New Member of The Boy’s Tribe

The Boy adores his new summer day camp. They go swimming at the community pool three times a week, he has friends from school who attend, and they play Wii bowling – what’s not to love?

He also has a new member of his tribe. The camp director is a high school special education teacher from another school in the community, and she is amazing. Wanna know how I know? The Boy gets a huge smile on his face when I mention her, and he doesn’t do that for everyone.

wood-lighting-creativity-paper

As I mentioned yesterday, he’s having some anxiety over absences again, exacerbated by one of his close friends being ambivalent about camp and intermittent with his attendance. Not only did the camp director figure out a way to entice his friend to come to camp (allowing him to do a few magic shows at camp), she has figured out a strategy to alleviate some of The Boy’s anxiety. She reasoned that his anxiety stems from not having control over whether or not others are absent, so why not allow him a little control over something else?

She said he is always letting her know when supplies are low (which is great because the staff does not), so she could have him do a daily inventory of supplies (and even campers!) with a clipboard. By allowing him input in tracking, it may alleviate some of his anxiety.

This, THIS, is the sign of a great teacher. One who actively thinks about her students and their needs, even outside of school (or camp) hours, and devises needs-based strategies to help them with their daily functioning and emotional state.

So, welcome to the tribe, Camp Director! The Boy can spot the good ones a mile away. Now we just have to get you to come over to our high school 😉

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Waiting for Sunshine and Roses

It’s been a tough week.

Somewhere there’s a list of life events that can bring you to your knees and if moving isn’t at the top, it should be. Moving into almost-finished new construction with only two adults, a pickup and a Hyundai wagon. In 90 degree heat. When one of the adults considers the other “a hoarder” for having stuff… Yeah, “stressful” is one word for it.

(Thank goodness for Poppy’s mad vacuuming and cleaning skills, and Grammy’s mad Boy-entertaining skills!)

And you’ve accomplished this monumental thing, moving an entire house in two days on top of constructing said paid-for home from the ground up, but you are surrounded by boxes and missing shower curtain rings, and where-the-hell-am-I-going-to-put-that stuff. (I swear I’m not a hoarder!)

Then comes an unexpected, HUGE bill in the mail to take the wind right out of your sails, and evaporates any semblance of excitement you had left, and you wonder how anyone ever gets a leg up…

Then one of The Boy’s best friends decides he doesn’t want to go to summer day camp anymore, and his absences begin to trigger meltdowns and anxiety every night and morning. The Boy lashes out and threatens not to go himself, even though he absolutely adores it.

And you’re supposed to go to work and do work things correctly when you haven’t had a good night’s sleep in over a week, you haven’t eaten since you opened that huge bill, and you’ve taxed your body to the limit. The worry and overwhelm seem to be taxing your brain even more.

Everyone around you is worried, too. Either about the same things as you, or about you, and there’s nothing to say or do. You just keep going. There’s no time or money to do anything else. And crying gets old. Deep down, you know this too shall pass, so you just continue to be until it gets better.

The Truth is

We’ve been settling into our new summer routine this week, as The Boy’s Summer Day Camp run by the Autism Society started on Monday. We are working out our timing and logistics to get him there and get him home, and allow him time to transition. He has been rolling with it.

Until today.

Literally seconds before we were to walk out the door, he complained that he couldn’t find his key.

Uh-oh.

He has a collection of mis-cut keys from the hardware store and he pretends that each belongs to a vehicle that he “owns.” The various vehicles come in and out of favor, but he never forgets one. His pretend vehicle du jour is a Dodge Ram van that has been retro-fitted to be an ice cream truck. And apparently, he misplaced the key at some point between the time he left camp yesterday and the second we were leaving the house this morning. Unbeknownst to me.

