Friday, March 30, 2012

More Than Numbers

Seeing Double by here we wander
Seeing Double, a photo by here we wander on Flickr.
One of my favorite bloggers posted this today, along with a beautiful picture of her little girl.

So many in the autism community are doing the same.

Yesterday the CDC announced the new incidence rates for autism. The research is already four years old, but it is the most current available.

1 in every 88 children in the United States is diagnosed with some type of autism spectrum disorder.

1 in every 54 boys in the United States is diagnosed with some type of autism spectrum disorder.

The numbers continue to increase at a significant rate.

The numbers are important, but there is something else much more important. It's the people who have autism, the faces behind those numbers.

Here are two.

They are both part of the 1 in 54.

This is what autism looks like.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Hunger Games

And no, it's probably not what you're thinking. Though I do very much love the books (and the first movie, for that matter). It's something entirely different. It looks more like this ...


The result may very well be the same. In the end, it may very well be the death of either the kids or of us. Because it's going to be an epic battle.

And I have to tell you, I honestly never thought this would be our house. I did not see myself spending an obscene amount of money in the organic section of my local grocery store. I am just not that person.

The very early parenting years in our house included three boys born less than 14 months apart. We were in survival mode. I didn't make my own baby food from fresh fruits and vegetables. I didn't buy organic. I bought the jars. Not only that, I bought mostly fruits, especially with the twins. At a certain point, you get tired of seeing liquid vegetables being sprayed across the room, the floor, your kids, and certainly yourself. It was one of those battles, after several months, that I finally gave up. Surely they will eat them sometime.

And the answer is no, no they do not. The twins have not willingly put vegetables in their mouths. Ever. They will tolerate a few things - as babies it was the rather unappealing combination of liquid sweet potatoes and corn, as toddlers it was regular canned green beans and white corn. As little boys, it's white corn only for Xander and nothing at all for Sawyer. French fries don't count as far as I'm concerned. The boys love them from fast food places, but will not touch the homemade french fries (you know, slices of fresh potato fried in canola oil).

When it comes to fruits, the boys do a little better. They have always done really well with the basics. Both will eat pineapple slices and mandarin oranges, and Xander will even eat bananas and red grapes (it used to be only green, but somewhere along the way he switched and now it is only red). Applesauce, though not apples themselves, is also a big favorite. See, much better on the fruit side. Perhaps the baby food did have a lasting impact on their preference. But it still doesn't make me want to go back in time and have more liquid vegetables flying across my house.

But I digress ... I am talking about fruits and vegetables, which is only part of the equation. And this battle, which I am sure you have guessed by now, is going to be mostly with the twins. It is their diet that is about to change.

Anyone in the autism community has heard about the gluten free casein free (GFCF) diet. It can even be controversial. Current research does not support any specific results, but many parents swear by it. We have known about it for a while. And we have even thought about and talked about trying it several different times. But we have never actually tried it.

There are several reasons we always put it off. The first is that the boys already have incredibly limited food sources. They both have serious texture issues, and for many years would not even taste anything that was not familiar to them. Sawyer will now taste just about anything. Xander will do so, but he is less willing and very rarely accepts anything new into his diet.

Beyond their texture issues, Sawyer is a gluten addict. I do not use the term lightly. He LOVES bread. He will beg, borrow or steal every last piece of bread in our house if you let him. Xander's weakness is casein. His obsession is not nearly as obvious as Sawyer's, but his favorite food choices all have it. Milk and yogurt are two of his largest food sources.

Do you begin to see why we have avoided the diet? Each boy will be losing a major source of their current diet.

There is no single reason we are starting on the GFCF diet now. As hard as it will be, and as valid as the reasons we put it off still are, it just seems like the right time. If there is even the smallest chance it might help the boys, we have to try. There are so many more articles and resources, and the food itself is so much more readily available not just at specialty food stores but even at the local grocery store chains.

