Mornings Suck in Autism Households

That is my theory based on the anecdotal evidence I have encountered.  Maybe not for everyone, but for a lot of people I know that have loved ones on the spectrum.

One morning this week, everything was running along splendidly until I suggested to The Boy that it might be a jacket day as it was below 50 degrees.  No problem!  Yes, he agreed.  A jacket was a good idea.

And then we got to the couch, the time to put on socks and shoes, and wait for the bus.  And the bus was early, and The Boy couldn’t find his hat.  And there was NO WAY he was going to school without his hat…

Add in the stray kitten who had hung outside of the house since the previous evening, meowing away – he was trying to get in while I was marching out to the bus in my robe and slippers to plead for a few more minutes, and Raphael was anxious to get out because he always is, and because he was very curious about this kitten.  Add all of that to The (intransigent) Boy stuffing his feet, face, and hands into the couch cushions to ensure he couldn’t go to school without his hat.

Finally, he’s out the door, but not without a stream of under-the-breath curses about hats and school and buses.  I climb back into bed, and The Man says, “Maybe you should set that stuff out the night before.”

(Can you imagine the dark look?)

Yep.  Mornings suck.

 

PS – Guess where the hat was?  Right next to his bed.  *facepalm*

We Are Destroying Our Children

On the news last night, they featured a music program in a California school system that was funded by a grant because there wasn’t any money in the school budget for it.  This is not new, this happens all the time, but while watching this program I began to cry.  Not like, “Oh, that’s so sweet, and isn’t that great for those kids.” No, this was different.  These tears were more like, “This is completely and utterly unacceptable that our schools cannot afford arts programs.”

Do you know where the money is going?  It’s going to Pearson, and companies like Pearson who charge for their testing programs, for their test prep materials, even for their “professional development” programs – “experts” that they have chosen to send to schools willing to pay enough for the wisdom on… you guessed it, how to get the kids to pass the test.  How to teach more, faster.  How to determine what not to teach, so that you can teach the really important stuff – you know, the stuff that’s on the test.  How to get kindergartners to sit still long enough to take a standardized test.  Test taking strategies to teach to the kids to increase their odds of getting a correct answer… on the test.

Let me be clear – testing is not education.  But our kids and our teachers spend so much time on testing, there is very little time left for actual teaching and learning.

And in the meantime, we wonder why the rates of kids with anxiety have gone through the roof.  We wonder why kids are so mean to each other.  We wonder why our kids get addicted to video games, and their phones, and technology in general.  And I hate to say it, but in ten years or so, we’re going to be shocked at the rise in suicides and mental health issues in our youth.

They don’t know how to play anymore because they don’t have time.   They don’t have hobbies anymore because they don’t have time.  They don’t find joy in music or art because it’s not in their school day anymore, and you guessed it – they don’t have time after school.

They have hours – HOURS! of homework. Even in Kindergarten. They have shortened recess because the class didn’t get everything done.  They have silent lunch periods where they have to sit boy-girl, boy-girl so that they do not socialize and cause “trouble.” They are not allowed to have a real vacation – some teacher will assign a project, because kids will just get bored over break, right?  Why not use that time to get some more standards in?

I cried at that news story out of sheer rage and helplessness.  I left education in large part because it was heading in a very wrong direction, and it is only accelerating  toward that really bad place.  And it will have devastating, crippling effects on this generation of school kids that can only “socialize” and escape via technology.

What do we do? I do what I can. When my kid’s teacher assigns homework over break, I tell him it may not get done, and I might tell a little white lie about why.  My kid deserves a break, and he will get it if I have anything to say about it.  When a school in my district enacts these stupid policies about recess and lunch (and yes, those are real policies in place in an elementary school in my district), I will write letters to principals, superintendents, and school boards. And I will speak loudly to anyone who will listen about testing, and what it is doing to our kids and our educational system.

I do what I can.  It may not be much, but it’s better than crying at the TV.

Helpless and Dumb

Whenever I was sick as a child, my mom would say, “I hate it when you’re sick,” and I never truly understood the depth of that until I had my own child.  Today, I looked at The Boy and said, “I hate it when you’re upset,” and burst into tears.  “Why are you crying, Mom?” he asked.

