Dances, Dodgeball, and Decisions

The Boy is in 8th grade and has never been interested in any of the school dances – go figure. This past week, however, his school band had a Friday night “Bandathon” fundraiser, which was followed by dinner (pizza) and a dance.  Several weeks ago, I asked The Boy if he might be interested in staying for the dance…

“I’ll think about it,” he said.

In Boy-speak, this usually means no, kind of like when your mom said, “We’ll see,” back in the day.

When I brought it up again, I offered to chaperone if he wanted me to, and at that point he said, “I think I’d like to do that.”


I had no idea what type of dance this would be, so I thought I had better cover my bases, and ended up showing him how to slow dance with a girl in middle school, just in case the opportunity arose and he might want to ask one of his friends-who-are-girls to dance.

After the performance, and the pizza was inhaled, the band director spent the first hour of the “dance” reading off ticket numbers for prizes that had been donated for a raffle. He then turned on his computer, and played three or four songs over the speakers (a la “Cupid Shuffle”), started a game of dodgeball (??), and returned to calling off ticket numbers. That was the “dance”.


The important part was that The Boy had fun.  When the kids danced, he made some herky-jerky movements near them.  When they played dodgeball, he went out on the “court” and wandered around, throwing a ball when it was handed to him.  He got to show some of his hand-drawn pictures to his friends-who-are-girls, and play his DS a bit.  He was a happy camper, and that’s all that matters.

Yet Another Schedule Change

schedulesIt seems that several times a year since The Boy has been in middle school, there has been a sudden inexplicable schedule change. Sometimes it’s the same teacher, same class, but he has been moved to a different hour.  Sometimes, the teacher changes, and sometimes, everything changes at once.

I’m not sure why the school thinks this is appropriate, especially for students who are in the special education program, and whose anxiety is triggered by any small amount of change, let alone massive schedule changes. And the changes in this instance affect only special education students in seventh and eighth grade – the very populations for whom you should be striving for continuity!

The principal was explaining to me when we met that there were few on staff who could “get through” to The Boy, explaining that his TA was excellent, and was the only one who could do this consistently. It seems counter-intuitive then, to remove a teacher from his schedule entirely, one with whom he has built a relationship, when up until now she has taught him math and social skills.  How does a child form relationships with adults when he doesn’t know how long he will see them on a regular basis?

It may seem small in the whole scheme of things, but moves like this make me question if the decision makers know anything at all about students with special needs, and especially those with autism.

Milestones & Success

Yesterday was my birthday, and naturally, I am in a reflective mood.

I’ve learned so much through The Boy about milestones and success, and how the social constructs that make us believe we aren’t quite achieving as much as we should (there’s that awful word) are a figment of our own imaginations.  And yet…

I have to confess that as I step firmly into my 40s, I wonder what I have to show for myself.  Not in terms of what I’ve accomplished, but where I am currently.  Let me make perfectly clear that I am happy.  I made a conscious decision to leave teaching to be with loved ones and for my own mental health. I made another conscious decision to leave my decent-paying job, again for my own mental health. But I can’t honestly say that working for minimum wage has done much for my own sense of self-worth.

I am very happy and grateful to be employed, don’t get me wrong.  And my current position is just what I needed, really. The complete lack of stress, the laid back coworkers, the peace of mind are so valuable to me, I can’t really put it into words. But peace of mind doesn’t pay the bills, and I am not old enough to retire. In other words, I still have so much to give, so much to offer.  But the job market here just won’t bear it.

On the continuum of employment, from stressful to no-stress, from meaningful to not-in-the-least-important-to-society, from almost $100K to minimum wage, I am still searching for that middle ground, and it is elusive. And work is important to me.

The Man and I have long considered creating our own business plan, not only for ourselves, but also to ensure that The Boy has meaningful employment, as well (I mean, if I can’t find employment, imagine how difficult it will be for a young man on the spectrum).  If necessity is the mother of invention, we may be giving birth to our own opportunities very soon.

I just have to remind myself (continously) that if I start to walk down the path of “shoulds” (ie I should be making this much, I should be doing xyz), I will be in the weeds.  That path was never right for The Boy, and can do nothing but harm to me. We will just need to blaze our own path to find that balance and meaning, and have faith that we will find our way.

finding our own path

He’s Like a Hemorrhoid that Just Won’t Go Away

The nightmare continues.

