Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Good Copy

Joey is studying animals at school. He was very fond of "herbivore", "carnivore", and "omnivore" the day I went to observe him at school. They now have moved on to include adaptations: hibernation, migration, camouflage, and mimicry.

One way they help the kids learn this stuff is to have them make "flip books." When I went in to give my little presentation, some of the books were posted on the wall. Here is Joey's:


Hibernation*****Migration***** Camouflage*****Mimicry
***Bear**********caterpillar*****rattlesnake****Wiley Coyote

A Big Welcome: Hello, Doughnut!

My mom has a new cat. He showed up at the house and just kept sitting on her porch, staring in. So one very cold night, she decided to let him in. And fed him. And that, my friends, is how you adopt a cat.

His Majesty immediately took charge of the catless house and made it his own kingdom. So Mom asked Andy what his name should be. And Andy came up with the best thing he could think of: Doughnut. And that is what happens when you ask a 6-year-old to name your cat.

He now has thoroughly installed himself in the house and in our hearts. So welcome, Doughnut. All hail the King.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Answering the Big Questions

So today I put a toaster and a hair dryer into a duffel bag and headed to Joey's school. I think it went OK. The room was both Joey's inclusion class and his self-contained friends, minus Joey and his friend D, who is also autistic. We talked about toast and drying hair and the fact that Joey is learning about toasters just as they were learning about hair dryers. We talked about the fact that Joey was born a hair dryer, and that you can't turn toasters into hair dryers or hair dryers into toasters, that hair dryers are not "sick". We talked about communication, and anxiety, and things Joey doesn't do well that his classmates think nothing of doing, and things Joey does well (en chorus: "MATH!"), and how one might cope with anxiety and fear when one cannot speak well. We talked about Joey's need for consistency and predictability, and why he might not like sudden movements or loud noise. We talked abut echolalia and ways Joey copes with his world using sound and behavior. We talked about how autism affects Joey (such as speech, movement, and being able to make friends), and how it doesn't (such as intelligence and desire to make friends). We talked about how important they, as Joey's friends and classmates, are to Joey. We talked about why he is good at math and spelling and video games. We talked about why he sometimes needed a break away from people or in a room with a computer. We even had a young lady decide she was curling iron.

One of the Big Questions was "Does autism hurt?" It isn't a question I have a ready answer to. I don't know the answer. Does it hurt? How do you define "hurt"? Does being overwhelmed and uncomfortable "hurt"? Does constant frustration "hurt"? When Joey processes sensory stimuli differently, it could very well hurt. He talks about not liking to read because it "hurts." I didn't give a straight answer, but instead talked about ways Joey may feel things and understand things differently than other people. We talked about how it might feel to be overwhelmed all the time. We even talked about what "overwhelmed" means. We talked about how Joey uses language and words, and what it could mean when he says something "hurts." It isn't a yes or no question, really.

One of the kids asked if Joey took medication. Mrs. C and I explained that Joey does not take medication for autism, he takes medication for anxiety; that is, he had medicine that keeps him from feeling scared and overwhelmed all the time. Another question was what happens when he doesn't take his medication; and we noted he would be grumpy and anxious, so they would likely notice. However, most people feel grumpy or anxious sometimes, anyway. But it is a hard question to answer; how much do you reveal about Joey without him knowing you are telling people? What will third graders do with this information? Will they tell him to take medicine every time he gets grumpy?

The the biggest question was what to do about all the unanswered questions. I was really pleased that the kids were all very interested in Joey, from the Big Questions to little connections, like asking what video games Joey plays and does he have a Wii? Joey is important to these kids, just as they are important to Joey. And seriously, that rocks.

The plan of the Day: Talking to Joey's Class

Today I am going to talk to Joey's class about autism, an idea I suggested after thinking about Mom-NOS's great classic, Hair Dryer Brains in a Toaster World. I got the questions the kids offered this morning, so I don't have a lot of time to prepare and think. I hope my talk with Joey's class goes even half so well.

We are a very small school system. In fact, there is only one school per level. We have one lower elementary, one upper elementary, one intermediate, and one high school.The kids that Joey sees in class today are likely the same kids he saw for the last three years, and he will still be looking at them nine years from now. I was surprised to find how many kids did not know Joey this summer; or, perhaps I ought to be more accurate there. Everybody knows Joey. Not everybody has had to work with him in their classes, or are familiar with his differences. Since he is not in the mainstream classes right now, even fewer are getting to know him and learn to accept those differences. It is likely at this point that Joey will spend the majority of his school time in "inclusion" classrooms, where he will have access to a special education teacher all day. The majority of those kids are hand-picked to be supportive and benefit from that environment as much as the special needs children. Therefore, it is likely we will be seeing this particular group of kids for a long, long time.

I need to get this right.

I'll keep you posted.

