Thursday, December 13, 2012

What Can Change in 2 Months?

Ballerina has a follow-up IEP Meeting coming up next week.  This is a pre-determined meeting to discuss the progress she is making following the changes that we made in October's Review Meeting.  We increased her hours of support, we instituted a behavior modification plan and we worked to ensure consistency across all staff members working with her.  And, outside of the meeting, a new behavior reward system was created for her which has been generally very positive.

First, let me describe this new reward system.  It's a laminated card, with a velcro strip on the bottom of both the front and the back of the card.  On the front are 6 choices of rewards (which I'm sure can be changed if needed), including a hug, read a book, take a walk, drink of water, some kind of game, and do a puzzle.  Ballerina chooses which reward she would like to work towards and then they begin.  On the back of the card are the expectations, including Quiet Mouth, Quiet Hands and Great Working.  There are 5 squares, each containing the picture of a heart. along the velcro strip on the front.  For every 10 minutes Ballerina successfully achieves those objectives, a heart is moved from the front to the back.  After all 5 hearts have been moved from the front to the back, she gets her requested reward.

The introduction of this reward chart is the best move that the school could have EVER made!!!!!!  Because of her ABA success, we know she responds well to periodic rewards.  But they can't be abstract.  They have to be something she can see and something she will receive immediately.  With this system, she is rewarded every 10 minutes with something small (the moving of the hearts which she witnesses [and even contributes to by confirming she's doing the 3 required things]) and then she gets her big reward when the hearts have all been moved.  She's been choosing a hug since they initiated this system, but she has the freedom to choose something different every time she starts again.

Photobucket  Photobucket
(pictures taken and emailed to me by Mrs. R [Ballerina's classroom teacher])

I spent just over an hour observing her in her classroom on Tuesday.  I was there from the time she returned from specials (Physical Education, in this case) until she left for lunch.  I watched her have a snack (and go over to get a drink from the water fountain), sit with her class on the carpet, answer some questions, return to her desk to complete a worksheet, and then go on to her independent learning center.  She had a paraeducator with her the whole time (they no longer have her do the independent learning center without one as she is unable to complete anything with success without the support).  She listened to the story (If You Give A Moose A Muffin by Laura Numeroff).  She answered the teacher's questions about the story.  And she walked back to her table to do the assignment.

During the time on the carpet, I watched the paraeducator move 2 of the hearts from one side of the card to the other, indicating that she was earning her rewards.  And I watched her complete the assignment.  There were several parts.....she had to write her name (using a "magic C"), color in the pictures, cut the pieces out, and paste them back onto the worksheet in the same order that these items appeared in the story.  It involved using her memory and her comprehension skills, as well as following multi-step instructions.  And she did it ALL!!!!!  Following the sequence of instructions was not a problem.  Determining the correct order for the pieces to be pasted back onto the page was a bit more challenging for her, but she had the book with her (and the para) and they were able to put it together correctly with the book to ensure that things were correct.  And then she was able to go to her center where, once again, she was asked to cut and paste and put together complete and correct sentences.

And through it all, every 10 minutes (or so) they would move another heart.  In the 75 minutes I was there, she received a hug and was about 60% to getting another (which I'm sure happened not long after recess).

The entire time I was there, there were no outbursts.  There were no tantrums.  There was no threat of being sent to Time Out (for her -- others were threatened to move their behavior cards).  She did all of her work, and did it correctly.  She worked well with her para and apologized for accidentally colliding with a classmate after being reminded to do so by the teacher.

She looked just like everyone else.....just a little different because of the support she was getting.

What a moment for this Autism Mom!!!!!!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Whose Will Is Strongest?


Over the weekend, we got "serious" about being done with dealing with toileting accidents.  Urine accidents have become rare but poop, well, it's rare that it's NOT an accident.  I mentioned in a post last week that Music Man had an accident at school which really seemed to get the ball rolling, so to speak. But it's not school's responsibility to get this's mine.