The mobile home park owner has retained an attorney to write me a nasty letter saying the ADA didn’t apply to him or his road (which it does), and that I probably lied about contacting an attorney (and tried to catch me in the “lie” by cc’ing her on the letter), and that my son’s use of the park is a nuisance, which will be remedied by legal action if it doesn’t stop.  Of course, they still insist he is running in front of cars and lying down in the road.  Funny thing is the Chief Deputy Sheriff observed him walking in the park last week, observed him getting off the road when a truck passed by, and went and told the owner face to face that The Boy has every right to walk in that park…

Law enforcement didn’t bow down to him and do what he wanted (in fact, did quite the opposite), so he figures he can buy the last word by retaining an attorney.

But the law isn’t on his side. Now we just have to figure out how far we want to take this…

I have a headache.

Oh, and Happy First Day of School!

A Bigot and a Bully

slowLast year, the landlord and owner of the mobile home park where my parents live approached The Man and told him that we needed to “keep (our) retarded kid inside.”  He used the r-word several times in reference to The Boy, even after The Man asked him not to use the word.  He then went on to make wild accusations about The Man, and at the time, I was very proud of my husband for not hauling off and beating the pathetic excuse for a man, because I’m not sure I wouldn’t have gone ape$#!! on him.

Fast forward a year, almost to the day, and this pathetic excuse for a man writes a letter, knocks on my parents’ door and hands it to my mother, saying, “Read this.” He then took a few steps off the porch and said, “I’m sorry but that’s just how I feel,” and walked away.

The letter explained that he had several complaints about The Boy playing in the park roadway, jumping out in front of cars, and lying down on the roadway, as well as using his scooter in the roadway.  He requested that The Boy be supervised at all times while outside.

Let me start by saying that the “speed limit” in the park is 5 miles per hour, with a sign saying “Slow, Children Playing” above every speed limit sign posted in the park, and that new signs were erected within the last two months.  Let me also add that there is no sidewalk in the park, nor is there a “recreation area.”  In addition, other residents and guests of all ages ride their bikes and walk their dogs in the roadway.

My son is thirteen years old, and knows to get out of the way of an oncoming car, even if it is only going 5 miles per hour.  He does not jump out in front of cars, nor does he lie down in the road. But my son is “different” than all the other residents and guests. And that is the basis for this discrimination and harassment.  That is the basis for how this pathetic excuse for a man “feels,” and not any fabricated “complaints.” You kind of give away your “tell” when you call a kid “retarded.”

I have spoken with an attorney, drafted and sent a letter, and copied it to the sheriff’s department as well as the state Attorney General.  This pathetic excuse for a man has not only violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, but also a state act that was passed to protect the rights of those with disabilities. We also plan to make an appointment with the sheriff’s department to take The Boy there and meet with some deputies, alert them to the situation, and educate them a bit about The Boy and his autism, just in case.

There really are people out there like this pathetic excuse for a man, folks.  They exist and they think they have the right to say and do what they’d like, as well as dictate what those who are different can and can’t do.  They are so wrong, and this good ol’ boy, pathetic excuse for a man is gonna learn how wrong he is.

Conversation Starters, Spectrum Style

Our kiddos on the autism spectrum need practice with social skills.  I tend to let The Boy relax when he gets home because I know he’s worked hard all day, staying quiet when all he wants to do is make silly tuba noises, paying attention when all he wants to do is draw, and doing his best to get his work done all damn day.

But, neither does he get a free pass.  We still have homework to complete and projects to do at home. And summer is not a free pass in this house, either.  Especially if there is no camp.

I have always taken summer as a wonderful opportunity to target areas in my own learning, or develop new ways of doing because we run out of time during the school year.  This is so ingrained in me, that I’ve been planning with The Boy for all of the areas we can practice skills because we just don’t have time, and The Boy does not have the energy or patience after a long day of school.  I was reading a blog post on I found through Pinterest that looked like an activity that had potential not only for social skills and conversation practice, but could also provide an opportunity for me to get inside The Boy’s head a bit. The Holy Grail for autism parents.  But as I read, I realized it wouldn’t quite work for us, because open-ended questions often do not get answers from The Boy.  There are just too many possible answers, and he freezes.  He needs selections to choose from –  multiple choice, if you will. And then I remembered this other game of question and answer, a get-to-know-you game where possible answers are provided…

We’re pretty used to modifying activities and assignments around here, so I’m sharing with you an activity (free printable) I developed, “Planting the Seed – Conversation Starters for Kiddos on the Spectrum“.  Check it out, download it, tailor it to your own kiddo and then come back and let us know what you thought and how it worked.


