Saturday, November 9, 2013

Cherry Blossoms

 ... perfect dessert after pizza ...
What have you learned from your children? That is one of the questions asked of participants in the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development. If I were asked that question about my children I would write eight  essays. I begin one of those essays by saying that from Bonnie I have learned how to interact with autistic children. I mean really learned. Not just read a couple of books and participated in a some group discussions. I have really practised. I am still practising when David is around. Every day there are new developments for me – new ways of figuring out appropriate grandmother behaviours from me for David.
... the ritual of opening the bar, as practised in the daylight ...
...  a ritual to be practised in the dark of a movie theatre next ..

Take giving eye contact, for example. Bonnie, Kelvin, David and I have a new way of getting information to one another.

No yelling from one room to another, or even calling across the room to someone’s back.

 ... David practices the folding technique ...
We get within six feet of each other, get the person’s attention and then ask our question. For three of us, that also means getting eye contact. For David that should mean not getting eye contact. There is enough literature now to fully inform us that demanding eye contact from someone who has autism is the least effective way for him to learn.

So three of us? Yes to eye contact. With David – let him learn in the best way for him, letting him seek the contact with us, but not demanding it from him. Now this seems counter intuitive to my old practices. But it is the way that works for him. I try to change. I am not so old yet that I can’t learn how to do this. And that is what I have learned from Bonnie. In short? Ask another child a question. They will respond in a second or two? David? Wait 8 seconds for his response. Count them out on your hand behind your back. Eight seconds is so long for me that by the time he gets to the answer, I have forgotten my question.

we practice throwing our wrappers on the floor
even knowing it is allowed, it is still hard work
Bonnie is always going to conferences. The latest one was devoted to how to teach sexuality to children with autism. Now, another chance to connect with David. The message in 25 words or less is ... that you teach sexuality the same way that you teach the alphabet ... thousands of repetition, variations and iterations until the alphabet feels like something that is natural. How interesting now to find ways to do that with sexuality. No one ever told me that retirement would be full of interesting events like this.

Three years ago, Bonnie invited a therapist to work with David in his home environment. I watched Leanne’s pedagogy to see if I could imitate the work Bonnie and Leanne were doing. My latest practise event to model their teaching method was wondering if I could show David how I used to eat a Cherry Blossom in a movie theatre when I was young. I must have been triggered to try this experiment when I was looking at Word of the Day from Dr. and noticed a small essay on how chocolate bars got their names. I bought those chocolate bars, brought them home, told the stories of how manufacturers named chocolate bars to David, we looked at specimens of the chocolate bars, touched all of the wrappers and he ate the ones he was interested in.

... finally!  unwrapped and ready to investigate ...
As a follow up, the “How to Eat a Cherry Blossom” event began after our regular Thursday night pizza party. I passed out Cherry Blossoms assuring my dinner guests that they will not have to eat this product. We are just looking at them. They are only a prop to help me remember how I did things when I was young. We opened our Cherry Blossom boxes together. I began to make the method explicit.

“This should be done in the dark of a movie theatre, so just imagine it is dark for now. The first step is to hold the silver paper in one hand and carefully peel away the silver wrapping. Put the Cherry Blossom down on one of your knees. On the other knee spread the tin foil out so that there are no wrinkles in it, fold it in half then quarters, then eighths until it is a tiny piece you can hold between your fingers. Then throw it on the floor along with the yellow box, because in movie theatres you are allowed to drop items on the ground and not feel bad ... like if pieces of popcorn fall out of your popcorn container, it is O.K.