We had to find something that would motivate our children to use the bathroom.  The answer to that question really is quite simple.....their phones or the computer.  However, taking this away from them makes things EXTREMELY hard on Dad and I.  But the time had come.  We needed to take that step. So, for the first poopy pants, no iPhone.  For the second, no iPod.  For the third, no computer.  And we were just PRAYING that there wouldn't be a fourth, because there was nothing left to take away.  And this would carry over from day to day (last thing was an accident on Saturday, no phone on Sunday).  However, once there was a success in the toilet, everything would be restored and we would start fresh.

During the week, for Music Man at least, things are relatively easy.  He "poops" shortly after coming home from school.  He's regular.  We can count on this almost every day.  So, when he comes home from school, we have snack, go into the bathroom and he does his thing.  Then he can have his phone.  But on the weekends, things are a bit more difficult.  He's NOT consistent about when he goes.  This (to us) is unsubstantiated proof that he is withholding during the school day because he doesn't want to deal with it at school.  He clearly has the control.

So, on Saturday morning, as soon as they go downstairs to play, Dad takes Music Man to the bathroom.  They try for a few minutes without success, so Dad resolves to take him again 30 minutes later.  By then, too late.  He pooped in his pants.  Oh, well.....bye bye phone!  Was Music Man happy about this.  ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!!!  Despite being warned numerous times, he was VERY angry about this change of events and how his weekend was going to progress.  But he eventually settled down.  Later that morning, once again, there was poop in his underwear.  Bye Bye iPod.  Now he's FURIOUS.  But he's determined to NOT let us win this fight.

For the rest of the weekend, we tried.  And for the rest of the weekend, so did he.  There was no successful potty trips.  And there was no return of the iPod or the iPhone.  And on Sunday night, he woke in the middle of the night and walked into the bathroom.  I was POSITIVE there would be some poop in the underwear, but there wasn't.  He just needed to pee and then went back to sleep (eventually).  And on Monday morning, before heading off to school, the stand off continued.  No poop in the potty, so no phone or pod.

But, come Monday afternoon, I don't think he could hold off anymore.  He pooped in the potty after school.  We did the same thing we did during the week last week.....come home, snack, potty, then play.  And that potty should include poop.  We have been successful on Monday and Tuesday of this week.  Today was very similar -- he came home from school and had his good strong poop after snack.  However, he did poop in his pants at school today.  Since we have established the policy of success means all privileges are returned, he didn't lose time with the phone.  However, if accidents continue at school, we will have to modify that part of our agreement.  I guess we are making progress.

I feel comfortable making this statement:  Music Man is poop-trained during the week.  He is unable (or unwilling) to anticipate the need to go, but he is regular enough that we can anticipate for him.  He is not yet fully trained as we have still not seen any successes during the weekend.  Hopefully, as he realizes that life is much happier when you are FULLY potty trained, he will take this leap soon.

On to the next saga......

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Time For Drastic Measures

I wrote last week that we were starting to see success with Music Man's potty training.  After an accident at school, we got more serious and started to withhold a reward.  We almost immediately had a success.  But, after once, he realized that there are other things that he gets that are similar that don't require him to use to potty to deposit his BMs.  So, we seem to be back at almost Square One (he'll sit on the toilet and "try", but he won't allow anything to come out).

I know what we need to take away.  I know what would be the BEST motivator for him.  Unfortunately, I don't have the nerve to follow through.  Keeping this from him would be far more of a punishment to me and to Dad than it will likely be to him because WE will remember this for years to come.  For Music Man, despite his long memory, I don't think it'll make that big of a long-term impression.

I'm speaking of course, of his phone.  He spends as much time as he is allowed playing on his inherited iPhone (or iPod if the phone is unavailable).  He calls the phone "Bubble Phone" the iPod has been named "Toca Boca Phone" for reasons of making the distinction.

But I think I came up with a compromise that won't tax my sanity to the point of unendurability and will still bring home the point.  And, if we don't see success, I can take it a step further to really bring home the point.  I think the time has come to take away "Bubble Phone".  If Music Man poops in the potty, he gets it back for the rest of the day.  If he poops in his pants again (while he still has it), it gets taken away again.  He can have "Toca Boca Phone", so there is still something for him to do (which is my compromise).  But, if he poops in the potty, he gets his beloved phone back.  And, if this is unsuccessful, than "Toca Boca Phone" will also be withheld.