Some people go cold turkey. We are not those people. I cannot bring myself to throw away perfectly good food in our pantry or refrigerator. Some people go whole household. We are also not those people. For a lot of reasons. Mostly expense. Our grocery bill is already large, will get bigger as we try the diet with the twins, and would be ridiculous if we all were on it. Just as an example. Regular milk is around $3 per gallon in our part of the world. Soy or coconut or almond milk, the acceptable substitutes, are about $4 per half gallon. In any given week, we go through about 7 gallons of milk in our house. That's a lot. And most of the other items have a similar price increase - more money, for about half the quantity.

Right now, we are in the elimination process. We are using up the things we have (particularly things that were for the twins), and simply not replacing items that contain gluten or casein. No yogurt. No goldfish (cheese has casein). No cereals made with flour. And the list goes on and on and on ...

We are also slowly adding in some of the new foods, or attempting to, at least. Soy milk is not a hit. We've been trying that one for about two weeks now, and the boys only get the smallest taste in their mouths before setting the cups back down. Apparently they would rather go thirsty than have that (and honestly it's not that bad, because we tried it, too). The texture is different though, and of course, that matters with Sawyer and Xander. Today I picked up some gluten free flour and pancake mix, as well as some gluten free pasta.

We are still in the very early stages. I am still doing research, still learning what foods are okay and what foods have hidden ingredients that contain gluten and casein. I am looking at the hundreds of recipe books out there, trying to figure out which one, if any, would work for our boys. It's going to be hard. It's going to be time consuming. And it's going to be expensive. But we're going to try.

The good news is that some of the boys' main food sources are actually good for them and are free of gluten and casein. Their favorite juice has always been V8 Fusion, which blends fruits and vegetables in every serving, and they will also drink plain apple juice. Sawyer will even drink water on a regular basis. Fruit is always good, and they have some at every single meal, so it will make up a big component of their diet. Applesauce, which we used to alternate with yogurt at meals, will become a large source of food. We will have to work a little harder with both of them on the vegetable side. Sweet potato french fries are already a no, in case you're wondering. Sawyer also likes meat, so he's not going to go hungry. Xander, on the other hand, does not. He very well may go hungry for a while.

Like I said, it's going to be a battle.

We have given ourselves a few months to make the transition. Summer break is going to be the best time for us to try the diet, when the boys are out of school and I have significantly more control over the boys access to food. I can only imagine how much more quickly Sawyer would steal bread off someone else's tray at school if he were not getting any at home (because he already tries to steal it now, even when he does get bread at home). He will probably try to steal it off of our plates at home if the gluten free bread doesn't go over well.

We may see some benefits, we may not. Not everyone agrees, and like so many things with autism, there are no one-size-fits-all answers. But this is one thing that we can do, that we can try, that might help. Wish us luck. And if you happen to know of any good GFCF resources or recipes, send them our way. Sawyer requests bread. Xander begs for a casein free yogurt.

As always, our journey continues ...

Growing Up

Silly Face by here we wander
Silly Face, a photo by here we wander on Flickr.
Though you may not have ever noticed it before, our kids have always been OshKosh kids. There are several reasons for that. We've always liked the classic little boy style, for one. And if you shop well (using coupons and visiting the nearby outlet stores during big sale seasons), you can buy a lot of clothes really inexpensively. Three rough and tumble boys take a lot of clothes. And if you look in their closets, 99 percent of their clothes are always OshKosh. Or they used to be.

But the boys are getting older, and bigger. And most of the OshKosh clothes in stores only go up to size 8. Size 8. It's hard to believe that I have boys that are outgrowing that size, but I do. Connor has moved beyond little boys sizes completely. Sawyer is barely hanging onto it.

In the past, we have always bought more new clothes for Connor as the oldest (with the assumption that most would eventually pass down in pretty decent condition). We will overlook how almost every pair of long pants is being passed down with holes in the knees the last year or so. That strategy may not work for much longer, as Sawyer is pretty close to the same size as Connor these days, in terms of weight if not height.

A few weeks ago, I went through the boys' closets. Usually it means a lot of re-arranging. Connor's too small clothes go to Sawyer. Sawyer's too small clothes go to Xander. Xander's too small clothes get divided into a few things we keep (don't ask, I'm not sure I could explain it) and a big stack that we donate to some of our younger cousins.

