Interview Ymkje Wideman’s: Storybook Series for Children with Autism – Autism Is…? Books

Interview Ymkje Wideman’s: Storybook Series for Children with Autism – Autism Is…? Books

For our Author Interview Series we have many interviews with individuals whose lives are touched by autism spectrum disorders. We have interviews with mothers, health care professionals, educators, a few fathers, individuals who are on the spectrum, and today we have an awesome interview with a grandmother who cares for her young grandson with autism. We are so pleased that Ymkje Wideman-van der Laan wrote a guest post for us about her grandson and story book series for children with autism.  Folks at Special Needs Book Review are very impressed with Ymkje Wideman’s  Autism Is…? Books – New Storybook Series for Children with Autism. See her  guest post here.

Ymkje Wideman  wrote that some of the professionals who saw the stories and poems she wrote and used to teach her grandson, encouraged her to publish them, so other parents and caregivers could benefit from them, too. We know that her books can be an encouragement to parents and caregivers, and helpful to their children on the autism spectrum.

Lorna: Welcome to our Author Interview Series and congratulations on your adorable children’s book for children with autism! What did you do before you assumed the care of your 6-month old grandson, Logan? No doubt that this commitment to help raise your son’s child involved lots of changes in your life.

<< Ymkje Wideman:  First, I want to thank you, Lorna, for having me and for giving me an opportunity to share more about my autism journey in this interview.  As you guessed, my commitment to help care for Logan did involve lots of change in my life. I am originally from the Netherlands, but ever since young, I have traveled extensively, and been involved in teaching and humanitarian work. After working for 5 years in the Philippines and 10 years in Thailand, I spent nearly 10 years in various countries in the Middle East. Prior to coming to the US to help take care for my grandson, I had just moved to Turkey where I started to get involved in assisting displaced families. When my own son needed help, even though it involved changing direction and location, responding to the need was a given, and I didn’t give it a second thought at the time. After all, caring for family is very important and should always come first.>>

Lorna: What behavior of characteristics did Logan have that pushed you to have him evaluated? What advice do you have for others who feel something is not quite right with their young child?

<< Ymkje Wideman:  Logan was always a very active baby. He was hard to put to sleep and during his waking hours he moved or bounced excessively across the living room floor. When he was just a year old, a visitor to our home mentioned that he behaved much like her son did when he was that age. Her son was diagnosed with Asperger’s later, and she wondered if Logan could have something similar. I dismissed this at the time, and chalked it up to him just being very active. As he grew, we noticed some other odd behaviors, such as him walking on his tip toes, and jumping up and down and excitedly flapping his hands in front of certain TV shows. Unfortunately, I was not aware at the time that those were tell-tale signs of autism.

When Logan started attending preschool at age 2-1/2, he didn’t adjust well, and he would get overly agitated and cry a lot during his time at school. So much so that the classroom aide would have him on her lap in the rocking chair for hours on end, which seemed to be the only way to quiet him. They were also concerned with his lack of verbal communication and response to questions asked, along with his hyper-activity. The preschool staff recommended that we evaluate him, which we did shortly afterwards. The outcome of that evaluation suggested that he was just a little delayed and would most likely “grow out of” the different behaviors.  We were relieved, of course.

However, it was not long after this that this same private preschool expelled him due to behavior problems. When I later talked with the school district psychologist about his diagnosis, she agreed that the evaluation might not have been accurate, but that by law he could not be re-tested for another six months. We moved out of State shortly afterwards, and were able to get my grandson re-evaluated in his new location, which I am very grateful for. Had we not received the autism diagnosis when we did, we would not have been able to provide the early intervention services Logan needed, which have made a huge difference in his progress.

My advice for others who feel that something is not quite right with their young child is, “You know your child best of all. Insist on further evaluation until you are satisfied with the answers you receive.” I know it is hard to push through with this, but if you find your concerns were right and early intervention was indeed needed, you will be so glad down the line that you pushed through the obstacles.>>

Lorna: You wrote your grandson has high-functioning autism, sensory processing disorder, and borderline ADHD.  How old is he and how is he doing now? What helped your grandson most with his challenges?

<< Ymkje Wideman:  Logan is turning seven this month, and he has made so much progress. His verbal and communication ability and social skills have improved tremendously, thanks to early intervention and one-on-one work with him during those early years. There are still some delays in communication and social interaction, which his speech/language therapist works on with him during his twice-weekly speech sessions, and of course, we continue to work with him at home on this also.

Before describing some of the things that helped my grandson most with his challenges, I am happy to tell you that Logan has been living with his dad and wonderful girlfriend since late last summer 2012. This was a big change for him, but he transitioned beautifully. He loves having his dad and a family, and my son’s girlfriend, a registered ICU nurse, is a natural with him. Her parents are also supportive, and they love Logan, and he them.

