UVA Child Psychology Experiment

Today, we went to the University of Virginia’s Child Psychology Department to do a quick computer test for an experiment they are conducting with autistic children.

The test consisted of alternating screens of nine pictures– eight of different kinds of frogs and one of a snake. The boys were asked to identify the snake on each screen. Then the pictures would shuffle changing their location on the screen and the type of snake shown.

Nathan decided he didn’t want to do it after a couple of screeens. Peter was able to complete the experiment but every three screens was rewarded with being able to open and close the door to the room (he was very stressed by the new location and opened and closed doors repeatedly when we got there).

Peter got a few screens wrong and instead of a snake picked a frog. But I noticed that he was trying to do the screens really fast and some of the frog colors (particularly red) resembled the pictures of the snakes with the same colors if you just glanced at the photo. It was funny because when he touched the screen and picked the wrong picture he would pause and look at the screen again (which had moved on and shuffled the pictures) as if he realized he was wrong. I think most of the time he knew when he had picked the wrong photo but it was always after the fact.

UVA told me that the purpose of the experiment was to see if children with autism could identify threatening or scary objects as easily as neurotypical children. It was interesting to see that Peter could identify the snakes but it seemed he did this almost as much by color as by shape.

Plodding Along

I think we have figured out what has caused Peter to become obsessive over doors. While we were on vacation last week, he was especially bad about opening and closing doors. And family members I thought were accustomed to his “oddities” repeatedly asked him to stop.

That like trying to repair a dam with a tube of Elmer’s Glue. It’s NOT going to happen.

Other family members, who see him infreqently because of distance, were even more bothered by Peter and Nathan’s tendencies.

Needless to say, I was stressed out and dealing with ulcer symptoms every night for most of the week.

My husband and I are discussing alternatives for next year. Obviously, vacationing with family in the same house will not work any longer and, while this is a sad, our obligation is to keep our sons safe and calm.

But because of the stressful week, we noticed when we returned that Peter wasn’t as obsessive over door opening and closing. I think he resorts to it for two reasons: first, out of boredom and second, and primarily, for the stress reduction.

Boredom: School’s not in right now and he doesn’t have as many activities during the day as he did before.

Stress reduction: Again, school’s not in right now and he doesn’t have the highly structured day he did there. Also, he has stopped using his weighted dog and pacifier to calm himself when he gets stressed out. We’ve noticed as well that Peter seems to be bothered by loud noises more than we thought. Maybe I should say that he has always been bothered by loud noises but his reactions were relatively mild. Now, he is responding in a much stronger, more tantrum-like manner to really loud and noisy situations.

We’re going to work on providing him with more structure until school starts in a few weeks. Up to now, I really thought he didn’t mind the looser structure of summer and he might not have at first but it seems to be really bother him now.

Nathan is adapting very well although both boys had their “quirks” at the beach house. Nathan just wanted to play with everyone else’s toys and look through their stuff like he was at a thrift store or something. I think he’s just curious but family members started locking their bedroom doors toward the middle of the week.

We were in a three-floor beach house with three other families and our bedroom area was on the bottom. The kitchen and family room were on the top floor so you can imagine the distraction Nathan must have felt walking up through the second floor where the three other bedrooms were (with toys!) to get to the top.

Also, the three-floor-three-staircase setup made it hard to keep track of both boys. One would be playing upstairs with cousins and the other would want down time and would go down to our rooms all the way downstairs. In those situations, my husband would often accompany Peter to the bottom floor and play with him or put in a video like Signing Time for him to watch. I would stay upstairs with Nathan to make sure he didn’t escape out the front door or try to break into someone’s room to find the Lightning McQueen car one of his older cousins had.

I know that vacations will always be a challenge but we had challenges with this one we weren’t expecting. While they weren’t dangerous or anything like that, they were stressful for all of us.

Peter’s Stimming

We’re having some serious issues with Peter’s latest stimming technique. Opening and closing doors repeatedly has gotten not only extremely annoying but also distracting for Peter. He’s not focusing as well as he was–he would rather open and close a door.

If you can get him to focus, he’s using more complete sentences and giving more information when he does speak. It’s getting him to focus that’s causing the biggest problem. I feel like I did when he became obsessive over the computer. Problem is I could turn the computer off– I can’t take all the doors off their hinges!