And for the first time ever, I went shopping somewhere that didn't have a single OshKosh item of clothing.

Our new home is Old Navy. Still classic little (okay, now big) boy clothes. Good prices and good selection. And even more important, good sales at the beginning of each season.

It's going to be different not seeing my babies in OshKosh anymore. They've worn it from birth to now (ages six, six and seven, respectively).

Sigh. Who told those boys they could grow up this fast?

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Artist

Running Out of Room by here we wander
Running Out of Room, a photo by here we wander on Flickr.
One of our boys LOVES art. He brings home pages and pages of art from school, whether it is a page of colorful letters or coloring pages his teachers have created for him of recent topics at school.

Outside is no different. He loves the sidewalk chalk. Most of the time, he uses the wooden play set as his canvas. But Daddy recently poured this concrete pad in the back yard (for the pool in the summer, perhaps for a basketball goal next fall). Right now, it's Xander's canvas.

As you can see, his coloring skills have really improved. He still relies on me to make his outlines for pictures and even the words, though he could easily label them himself (just not make the block letters to color).

Xander. The lefty. Our little artist.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Day at the Park

Times three.

One of the hardest things about having three kids is that there is only one of me. I cannot be in three places at the same time. Taking all three of the boys somewhere requires a lot of effort and a lot of vigilance, especially now that the boys have outgrown the strollers. It means I'm constantly scanning to make sure all three boys are not only safe, but also that they behaving appropriately. And the twins both require an extra amount of attention for that last part. I am constantly scanning, but very rarely giving any of my children the undivided, one-on-one attention that most kids crave.

Recently, I've started taking the boys on individual walks around the block. It's a little bit of exercise for all of us, but it's also a little one-on-one time that the boys don't get a whole lot of during any given day (unless doing homework counts, which I'm sure, to them, does not). It doesn't take much time, and it gets all of us away from the screens that seem to dominate our lives these days.

Today I decided to take it one step further. I wanted to give each of them a trip to the neighborhood park. Just me and one of the boys, going at their pace and doing whatever they wanted to do. It was a beautiful Spring day in our part of the world, and Josh was going to be home all day (attempting to study, but also able to keep an eye on the other boys who would be at home).

Sawyer got to go first. Mostly because he was already in his red Crocs attempting to escape out the back door into the yard before the idea even occurred to me. We walked, because he doesn't really have an interest in the bikes or scooters that his brothers do. We walked slowly, because that is his style. He likes to look at things, to sometimes retrace his steps and get better looks at things. He was particularly interested in the inground pool he discovered in the neighbor's yard a few houses down. I don't think he'd ever noticed it was there before, but he was very curious today. We eventually made our way to the park, where he spent a while spinning around a wooden post before we ever made it to the play equipment. He made a beeline for an unprotected Coke on the park bench, and took a few drinks before I could stop him. Then it was up onto the play structure to trace his favorite letters on the four-in-a-row game. There was a little sliding, a lot of dancing his way across the arched bridge between the two sides of the structure, and even a few stops to spin the wheel on one of the towers. I talked him into a brief swing, but he's not been interested in the park swings lately. Our last stop was the spinning rings, one of his favorites. Can't you tell?


Next up was Xander. He opted to ride Connor's old Razor scooter, which he has pretty much taken over these days. At first he was kind of wobbly, but he's gotten the hang of it the last few weeks and it's now his preferred mode of transportation around the neighborhood. Now the only problem he has is either going a little too fast (and losing control) or not paying attention to the giant cracks and potholes that are part of a thirty-year-old neighborhood. But we eventually made it to the park. He knew right where he was going, too. He is no stranger to the park or the play structure. As soon as we park the scooter and take off the helmet, he's ready to go to the slide. He stays there for a while, running up and sliding down, over and over again. He takes a few slides down the fire pole (clearly Daddy's boy there), and a few spins down the corkscrew. He also tackles the rock wall a few times, always using the slide to come back down. With a little prompting, he even says hello to one of his classmates who happens to be playing at the park. Next he takes a pretty long break on the swings, but then jumps off (from pretty high up in the air, I might add). He eventually makes his way to the small slide where he stays for quite a while. Eventually I convince him it's time to head home, and he happily leaves the park to get back on his scooter. But not before he decides to show his acrobatic climbing skills on the play bridge.