Cookies aren't cutting it.  At school, they're seeing success with a Leapfrog product.  I think we need to do this with our own electronic device.

I know he's ready for this.  I'm 100% certain of it.  I just need to make sure that he understands that we've reached the end of our patience and tolerance.  So, tonight, Dad and I will discuss this course of action.  If he agrees, it will come into effect when he arrives home from school tomorrow.

Am I nuts?!?!?!?!?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Line Leaders

Yup.....when I fall behind, I find myself writing multiple posts in the same day, or on consecutive days, don't I?  And today is no exception.

This one is a less happy story.....this is a new issue that we've been having.

This story is about Ballerina.

We've known for a while that Ballerina wants to be first with everything.  For any activity, she insists that she's the "Line Leader".  Music Man really doesn't care that he's following his sister.  Big Brother is a bit more of an issue.....he too likes to be first.  Sibling issues I can deal with.

But things have become more dangerous.  When I pick them up at school (and to a lesser degree, when I drop them off), Ballerina needs to be the first one to the car.  Since I'm not AT the car, but waiting for them outside of the school, she doesn't necessarily know where the car is.  She runs off to find the car.  I am careful to park so that she shouldn't have to run into the parking lot, but there aren't assigned spots.....I can't guarantee that one of those will be available when I arrive at school.    In the morning, I can make sure that she never has to go into the parking lot, but not in the afternoon.

The last 2 afternoons, as soon as Big Brother comes out, she goes running.  She has to beat him to the car.  The first day, I was able to get one of those spots and she ran to the car and waited for me, and (at my request), Big Brother chased after her (which may have made it worse) and made sure she stayed put until I could get there with Music Man (who was doing everything in his power to go as slow as possible [including body drops]).  With Big Brother's help, Ballerina remained safe waiting at the car.

But the next day, I was later arriving at the school and was unable to get that parking spot.  She ran off and, despite shouting after her that the car isn't in that same place (like she'll understand this when she's on the race to be "First"), when she arrived at the expected parking spot and didn't see the car, she started going into the parking lot to see if she could locate our car.  At 3:05, there are numerous cars driving to pick up their children, buses picking up other kids to bring them to day care, and lots of activity.  Fortunately, she stayed near the sidewalk and we were able to get her under our control before something happened or even came close, but we are facing a potentially dangerous situation.

When I dropped the kids off at school today, the administrator who takes care of the Learning Center program at the school pulled me aside to speak with me to come up with a strategy to get my children safely to the car.  It's been decided that, starting Monday, they will be receiving curb-side service......I will drop them off in the morning and they will all be escorted into the building and they will be escorted from the building to the car in the afternoon.

Once again, I'm relinquishing some control.  I really like our drop-off routine in the morning, and enjoy seeing the other Moms in the afternoon.  But my children's safety is at stake.  So, next week, we'll give this a try.  Hopefully, Ballerina will realize that being first isn't the most important thing.  Hopefully, she'll realize that safety is far more important.  And, if she can't abide by the rules, she's going to be losing privileges faster than she earns them.

Progress Comes When You Least Expect It

I'm way behind in the stories that have been happening in our lives here.  But I'm just starting in fresh again.  Those stories, well, maybe I'll find another way to incorporate them here.  But for now, we're just going to start with where we are right now.

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App

On Tuesday, it finally happened.  I got a phone call from school to tell me that Music Man had a toiletting accident.  Since he was trained (well, urine trained) over President's Day weekend, we haven't had an accident at school.  Apparently, I had never brought in long pants (he had plenty of shorts) and they needed these ASAP.

I had mentioned during Music Man's IEP Meeting that he was not yet "Poop Trained".  In fact, he has never INTENTIONALLY released poop into the toilet.  He showed no interest.  And he never showed any indication that he was uncomfortable when he had an accident.  I'm not sure if anyone in the room agreed that that last statement could be true, but they did take me at my word.  Well, on Tuesday, when he had his accident, they realized that I was telling the truth.  He truly just didn't care.  He just sat there. He was able to completely ignore it.  He didn't fidget.  He didn't do anything to indicate that he was the one that the teachers were smelling, other than simply sitting there in his own poop.