After living at my son’s home for several months to help with the transition, I moved out and now live nearby. I am still involved with his care when my son and his girlfriend both work, but do not have his fulltime care anymore. That has been a big change for me also, but a good one all around. I now have more time to devote to my books and other autism related projects, and for the first time in the past nearly seven years, I will be able to get a break and take a vacation! As any parent and caregiver will tell you, it’s very easy to overlook and neglect your own needs when caring for a child with autism, but that’s a story for another time…

Back to what helped my grandson with his challenges, I would like to mention first that the term “early intervention” initially sounded quite overwhelming to me, and like it was going to be a lot of hard work. Other parents may feel the same way when they receive the autism diagnosis and subsequent recommendations for their child. I really sympathize, because when I first learned that Logan had autism, which I knew next to nothing about, everything looked like a huge mountain to climb. Thankfully, through the encouragement of the wonderful professionals who worked with Logan, I learned that the best way to tackle the job is one day and one issue at a time.

we created a “SURPRISE!”  card to show him before a transition took placeFor example, I was encouraged to start by creating a daily routine and visual schedule. Reviewing that with my grandson each morning before school reduced his anxiety considerably. Then, when changes in his routine were obvious triggers for meltdowns, we created a “SURPRISE!”  card to show him before a transition took place. Next, when his teacher realized making mistakes in his work caused him to get frustrated, we made a “Mistake Rule” card with the simple text, “Everyone makes mistakes. That is OK! If I make a mistake when doing my work, I will tell my teacher and she will help me move on.” Creating one little card for one specific incident and focusing on that particular issue for a while wasn’t that hard to do, and the nice thing was that once we tackled each issue and added more cards to his key ring, we had them at our finger tips to use whenever needed.

I also learned that many of Logan’s early behaviors were due to sensory issues. Thanks to the help of his first occupational therapist, who recognized and diagnosed this, once we worked on meeting Logan’s sensory needs, his behaviors started to improve dramatically. She recommended a number of sensory activities I could do with Logan at home, and thanks to this, his sensitivities are much less today than they used to be. The sensory routine I did with Logan included daily brushing, as well as “heavy work”, such as wall push-ups and a little later on, jumping on a mini-trampoline, which was always present in my living room. He just loved to jump and would seek it out to self-regulate. Logan also loved and still loves going to playgrounds. Learning to use different playground equipment is a great and easy way of providing sensory input on a daily basis, and it is a fun, outdoor activity at the same time.

There is much more I could share here, but this is already quite a long answer, so I will leave it with this for now, and hope it is helpful in some way.>>

Autism Is…? Books – New Storybook Series for Children with Autism by Ymkje WidemanLorna: Tell us about the three books you already have published.  What were your goals for these books when you started writing them?

<< Ymkje Wideman:  A little over a year ago, Logan started asking two or three word questions when he wanted to know the meaning of words he read or heard. In overhearing me talk with others about him, he often heard the word autism, so one day he asked, “Grandma, autism is…?” I realized he really wanted to know so rather than improvising on the spot, I told him I would explain it to him later. I gave it some thought and was inspired to write a little story poem about it for him, called Autism Is…? I typed it, printed it out for him (Logan is an excellent reader!), and we read it together that night. He was so excited and he had me read it to him many times.  I was quite excited about how he took in the answer, and shared this with my dear friend and incredibly supportive parent advocate, Amy Perry. When she read the story, she loved it and told me I should publish it so other families and children could benefit also. I was flattered, but laughed it off at first.

Over the next months, I wrote a number of other stories to help Logan with concepts he had difficulty understanding. I wrote Danger Is…? to Danger Is…? New Storybook Series for Children with Autism by Ymkje Widemanteach him safety rules, as he tends to have no sense of danger, and would run off and into the road without looking, for example. School Rules Are…? came about after facing some pretty big behavior challenges at school. The purpose of writing the stories was initially to answer my grandson’s questions and to teach Logan important principles, but with each story, my friend would encourage me again to publish them. After some time I finally looked into it.

When researching the different options, it seemed easiest to self-publish, and I settled with CreateSpace, an Amazon company, which has a pretty good and easy-to-understand publishing platform. Rob Feldman, a long-time friend, agreed to help with illustrating the first book. His encouragement and enthusiasm was a School Rules Are...? by Ymkje Wideman - Storybook Series for Children with Autism big factor in helping to get me started. When due to time constraints he was unable to help further, another friend recommended Jennifer Lackgren as a possible artist to illustrate the next books, and she agreed to illustrate the rest of the series.  I am so grateful for their work, as without these wonderful artists, the books would not have happened.>>

Lorna: I believe you have two more books that you hope to publish. Tell us about these and their expected release dates.

