasons. In addition, we found that eliminating them made him more alert. If he sneaks off and eats something he shouldn't, his behavior becomes hyper and overly emotional.

Gluten-free foods have come a long way in the past few years; they used to be bland and have strange textures. Tinkyada pasta is terrific; Alex loves their three color (tomato/spinach/plain) rotini with Prego sauce. The Betty Crocker GF cake mixes are also fantastic.

If you decide to do the diet and have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. Other autism moms helped me when we first started the diet, and I would be glad to do the same. :)

Take care,