Yesterday (Wednesday), his teacher sent him home with a social story.  She found me outside the school waiting for dismissal and told me what they were starting to do.  She was keeping her own copy of the social story at school and she informed me that, since he likes Oreo cookies, he wasn't allowed to have an oreo unless he successfully "Pooped on the Pot".  This last bit threw me a bit.....I would have to follow this as well, and Oreos are his regular after-school snack.  But, I agreed to go along with this regime and I figured we'll see what happens.

Before Music Man is allowed to go downstairs to play, he has to go to the bathroom (I don't know when he last goes at school and this way we are starting fresh with the timing).  He had to urinate and that was no surprise.  But after he was done, I asked if he needed to poop.  I pointed out that, if he did put his "Poop in the Pot", he'd get a Double-Stuff Oreo cookie.  He immediately decided it was worth trying.  So, he sat on the toilet and was clearly putting in the effort.  He asked for me to sing a song, which I gladly did.  We went back and forth between the song and reading the social story.  And, sure enough, he put his "Poop in the Pot"!  3 times actually.


After cleaning up, he got his Double-Stuff Oreo cookie and then went downstairs to play.

Today, when I pick him up from school, I intend to do the same thing.  We will have snack (that isn't an Oreo) and when he goes to the bathroom prior to going downstairs to play, we will take the social story with us and we will try again.  I will give him a smaller snack so, if he's successful, he can have his Double-Stuff Oreo without getting too much sugar, but I'll take the added sugar rush to have this whole thing behind us!

It's not like we've been complacent with the toilet training thing.  But, just like in February where the breaking point was reached, I think that's what we are seeing right now....everyone has simply had enough.  He needs to know that this is the way it's supposed to be and how it will be.  And, thanks to his teacher, we figured out a way to convince him that we really mean it!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

What is Election Day?

To me, this means it's my opportunity to make my voice heard.  I get to publicly say the way I want to see my community managed, whether that community be local (county-based) or national (like this year's presidential election).  I have voted every year where there has been a vote since I turned 18, and have done so with great pride.  I may not have always been happy with my decisions after-the-fact, but when my vote was cast, it was done so believing I had made the best possible choice.

This year, I took advantage of "Early Voting" because all 3 kids were going to be home from school and I was concerned that the lines that may incur would cause me difficulties in the polling places.  I went to a local community center on Thursday where they were holding the early voting and made my choices.  I placed my vote president/vice-president, my representatives, other local posts, and I answered all seven state-based ballot questions, the couple of county-based questions.  I knew when I left the polling place that many of the votes I made would be "cancelled out" by my husband who does NOT share my political views, but I had done my part to make sure my voice was heard.

I am SO grateful that we had the opportunity for Early Voting this year.  This fall, Tuesdays has become the crazy day that was Saturday last year.  On Tuesdays, Ballerina has her dance class after school and then, after running home for a quick dinner, I'm rushing off to take Big Brother to Cub Scouts, and we're usually late.  Dad doesn't get home until we are between those two activities.  Even though we aren't doing much during the day today (until dance class), the added insanity of going to the kids' school to vote (and have them NOT attending school) would have made things unbearable for me.

But there's a trade-off.

I feel bad that Big Brother didn't get to watch me cast my ballot.  He knows who I voted for and he knows that his Dad will be voting for his opponent.  He knows that Dad and I are two different people with differing political views and that doesn't adversely affect our ability to love one another and share our lives together.  And he even knows some of the specifics as to why his Dad and I disagree, which will hopefully make him a more informed voter when he turns 18 and takes on his responsibility of making his voice heard.  But I wish that my fear of the behavior of his brother and sister didn't prevent me from taking him to see democracy in action.  I wish he could have seen what it means to go into a voting booth and cast a ballot.

