Why I Love That The Boy Plays Video Games

This past weekend, The Man and I took The Boy to Myrtle Beach for a mini vacation. Overnight, to be exact. We hadn’t been in a long while, and there’s just something about it that we adore. Grammy and Poppy had already made plans to go down for a long weekend, so we hopped in the car on Saturday morning and were on our way.

As The Boy has grown, he has developed a deep and abiding love for Myrtle Beach because of the overabundance of arcades. He has found his favorite games in several arcades, and indeed, we spent a good portion of our time Saturday following  him around and playing a little ourselves.

One of his absolute favorites is Galaga, a throwback to the 80s. And I love watching him play. You may think it a bit odd, that one of the things he does that makes me proudest is play an old video game, but here’s why: he wins.

He does well, he has developed his own insanely smart strategies that I’ve never seen anybody use in that game or elsewhere, and he often gets his name on the high score board as a result. And if he doesn’t, he’s completely ok with it, and has no real sense of failure.

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What can we take from this? Predictability helps him learn and develop strategies. The norms of video games (that you learn by doing, over and over again) allow him to learn and develop at his own pace. And by giving him just those two pieces, he has a high level of success.

One of the most-shared autism memes goes something like, “I wouldn’t change you for the world, but I would change the world for you.” We get a lot of resistance sometimes when we ask for modifications and accommodations. But two simple structures in place in that game are all it took for The Boy to become an expert, devising complex strategies and showing actual results. This is why we fight to get what he needs.

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Baby, I’m Amazed

We’ve been keeping up with the #keystoindependence challenge, and I have to say in the short time we’ve begun, I have already learned so much about my son.

12933009_738098856325388_789378537205830466_nOn day 2, when I was teaching him about fire safety, I was amazed at how little he knew about what to do in a fire. I know that in his nine years in school, they have had various fire safety discussions, assemblies, etc. But The Boy pretty much had no clue about first feeling the door, and crawling to avoid smoke. Then I was blown away again by how quickly he learned it, and retained it. When The Man got home, I asked The Boy to tell him what he learned, and he did. When I asked him to tell Grammy & Poppy what he learned the next day, he did. No repetition was necessary, no flashcards… Just role play. Amazing.

Yesterday, we tackled changing a lightbulb. I showed him where we keep them and how to check to see if it’s a good bulb or not by shaking it. We went to the office and found a lamp that wasn’t being used. I showed him how to unscrew the bulb, and screw the new one in. I asked him to try and he hesitated to touch either bulb because he thought they were hot. I had to convince him that they were both cold – he had just seen me touch both of them, but still thought he might get burned.

I think as parents we assume our kids know a heck of lot more than they actually do. I think some of us still don’t realize we are the adults, and it is our job to adult now, and teach our kids how to do the same. I think all of this is human nature. I think that’s why we need to challenge ourselves a bunch. I thought this month would be about me teaching The Boy necessary skills, and it is. But he is teaching me so much more, as usual. ❤

Things Are Looking Up

This morning, I start my new job. I am thrilled, relieved, and excited.

When we moved almost three years ago now, this is the type of job I was sure I would find. It just took me three years to get there. Great pay, great hours, benefits, only two other people in the office, and job duties I know I can handle. The other great part is that it is a salaried position, so my hours are flexible as long as I meet the expected number of hours. This is ideal for the parent of an autistic child who may have IEP meetings or random meltdown rescues to handle in the course of a year.

It is in a tax office, and so the next few months will be hectic. But I’ve done hectic, and I can handle it. I know I can, which lends credence to the idea that even if you aren’t in the best situation (my previous, high-stress job), you’re still learning.

This great news, along with the receipt of our building permits (finally!), and a report card for The Boy that has all 90s on it means I want to shout from the rooftops, and dance in my pajamas this morning. It’s one of those feelings you want to bottle for darker days.

As always, thank you all for your continued support. Good things come from being kind, looking out for each other, multitudes of patience, and support from a great community.

Participation

Participation trophies.

Let me tell you that I’m on the fence here, but I’m leaning.

Kids should not get something for nothing.

I do not think you need to have a graduation ceremony from preschool.  Nor do I think you need one from kindergarten, 5th grade, or 8th grade.  There should be one graduation ceremony, honoring your hard work, which was a long-term goal.  The rest of that nonsense does not need to happen.  A celebration?  Sure! Graduation? No.

Nor do I think 8th graders should be taking limos and renting tuxes for their 8th grade dance.  That’s a prom thing, and some traditions should be kept to the original event.

But participation awards?

That’s a little different.

This country has an obsession with sports.  If you look at the highest paid people in any society, you will see what they value in their culture.  Look at how competitive kids sports are.  Look at how young they enter AAU leagues, and spend their entire summers (and sometimes school years) traveling, training, and competing.  Look at how many news stories you see about parents who don’t know how to support their children, and cannot control themselves at games.

Every field day, my kid comes home with a participation ribbon.  He doesn’t win stuff in sports.  I didn’t either.  Just about every kid in my elementary school was on a soccer team.  I wasn’t.  I had absolutely no interest.  I played parks and rec basketball and softball a bit.  I was on middle school and freshman volleyball, and I played co-rec in college.  But it wasn’t my bag.