And last but not least is Connor. I purposely saved his trip for last, as we actually needed to run an errand at the end of ours. And I suspected he would want to ride bikes, which he did. He does well on the trip to the park, he did a little less well on our errand (with more intersections and more traffic). But we'll start with the park. We rode around the sidewalk path for a little while, then parked our bikes near the playground. He spent some time climbing the corkscrew and doing a few slides before he settled into the rings. He likes to flip himself upside down, which is sometimes more successful than others. He spent quite a bit of time wearing himself out here today. Next he stood on the railings with a smug look on his face begging for pictures. I talked him into taking a break to watch the big kids play "kids pitch" baseball on the neighborhood field. We climbed to the top of the bleachers, of course, and watched an inning or so. And then it was time to head out on our errand, a quick stop at the neighborhood grocery store. But first, since it was just a few doors down, we stopped in at Orange Leaf and Connor had some ice cream. Chocolate, with some mixed chocolate chips on top. And a cherry, of course. Last was our stop at the grocery store, to pick up a loaf of fresh bread for dinner (Grammy was stopping over for dinner and to pick up Connor for an overnight visit).



And that was a big part of our Saturday. Three separate trips to the park.

It was definitely nice to spend some one-on-one time with the boys. I don't know that Sawyer or Xander cared much at the park itself, but both liked going at their own pace on the trip there. Xander is usually a speed demon (like Connor), and Sawyer usually has to be prodded to keep up. Connor loves the one-on-one time all the way through.

For me, it was just nice to not have to scan the whole park looking for all three boys. To follow each boy as they moved to whatever interested them, without worrying if I was moving too far away from the other boys. To enjoy some time watching, and sometimes playing with, just one boy at a time.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Go, Go, Go

There was a time when I thought sending all the boys off to school meant I would have some free time. The school year is about two-thirds over, and I am finally realizing that it will probably never happen. There are moments, and even sometimes a few days in a row, where I don't have a lot going on. But most of the time, it's go, go, go ... and then go some more.

I also happen to be a single parent every third day, what with Daddy's job at the fire department and all. And that rotating shift can make it hard to find a consistent schedule for me or for the kids. Plus he's still building on the side, so his other two days are usually pretty full, too.

Take this week, for example. Baseball is back in full swing, which means we're at the ball field four different times every week. We practice for an hour on Saturday and Sunday, then we practice for two hours on two different weeknights. Those weeknights also rotate. And guess how they rotated this week. Both of them were on nights when Josh was working. The twins were less than pleased, I assure you.

It makes for a long day.

Up at 7 to get ready for school. Running errands or doing some work around the house until it's time to pick up the boys at 3. Rushing home to get a snack, start (and hopefully finish homework), and make sure everyone goes potty (because the restrooms aren't open yet) before you load up at 4:30. You pack all the stuff it takes (not only for baseball, but also to pacify two unhappy little brothers being forced along for the ride) and then drive through rush hour traffic across town to get to practice. We won't even talk about keeping two unhappy little boys occupied and relatively quiet for two hours during practice. And then you rush back across town to get home, fix dinner (or give in and get fast food), then hurry into baths and bed (or finish homework if you didn't manage to do that before practice). Oh, and don't forget to feed the puppy and let him outside for a few minutes (but not too long, or he'll bark his head off and annoy the neighbors). And be sure to rinse his paws off before he comes inside, because the back yard is still a mud pit from the recent driveway expansion and landscaping project. We've seen our share of muddy footprints all over the house lately, and that would add something else to be done.

It makes me tired just thinking about it.

And I've done it twice this week. And will do it several more times over the course of the season. It's the nature of the beast. I cannot imagine how other people do it. We only have one child involved in extra-curricular activities. The twins do have speech once a week, but that's consistent and routine at this point. I cannot imagine having events for all three boys. I would never manage on nights like tonight.