90% of the time he has misplace something, he ends up finding it at Grammy’s house, usually under the bed. I tired to encourage The Boy to “look again” at Grammy’s and if he didn’t find it there, to “look again” at Camp, and we would “look again” at home this evening before we determined that it was “gone forever” and he would have to “get a new vehicle”. He insisted he had already looked, and it was gone. (If your kiddo is anything like mine, he scans the room at eye level and if he doesn’t see the thing he is looking for, it has grown legs and walked away. Heaven forbid he actually pick up the myriad things on the floor to look underneath for the missing thing.) He said he didn’t want to go to camp and began making a general ruckus. Then miraculously, the key appeared there at the end of the bed, even though Grammy knew it hadn’t been there before…

The thing is, we can try to prevent meltdowns all we want, but sometimes, they just come flying at you like a brick out of nowhere. And you just have to roll with it the best you can, and try to de-escalate the situation and keep your wits about you, always thinking about the next possible steps. We’re “if-then”-ning in our heads the whole time, instantly coming up with plans b-g just for every contingency. Would it have helped if I had helped him prepare for camp the night before? Maybe. But knowing my kid, even if we put the key in a safe spot last night, that doesn’t guarantee he gets it out after bedtime and moves it. And it doesn’t guarantee that it wouldn’t have been something else he decided he needed at the very last minute this morning.

The truth is, sometimes your best option is to just roll with it and forgive yourself for not having seen the brick before it hit you in the head. Sometimes bricks happen.Keys to the Sonic

What’s Been Going On

Hello, Friends!

This is high season at work, so working a few hours extra is not unheard of, and there’s a lot going on at home, too.  I just wanted to write a quick little post to say “hey!” and to give you an update.  It seems everything happens all at once, and unfortunately, it’s not the right time to write about these things in detail, but…

  • We don’t want to jinx it, so The Man doesn’t want me to write about it yet, but things are looking good in the selling-of-our-house arena
  • This ugly situation has reared it’s head again, and this time, we are speaking to a lawyer…
  • Camp will work out after all, for The Boy, but he’ll have to wait until the end of this month, which happens to coincide with the only week his dad wanted him this summer.  If you follow the page on facebook, you may remember that the ex’s dad has been diagnosed with stage 5 Alzheimer’s and he asked for The Boy the same week camp started, as well as a family reunion we are attending out of state, so I told him we could do another week in July, and have yet to hear back from him.
  • Some friends and I are looking into Rising Tide Car Wash in Florida to see if we can replicate something like that in our area for our kiddos.  We are excited!
  • I answered one of our phone lines at work and connected with a local mom who just moved here. “My son is on the autism spectrum…,” she said, and so the conversation began.  I love it when that happens!
  • Did you know it’s almost the 4th of July? Where did the summer go??

Thanks, friends, for listening and sticking around.  It’s been a tough summer so far, but how do we manage?

Simple. We Just Do.

😉

Zondle: A Great Tool for Summer Learning

One of The Boy’s deficits in his learning has been multiplication tables. As with most math concepts, he really has no interest, ergo, no motivation to learn these, and it is now hindering him from getting further (i.e. up to grade level) in his math class.  “We’re doing algebra!” he reported a few weeks ago, yet he struggles without a printed chart to reference.

I asked him if this was something we could practice this summer, and surprisingly, he said, “That sounds like a good idea.” Maybe he is feeling unprepared for what’s next, and would like to feel more confident – who knows! But since he agreed, I’m going to run with it.

So along with all of our other summer plans, I am going to expect him to practice some multiplication facts every day.  How? Using Zondle.

The Boy loves his iPadZondle is an online tool that teachers use to get kids excited to practice skills on the computer.  While they practice, the opportunity to play some games pop up as a reward for correct answers, and it seems like it was made for kiddos with attention issues, and who need motivators to complete work. The best part is that you (the “teacher”) can keep track of your “student’s” progress. Did The Boy practice his 8s today? Well let me just open up my online gradebook… Why yes!  Yes, he did.  And he got them all right!  It even builds in an additional reward system. You can award badges, and even”zollars” which they can spend on whatever reward you’d like to offer.  Three days in a row with zero mistakes? You earn 300 zollars which means we go for ice cream after dinner.  Or whatever!