In 4 years, I'm making a promise to do my best to bring (at least) him with me when I vote.  He deserves it.  My fears of the public's reaction should not prevent me from teaching such an important lesson to my son.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Never Ending Career Search

I know there's a lot about the kids that I need to post about, but for right now, I want to write a "ME" post.....

You see, for the last couple of days, whenever I have some time alone (usually in the car), I have decided what I want to do with my self-proclaimed title of "Parent Advocate".  I believe I've known this for a while....I just needed to tailor it down to what I believe are my strengths.

I want to work with parents.  Specifically, parents who are going through the process of a child being diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or parents with children recently diagnosed with an ASD.  I love the kids.....don't get me wrong......but I don't know how much I personally can do to help them compared with the great teachers and specialists that are out there.  But I can offer something to the parents.  I can listen, and I can understand.  I can explain it, and not as a doctor trying to explain these things to a parent feeling lost, but as a parent who has been through this all.  I am very good at researching information and I can find details for people to help them understand what their lives are about to become and help them figure out ways that they can help their children.

I kind of do this now.  I run the Facebook page We Care About Someone With Autism and I regularly get questions like this.  Sometime they stay on the public forum, other times, we exchange emails or Private Messages and I think I have really helped quite a few people.

About a year ago, I thought of starting up a support group for local parents that would meet during the school day.  But I thought about it and realized that I have no clue not only how to start up such a thing but that I really don't know if people would want to come to something like that.  I think that it would benefit many, but it's hard to sit around a table and discuss things like this with strangers.  And it's even harder when the person sitting at the head of the table has no appropriate credentials to her name other than a parent.  And I would hate to ask people to pay for such a service, even though I would have to in order to pay for premises and make a little money on the side, which to be honest, wouldn't hurt my family.  So, this isn't really the right direction for me to look.

I have now laid out (in my head) a perfect job for me.  I even think I know the organization that would want to hire me.

Now I just need to figure out how to make myself qualified for such a position.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Remembering How Hard It Can Be

There is a post today on SPD Blogger Network written by a South African Mom talking about her concerns about needing to raise her twin boys differently because of the issues that they face (one has SPD [and a few other issues] where the other does not).

As I read this post, I was transported in time.  I was remembering visiting preschool programs for Ballerina and Music Man.  I was remembering driving around in the car because as I visited these programs, I knew they would be placed in different places because I knew that no one school would best suit their individual needs.  But, in my heart, that wasn't what I wanted for them.  I wanted them to be together.  In my heart, I knew that they needed to be together even though my brain was telling me that I needed to consider their individual needs first.  I remember crying every time I thought if it, how I was going to have to face the fact that one would be going to Program A and the other to Program B.

And I remember those meetings.  I remember at the end of Ballerina's meeting making the decision to send her to the program called CAPP, which was definitely the best placement for her.  But instead of thinking that, it was that final nail in the coffin -- they weren't going to be together because CAPP was a BAD choice for Music Man.  I remember taking a 10-15 break between the two meetings and going over to an observation area and watching them both in their classroom, trying to pull it all together.  And I remember starting Music Man's meeting when they were enumerating all of the reasons why we needed an IEP (I realize this is a part of the process, especially in an initial IEP meeting, and they weren't pulling out things that we didn't already know), and I remember them asking me at the end of this if I needed a moment.  They thought I was upset about all the reasons for Music Man's IEP.  But that wasn't the case.  It was the reality of Ballerina's placement and the consequence of separating these two that was making me struggle to hold it together.  And I remember not being able to fully pay attention throughout his meeting because I just couldn't deal with it.

I cried about it that day and night.  By the morning I thought I was all right.  We had made the best decision for each of them.  They were going into programs that would address their weaknesses in ways that played to their strengths.  And for Ballerina and Music Man, they were different areas and different strategies.  And I remember talking to the other parents about the whole IEP experience (since their initial meetings were upcoming).  And I was doing a good job holding it together.  It wasn't much of a struggle.  And I'm giving myself a mental pat on the back......I'm getting over my emotional hang-up and am ready to do what I know is the right thing.  But then, when I put Ballerina and Music Man into the car, it all came flooding out.  It was like I was back at the beginning.  Separating them was WRONG!