A Summer Reading Plan: The Giver

Saturday was National Free Comic Book Day, which I stumbled upon completely by accident.  I went on the website to see if any store in our area was participating, and was really surprised to see the book store at the beach listed.  We decided to head over there to visit a friend’s grand opening of his new skate shop, and then I suggested we check out the book store.  Sure enough, they were making it a big deal, and The Boy immediately found 5 free comics he was interested in, like Spongebob, Teen Titans Go, and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic, as well.  Then we went to look at the real comics, and found a Sonic comic he didn’t have.

While we were there, I thought we’d look for a book to read together this summer.  I had some ideas, and even looked for “Wonder” which Nancy recommended on my facebook page when I wrote about our backup summer plans in lieu of no summer camp.  They didn’t have “Wonder” yet, but put it on their list to order, and instead, I went looking for “The Giver” by Lois Lowry, which is one of my all-time favorite books, and perfect for The Boy’s age group.

As we talked about it, The Boy was more than agreeable to reading a book with me this summer, and almost sounded excited about it, which in turn makes me excited. :D

If there is anyone else that would like to read “The Giver” with us this summer, we’ll be doing some book club type stuff on the Simple. I Just Do. facebook page so we can all participate.  I’ll even put the questions in the comments so we don’t have any spoilers if you aren’t quite at the same pace as we are.  Even if you don’t have an upper el or middle school kid to read it with, I highly recommend the book for adults, as well.  We’ll start about the second week of June.  That gives you about a month to get your copy ;)

What do you think?  Are you in?

Summer Plans Now That There May Be No Camp

The Boy’s summer camp that he has attended for the past couple of summers has lost its home, and I am fairly certain he won’t qualify for ESY this year, magically, even though he has qualified since the age of 5.  This leaves us with a bit of a problem.  An unstructured summer for a kiddo on the spectrum spells disaster.  I would consider enrolling him in a program primarily for neurotypical kids, if I thought for one hot minute that anyone on their staff would have a clue about autism.  But since the paid professionals in the area still seem to be clueless, that is a lot to expect, and a lot of money to spend on an experience which could quite likely do more harm than good.

Time OutGrammy and Poppy have already spoken up, suggesting a beach day with The Boy each week, to get him out of the house.  Excellent.  The Boy takes to water like there’s no tomorrow, and thankfully doesn’t try to swim to Africa like he did when he was younger.  He can stay absorbed for hours just wading in up to his chest and jumping around, and I think that would provide a lot of sensory input and exercise in his routine.

Ever the planner, I am already thinking of post-high school experiences and what those may be like, so why not use this huge chunk of time in the year, which already has built in traditions and transitions, toward a better purpose.  The Boy has an undying love for PowerPoint and it’s Google counterpart, so I’m developing an idea to pay a bit of allowance for “projects” that I plan to give him for those programs.  I’ll give him a set of parameters at the beginning of the week, and allow him to develop something for me over the course of the week, building on the idea that you get paid for doing work, and that the work may include doing what someone else wants you to do.

Another thought I had and just haven’t had time to act upon yet is to reach out to some friends in the veterinary medicine business, and some friends who have multiple household pets and offer The Boy’s services as a walker, or a visitor.  If we can get him to learn some skills in an area in which he has great interest, he may be able to find something meaningful to do with his life and be able to give back to others.

I’d like him to read a novel this summer, even if it means we read every word of it together, but with enough supports and incentives, I think even this is attainable.

And somehow, we have to get him some time to socialize, which is the hardest part in our county, where it seems like it takes two hours to get from one end to the other some days.

Yet again, I find myself doing things that the professionals handled for us up North.  DIY special education programming around here, I reckon…

All It Takes is One Dumb Bus Driver

The BusThis past Friday, The Boy was left behind by his bus.

Our outside light was on, and our front window blinds (all three of them) were open. The driver rolled up to our house early, honked once, waited less than 10 seconds, and then turned around in the cul de sac and left.

Recently, when our regular bus driver began to arrive earlier and earlier, we worked out an arrangement with her. She now waits for him, and does not expect him to exit the house until around 6:30am, which has been his expectation and his routine for the entire school year.

When the bus left on Friday, I ran out to the porch, waving my arms, to no avail. The Boy began to get upset, wondering how he was going to get to school. We were in a panic. I called the transportation office who informed me there was a substitute bus driver, and assured me that they would instruct her to come back to pick The Boy up. In the meantime, he had returned to bed, unwilling to go to school if he was going to be late.