Cherry Blossom Shell
perfectly cleaned out of all of that cloying sugary sweet stuff inside
Turn the Cherry Blossom upside down and try to suck the chocolate off of the bottom to get to the maraschino cherry. Dig out the cherry and the fondant juices that are inside. If you take a bite from the side, then all of this is going to fall out and get on your clothes, so it is better to make the bomb like a rounded container, take off the bottom which is now the top for you. If you have trouble with your teeth, you can pick at it with your finger. Now scoop your finger in, use it as a lever to get the juice to your mouth and finally you will present your taste buds with the cherry – one per chocolate bar. Your finger will be your spoon and you will have to suck it clean many times. The taste of the chocolate and peanuts from the bottom of the bomb will mix with the cherry and its juices. I don’t really like this part in the steps of how to eat a Cherry Blossom. The maraschino is too sweet for me, but eating it is a necessary step in order to have the half moon of chocolate that has now been swept clean of cherry juices by your finger, and is now ready for consumption.

... the scooping ritual practise with the baby finger ...
By this time your fingers are so warm that some of the peanut chocolate from the outside shell has started to melt onto your fingers. I hold it carefully between my thumb and my index finger and put tasty bits of chocolate and peanut in my mouth. I savour the chocolate, learning when is the right time to chew the peanuts and chocolate to get the joy of the crunch, when to swallow, when to wait until the burning feeling I have in my throat that tells me this is enough, and then I wait until that feeling goes away.

I watch a few more scenes in the movie.

Take another bite of the chocolate and continue with these steps until the Cherry Blossom is all gone.

 I think to myself, ‘That was the perfect treat.

Of all of the chocolate bars at the theatre candy stand, I choose the best one. And I will choose this one again next Saturday when I come to the Roy Rogers matinee’.

David in fear ... this dessert is to much for him
And that is how to eat a Cherry Blossom in the 1940’s .

Now back to what I have learned from Bonnie. To introduce a food to a child who has a diagnosed disability, you may have to try 17 different ways. The next time that dessert is Cherry Blossoms we will cut hem in half and see if we can get the filling into a dish and the chocolate into another, much the same way one cracks an egg and separates the shell from the edible product. Then I will have two Cherry Blossom experiments done, and only 15 to go.

 ..David captured with his classic look of utter disgust ...
this may look like boredom or ennui to you
but it is David's expression of absolute disgust
 He still might not have tasted it, but he will have touched it, smelled it, watched others savour it and this will be enough. The fun I am having is not teaching David to like Cherry Blossoms. Only to do have the product investigated enough times that he will know if he likes them or not. I am wanting to give him every chance in the world since that is what I learned from Bonnie and Leanne. Well, not every chance in the world, but at least 17 chances.



  1. Thank you for allowing me to look behind the curtain. Not the best metaphor, because the Wizard of Oz was much less when his behind the scene persona was revealed. With you, the person behind the screen is not only even more interesting, but also willing to pass along all the secrets of the magic of parenting.

    For my siblings who are not here to reap this benefit, here's what I mean.

    Example one

    wizardy = knowing how a chocolate bar got it's name

    behind the screen =
    1. she has signed up for "word of the day",
    2. read the side-bar,
    3. studied the facts until she has committed them to memory,
    4. purchased the chocolate bars,
    5. waited for the right moment to introduce the ideas to your child - a moment when your child is available for learning.

  2. Example two

    wizardry = getting your child to practice addition facts

    behind the curtain =
    1. read the teachers note she has sent home in your son's backpack.
    2. studied your child's worksheet error patterns
    3. probed his knowledge while the three of you are driving in the car
    4. delegated cutting out cue cards from recycled cardboard to another adult
    5. written the addition facts onto the cards
    6. prepared two containers - "cards that are easy", "cards we still are working on"
    7. planned a time when you can teach your child the facts by relieving you of some of your household chores

  3. Next time David is examining the cherry blossom, please call me over. I will help him get rid of that thing. The picture on the box looks so inviting. I would never go to the store and choose that one but I would help someone come and get rid of theirs if they are feeling as uncomfortable as David was about this "adventure."

  4. My favorite bate is a cherry blossom. I bought a case once and hid them from everyone else. I forgot where I put them and when I did find them the cherry juice was hard. They taste better fresh. I am from the same family as Arta and I never hate them like her. But then I never got to go to the Plaza Theatre nor the Palace. I am much younger.