I also remember calling our case worker that afternoon while the twins were napping and Big Brother was having his "Quiet Time" (for he no longer napped).  I remember asking her when (and if) this would ever get easier.  And she pointed out to me that I knew what the right answer was, I just wasn't ready for it.  Eventually, the two would come together.  She couldn't tell me when, but I knew she was right.  And, I also knew that if things weren't working out, we could look into making a change.

I'm not sure when it happened.....when it became all right that they were in different schools and different programs.  But eventually, it was all right.  That didn't change the fact that I was grateful that they are now in the same school, and I'm sure that the togetherness is part of what I was trying to achieve.  But I stopped looking at them as a unit together when it came to their IEPs and allowed myself to separate them into the two unique individuals that they are.

Don't get me wrong.....losing that dream of them being together for so long hurt, and it still does from time to time.  But I see their individual growth, and I know that this was one of the times where my heart was wrong and my head was right.  My dreams for them are my own.  I need to give them a chance to realize their own dreams and those may be with our without the other.

My babies aren't babies anymore.  They are growing up.  And they are becoming amazing people.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

So Much Progress, So Far To Go

Today was our first review meeting for Ballerina.  She has been in a general education classroom for 7-8 weeks and we needed to sit down as a group and figure out what's working and what's not.  We had agreed to do this during her placement meeting / annual review at the end of last year.

Yesterday, I went to visit her in her classroom.  I wanted to see what her teacher sees so I could understand the things that she was bringing up in the supporting paperwork.  And, we all know that many children display something different while they are at school as compared to when they are at home.  And her teacher told me that in so many ways she has made some great improvements, especially in these last couple of weeks.  Her outbursts are less frequent and less intense, she has become much more compliant (especially for her classroom teacher) and they are discovering some of her passions.  However, her focus is a real issue.  She has a very difficult time following anything greater than 2-step instructions and she needs someone constantly prodding her to get her tasks completed.

But I watched her complete tasks.  I watched her complete worksheets that involved multiple tasks (coloring, cutting and pasting) along with working on an academic concept (rhyming).  But every minute or so, the para who was working with her had to prod her to get her focus back.

But the meeting started this morning and it began with the principal explaining that at the start of the school year that many on her team were concerned about her placement in general.  General education classroom is extremely demanding and it was thought that perhaps it was beyond what she was ready to handle.  However, these changes in these last couple of weeks showed them all that yes, a general education classroom is the right placement for her.  We just have to make a couple adjustments to her plan to allow her to be successful.  Knowing that we weren't going to make such a change (even though I strongly suspected this would be the case), it definitely helped to put me more at ease.

And transitions are still a problem (although they are greatly improved).  She is no longer considered a menace to herself or her classmates with her constant body dropping behaviors as she was when the school year began.

It was great to listen to her entire team talk about all of the improvements she has made thus far this year.  We did increase the number of hours of support because, honestly, she needs it.  She was originally assigned 15 hours/week, but in practice she needs (and receives) 25 hours/week.  By putting this into her official plan, it helps the school find the needed staffing and makes it more likely that she will get a dedicated staff member which will give her the consistency that she needs.  The intent is still to try and reduce it over time, but for now, she really needs the help.  Without it, she is not able to stay on task.  One of the things I did observe is the 30 minutes or so in the morning where she is working independently.  She was unable to complete any tasks.  And when I asked if this was true regardless of the "center", her teacher informed me that it is.

Her classroom teacher is going to attempt a few simple tricks to see if they can improve her focus, including introducing some background classical music for quiet work times.  Since she seems to enjoy music so much, perhaps it will help keep her calm and allow her to focus more on the tasks at hand.  In addition, we are initiating a Formal Behavior Plan to ensure consistency across various staff members.  Hopefully, these will all contribute to her success.  We also agreed to meet again in December to discuss whether these efforts are successful and to, if necessary, make further modifications to her plan.

Now it's time to turn my attention to Music Man's meeting, which is scheduled for next week.  His meeting will be a full annual review which will likely be a bit more intense.