And it gets old seeing other people get stuff all the time.  It’s like watching the popular kid be popular all the time, or the really pretty girl be the center of attention all the time.  It just gets old.

And maybe the participation is kind of a socialist thing, spreading the good feelings around to everyone, regardless of athletic ability.  But before you jump on the socialist part of that statement, think about the other part.  The part about spreading good feelings around to all the kids.  Isn’t that something we want?

I don’t think participation ribbons make any kid think they deserve stuff for not earning it.  A participation ribbon never made me think I had really won anything.  But it told me that at least I showed up and tried at this thing I wasn’t really into.  And in truth, there’s a lot of value in that.  Lots of people grow up and have jobs that they’re not really into, and they aren’t the very best in their field, but they still get paid because they show up and try.

The Boy has taught me a lot.  Every kid is different, and too much in our society tries to peg them into the same interests and hierarchies.  It’s time we really look at kids as people in their own right.  Just because they didn’t win the tournament doesn’t mean they didn’t learn anything from it.  In fact, they probably learned much more from losing.

So if a participation ribbon commemorates showing up, trying, and learning, isn’t that what life’s really all about?

Participation ribbons for everyone. Everyone.

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I’m Always Learning About My Own Boy

At the end of each day, I head to Grammy’s to pick up The Boy.  This is usually a bit of a process involving agreeing on a number of minutes needed before getting ready to go, setting the timer, and then the addition of a couple of extra minutes, because the amount of time that has passed could not possibly be the amount of time we had agreed upon…  When all is said and done, we’re usually on our way in about a half hour, and it takes about 15 minutes to get home.

During this time, I ask about his day, and if I’m lucky, I’ll get some little snippets of information.  We joke and act silly, and generally try to make each other laugh.  Part of the reason The Boy is so relaxed is because he doesn’t have to worry about eye contact, I think.  Regardless, it’s the one time in the day where we have the most connection.

One of The Boy’s obsessions since the beginning of the school year (and the entrance of the new, nicer band director) has been articulating incorrectly on his tuba, and being obnoxiously silly about noises that are not desirable in the band room.  As a former band director, it drives me insane, but I’m doing my best to be patient while we ride this particular obsession out.  When we take this time to be silly together in the car, inevitably, the silliness involves these noises that he thinks are hilarious. During of all of this hilarity today, he was pretending to be the band director, and asked me to “play” a C.  I sang a note (that I thought might be a C), and he very seriously said, “No.  That’s not a C.” It reminded me of when he would use that tone to tell me not to sing (along with the radio), when he was a toddler.  “Don’t sing, Mom.”

Perfect PitchI have a pretty good sense of relative pitch, after almost 20 years doing the band gig.  I was fairly certain that I was at least close to a C when I sang. Then I remembered I have a tuning app on my phone.  I pulled it out, and sure enough, I was wrong.  Then I turned it around on him – if he knew it was wrong, could he sing a pitch if I asked him? “Sing an Eb,” I told him.  He did, in his puberty-addled voice, and I put the phone to my ear and checked… It was right.  “G,” I told him, and he did it.  I tested him several times, and he was able to pick these notes right out of the air!  “Why are you looking at me like that?” he finally asked.  “Because you are blowing my mind!” I said.

When we got home, we sat down to the piano and repeated the process. As a result, I am fairly certain The Boy has perfect pitch, which is an extremely rare auditory skill.  I had always known he had a great sense of music, and a damn-good sense of relative pitch.  I even wondered at a few points over the years if it was something more, but never until today have I been this close to certain.

It may amount to nothing.  It may not be something of which he ever wants to take advantage.  But if he does, I want to nurture it if I can, even more than I have his general music ability.  I’m amazed at the depth of The Boy’s talents, and I’m amazed at how much I am still learning about him. He’s simply amazing.

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.

Baby Steps with Showering & Autism

The Boy hates to shower.  Well, like most kids he actually loves it once he’s in the water, but absolutely hates the idea of a shower or bath.  Compound that with the fact that he is super-sensitive about his body (i.e. can’t take a shirt off in front of me, and wears hoodies like they’re going out of style, even when it’s warm), and we have a constant battle on our hands to get clean.  And when puberty has hit, it is imperative for a boy his age to get clean, let me tell you.

He has also not had the skills to wash his own hair, which can be quite the challenge when he does everything in his power to hide his body from you.  For a few months, he would take his shower, and then I would wash his hair in the kitchen sink with the sprayer.  This became quite the production.

A few weeks ago, I finally decided to show him how to do this, embarrassment about his body be damned.  And I can tell you, he is learning.  The hardest part is getting him to back up far enough in the shower to get his entire head wet prior to applying the shampoo, and again to get the shampoo out.  I stand at one end of the shower, with the curtain held up so I “can’t see anything,” shouting out directions.  “Back up!  Tilt your head back!  Now turn your head to the right!”  I’m sure The Man is just shaking his head in the family room listening to it all, but it’s a learning process, and how the heck else are we going to do it?  I’ve thought about having him put his swim trunks on so I can climb in with him in my bathing suit, but…  Well, I’m not usually up for that after a long day at work, to be honest.  And besides, I think this is working.

I’ve also told him he needs to start taking more showers a week, because that’s what you have to do when you turn 12-and-a-quarter…

We’re getting there with baby steps, like usual.