I cry because I’m helpless and I know nothing.  I had to come and pick you up at school today because you wouldn’t go to class, and then tried to escape school.  I don’t know why.  No one does, and when we ask you, you start talking about your bus driver from last year, and how he must have retired because he doesn’t come to pick you up anymore. You talk about not going back to school until next week, or returning to that other middle school you went to for a quarter last year until I screamed enough to get you into a better one, the one you go to now.

I cry because I don’t understand your motivations, and I just want to make it better and easier for you.  Can we clarify the bus rules for you?  Let’s make a checklist so you don’t forget your band binder again. How can I make it better?  And I get no answer.

I cry because you are my only son, and I can’t see past this very day for you.  I hope I can get you on the bus tomorrow, but I don’t know if you will go.  I don’t know what will happen then.  I don’t even know if I will be able to return to work later today, if you will be able to calm down, if we will be able to come up with a reasonable plan to get you back to school and going to class.

I cry because there are no answers.  All of us autism parents just throw stuff onto the wall to see if it sticks every damn day.  Some of it sticks, and a whole hell of a lot of it doesn’t and you go back to the drawing board.  If I had a dollar for every time I said or thought “I don’t know what to do…”

All I can do is rely on experience, try, try, try, and hope, hope, hope.  But in the meantime, I hate it when he’s upset. :(

Boys in the Bathroom

The Boy has had his first encounter with bullying at school.  I should say teasing, because bullying is really defined as a repetitive, targeted behavior, and I have no evidence that this has been going on for any length of time.  Truth be told, I was very happy with the way the school personnel handled it, and took some responsibility, as well, because we kind of knew this particular instance might happen.

Let me explain.

When we first moved south, The Man noticed that anytime The Boy went into a public bathroom, he had a tendency to “drop trou” to go pee, meaning he would drop his pants in order to do his business.  Apparently, this is not typical male behavior in a restroom – I would not know that, having never been a part of this particularly male experience.  When The Man told me about it, and explained that he just couldn’t do that, I didn’t have an answer as to how to fix it — this is not something that I am equipped to teach him.  And having hit puberty, The Boy was certainly not going to let me anywhere near him while he was anywhere near peeing.  This was clearly a dad’s job, and you can understand why a step-dad may be less than comfortable with the responsibility.  We ended up urging The Boy to use a stall when possible.

Fast forward to the second week of school, when I got an email from The Boy’s program teacher explaining that The Boy had been teased about doing just this, and talking to others while peeing, as well.  Another group of boys reported the teasing directly to one of his team teachers, for which I am grateful and appreciative, and that teacher actually had another teacher cover his class that same day so that he could take the offenders to the teachers lounge and “read them the riot act” over the incident. “We just don’t tolerate that here,” he explained via email.

I called The Man and we decided The Boy needed a lesson in how to pee in a public bathroom, and that The Man would be the one to do it.  He didn’t balk, he didn’t hem or haw.  That evening, he said, as calm as ever, “Hey, I need to show you how to pee,” and The Boy said, “Alright.”

The Man and I exchanged a look, complete with two pairs of raised eyebrows…

The Man pretended our living room wall had two urinals on it, which The Boy liked, with his toilet obsession and all. The Man then proceeded to break the process into steps. “You put your thumbs here in your waistband, and pull down,” and they practiced as they faced the imaginary urinals on the wall. He explained the whole process, and explained that the reason boys do it that way is so that they don’t show their butt to everyone else, so it can be more private.  The Boy paid attention, and seemed to understand.

The Man and I were relieved that The Boy seemed so willing to take instruction, and we can only hope he is using his new-found knowledge.

In any case, I was proud of them both.  Sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

Re-training

plannershot1The downside of having a son with autism in secondary school is the sheer numbers of teachers we have to re-train each year.  And I’m only half-joking.  Most of the teachers we have encountered since the Big School Switch of ’13, have been accommodating and flexible, and have fallen in love with The Boy relatively quickly, wanting to do anything in their power to help him succeed.  But here we are at the beginning of a new school year, dealing with stuff that is very clearly spelled out in his IEP, and the teachers are not yet implementing.

