Plinth Blog Special Needs Parenting


The MDSC Hockey Game

Today was the 10th annual hockey game/fund raiser done by the MDSC taking on the Boston Bruins Alumni. I went with Alice, we've been there for 7 of those games.


This is a really fantastic event. It's great to see the retired players out on the ice getting a work out and having fun with the MDSC team. Before the game, there is a free skate and I enjoy going out with Alice for that. Usually, when I take Alice out to a local rink, we borrow a sled hockey sled with a push bar. I've tried (and failed) to teach Alice to skate. She gets terrified by the loss of control and once she's fallen, it's nigh impossible to get her back up. Eventually, I'd like her to be able to push herself on the sled, but it's hard to do one-handed. For this event, we use a chair from the arena and that works great until the ice gets worn, then it's tiring.

Alice looks forward to the event and really wanted to see Blades. We arrived early to have a sit-down lunch and Alice told me that "Blades is beautiful and lovely and he's going to marry me." Uh-huh. Nice use of adjectives, though.

We skated for about an hour and a half and Alice had a good time meeting the players. During the event, she invited no fewer than three of the players to our house for Thanksgiving dinner. I don't expect them to show up, and it would probably set a poor precedent, but you gentlemen are of course welcome.


Alice and Frank Simonetti and me


Alice and Rick Middleton



Of particular note are Tom Songin (pictured above) who was an absolute sweetheart to Alice, and Alice clearly picked him as her new best friend.

Alice also got to hold Tom's stick. And when I say Tom, I actually mean Patrice Bergeron, because he had clearly lifted it from him:


Also, Bob Sweeney (not pictured here), came up behind us and said, "Dad here's looking a little tired, how about a couple of my boys take over?" and his sons (I assume) pushed Alice for a couple rounds before Alice wanted me back.

All in all a fun event.

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Nothing To Do With Special Needs – Screw You, Whirlpool

In 2007 or so, we replaced our old washer and dryer with modern, efficient units from Whirlpool (Duet Sport is the model name). The dryer failed early in its life, likely crib death, and had also had a mysterious failure in the user interface control board. The washer developed a leak a few months ago, which a repair service was only able to mitigate, not fix. Not a month later, the replacement UI control board failed in pretty much the same manner as the old one. Oddly enough, the washer and dryer we had before were close to 30 years old and apart from being inefficient and slow, the only breakdown I ever had was a broken belt on the dryer.


I was able to purchase a replacement, but there was a three red flags:

  1. This part was not particularly easy to find in stock
  2. Every place that had it in stock offered a small cash offer for the broken one
  3. The replacement part was exactly the same revision as the original

This to me says that Whirlpool is not likely to keep supporting this part (or at least aren't manufacturing it), they want the broken ones to fix and put out in the field again and they have had no interest in revving the failing part. None of these are good signs for when the part fails again in another 3.5 years. I found the schematics online and from all appearances (I say this because the schematics are really a block diagram documenting the connections not the boards), the main controller is a relatively puny microprocessor (as it should be) and the UI board is likely slaved to it through a SPI interface. I say 'likely' because the labels in the schematics for the various lines appear to match the typical naming conventions for SPI. Unfortunately, this means that there is a communications protocol which would be necessary to implement this properly. I left a note via Whirlpool's web feedback that I was requesting formal documentation of the communications protocol. To their credit, they called me. I honestly did not expect this.

The woman I spoke to offered to get me a link to their service manual, which I already had for the schematics. I asked again if I could get the communications protocol that they use was told no. I asked what will I do the next time this fails and the part is no longer available? I was told that I would contact a Whirlpool service tech who would diagnose and repair it. I was curt and asked how the service tech would get a part that clearly already at end of life? The real answer is that I need to put aside $10-20 a week for the next 3.5 years to replace the units.

The failure of this part and the red flags above are some of the more compelling arguments for Open Source in design. Being in commercial software, I understand the need for proprietary code and design in order to maintain a competitive lead. The Open Source movement is at the far end of the spectrum, wanting to have all software be available. I think there is a more reasonable middle ground and it is to address exactly this problem: what do you do when your product has entered it's end-of-life phase? This would be an ideal time to release all this information.

If I were designing this dryer, I would likely make the protocol be something like this

Hey, are you alive? (yup, nope) - this is power on self-test

Hey, what button(s) are currently down? (here's a list) - this is a horrible protocol, but it's simple. It might also be 'Hey, have any buttons been pressed recently?'

