Making friends as an autistic toddler

My daughter made a new friend!  Well, more accurately, my husband and I made new friends who also have a 2-year old daughter.  We went to their house over the weekend and by the end, their daughter declared our daughter her friend.  She also gave her hugs and comforted her when she cried.  It was adorable.

It made me quite a bit sad because my daughter doesn’t comfort people, or give hugs to other kids, or have the language or understanding to declare someone else her friend.  But, she did interact with the other girl so I guess I should take that as a good sign.  The awkward part for me was that the parents were also new friends.  The challenge is: at what point do I mention the ASD?  I fear that if I don’t mention it, people will notice that my kid is different and maybe think I’m a bad parent.  If I do, we may lose out on opportunities for play dates because other parents, consciously or subconsciously, don’t think our daughter will be a good playmate.  Also, the ASD diagnosis and therapies are a huge part of our lives as parents that we want to talk to other parents about.

In the end I mentioned it to explain my daughter’s behavior and lack of language when I felt it was noticeable to the other parents.  As it turned out, they had not noticed and would not have guessed.  They seemed a bit surprised that she has an official diagnosis at such a young age, probably in part because her symptoms aren’t that obvious, apart for the speech delay.  She stims, she has restricted interests and sensory issues, and gets mad if things aren’t in their proper places.  But none of that is particularly obvious at first glance.  Autism really is an invisible condition in many ways.

Thankfully, our new friends did not seem to care at all about the ASD label, and would like the girls to play together again.  Hooray for new friends!

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First Summer as Faculty!

I’ve been making mostly Autism related posts at this blog, so it’s time for an academia oriented post.

The academic year ended officially about two week ago.  That’s when I turned in final grades for my class, and the summer finally began.  I took off a few days to decompress and switch gears.  My final exam was given at the end of finals week, leaving me not much time to grade all 47 exams by hand, including a few math problems and short answer questions.  It was brutal and I needed a break afterward!

Now I’m trying to pivot into “summer mode.”  The first thing on my summer docket was a proposal deadline, and now that’s done.  Next I have a paper draft from my postdoc work that I need to revise, add some figures to, and send to co-authors so we can hopefully submit it.  I also need to conduct some new research and prep for next fall, when I’ll be teaching a more advanced class I have never taught before.  So I have a lot to do, but so far, I’m having trouble being motivated to do it.  Partially the lack of a set schedule revolving around teaching is weird getting used to again, and also partially just being in my office all day alone is lonely!

Despite those complaints, I am happy summer is here.  Stress levels are lower, parking on campus is easier, the weather is warmer, and I can concentrate on more interesting science.  And, I am lucky in that I actually have a funded grant which will give me 1 month of summer pay.  That does mean that officially, I’m “unpaid” for two months this summer, although obviously I will still need to work during that time.  I have chosen to take my 9-month salary over 12 months, so getting that 1 month of summer pay feels like a “bonus.”  It also means that at least in theory, for the designated month I am supposed to work on nothing but that project.  In practice, I suspect I will need to work on other things a bit during that time, and I suspect I will work on the paid project during other summer months.

Having just submitted one grant proposal, I am now debating with myself whether to try to submit another for an early July deadline.  That isn’t a ton of time, and the program I am thinking of (NSF’s CAREER program) has a low probability of funding me on my first round, but a high payoff it I am funded (roughly $500,000 over 5 years).  Ordinarily I would tell myself to do it and not expect to get the money, on the argument that I could use the feedback to make my application better next time.  But as far as I know, this year is the last year for the CAREER program, meaning there won’t be a second shot.  So I’m debating whether the effort is worth it or not.  Any advice welcome.

Equine Therapy for autism?

I just signed kiddo up for an equine therapy program.  Since she’s only 2, she’ll start with a 30 minute class specifically for children ages 2-5 with disabilities.  If she sticks with it she can eventually move to a 60 minute class.  The horseback riding location is 15 minutes from her preschool and 20 minutes from home, so she’ll spend at least at much time in the car as she spends actually there, and more than she spends on the horse.  Luckily, Grandma has agreed to do the driving for this!

Last October, we took her to a pumpkin patch where she did a pony ride.  The pony merely walked slowly in a circle, but she was terrified.  She screamed the entire time.  That was more than 6 months ago, and since then, she has successfully pet mules without any issue (but hasn’t ridden anything).  I discussed this concern with the director of the equine therapy program, who told me that children are often terrified on their first or second time out, especially those with ASD because it’s such a new experience.  But typically by the third time they are enjoying themselves and opening up.

The whole idea seems a bit silly to me.  It feels like one of the quackery therapies for autism of which there are so many.  But intellectually I know that multiple studies have found a benefit from equine therapy for those with ASD.  (Here are links to two such studies: Study 1 Study 2).  So we’re going to give it a try.  Additionally, in our county we are eligible to receive some funding from a local government program that will pay for our equine therapy fees, making it completely free for us.

Has anyone in the wordpress world tried equine therapy, also called therapeutic horseback riding or hippotherapy for autism?  I would love to hear your experiences.