At this point, The Man offered to take The Boy to school himself (along with a bribe of a donut) so that he could arrive on time. I gave The Boy the choice of waiting for his bus to return, or going with The Man, and he chose to go with The Man.

When the bus arrived, I went out to speak with the driver. She interrupted me before I could get my first sentence out, was extremely defensive and rude, making faces at me, and interrupting me many, many times. She even challenged the truth of what I was saying, and pulled another child up from his seat to “bear witness” that The Boy was not visible when she was there. I told her the arrangement we had with our regular bus driver, but she seemed much more concerned about whether or not I was accusing her of being late, which I obviously wasn’t.  I was shaking by the time I was finished and stalked back into the house.

Incidents like these can not only have immediate and damaging effects (like a meltdown, or refusal to go to school), but they can also have lasting effects on children like The Boy. It will be a long, long time before he can trust that his bus will not leave him behind. Drivers need to have patience with all students, but especially with those with special needs. Would this driver have waited ten seconds after honking and driven off if The Boy was in a wheelchair? Probably not, but she appeared to not have any regard for The Boy’s specific needs.

Everyone employed by the school district that comes into contact with our kiddos should have training about what autism is, the core deficits children with autism have, and how each employee can help students with special needs find success throughout their school day. Anything less is not acceptable.

This is a large excerpt from the letter I am sending to the Director of Transportation, courtesy copied to the Director of Special Education and the Superintendent.  I ain’t playin’ and it’s not over if you’re going to be rude to me.

6 Ways Schools Could Open Doors for Students with Special Needs

opening doorsPublic schools are being asked to do so much right now, and so much of what they are being forced to do is a waste of time. Music and the arts are being cut, students are overloaded with standardized tests, and even recess is being shortened so work can be completed. In short, schools are being forced to run like businesses, but our children are not raw materials, nor are they products.  They are children.  And when the pendulum swings back (I hope to God it does), when more rational heads prevail in remembering that we are teaching human beings how to be human beings, rather than filling little heads with facts, maybe then the schools will have an opportunity to begin filling gaps and opening doors for our students with special needs.  Here are some ways they could begin:

  1. Mentor/Mentee programs These programs connect students with an adult in the school community who can meet with them on a regular basis, build a positive relationship, and provide guidance to students.  The Boy has built this kind of relationship with the business and computer teacher at school, quite organically.  He doesn’t even have her as a teacher, but they use time with her as a reward for positive behaviors at school, and she is often a reason he wants to go to school.
  2. Peer to Peer programs I’ve written about how successful these programs can be not only for students with special needs, but for typical students, as well.  Building Relationships between kids, and providing avenues for them to learn about each other as people can only result in good things. When everyone’s needs are met, bullying just isn’t a thing.
  3. Peer Mediation programs These programs foster conflict resolution skills in our young people.  At first they are taught and coached through the steps of providing mediation for peers who are in conflict.  After practice, they become second nature, and the students involved with these programs become leaders, as they have the skills to help their peers relate to each other in positive ways.
  4. Social Skills programs Carving time out of a busy school day to provide direct instruction to students about how to initiate and maintain positive social interaction seems like it makes perfect sense for those students who naturally have defects in this area.  It can also make perfect sense for those students you may assume has these skills already, but may not, or may struggle with these skills privately.
  5. Critical Thinking Instruction More than anything else, we need to be teaching students how to really think, rather than regurgitate readily available information.  We need to be teaching them how to make rational decisions, how to determine whether a source is credible, how to examine their own thoughts and opinions, and how to interpret the world around them.  For special needs students, this can be especially difficult, but even more necessary as we prepare them for their adulthoods with varying degrees of assistance.
  6. Creativity and Problem Solving Instruction Children today do not have much opportunity to be creative.  And when we cut art and music programs, we are essentially saying that being creative is not a high priority in today’s job market – what could be further from the truth? There are many ways teachers can provide opportunities within their current limitations to foster creativity and problem solving, and many ways we can help special needs students be creative.

The great thing about school programs that benefit students with special needs is that they often benefit all students.  We assume that typical kids don’t struggle with the same things as those with special needs do, but they do.  They are often better at hiding it, because it may not be as dire a struggle.  What middle schooler do you know that wouldn’t benefit from a social skills class or a peer to peer program?  What kindergartner wouldn’t benefit from some opportunities to be creative?  What person on Earth would not benefit from having a mentor?

When we finally do something to correct the course of public schools, and begin to focus on the person rather than the content, these 6 programs would be a good start to guiding all of our students to being better human beings.