Archive for September, 2009

Celebration

     I know it’s bad to get excited when C gets in trouble at school, but I can’t help it. For years now, he has exhibited such model behavior as to make his preschool teacher jump for joy the one time he got in trouble during his two years with her. To her, it was a sign of typical behavior a child should display, and that was cause for celebration.

     Since then, his schools have used the card turning method, where they have several levels of colors that correspond to the severity of their transgression. In first grade, he got his card turned once, from what I remember. He was pretty upset that first time, crying and sobbing because he got in trouble for being too excited about something. In second grade, I don’t even recall a card turn, although I suspect there was at least one.

     This year, however, C has already had his card turned several times for talking. The first time, he was quite cranky about it because he thought it was completely undeserved and that it was actually someone else talking instead of him. Since that time, however, he’s been caught yakking on more than a few occasions.

     I suppose I should chastise C for this, but I’m finding it hard to do so. All I’ve managed to squeak out when he tells me about it is, “Oh, well, that’s a bummer.” I certainly don’t let C see my happiness about it, and he missed Husband’s fist pump in the air when he heard the news last night. Frankly, I’m so excited he has friends to talk to that as long as he keeps himself out of detention, study desk, or the Principal’s office, I could not care less.

     I am truly sorry, Divine Mrs. D., and I promise that if it gets really bad, we’ll close rank and read him the riot act. But until then, I’m hoping you’ll forgive me my joy.

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September 30, 2009 at 10:08 am 5 comments

Friendships anonymous

     I was reading a book the other day that weighed the pros and cons of integrated classrooms against self-contained classrooms for kids with an autism or Asperger’s diagnosis. The point that intrigued me the most (and one I hadn’t considered) was that in a self-contained classroom, remedial social skills training is part of the curriculum.

     C has never been a candidate for a self-contained classroom, but reading the book made me wonder why remedial social skills aren’t a part of the general curriculum for all children. Kindergarten certainly seems to be all about social skills, and while each teacher C has had since has done a wonderful job of creating community in the classroom, I watch those lessons not carry to the very places C struggles: the playground, the lunchroom, and standing in line. Truth be told? It’s the other kids’ response to C that bothers me the most. He may miss some social cues, but darned if he isn’t putting forth the effort. What happened to a grade of “A” for that?

     To argue that school is only about academics is crazy; studies show that pro-social skills in 3rd grade are a greater predictor of academic success in 8th grade than 3rd grade test scores. Yet it seems that the social skills training is mostly directed at the special needs kids. Friendship groups and social skills groups comprised only of kids with social skills challenges doesn’t teach our kids anything about interaction with their typical peers. 

     We’ve been fighting this issue of social skills groups for kids with autism at every school C has attended, and I’ve just never figured out why anyone would put a group of socially challenged kids in a room together and expect much success. I figure we can work on the academic stuff as it comes up, but the social skills are far more challenging to master. Yet it’s not just my child who needs training in this area. Quite frankly, I find many of his typical peers far more challenged in this area than C will ever be. I watched him compliment another child about his shirt recently, and I smiled at his earnestness and appropriateness in terms of timing, delivery, and tone. He probably shouldn’t have used the word “pretty” to describe the other boy’s shirt, but I figured he’d be forgiven the minimal error. When the other child merely grunted as a reply and turned away to talk to someone else, my heart broke just a little. Well, more than just a little.

     I wanted to put that other kid in a friendship skills group of his own. Where can I sign him up?

September 28, 2009 at 6:01 am 5 comments

I Yam What I Yam

     When I was growing up, I always wanted to move somewhere new. We lived in the same house from the time I was one year old until my parents moved to Arizona 35 years later. Bored with my small town, I fantasized about being the new girl in school just about every year when school started. I wanted to reinvent myself, become someone new, and change personalities like a chameleon changes its color.

     College, and subsequent multiple moves after marriage, afforded me that chance to morph into a new person. I could be in a place where I knew not a soul, and be whomever I wanted to be. Yet now, facing the possibility of yet another move, I wonder what this new place will bring. Should I become the ever-patient mother who befriends everyone and bakes fabulous gluten free/casein free cookies for all the neighbors? Should I turn into that Mom who knows everything about autism and is the resource for all the other moms? Should I be the cool Mom who always has kids running through the house because they all want to hang at our place?

     What I have found, however (and I won’t tell you how many moves it took me to figure this out, but I’m working on double digits here), is that wherever I go, the old me follows. I’m still the slightly frazzled, pretty tired, mostly good Mom who is trying (not always successfully) to do right by her kid, husband, and self. No new personalities that don’t really fit, no new ability to magically become June Cleaver (even though subconsciously she must be my ideal), and no new “cool factor” that I’ve never really possessed before.

     I’m just always me. Just me.

September 22, 2009 at 6:19 am 8 comments

C-isms XVII

     C’s teacher, hereinafter named the Divine Mrs. D, emailed me this little nugget earlier this week. Apparently, a child in C’s class was upset that he had made a mistake. Another child, trying to comfort the first, said, “It’s okay, everybody makes mistakes. Nobody’s perfect.”

     C piped up and said, “Actually, that’s not true. My Mom is perfect!”