Edit: I almost forgot, here's the questions I got:

1.) Why does Joey say "Infinity and beyond?" (I corrected misspellings!)
2.) Why does Joey want to run out the door? (2 asked that)
3.) How does a kid get autism? Is it because when they breathe their
brain doesn't get oxygen fast enough?
4.) Does it hurt them to have autism?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Downtown Adventure: Another Day

You may remember last spring I took the boys to see some of the sights of our town, including the Hugh Mercer Apothecary, and was very pleased to find the docents patient and willing to help accommodate us. The boys were off on Monday, so we fished about for President's Day stuff to do. Joey was not in a good mood for a long ride to Wakefield, and Ferry Farm was closed (why is the farm where George Washington grew up closed on President's Day? I have no idea). So I settled on another go at the apothecary.

Unfortunately, this time wasn't so pleasant.

When you enter the apothecary, the front receiving room includes a wall of medicines and a counter of jars filled with interesting herbs and such. The tour starts in the next room, which was apparently the doctor's surgery. There may be a couple more rooms in the tour, but I don't know, we've never gotten that far. They spent a very long time in the surgery, explaining what medicine was like in colonial times, quite graphically. It's a pretty nice little presentation for adults and children who can easily sit and focus.

When we arrived, the tour was well underway with a room full of children in the surgery. Since you have to pay for the tour ($5 per adult, $2 for kids 6-12), I thought it a good opportunity to let my guys try to settle and see if the tour would be a good idea. The docent was not the one there before, and she immediately started badgering us about how it was a paid tour and much to the effect of "pay up, lady." I explained that I would pay in a minute, as I was trying to get a handle on my guys. Andy was asking questions about the counter, Joey was asking questions about the furniture, and I didn't particularly want either of them running about the room while I was trying to get money settled. Both boys were being pretty good about their voices, so I didn't really see why the woman started fussing about us being in the room, but she did- "its a paid tour, and you're disturbing it" sort of comments. Why isn't she going to let us wait for the next tour, since it was a paid tour and already well under way? I wondered.

I started having my second thoughts, and quickly explained that my child was autistic and I wanted him to get used to the room for a moment. I think had the woman given us a couple of minutes to settle, we would have been ok, as I had gotten them both sitting on a bench and was working to determine if this tour was going to be something we could handle. But she didn't, so Joey picked up on the mood and decided he was done. He announced his wish to leave in a fairly loud voice- one that I would readily say was disruptive to the other room, where they were still going on about pulling teeth- and I was by now quite sure we were not welcome. Andy wanted to stay and ask more questions about the herbs and hear the tour, but we weren't getting the minute we needed to pull Joey together.

"Come on, we're not welcome here," I explained to get him out the door. Now the woman started saying things like, "I was a teacher for 29 years and know something about..." and "I'm just trying to help you..." and "You don't have to be so nasty about it!"

A teacher for 29 years? And you don't know an autistic child when you see one? Or offer to help accommodate a disability instead of running your mouth? This was getting worse by the minute. I finally got Andy gathered and out the door, and Joey made a break for the library just down the street.

Now, you'd think once I had removed my children from the situation, it would be done. She had her silent front room back, but was she happy? No. In her full colonial costume, this woman actually came out and followed us a way down the street, making similar comments about how rude and nasty we were being and how "some days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed in the morning!" No kidding, lady. You just made it that kind of day for us, that's for sure.

And guess what else is closed on President's Day? The library.

We gave up and went home to play Wii Sports.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

IEP Season Comes Around Again

Getting ready for your yearly IEP? When Spring comes around, it is time to be thinking about what goals your child(ren) will be aiming for in the coming year. What is reasonable? What to ask for? How to prepare?

Here are some links to my previous posts on IEPs and preparing for them. I hope this helps.

Quick Guide to the Day After Diagnosis (In case you are just getting started)

The Crazy Season (A Quick Guide to IEPs)

Powerpoint Thinking (Putting together a presentation about your child)

For Stimey (The Rabbit Joke, IEP-Style)

Autism Awareness Month: Resource Links Post

You Are Not Alone (Just a Reminder)

And from elsewhere:

How to Prepare for an IEP Meeting

Preparing for an IEP: Organizing Your Concerns

Three Steps to a Successful IEP


Advocating For Your Special Needs Child

And the boys played on

Friday was Early Out. Early Out days often seem like odd, long stretches of lost time. The boys are home early, but getting them to engage in an activity or find something for them to do is next to impossible. They have had their taste of school, they want cartoons (well, MythBusters is the current TV favorite) and video games, but it is far too early in the day. The Witching Hour is often simply extended from one to five instead of four to five.

Hallelujah, Spring weather to the rescue. I tossed them both outside with our Awesome Neighbor to play. They took turns riding Joey's trike. They played in the sand. They chased each other in games. They bickered as boys will do, especially when they are 6-10 years old and all of them are powerful personalities. Another friend and his mom were taking a walk, and joined us. I had four kids playing in my back yard, being boys.

It was totally awesome.

There was no denying that two of them were autistic, and the other two were hyperactive. But holy cow, they just played like any other group of boys. The other mom and I sat on lawn chairs on the patio and played with our new phones (I have my new iphone, she has a droid), swapping app suggestions. And the boys played on.

Awesome Neighbor had to go home. JoeyAndyDad came home. We sat in lawn chairs together, talking about phones and apps and geeky stuff like that. Boys had drinks and sand and the tricycle.

And the boys played on.