It's 9:15 and I just got everyone into bed. Late for a school night, but what are you going to do? And as much as I would like to enjoy the quiet time to myself, I will probably follow them into bed soon. Because tomorrow it all begins again ...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Kindergarten Class Photos

As anyone with school-age children knows, schools have to be creative to make money to support all of the programs and needs at individual school. There are all kinds of fundraisers, all year long. Pictures are a big one. There's the individual shots in the Fall, and then there's the class photo just before Christmas.

We usually purchase the individual ones, just because. We also order a yearbook, which features all of the individual pictures and the boys' classmates together.

We don't, however, order the class photos. There are reasons for that. The most important one being that two of my children are not always cooperative for photographs. They are even less cooperative for group photos that require multiple people to look at the camera at the same time. It's just part of it. We don't want to force the photographer or the class to get that photograph, because sometimes, it just isn't possible.

Here are the boys, cropped out from their respective class photos. I wish that I could show you the entire class photo - because more than half of the kids are not paying attention to the photographer (see, my kids are not the only ones). But there are privacy and consent issues that I don't want to get into with other students and their parents. So I will show you my boys, as they were in their respective class photos.


Now do you see why we don't purchase the class photos?

Sawyer is very clearly saying "Are we done yet, because I am so over this!"

Xander is being bribed with gummy bears (he's actually eating in the photo) and with a book.

That's my boys. Pictures are not their thing. You have to capture them in moments. You cannot pose them. Or you get photos like the ones you see above. Or sometimes the ones you see on our Christmas cards.

Special thanks to Mrs. M, Sawyer's regular classroom teacher, for sharing one of her teacher copies with us. Special thanks to Mrs. G, Xander's aide, for sharing her teacher copy with us.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Food Wars

So many times, I have said I'm going to quit feeding the twins separate meals. So many times. And I always mean it. I have very good intentions.

But it's incredibly hard to follow through.

Not that we don't try. We have tried and tried and tried.

Tonight was a case in point. I made one of our staples. Fried pork chops, green beans and cheese potatoes. I put some of everything on everyone's plate. The kids also got a side of applesauce and some Goldfish crackers.

Guess what the boys ate? Connor ate everything except the cheese potatoes (he really is not a fan, and we're going to have to stop requesting that he eat them). Sawyer ate his fried pork chop (it is like chicken, you know). Xander pushed his plate away. They all ate their applesauce and Goldfish.

And lest you think we did not try, we did actually ask both Sawyer and Xander to take a bite of everything on their plate. And that didn't go so well.

They resisted. But after repeated requests, both of them touched a bite of each food to their lips. Both of them actually gagged to have real food touch their mouth. Not pretend gag, mind you, but actually gagged. Xander even took to wiping off his tongue in an attempt to get rid of the taste.

Sigh.

We'll keep trying, of course. We're encouraged that the boys will at least touch the food to their mouths. That's a huge step for both of them. Now we'll work on actually liking something beyond their usual fare of yogurt, applesauce, chips and select fruit.

Just another day in the life ...

Part of the Club

Sweat Head by here we wander
Sweat Head, a photo by here we wander on Flickr.
Early in the school year, a letter came home to Sawyer and Xander. It was an invitation to join a club at school called "Kindness is Power" or "KIP" for short. Essentially, it is a club where some of the older elementary school students mentor students with disabilities. I actually did something similar when I was in elementary school.

The club meets every Friday morning before school in Sawyer's resource classroom. It's a chance for the boys to hang out with and interact with typical students. Sometimes the boys are cooperative, sometimes they prefer to be left in peace. But the opportunity for social interaction, with people who understand, is there at least once a week.

Last Friday was the first club event outside of school. It was group bowling at the local bowling lanes.

I was not sure how it would go. My guess was that it would be a little bit loud and perhaps a little bit too busy. But I was determined to try.

The original plan might have been just to take Sawyer and Xander. But Connor has never been bowling either, and I couldn't bring myself to leave him at home (despite the fact that he gets to go out and do so many things without his brothers).

Daddy had planned to stay home and study (he's in paramedic school for the rest of the year for his job with the local fire department). But I think he felt guilty when I said I was taking all three boys bowling. You know, by myself.

