To Know Him is to Love Him

Halloween is right around the corner, and The Boy, true to form, decided last year that he would be Sully from Monsters Inc. this year.  Once he knows what he wants, he doesn’t waver, and even though The Man and I tried to convince him that he would be a really good Dracula, he was certain he wanted to be Sully.

So Sully it is.  But I can not and will not buy an expensive costume. We will be making it as we have done for the past few years.  And since I am making it, I can steer The Boy toward a more age appropriate costume, even if the subject isn’t very. Thanks to Pinterest, I have found a hoodie-based rendition that The Boy said sounded like a good idea. And now the hunt for cheap supplies begins…

Our kick-butt Sonic shoe from last year's costume

Our kick-butt Sonic shoe from last year’s costume

The Man and I may have tried to steer him to something more age appropriate, but in the end, it’s The Boy’s Halloween, and Halloween is for kids, not for us adults to feel better about ourselves and our children.  The choices they make show their passions and creativity, and if we start to make those decisions for them, the light in their eyes gets a little duller.

Yesterday, The Boy came home from school with a cat poster he had purchased from the book fair.  I knew it was coming home, and no, it isn’t the typical purchase from a 13 year-old eighth grade boy, but it made him happy.  So much so that he taped it to the wall in his room as soon as he put his stuff down.  I will never get in the way of him expressing his passion for the things he likes, because that’s a part of him (except for toilets… we have to limit the passion for toilets…). If I start denying that, I’m denying a part of him and it just isn’t right. To know him is to love him, and anyone who does will accept him Sully costume, cat poster and all. Anyone who doesn’t just doesn’t matter.

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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.

Planners Who Need Planners

I succumbed.

A co-worker introduced me to the Erin Condren Life Planner in July.  Suddenly I remembered my undergrad days when a planner was my lifeblood.  I couldn’t function without it, and if someone had ever taken it or I had misplaced it, my world would come to a screeching halt.  As I read reviews and watched the plethora of YouTube posts (it seemed everyone who had ever purchased one had also either done a blog post or a video with a 20-minute “walkthrough”), I suffered from sticker shock, but also a growing need to have one.  How had I gone so long without a planner? I asked myself over and over again.  I had never quite gotten the hang of the digital organization I so wanted to make work: Evernote, SpringPad, even Notes and Reminders on the iPhone just hadn’t quite cut it.  And I thought about the nights where I can’t sleep because my mind is racing with to-dos and ideas, notes and projects, blog posts and emails I need to write.  When those nights pop up, the only, ONLY way to calm my fevered brain is to get up with a pen and a pad of paper and just write everything down.  Good old pen to paper.

I could get my money managed more effectively, and keep track of expenses, I thought.

I could organize my blogging calendar, I thought.

I could have all of The Boy’s school and Autism Society events in one place, I thought.

I could even put events for work in there so I always know what’s going on and when, I thought.

I could include a daily to-do list, I thought.

I could keep our evenings on track between homework and other household chores, I thought.

In the end, I convinced myself to bite the bullet, and give it a shot.  In the whole scheme of things, if it didn’t work, the cost was not that prohibitive.  I ordered my planner and waited about 4 weeks for it to arrive.

When it came, I wasn’t sure what to do with it, and again, watched videos and read blog posts on the most effective way to use the planner.  Come to find out, most people’s posts were about how pretty they could make the thing with washi tape and stickers, without any real substance on how to use it.  So I turned to the notes section and made a list of all the things I wanted to keep track of, and began to form my own ideas of just how I would keep track of all of the stuff I mentioned above.

It’s been about two weeks, and it is being used, multiple times a day.  Not only do I plan, but I record expenses (usually first on a sticky note, and if I have time later, with the “proper” label that I have devised), and other things that have happened.

ECLP

But the biggest A-Ha of all is that by having everything recorded, I don’t remind myself six times a day about that one thing I want to remember.  I have a go-to spot for important papers.  I know where stuff is.  And all of these things allow me to 1) relax more, and 2) be more creative.  I have time to think about (and jot down) ideas for blog posts, and even outline my dreams and plans for my own nonprofit which I hope to start someday.

So I guess this is my own obligatory Erin Condren Life Planner blog post.  And I’m not trying to sell you on anything – it’s not for everyone.  But I am glad that I have gone back to paper, because it’s actually allowing my mind to unburden itself of all the small stuff so I have more time to think about the big stuff.

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!