August 30th, 2010

Trip Report: taking the kiddies to a regional entertainment area

On Thursday, we drove up to North Conway, NH, where we checked into the North Conway Grand Hotel. The kids were great driving up, altho we fed them too many Munchkins from Dunkin' Donuts and T. threw up in the hotel pool. They liked the pool, tho.

It's always tough getting T. to stay in a new place. And when I say tough, you probably cannot imagine how difficult. We promised him he could make waffles downstairs in the restaurant the following morning; that helped (it also helped that it was a promise we could deliver on). Next morning waffles went well, and we went to Storyland. If you live in the Pacific Northwest and went to Enchanted Village some time ago (I believe it has grown a fair amount), you have the general idea. The theming at Storyland now is better than I remember the theming at Enchanted Village in the early 1980s, but that's not a fair comparison.

T. did a classic hard right, putting him in the highly themed but low-ride play area. He went up through the little tree and down the slide many, many, many times. He did it so many times, A. decided it was worth getting out of the stroller and taking a closer look at the talking tree part. Then she decided it was worth exploring the staircase. Then she even went down the slide. She was still there when T. and I went in search of other options.

Over three sessions (Friday morning, Saturday morning, and Saturday afternoon), T. went in a lot of rides but not the Cuckoo Clockenspiel, which he would have loved but nobody could get him either up or down the hill to it. *shrug* He loved the tea cups, and the coaster, but rode the train willingly several times and did a variety of other things as well. Getting him back in the park on Saturday morning was surprisingly hard -- we almost gave up, but then I held him up so he could see over the fence to where we were going and he was game then. For reasons that are completely opaque to us, he did not want to go through ticketing and entry, either at StoryLand or Santa's Village.

Each day, we left as it was getting hotter and went back to the hotel to play in the pool. Both kids loved the pool. A lot. All of the pools, in fact. We were at this hotel (without a kitchen of our own) because this was the only place I could find with a zero entry pool (a sandy beach is a zero entry water facility, for comparison purposes: smooth sloping entry). It was, in fact, impossible to get A. to play on the playground next to the pool; we had to go back upstairs and get her swimsuit and get in the pool instead.

North Conway is full of playgrounds: there's a great public one near the scenic railway train station. We spent a bunch of time there, with an ongoing meltdown because one of the 0-3 swings was broken and T. has this must-swing-on-each-and-every-swing thing going on. But they had fun. There is also a smaller playstructure at Settlers' Green Outlet Mall, which the hotel is located in.

On Saturay, we took the kids to McDonald's to play in the indoor playspace while it was hot, and after we had all gotten a little tired of the pool. A. was trying to nap on the floor, so I took her in the stroller back to the hotel while T. and R. went back to StoryLand. She mostly fell asleep, and continued to nap while I went shopping at the Gymboree outlet (fun!) and the Children's Place outlet (much more crowded and surprisingly trashy in just about every way). I came back with bags of clothes in the new sizes the kids are/will soon be in, long pants and long sleeves for the fall and winter.

Apparently, I am the idiot who buys stuff on vacation that in principle they could buy while at home. But at home, there is no Gymboree within strolling distance (it's a little too far for me to walk, actually, altho I have biked to the Trader Joe's next to it), much less a Gymboree outlet. No Hanna Andersson, alas.

The drive to Santa's Village was almost an hour from the hotel, 40 minutes or more further than StoryLand. As we were arriving, I had already concluded that there was no way I was going to do that willingly again, unless it was truly incredible compared to StoryLand. Boy was I wrong. I would absolutely do that, and possibly skip StoryLand entirely. (1) Five degrees cooler because we were north of the Whites. (2) Short/no lines. (3) Comparable rides, better water play area and comparable food. It's a funky tradeoff, because the North Conway area has so much more to offer, but it would be really tempting to just rent a house or cabin with 2 bedrooms, AC and a full kitchen close to Santa's Village and spend three days there. But then we wouldn't have a pool -- on the other hand, they could spend a lot of time playing in the water space.

I cannot imagine flying to New England for the purpose of going to North Conway/StoryLand/Santa's Village. I really can't. It's actually pretty tough to imagine driving in from anywhere other than the 91/93 corridors, or Maine/Vermont/parts of Canada. That's who you see when you go there, and it makes sense. A teenager would be beyond miserable in these particular parks, altho there are a lot of other things to do in the area for a teenager, particularly one who loves hiking/river stuff/rock climbing/etc. And an industrious teenager might well get a job running rides in on of these parks.

This was the first time I've deployed the iPad as a kiddie toy. There were DVD players in both rooms of the 1 bedroom suite we got (and if you're thinking, wow, that sounds expensive, you aren't wrong, but I still wish I'd gotten a 2 bedroom suite), but we don't own any Micky Mouse Clubhouse DVDs because I wasn't thinking that far ahead. I had, however, downloaded some onto the iPad, and snuggling up with the kids watching videos was fun; watching T. snuggled up with the iPad and his papa was pretty cool, too. T. is also loving Blue's Clues again, so we watched that a bunch in the van and in the hotel room. The hotel's wireless requires a password and you have to enter it the login/password pair every time you restart your device, through a web browser. If you are thinking that really sucks, you've probably underestimated how annoying it is. It wasn't bad enough for me to switch to the 3G on the iPad, but it was close. Instead, I just finished reading _Replays_.

