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”.

Dodgeball?

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.

Not Fate But Opportunity

512px-The_knock_knockI like to think that there’s a reason for the important stuff that happens.  Not the “God doesn’t give you what you can’t handle” garbage, because there are lots of people who can’t handle what they’re given.  But I like to think that when you are open to opportunity, there’s a hell of a lot of coincidence out there to take advantage of.

My background as a teacher has always helped me be a better parent to The Boy.  My background as a band director is helping me fight for my son’s rights as I write this.  Even my first crappy marriage has made me a better wife the second time around.

Tonight, I became the lynch pin, the go-between for my autism society friends and my boss’s wife who owns a local restaurant and offered for them to have fundraisers at her place.  And it was so coincidental, and so much good came of this chance meeting of people who happened to know me… There are times when nothing seems random, yet we seem so incredibly lucky.

It’s times like these when I feel like I am contributing something good and important to the world, even though I am not as nobly employed as I used to be.  I’m building a network of good people who can help each other out, and have a direct positive impact on everyone in our community.  It’s a rare thing, but it’s starting to happen… I love opportunity!

Guest Post: Squirt Guns and Opportunity

Kelsey, who wrote the piece below was first my student when she was in middle school, and then again briefly in high school.  I have watched her with her brothers and sisters, and have read some of the things she has posted on her facebook page, and have really kind of watched her grow up into this amazing, funny, incredibly caring individual.  Plus she cracks me up.  And she’s a really good writer, too.  Usually bloggers ask other bloggers to guest post to gain some new readers.  I asked Kelsey to guest post because I wanted to share her writing with you.  Enjoy. 😉

When Anna (wow, strange to call my middle school teacher by her first name) asked me to write a little something as a guest on her blog, I thought I didn’t know what to write about. …And then half a second passed by and I knew what I wanted to write about.

All she said was that she knew I had an interest in kids with special needs (I had previously used her as a reference when applying to a camp for children and adults with special needs) and that I could write whatever I wanted… so I did. Here is whatever I wanted:

About a year ago, I began working as a counselor at a summer camp that also provides weekend respites throughout non-summer months. All of the campers who attend these programs have special needs of some sort and their ages can range from 6 to anyone older than 6 who enjoys going to camp. When I explain my job to people, I usually just tell them that I get to play all day with my friends (and then at night, I specialize in getting them to brush their teeth when they don’t want to).

The first thing I thought about writing for this post was a story about this time when I was trying to engage a camper I was pretty familiar with. (We will just call her camper A.) She was pretty young and had come to most respite weekends that I had worked over the past few months, yet the things I learned about her likes and dislikes were limited to the fact that she liked to go for walks and that she quickly grew bored without one-on-one attention.

She wasn’t quite non-verbal, but she didn’t say much, and whenever I asked her a question, her answer was generally just “yeah.” Of course, her “no” was very defined when she was opposed to something, too, so I knew she had to have had some level of comprehension when I spoke to her… I just didn’t know where to place that level.

One day, while I was putting together the beginnings of a puzzle with another camper, I noticed camper A becoming agitated (most likely out of boredom) and beginning to upset other campers as a result. So I brought her over to the puzzle table to join those of us working, fully expecting her to sit and watch. To my surprise, though, she jumped right in and quickly assembled half of the puzzle on her own.

The thing is, you can’t “place that level” anywhere. Those of us who spend time with children (and adults, for that matter) with special needs KNOW that they are capable of more than the world sometimes tells them. Sometimes people who “just don’t get it” can be excruciatingly cruel in excluding them from opportunities because it is assumed that they simply can’t accomplish what “everyone else” can. That’s just hogwash considering everyone has their strengths and weaknesses to begin with, no matter which medical diagnosis you have tacked onto your nametag. But quite honestly, even those of us who know this best can be guilty of the same fault. After seeing what this camper could do, even with a simple puzzle, I realized that I was limiting her in other areas.

Therefore, when we sat down at the waterfront later on and I noticed her happily failing at firing a push-and-pull squirt gun, I didn’t let her continue on like I might have previously. I showed her again and again how to work it properly, part of me wondering if my attempts were futile… and low and behold, they were not. After enough demonstration and reminder, she learned how to properly work the toy and her squeals of delight grew and grew as she did it successfully again and again. It wasn’t that she shouldn’t be allowed to use the toy incorrectly… it was that not trying to teach her because I thought she wouldn’t understand was depriving her of an opportunity. (Of course, I eventually realized the monster I created when she began to soak my previously dry clothing… but that’s not the point.)