     Is it any wonder I love this kid?

September 17, 2009 at 9:06 pm 6 comments

The ties that bind

     C has gone through developmental stages at various times, none of which seemed to quite match the evil developmental charts posted in the pediatrician’s office. Separation anxiety reared it’s ugly head at the start of 1st grade. In preschool, it was, “See ya’ Mom!” Or at least that’s what I imagined him saying if he could talk. At the time I thought perhaps he had skipped that developmental step altogether, and I patted myself on the back while I walked out of the building, teary eyed from my own separation anxiety.

     When the anxiety hit in first grade, it hit hard. I remember one particularly dark day when a teacher had to pry C off me, screaming and thrashing as the other kids looked on. C of course was fine five minutes later, although I spent the remainder of my day in that same teary eyed state. I’m sure the teacher was used to it, but I felt bad for her too.

     The anxiety has mellowed, although there’s always a few weeks at the beginning of the year where the tears flow in the car on the way to school, and I find myself using every trick in my book to distract C and stave off a complete meltdown. Now, however, one month in, he goes to school with a somewhat steely resignation that I know is replaced by happiness the minute he gets in the door.

     C still, however, wants me to walk him onto the playground and stay until his class lines up and goes inside. Thankfully, there’s at least one other parent in the third grade whose child is the same way, and we commiserate on the way to the parking lot about whether or not we’ll be walking our kids to their college classes in the future. We hope not.

     I’m sure teachers everywhere would like us to just drop our kids off and get the heck out of the picture. Things would probably be a lot simpler for them, which is always a good thing. If I had a typical kid, I might do that, but I figure there’s a time and place for coddling C a little bit, and if my being there in the morning lessens his anxiety, then I’ll do it. Frankly, I’m in no rush for it, but I’m hoping the developmental stage of C’s wanting me to drop him off at least a block from school – so as not to be embarrassed by my geeky Mom demeanor – will happen at some point. Hopefully that will happen before college.

September 16, 2009 at 11:26 am 4 comments

Sometimes the sword beats the pen

     I write a lot about the playground and friends (most truly, here). Would that the playground equalled friends for my C, but alas, it rarely does. Whoever had the not so great idea to throw a bunch of kids into an unfacilitated situation with minimal supervision did not an autism child have. We tend to think that if we just put kids together, they will learn things; things like social skills and how to make a friend. It actually does work that way for most kids, but there’s always those special few who either learn something you didn’t intend for them to learn or they spend their free time wandering the fence line.

     Enter a great Mom. She got tired of watching her child with autism wander the fence line, sometimes playing near other children, but rarely actually playing with other children. She got tired of the tears in her eyes as she watched her child struggle with loneliness that only she could see, so she did something about it. (Does she sound like me? I wish. Read on.) She called in the experts, the fabulous folks at the local autism research and resource center and asked for help. They, in turn, developed the coolest, most real life functional program I’ve ever seen to help our kids thrive on the playground, and the data from the pilot programs is astounding. Using the simple formula of a well-intentioned playground aide or two, a quickly trained peer, and our target audience kids, interaction happens. Meaningful interaction. It seems so simple. It is so simple.

     I proposed that we incorporate this program into our district, and our district responded with an enthusiastic “yes.” So next week, a team of eight of us will attend a training in this program so that we can bring it to C’s 3rd grade playground. Eight lovely people who have kids like C in their hearts and minds. They understand how difficult making friends can be, and they are going to do their best to make sure these kids aren’t alone.

     Finally, it feels good to be doing something about this instead of just writing about it. I can’t wait to see it go live.

September 14, 2009 at 6:11 am 4 comments

Fruit from the tree

     Husband and I went to see the movie Adam a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been struggling with what to say about it ever sense. The story is about a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome and his relationship with a young woman in his building. It’s a lovely story, really, full of poignant moments both sweet and sour.

     I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie that so profoundly affected me in so many ways. I laughed and cried. I experienced many emotions while watching the movie, from the desperate feeling that Husband and I can simply never, ever die to the peaceful feeling that maybe, just maybe, C will be okay.

     Ultimately, it was perhaps a glimpse into C’s future, and then I found myself distracted, wondering what the character of Adam would have been like at C’s age. While I expect C will never be as isolated as Adam was in the movie, I also realize that isolation isn’t always self-imposed. C’s enormous desire to be social often overpowers any sensory discomfort or anxiety he may feel, yet that desire does not necessarily translate into having friends. It was sobering to think about C as he is today and how the challenges he experiences now, both internal and external, might translate into adulthood.

     What I realize is that despite completely accepting C just where and how he is, somewhere in the back of my mind part of me continues to think he will grow into an adult that struggles far less than the child does. I’m not really sure why I think this, but it probably has something to do with everyone telling me it will be so. C has many gifts, and there seems to be universal belief among everyone who knows him that he will navigate the world quite well as an adult.

     Yet none of this has anything to do with wanting C to change, be cured, or be “fixed” enough to fit into the typical world as he grows up. I’m actually hoping by the time he gets there, the typical grown up world will be ready for him and meet him where he is instead.

September 9, 2009 at 8:07 pm 3 comments

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