You do have to sign up as a teacher (but we’re all teachers, aren’t we?), and you do have to set your child up with an account if they don’t already have one at school.  Then you have to put your child in your “class”, but once you have that set up, you are golden.  You can browse other assignments submitted by teachers so that you don’t have to re-create the wheel, and you can even modify them to fit your needs.

I encourage you to check it out if you’re not familiar with it.  I’m finding it a great resource, one that teachers and parents can both use, especially those of us who will not be home with our kiddos this summer!

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…

I’m Struggling with Time

The Boy and I have been here for almost two years – I can’t believe it.  It seems like only yesterday we were packing up the rental truck, and tossing the huge TV to the curb in preparation for our big move.  And I’ve been at my job almost a year and half, too.  That I can believe, but that’s a post for another day…

I’m still adjusting.  And the biggest adjustment in all of our life changes has been time.  I have a constant feeling like I do not have enough time to get anything done that I need or want to get done.  Something is always slipping through the cracks.  It is true that I simply work longer hours.  But this is misleading.  Of course my school day was shorter than my current work day, but I was often in after school meetings, doing concerts, grading homework, and doing other school-related things well into the evening. I don’t often have evening obligations now. So while I technically work longer hours, I don’t think this is a big part of the issue.

Another part of it is having a husband to spend time with.  Before we moved down, I spent time with The Boy, but I had alone time, too.  I don’t get as much of that now, and nor would I want to be alone that much now that I am married. I enjoy spending time with my hubby!  That does mean less time for solitary activities, though. And if I have a choice to spend time with The Man or do things like the laundry, The Man wins every time – that’s a no-brainer.  But when it comes to reading or writing… well, it gets a little tougher.

I think the final piece of the puzzle is drive time.  It takes forever to drive five miles, and most destinations are a half hour away.  I leave work at 5, and pick up The Boy at Grammy’s, but we are often not home before 6. Most of that is wait time for The Boy who needs multiple timers to get him to leave, but it is also drivers who like to go 10-20 miles under the speed limit, and a default speed limit of 35 on two lane roads.  The grocery store takes 20-30 minutes to get to on a Monday evening… and so on.  Up north, when I picked The Boy up at 5, we could often get to the grocery store, do all of our shopping and still be home before 6.  It’s a big change.

I miss my idle hours

I miss my idle hours

During the summer I go to work earlier, and therefore leave earlier, so I think it’s a little easier to budget my time during the day. It is our busiest, most stressful season at work, but I also get a little down time to myself before the evening begins.  Everything is a balancing act, and although slight changes may make things easier, time will always be a struggle. At least spring is here, which means more sunshine and warm weather – they make everything a little easier. 🙂

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!

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

Camp’s End

Today is The Boy’s last day of summer day camp, and he said yesterday that he will miss it.  We’ve come a long way from it not being just like ESY, and the battles to get him out the door because he couldn’t use a computer there.

With the end of his summer routine comes anxiety, both the good and bad kinds.  He is excited to start school, and we meet with his new principal next Tuesday to see the school and get a feel for how his days will run.  Of course they are still working on his schedule and reviewing his IEP to see how they are going to have to meet it, for 30 days at least…

His dad will most likely not be taking him for his summer visitation at all, so The Boy has two weeks until the new school routine starts.  He wants to get in last trips to the water park, the beach, and all of those activities which require free time.  We’re also going to be looking at some used bikes this weekend, so he can continue to ride around the neighborhood with his new buddies.

And of course, I have anxiety about this new school and whether or not they will be able to meet his needs.  Will we be able to work out our work and school schedules?  What will they try to change when the 30 days is up, and how hard will I have to fight?

Deep breath…

Whatever comes, we can handle it.  He didn’t like camp at first, and now he is going to miss it.  Me too.

hanging out