Through this job, I have met several young people who know they have what it takes to be successful- they just need some assistance. A lot of them also understand that many people in the world are not willing to give them the time and energy they deserve in order for them to reach their potential. Or rather, they know that this is a pattern… I can’t say that any of them understand it. And neither do I. It has been said time and time again that people who have disabilities can and want to do just as much as anyone else… and this is so, so true. But it’s not enough to parade that idea around on a button pinned to your t-shirt. It has to be actively practiced and enforced, even if you think you’re already doing all you could possibly need to do.

Even after this realization, I still find myself accidentally limiting campers in ways that seem so tiny and insignificant that it couldn’t possibly make a difference. (i.e. buttoning their coats or tying their shoes for them, simply because it’s faster if I do it.) However, I also know that rationalization to be a simple matter of trying to make myself feel better for these slip-ups. The reality of the situation is that even small limitations pile up quickly. It doesn’t matter if someone has been denied the education route they really could benefit from, or simply the chance to put together their own macaroni necklace. So many kids with special needs are told they can’t can’t can’t… and, most commonly, without being told anything at all.

Obviously, the solution to all of this would be for everyone to be perfect, so that helpers always knew how best to provide their help, be they parents, friends, caregivers, teachers, etc. In that case, though, those who needed help would also be perfect, therefore not requiring help in the first place. Maybe perfection isn’t what’s necessary here, though. Maybe a little reminder every now and then, on the other hand, is.

Summer Camp

New Friends, New Opportunities

The Boy and I went over for a “playdate” of sorts with some new friends from our local chapter of the Autism Society.  The Boy had gone to summer camp with this boy, and I’ve leaned on his mom quite a bit through our schooling struggles.  The boys had a blast – it was very neat to see The Boy getting along so well with kids his own age (or thereabouts), and I was grateful just to have the chance to do it, and the chance for him to make some real friends, something he hasn’t yet done at school.

And I can’t overlook the chance for me to make friends.  It can be a bit lonely moving away from almost everyone you know.  I still love my friends from up north, but I can’t hang out with them by any means, and so I spend a lot of time by myself, especially being underemployed.  It doesn’t lend itself to maintaining your sanity, let’s just say, so it was nice to get out and just hang out with someone, especially someone who really gets what I’m going through right now.

The last time he rode the bus, The Boy was in kindergarten...

The last time he rode the bus, The Boy was in kindergarten…

One of the things we have been talking about has been a possible switch in schools for The Boy.  We’re hoping to get him into a pilot program at a middle school across the county which is aimed at high functioning kids on the spectrum.  It happens to be housed where our new friends go to school (across the county, requiring busing), and New Friend’s Mom can’t say enough good things about the special ed staff, who really seem to know autism, front and back.  So, we are pursuing it, because his current school is still not following his IEP, and seem to be taking their sweet time even implementing any of the county specialists recommendations.

It would be a tremendous transition, again, and we have weighed that into the decision, but at this point, I strongly feel he is not in the correct placement, and I’m ready to fight to get him into this program (even though I don’t think I will really need to).

So keep your fingers crossed for The Boy.  New opportunities may be on the horizon that would be much better in the long run, but may be a little painful at first.  Just another day on the spectrum.

Opportunity’s Knocking – Don’t Knock It

Sign reading "Please Knock" created ...I’m still unemployed.  I know, “Join the club!”, right?  But I did have a couple of great interviews, and although nothing came of the first, I’m very hopeful about the second one, the one I really want, the one that’s in a completely different field, but feels like it would be challenging enough to engage my brain, use the skills I already have, and could turn into a long term thing…  But I’m trying not to get my hopes up too high.  I know myself too well for that.  I should hear back on that one any day now.

In the meantime, I have some very promising part-time leads.  You may think (and even some days I think), “What in the world could you do with only part-time work?”  But I’m not knocking it yet.  Part-time, minimum-wage work may not be worth my time, but the opportunities I have seem to earn more than that, and even if they don’t, if I can cobble them together, I may just have something.

So I’m hopeful to get this full-time with bennies gig, but if for some reason I should not, it doesn’t mean I have to go back to the drawing board.  I feel like I’m in a pretty decent spot.  I’ll keep you posted 😉

P.S. Also wondering if I should go “pro” and see if this little blog can earn some money…  What do you think?