So we all loaded into the truck and headed bowling. I really wasn't sure what to expect. Sawyer fought with us in the parking lot. He apparently didn't like the look of the place or the fact that we were doing something new. Xander and Connor were just curious.

Once inside, the hands were quickly over the ears. It was very loud and very busy, even early on a Friday evening. The hands stayed up quite a bit, though the boys managed to get through it.

They also were not fans of the neon bowling shoes, which I can't say that I blame them. They were kind of hideous. And a little bit suspect.

Xander LOVED bowling. He wanted a lane all to himself, and he would have bowled over and over and over again until he collapsed. I don't think he would ever leave if it could always be his turn.

All three of our boys struggled with taking turns. All three enjoyed bowling, to varying degrees. Sawyer eventually gave it up for his iPad. He got tired of waiting his turn.

The boys all started out with the "ramp" to roll the ball, but eventually ended up doing it their own way. Xander tossed it (a little too high and hard), but tossed it just the same. Connor rolled pretty well, but he used the bumpers liberally. Sawyer sat the ball down and gave it a hard shove. It eventually got there.

All the club members walked up to the boys and said hello. Most of them could even tell the boys apart, though some had to ask who was who. Some of them even tried to invite the boys to play a game with them. They all made a point to come say hello, and then again to come say good-bye before they left. Good kids. Thoughtful kids.

Some of the boys actual classmates were there, too. One of the boys in Sawyer's class was very interested in his iPad, though Sawyer was not big on sharing.

It was a fun night. And it was largely successful. There were good moments (Xander hopping up and down with every roll). There were bad moments (Xander dropping the ball on Daddy's foot).

But it was fun. The boys seemed to enjoy it. The club members were incredibly nice and understanding toward the boys. It was fun to see the teachers outside of school, to meet other parents. It was nice to do something together as a whole family for a change.

Life. It's busy and complicated. It stays that way. But for a few hours on a Friday night, it was simple and fun, too.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Another Long Weekend

Another vacation for Connor. Grandma and Grandpa put their reservation in several weeks ago. They were going to spend the long weekend in the mountains, and they thought Connor would enjoy it, too.

Clearly they were right ...


Grandpa watching as Connor throws rocks in the creek ...


One of Connor's many, many trips to the indoor swimming pool ...


Riding on the tram, since the race cars don't always run in the winter time ...


And taking a little break in the middle of the creek ...

Someone may or may not have gotten wet on that last little adventure.

It's a hard life, you know. But someone has to live it ...

A Day in Pictures




Another beautiful day in our part of the world. Another day for Mommy and the boys to visit the neighborhood park.

Giving Back

Giving Back by here we wander
Giving Back, a photo by here we wander on Flickr.
Today I got the chance to do something really good.

We live in one of the states with a massive tornado outbreak last week. Lives were lost and complete towns were leveled.

We were one of the lucky ones. Though there was a lot of rain and little bit of hail, our town was relatively unscathed. The boys were released from school several hours early, and we were home safe and sound before the outbreak of storms. There was one tornado warning, but it moved south and east of us. And it leveled a town about an hour and half away.

Our town was fine. Our family, both immediate and distant, were untouched by the storms.

And the boys' school is doing something to help. They are collecting school supplies to donate to the elementary school in that town. The elementary school that for the last week has been used as an American Red Cross shelter. The elementary school that is so damaged it cannot even be used, but will be moved to a nearby warehouse that was out of the storm's path.

Our school asked for two things from each student ... a pair of scissors and a book. But that hardly seemed like enough for people who have lost absolutely everything, including their elementary school. So when I went to the store today, I picked up a few different things I thought the kids might need.

And I bought three of each.

Because it easily could have been us. It could have been our school. Or our town. It could have been us.

Of all the things that I bought today, these were the ones that mattered most. From my three boys to three others (boys or girls). From our town to theirs. Because it so easily could have been us ...