Hey, would you display this on the digit display? (yup, nope)

Hey, would you light up/turn off these lights? (yup, nope)

Hey, would you go into sleep mode (yup, nope)

The nature of this is that the main controller sends requests (Hey...) and then the UI responds. This is the nature of SPI which is a synchronous protocol. The master sends a message and the slave responds.

Here is what I would need to reverse engineer this: a logic analyzer ($50-$300) and time. Lots of time, especially if the communications protocol is not straightforward.

To build replacement hardware would be around $100 to use off-the-shelf components (likely an Arduino) and time. Lots of time.

Unfortunately, as the parent of a child with special needs, time is one thing I do not have a lot and when I do have time, I usually don't have the energy.

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Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part LXVIII: How I’ve Changed

Copyright © 2014 Stephen Hawley, all rights reserved.

You can't go into the same river twice. I always liked that aphorism. It's evocative, terse and seemingly deep. For better or worse, the river of Down syndrome has changed us all a great deal. I can't say that I particularly like all the changes. I don't always wallow in self-pity, but when I do I go at it full force. Today, I have the start of a chest cold and a raging headache, so I'm going to indulge. When I look in the mirror, I don't see the face that I expect to see. I see a face that is deeply lined from worry and grimacing in a stiff-upper-lip-I-guess-I-just-have-to-deal-with-this kind of way punctuated by apoplectic bouts of sheer incredulity. I feel like I've lost my sense of humor and have to make an effort to remember the muscle patterns to smile.

When I was a younger software engineer, I did an experiment over several months to find out how much sleep I really needed. The answer from data collection was 6 hours uninterrupted indefinitely and fewer hours for only a few weeks before I lose the ability to hear an alarm clock. This data, collected in my mid 20's, is a laughable underestimate. At this point, I'm not sure I could sleep for 6 hours straight even if I wanted to. Melatonin? Glass of wine? Warm milk? Doesn't help.

And with this sleep-deprived setting, I need to have more patience, more care, more energy, more foresight. Sorry, but that ain't gonna happen. I get tired of policing Alice's backsliding oral motor control. I wonder what's the point of trying to highlight the "don't talk to strangers rule" when after 4 years she doesn't show any sense of getting that. I'm tried of getting openly dismissed, disrespected, and rejected if she believes that she has any other option than me. I'm tired of the constant reminders flush the toilet, wash your hands, wipe your face, pull up your pants, pull your shirt down, use both hands to wash your hair, use your 'hello hand' to shake, no he's not your boyfriend you don't even know his name, carry one at a time, leave your brother alone, no you can't watch TV you just hit your brother, I don't think you want to ride the bus because you're not even dressed because you've been playing for a half hour, we can't go swimming the pool's been closed for two months, did you wipe your bottom because it doesn't smell that way, can you just wash yourself in the tub, I'm pretty sure I didn't ask for an argument, no we're not going to watch The Sound of Music/The King and I/Muppet Treasure Island/Frozen/Enchanted again, no you can't have a sleep over, please eat over your plate because you're eating berries and they'll get all ove...crap, another shirt to wash.

I don't think I want to go in this river again, but I still have to.

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DS Awareness Month 2014, Day 31


Need I say more?


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DS Awareness Month 2014, Day 30

Not every moment is a joy. Not every day is happiness. When someone tells you that kids with DS are always so nice, I cringe because I frequently get days like today.


You can see that Alice is not happy with me. She went upstairs after breakfast with plenty of time to get ready for school. I checked on her with a 25 minute window of safety and found her in her room in her pajamas in bed with the lights out. I told her what she was doing and what she needed to do, how long she had to do it and the consequences. She stared at me. I went through the recommended behavior script, "Alice, you're in bed staring at me. You need to get dressed." I got a gasp as a response. She hadn't moved. "Alice, you're still staring at me. You need to get dressed. Now." She finally got herself in gear. I checked on her with 10 minutes, which if she is close to ready is enough to get the rest done and get to the bus stop. I knocked on the door and she was half dressed. "Alice, you're not dressed, you haven't brushed your hair, you haven't brushed your teeth. We can't make the bus." Her response, "I want to ride the bus!" which is Alice's stock response when she's going to lose something she likes as a consequence. I spelled it out for her, and got interrupted every time with "I want to get dressed!" "I want to brush my hair!" "I want to brush my teeth!" My response, "Stop. Just stop, Alice. If you wanted to ride the bus you would have done these things. It was your job, you didn't do it. No bus today." She caught an earful from E too. Her response to that was to look at me and say, "Mommy was RIGHT!"