<< Ymkje Wideman:  Yes, I have two more books that I hope to publish. Feelings Are…?, which was written to help Logan understand his own and others’ feelings, is being illustrated as we speak. It includes The Feelings ABCs, and is one of my grandson’s favorite books. The fifth book in the Autism Is…? series will be Manners Are…? It covers basic manners to use at home, when out, and while at school. I hope to release this book towards the end of 2013.>>

Lorna: On your Facebook page, I saw photos of you reading your books to students. Do you do presentations like this often? What do YOU learn from these sessions with kids? Do you have speaking engagements for parents of children with autism also? What do parents want to hear from you?

<< Ymkje Wideman:  Actually, this was the first school presentation I have done. My granddaughter, Ryleigh, who is the same age as Logan, and his BCF (Best Cousin Forever), proudly promotes autism awareness and my books in her class, especially since she is a guest star in some of them. She asked me if I would come and read them to her class. I thought it would be a great thing to do during Autism Awareness month, and when I asked her teacher, she thought so, too. Instead of reading it to one class, she decided to have me read the books to all first graders in two groups of about 50 students each. It was a great experience. I learned from these two sessions that very few first graders know about autism, that they have many questions, and that it’s the perfect age to teach them about how important it is to accept their own and other’s differences. I hope that my effort contributed in a small way to prevent the ever-present problem of bullying.

As for speaking engagements for parents and caregivers, I am currently in the process of developing workshops around the themes of each of my books. For example, Autism Is…? will be the basis for a workshop for parents of newly diagnosed children, to provide basic information and simple strategies to help them get started on their autism journey. Danger Is…? will be the topic of a workshop to help keep kids with autism safe at home and in the community. School Rules Are…? will deal with school issues, IEPs, etc.  I have communicated with other parents with children on the spectrum, and these are all hot topics and things they would like to learn more about. Of course, there is much information available on the Internet, but there’s something to be said for personal contact and talking with others who are going through or have gone through similar experiences.  I thrived on personal support during those early days, and would love to be there for others in that way.>>

 Storybook Series for Children with Autism - Autism Is…? BooksLorna: Thank you so much for the excellent guest post and now for this interview.  How can we follow you?

<< Ymkje Wideman:  Thank you, Lorna, for inviting me to this interview. It’s been a pleasure answering your questions and I hope my answers were helpful.  You can follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Autism.Is and Twitter @YmkjeWideman. You can also visit my websites at www.ymkje.com and www.autism-is.com. I am currently working on updating the www.autism-is.com website, so please visit often to check for updates and new products.  If anyone, after reading this interview, has any questions or would just like to get in touch, please feel free to contact me anytime. I’d love to hear from you. Thank you!>>

Summary of Some of the Steps We Took to Help Logan:

1.       Daily Schedule Routine: Logan’s KG teacher provided a copy of his daily schedule, and his speech therapist gave me a slip of paper called, “Logan’s Day!” Each morning Logan and I would write out his schedule together, which he soon memorized. Still, that daily ritual helped him prepare for what to expect at school that day.

2.       Surprise Card: Of course, no matter how much we prepare, changes happen. Logan’s speech therapist made this Surprise Card for him, which his teachers would show when an unexpected schedule change occurred. It was a fun and positive way to let him know that something different was about to take place.

3.     Lasagna , the Beta Lasagna , the Beta card to help child with autism: Logan had an orange beta fish, which he named Lasagna, after his favorite “orange” food! Loud noises would often startle him, especially unexpected automatic toilet flushes in public bathrooms. The husband of his speech pathologist, who is a teacher, drew this awesome picture of Lasagna for him, with the words, “Lasagna the fish is very brave. He swims all alone in his tank and braves the loud noises around him. He stays calm when he hears a loud sound and just keeps swimming. Just like me. I’ll keep doing what I need to do when I hear loud noises. I am brave just like Lasagna.” This card went with us wherever we went for a long time and worked wonders until no longer needed.

4.       Mistake Card: Whenever Logan made a mistake in his work, his teacher would show him the Mistake Card and remind him, “Everyone makes mistakes. That is OK! If I make a mistake when doing my work, I will tell my teacher and she will help me move on.”

5.       Sensory Diet and Tools: These were some of the first sensory tools and activities I used with Logan, which over time, helped desensitize many sensory issues:

  • Finger and Hand Gadgets, Classroom Exercises
  • Pressure Brushing,  Joint Compression, Push 5’s
  • Gentle Helper Squishes
  • Sticky Bear Push Ups and Wheel Barrow Walk
  • Pre-warn…in 5 minutes, Picture Planner
  • Retreat to Private Place

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This post was written by Lorna
Lorna d’Entremont: Co-owner of SentioLife Solutions, Ltd. the company behind KidCompanions Chewelry (2007) and SentioCHEWS (2013), mother of three, grandma of 5 and wife. She is a retired teacher and special needs advocate. Throughout she has taught all levels from grade 2 to grade 9. Lorna loved teaching and enjoyed seeing the students progress in the school system. During her 30 year career she took a few years off to raise her three children.
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