A Tale of Two iPads


We bought our first iPad nearly a year ago. It was bought for two reasons. The first was that we wanted to explore communication options for Sawyer, who is still largely non-verbal. The second was that we wanted to have a touch-screen computer in the house, also for Sawyer, because he has not yet mastered the use of a mouse. I guess you could say we bought the first iPad for Sawyer. His brothers could also use it, but it was primarily for him.

Right after we bought the iPad, we bought two applications. The first was an inexpensive PBS Kids application (which I bought only after realizing iPad does not support Flash player, which is the base of the PBSKids.org site all of our boys like to play games on). The second was a rather expensive communication software, Proloquo2go.

One iPad, many functions. That was our thought. Or perhaps our hope.

Six months in, we began to see the error of our ways. Sawyer absolutely understood the communication software. He could manipulate it as well as any of his favorite web sites or any other computer program, finding items buried four or five screens into the program with no trouble and very little time.

The problem, you see, was that it was his least favorite part of the iPad. Who would want to use communication software, when you could easily tap out to a screen full of fun apps for puzzles and art and games and animated stories and even movies?

Both of our twins have struggled with verbal communication. But it has been many years since either of them have struggled to communicate. Xander uses a lot of memorized but still functional scripts. Sawyer has always used pushing or pulling or pointing. They have no trouble letting you know what they want, or making a choice that is presented to them. They also have no trouble letting you know if they like something or they don't. It is the words, the expressive language, that have been so incredibly hard.

And both of the boys are incredibly rational. If they can communicate without those words, why should they make that extra effort. Why use the communication software to say "I want some milk, please" when they can simply walk to the refrigerator and make the selection.

And for right now, perhaps that's fine. But we have to look at the bigger picture. As scary as it sometimes is, we have to look down the road into the future. Communicating with family is one thing. They know you, they learn your behaviors and understand them. But communicating with the rest of the world is another thing. And you have to work toward that independence, toward the opportunity of a life of their own that someday will no longer include you.

So we bought another iPad. We were determined that Sawyer would not only know how to use the communication software, but that he would actually begin to use it on a regular basis. It will open up so many possibilities for him, not only at school, but also in life.

The first iPad, the one with the white drop case, is Sawyer's communication iPad. We have taken absolutely everything off of it that we can. It has no games or puzzles or remotely fun applications anywhere on it (we had to turn off iCloud, of course, to prevent all of our apps from automatically reappearing every day). It has Proloquo2go. And that's it.

This iPad is significantly less fun, and it is also in less demand. It can be left out without fear of fighting or disappearing. It still goes with Sawyer every day to school in his back pack.

The second iPad, the one with the black drop case, is the touch-screen computer. It is also mostly Sawyer's iPad, though all of the boys have the option of requesting this as their screen choice from time to time. It has all of the fun apps installed - the puzzles, the games, the drawing programs, the WordWorld video series, PBS Kids, Angry Birds ... you name it, it probably has it. The second iPad, the fun one, stays at home.

And though we were not crazy about the expense of two iPads (and two expensive but totally worth the investment drop cases), we have seen dramatic improvement. Sawyer is using his communication software much more than he ever has before.

There is some other good news. When you use the same Apple ID and iCloud, the apps appear on all of your Apple devices, even your iPod Touch. So we actually have Proloquo2go on three devices at home, and we only had to pay for the expensive app once. We can also customize each one differently if, for example, we wanted to set up one of them for Xander.

Right now we just use Proloquo2go for Sawyer. We use it to let him make choices, like what he wants to eat or drink. We use it to help him with his private speech therapy. It has choices for free play, and folders for taking turns or answering yes or no questions. We use it to help him at school. He has folders for calendar and weather - two of his favorite things to do at school. He has folders we can use for learning and testing - like uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, colors, even money.

It's still a balancing act. We encourage the use of the software, but we also still work toward verbal language. He is doing very well with beginning sounds, and even a few blended sounds. Just yesterday, his speech therapist told me he is following the appropriate progression of sounds, just at the very delayed age of six rather than one. He is working very hard, both at trying to communicate verbally and to use the communication software. We ask for and expect both. We are happy to provide the communication device and give him more ability to express himself with words. But we also hope and work toward the day when his words will eventually come back.