One of The Boy’s IEP goals directly relates to his use of the agenda, speaks to his difficulties in this area, yet within the first two weeks of school, we still only had one teacher ensuring he was utilizing it in his class. Then the homework hit the fan this week, when I had no idea two assignments even existed before they were due in science and social studies.

I emailed the teachers last night, basically copying and pasting from last year’s introductory email, explaining The Boy’s need for help with communication, planner use, and the dire need for them to let me know what the hell is going on, but stated in much more genteel language.  And I got some nice responses.  Yet in today’s planner entry, there was clearly still some misunderstanding from whoever-it-was that was writing in the planner (clearly not the teacher – an aide? a substitute? Who IS this person telling me that his assignment wasn’t finished and needed to be finished by tomorrow??).

And then there were the assignments we had busted our butts to make sure he got done, that were returned in his planner this evening without having even been turned in.  Yet another area of difficulty, yet another area in need of training.

After several emails, I finally got some traction and his program teacher has agreed to meet with his teachers tomorrow to review this stuff so we can get him going on the right track before he gets too behind. Thank goodness I don’t have to re-train her every year! She’s worth her weight in gold. :)

Our Summer Plan

So, summer break is here.  How did that happen??  One minute it’s May, and the next… Well.  The Boy has two weeks of vacation, just enough time to drive him up a wall.  He is spending leisurely, unstructured days at Grammy’s until ESY starts up.  ESY this year will consist of him meeting up with his teacher at the local library and doing God knows what school-type things for an hour and a half.  And then four weeks out of the summer he will go to a day camp for kids on the spectrum and their siblings, the same one he went to last year, which he grew to love.  And then he’ll have two weeks off again in August before starting up again, one of which will be spent visiting with Fantastic Babysitter and her new baby who are coming to visit (and I CAN’T WAIT TO GET MY BABY FIX!!!).

And me?  I’m not missing the summer break yet.  My job can be stressful, but I do not need the break anywhere as much as I did when I was a teacher.  Plus I live at the beach, so any time I get too stressed…  I don’t want to make you too jealous. ;)

Grammy is being the wonderful grammy that she is, and taking off work a day this week and next to take him somewhere special, maybe the waterpark, maybe a movie to spend some quality Grammy-Boy time with him.  And I get off work fairly early so that we can still go do stuff together.

I’ve seen some other great ideas for adding a little structure to the summer:

  • This one has a theme-a-day which is great to fit into your schedule when you need it or want it
  • These are some great ways to prep your child for the changes in routine, and how to add some structure to the summer
  • And this is a comprehensive list of ideas and resources to ensure brains are still engaged in the summer months

I hope you are ready.  I feel pretty good about it, at least for The Boy.  I hope we still get to spend some family time together, and it doesn’t fly by too fast.  It’s still my favorite season.

Let us know what you’ve got planned in the comments!

ESY Is Different Down Here

ESY, or Extended School Year, has been a mainstay of The Boy’s summer experience since he was six years old.  I have written about some of his experiences in the past, and he always looked forward to it when we lived up north.  Last year, he struggled with adapting to a summer day camp which did not include computers, and was not like school very much at all, although he ended up enjoying the experience and meeting some new (and long-lasting) friends.

Before we moved here, I asked some parents with whom I had connected in advance, through the autism society’s local chapter whether or not they knew anything about the local ESY program.  They had no idea what I was talking about…

“Uh-oh”, I thought.

When we went through the IEP process this year, the assistant director for special education for the school district was involved (because I was trying to get The Boy into his current program, and being the warrior mom that I need to be to get things done from time to time), and she indicated then that ESY for this summer would be a long-shot.  We would have to prove he needed it with data. “I’ve got six years of data backing me up,” I thought.

And this year’s IEP rolled around and his special ed teacher for language arts and math basically explained that even if he did qualify, which she clearly didn’t believe he did, it was very different from what we had experienced up north.  Down here, it was basically one-on-one tutoring with an aide for a few hours a week.

“Oh crap,” I thought.