She fought through the rest of her jobs, including putting on and zipping her hoodie (!! hooray - she got praise for that) while E and I hashed out who was going to get the task of bringing in Little Miss Grumpy Pants. Alice, on the way in, told me in no uncertain terms her feelings, "DADDY, I VERY SAD AND ANGRY AT YOU!" "I'm OK with that. I'm angry too." "At me?" "No, Alice, I'm angry with your behavior." I try to draw the distinction between child and action, although I suspect most of it lost. Alice now dropped into a mode where she repeated the topic of every sentence I said with as a question.

"Yes, Alice, I'm angry with your behavior?"

"My behavior?"

"Yes, how you acted."

"I acted?"

"When you were still in bed in pajamas."

"I in bed?"

And so on.

I got her to school, brought her to the office and she spoke to the secretary.


"Good morning Alice, how are you?"

"I not having a very good day."

"Why is that?"

"My behavior." Innnteresting. Maybe it does sink in more than I thought.

Alice went on, "I need you call the police." (I translated. The secretary was having trouble understanding Alice).

"I need you call the police. ON DADDY."

One thing they're starting in Alice's curriculum is how to use the phone in case of emergencies. I fear for this lesson because I think I'm going to have to explain to the police that, no I don't think they need to intervene because someone failed to earn TV time for not getting ready for school on time, but go ahead and have a talk with Alice.

Absolutely, people with Down syndrome feel the range of human feelings and life is not all smiles and laughter. Let's put that stereotype into the ground, please.

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DS Awareness Month 2014, Day 29


Alice and I both wore our new Buddy Walk shirts and dark zip hoodies today. We match!

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DS Awareness Month 2014, Day 28


Alice invited Olivia to share her book with Alice.

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DS Awareness Month 2014, Day 27

Literacy is so important for anyone in our society. If you can read and write, your life becomes easier and more independent. We look for literacy all the time and at present, Alice loves reading and is at the stage where she will read every sign that she sees. Today she got a Halloween card from her grandparents and didn't hesitate reading it. It's cute that she chose to read "Happy Birthday" instead of "Happy Halloween".

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DS Awareness Month 2014, Day 26

I've always felt that's it's important for Alice to have independence and to be out and about in the community. I try to give her as much leeway as possible, but there can be rather unexpected results. Today we went to CostCo for some shopping and lunch. After we were done eating, Alice decided that she needed to go to the bathroom. This is great. If you don't know, kids with Down syndrome can have a lot of issues around toilet training, especially not always being aware that they need to go until it's too late, so I'm happy when she volunteers to go. I asked her she needed me to go with her and Alice said, "no thanks, daddy, I'm fine." and she tottered off to the bathroom.

If you're a parent, you make your own decision about how to handle this. I gave her a half minute, then I stood up and watched to make she that she went to the bathroom and then I set a mental alarm clock for 15 minutes. When that was up, I went to get a female CostCo staff member to help me out and check the bathroom (because, man here). As she went to check, I found Alice at the eyeglasses counter trying them on.


Alice and I had a talk about that. I allowed that I was scared and that she should have come straight back and asked me if she could go look at glasses. I don't think it stuck, but we do what we can. Important side note if you're a parent of a child with Down syndrome: chances are good your child is going to need glasses at some point. The problem is that people with Down syndrome tend to have small noses and smaller midfaces which means that glasses don't work so well. Specs4us makes frames that actually fit and look good. Those glasses are clearly not from Specs4us (and Costco doesn't carry them anyway).

Later on we went to a community band concert at a senior center in town where I was playing. I do think it's important for Alice to be in the community and be seen by the community. Alice helped me set up and then she found a seat and made some new best friends.

IMG_20141026_153433This is a good thing and a problem. Alice is friendly and likes people and likes talking to people. Unfortunately, she has absolutely 0 stranger anxiety and has no problem telling people all of our business. Still, this is a nice community and nice people, so it's good for her to be out there.


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DS Awareness Month 2014, Day 25


Independence. We strive for independence, from getting dressed to buttering a gluten free bagel.

Alice takes off her street shoes and gets her ballet shoes on by herself. Note the 'L' on the sole. Every little bit helps.

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