We ultimately came back Sunday night, rather than some time on Monday. We debated this decision for a while, and a poop-in-the-pool incident put us over the edge. We are glad we came back -- we got in a little before 9 at night, so the kids had run around time before falling over -- and even more glad we had the hotel room for the day, rather than checking out and then doing stuff. I'm not sure why, but that just never seems to work well for us.

In some ways, this was a summer vacation; in some ways, it was a test run for our next Disney trip. I'm feeling very optimistic about Disney. We were much less exhausted this time around, in part because we made no effort to stay awake after the kids were asleep (artifact of the 1 bedroom suite decision). I actually caught up on sleep, because A. will usually sleep for 10-12 hours at a stretch. The iPad continues to impress as a travel tool/toy, and T. is wanting to use it so I'll probably get one for the kids for Xmas (stripped down, of course). It's also great that T. and R. were able to return to the park after a midday break. That never quite worked on our previous Disney trip, because it was Xmas break and the parks were just slammed after the first hour or so. I have great confidence we'll be able to exhaust the children without totally destroying ourselves.

two down

R. was sick all last night: horrible reflux and worse. He's napping upstairs. I was assuming it was going to just be him, since we've all been eating different things, and he had a Wendy's burger last night that might have had onions which have been bothering him more and more lately. However, I just got a call from B. saying T. threw up all over the place (maybe it wasn't the Munchkins on Thursday? Naw. It was the Munchkins.) and has been inclined to lie down and watch TV. (This is a sign that T. is really, really, really not feeling well. He is usually jumping around, literally, while watching TV.)

I'm now wondering if it's going to be me next or A. :(

_Replays_, Karen Levine and Naomi Chedd

Subtitled: Using Play to Enhance Emotional And Behavioral Development for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

_Replays_ has a straightforward central idea: take some ideas from play therapy (hamming it up, using dolls/puppets/figurines as proxies all in the service of helping a child figure out how to deal with a difficult situation) and some ideas from desensitization and sort of merged them into a framework for helping kids who have a lot of communication and social development issues (and possibly other issues as well). The central problem in using play therapy ideas with kids on the spectrum is that in general, their pretend play is limited to nonexistent, which would seem to make this a nonstarter. Within some constraints, however, Levine and Chedd claim that it works, and I am inclined to believe them. A lot of _Replays_ is devoted to describing how to use this framework in a variety of cases; theory and limits and how it interacts with other therapies such as RDI, ABA, SCERTS (hey, first time I heard of it, too), Floortime/DIR, etc. consumes the rest of this slim book (which I bought on the kindle! Yay!).

Levine is a smart, intuitive therapist with a great sense of humor who is open to a lot of strategies and approaches. This comes through in the text. It was a quick read, and while most of what I've done with it is more the quick form than the extended form, it has been useful. If nothing else, Levine and Chedd are a great reminder that a huge chunk of helping anyone at all is making sure they feel like they've been heard, and their feelings are taken seriously.

While A. and I were waiting for the train in StoryLand (we'd just missed the previous one, so it was a longish wait), we went into the candy and toy shop next to the stop and picked out a plastic train whistle (very cool -- it does a 3 note chord) and a Gund monkey. Monkey turned out to be quite helpful for the rest of the trip, doing all kinds of things with the kids, including a fair amount of misbehavior. It got to the point where A. wouldn't get in the stroller to leave unless we brought monkey with us. I'm too aspie to think to do this very, very normal kind of play, but _Replays_ reminded me of all the times I've seen other parents and caregivers do it, and explained enough of the "rules" to give me some repertoire. Lots of fun!

This is the first book about autism spectrum stuff that I truly enjoyed reading.

communication

A. brought me a cup from her tea set with the chocolate ice cream scoop from the food set. The chocolate ice cream was in the cup, just like we'd been eating while on our vacation. Just because she doesn't talk much doesn't mean she can't communicate exactly what she wants, given some tools.

of blueberries and object permanence

There's some reason to believe A. likes blueberries -- she'll eat a NutriGrain cereal bar with blueberries. But she'll spit out a blueberry if she puts it in her mouth. I don't have a problem with this, and I also don't have a particular problem with her feeding me blueberries. There are some issues with letting her play with blueberries (notably, stains on furniture and rugs), but I'm okay with the tradeoff, if it convinces her eventually to swallow one.

In any event, today she was playing with a frozen blueberry and she dropped it. Blueberries -- especially hard, frozen ones -- are wont to roll, which this one did. Right under the pantry door. She was following it, and when it went under the door, she stopped, looked up at the handle, reached for the handle, opened the door, and then retrieved the blueberry.

This is in no way surprising (altho I've seen adults try to fish things out from under doors before thinking to open the doors and it took them longer than it took her to switch): this is, after all, the child you really can't hide a binky from. We store them in a bowl on a shelf too high for her to reach, but she'll try to train a new adult to reach them down for her and they are sufficiently well hidden that again, the adults have trouble finding them, even if told (by us) that they are looking for a bowl of binkies. It is also why I find standard assessment tests for things like object permanence unspeakably stupid. This is the kid who failed several of them, largely due to lack of interest in either the objects in question or the person quizzing her. At least the person had the sense to recognize that, and include it in the descriptive write-up.