I immediately began to devise activities with which I could supplement his summer camp – was there a computer camp or cartooning lessons I could find somewhere (and could I even afford it)?

The Boy’s program teacher called about two weeks later to let me know that they had determined that The Boy would qualify for ESY this year, because he had had it for so many years, and that they would continue to collect data next school year to determine whether or not he would qualify for the following year.

“Yay… kind of,” I thought.

Now we need to determine where this “ESY” experience will occur, and how often and for how long.  Luckily he will have his program teacher, which helps with the continuity.  But it remains to be seen how effective this brand of summer enrichment will be toward maintaining the structure and routine that most kids on the spectrum need through the summer months.

sandy boy

Autism and Progress

The Boy earned all A’s this quarter, and I was so proud.  I was over the moon, though, when I read his program teacher’s comment that he has made great strides with his social communication over the past two quarters (ever since he has started at his current school).

progress

You see, report cards don’t tell you much about neuro-typical kids, let alone those on the spectrum.  Traditional report cards, anyway.  They don’t tell you about improvement and progress, they are simply a snapshot made up of a bunch of other snapshots about whether or not your kid knows what the female reproductive part of the flower is, or what an Egyptian dynasty is.  Those snapshots do not tell you whether or not your child is making friends, able to initiate a conversation, or independently pack his own backpack.  Report cards most definitely don’t tell you those things.

And in an autism household, where we take every day as it comes, and don’t think too long or hard about where The Boy will be and what he will be doing in 10 years, because there is no way to predict, and therefore little practical use in worrying/dreaming about it, I really don’t care if he knows what an acute angle is, or what the word “illuminate” means.  I’m very glad he has access to the 6th grade curriculum (and would be fighting the system tooth and nail if he didn’t), but I know how little of it he will actually use in his day-to-day life (because no one really uses any of it in their day-to-day lives, neurotypical nor on-the-spectrum).  I am much more interested in that IEP progress report that tells me how he’s doing in terms of counting change, and flexibility with his schedule.  That set of stapled sheets that is a report on the defined goals that the people who know him best have set for him for the year is way more important to me.  Because the more he succeeds at making progress toward those goals, the more I can plan for his future.  Because those skills, the being-able-to-make-a-joke-that-cracks-up-the-entire-band-class-including-the-teacher skills?  Those are the ones he’s gonna need when he’s done with school.  And those are the ones I care about.

The Lego Movie: An Autism Mom’s Review

Last weekend, Grammy and I took The Boy to see the Lego Movie, and if you haven’t seen it, you should.  It is delightful, and not just for children.

The main reason I enjoyed it was the message.  For years, I have lamented the lack of room for creativity in today’s schools.  I used to have a poem somewhere about how school crushes creativity by creating sameness, and the paradox is that in a society that claims to celebrate the individual, the opposite is usually the case, at least as I have observed.

When I was young, I was involved in Odyssey of the Mind, which was a contest in creativity, giving kids the parameters of a problem, and seeing how they could solve the problem.  I don’t even know if it exitsts anymore, but  I doubt kids today would have any interest in something like that, let alone excel in it, and it’s through no fault of their own.

The Boy's building - no instructions! - constructed at the Lego exhibit at the museum last year

The Boy’s building – no instructions! – constructed at the Lego exhibit at the museum last year

In fact, Legos themselves have changed over the years, increasingly being sold in kits with directions on how to make something specific, rather than a bucket of bricks with which to make anything a kid desires.  This can create problems in an autism household when a specific brick goes missing, and therefore the directions cannot be followed!  I posted about a fix for this a long while ago, but directions can become a problem, for sure. The message of the movie, surprisingly, was that it doesn’t have to be that way.  That there is a benefit in following the directions, and teamwork, but that it has to be balanced with individual desires, and creative thinking.

From the autism mom’s perspective, I watched my son actively engaged throughout the movie, often laughing loudly, and catching lots of the subtle jokes.  It was fantastic to see him enjoy it so much.  And Grammy and I enjoyed it thoroughly, as well.  If you haven’t gone, you need to.  There’s a reason it’s still in the theaters!