I need to learn to control myself in approaching these meetings.  They always cause so much anxiety.  You would think I would be used to them by now.  Perhaps this next one will be the one that makes me realize that this process is in place to help my children and I shouldn't get so worked up about these every single time.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Always Something To Worry About

Well, if it's not one thing, it's another......

First it was as they were getting ready to start kindergarten......could Ballerina handle the general ed classroom?  Were we pushing Music Man too far with this near-mainstream program?

Then it was the would everything work out?

Now we're back to's time for another meeting.  On Wednesday, we're having Ballerina's first Review Meeting to determine what's working, what's not and what (if anything) needs to change.  And, trust me.....there's a LOT that needs to change.

I keep hearing bits from her teacher or from one of the learning specialists who she's been working with -- she needs help for all academic time, she needs a behavior name it.  I was hoping things would be getting better at this point, but it seems like things are just staying the same.

I will be visiting her tomorrow, trying to be an invisible observer.  I plan to be there before she returns from PE (Physical Education) and will stay until after she leaves for lunch (so about 1.5 hours).  I will find a place to sit and I won't move.  I won't ignore anyone, but I will do all I can to not draw attention to myself.  I will hopefully get to see what is REALLY going on in that classroom.  I will get to see a couple of transitions, both into and out of the classroom.  And maybe I can start to understand what the teacher is dealing with.

I hate being in the dark like this.  By this time, when Big Brother was in kindergarten, I was already a classroom volunteer.  I can't bring up the subject until the meeting is over on Wednesday.  Hopefully, the teacher will consent and I'll be able to begin that role next week.

I just hate not knowing what's happening in the classroom because I'm not sure I'm getting an accurate picture in the reports.  She seems happy to go to school and happy to be picked up.  But I'm not sure what she's getting out of the classroom.

I just need answers.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Happy Birthday!!!!

Today is my birthday.

When I was growing up, birthdays were things I always looked forward to with such relish.  It wasn't unusual for me to stay up to 12:29am (my actual birth time) to be the first to wish myself a Happy Birthday.  As I've gotten older, that anticipation has lessened quite a bit.  Especially after I cross decade marks.  But now, I'm 41 years old.  I'm happily married with 3 wonderful children and a dog.  And I spend most of my time doing what I can to make their lives as wonderful as possible.

Birthdays have become days to think about where I am and where I want to be.  What I have been doing right and what needs to change.  There are always many things on both sides of that equation.  For example, I need to work on controlling my patience and not just handing over phones when the kids get to be too much.  But I applaud myself for developing new strategies that have helped Ballerina and Music Man make this transition into kindergarten, at least from the at-home-end.  I applaud myself for listening to their teachers and fighting for what I know is right, even if that wasn't an easy thing to do.  I applaud myself for teaching my son that lying is not tolerated, a lesson that I believe Big Brother has learned quite well these last few weeks.

Over the last couple of years, I have used my birthday as an opportunity to make a change.  A couple of years ago, I proclaimed myself a "Parent Advocate".  I'm still not sure what it means (officially), but I feel I have done a decent job at making that change effective.  The Autism-based Facebook Page that I run has grown to over 2,100 members.  When people ask, I offer my advice based on my personal experience.  I have answered questions for other friends who have asked.  I have educated many about Autism, and plan to address Big Brother's Wolf den (Cub Scouts) to educate them about Autism as they are likely to run into individuals affected as they grow.

And I fight.  I fight for my children.  Every day.  I make sure that they are getting the services that will best help them.  I lose sleep over IEP meetings because I want to be sure that they have the opportunity to succeed and gain their own independence.  I have learned to not jump to conclusions (even though that is still my instinct) and to listen before I act, at least in an official capacity.

When I was at my brother's wedding, several family members asked me if I planned to go back to work.  My answer was always that I kind of already had with this change.  I would like to find a way to actually be paid for doing this (like everyone, we can use the supplemental income), but because my experience is not something that comes from a degree other than in life, I'm not sure that I can find a position right now.  I want to help parents, especially parents who are in the early stages of a diagnosis. Parents who either suspect or have just been told that their child is on the spectrum.  I want to help them to see that it's not the end, but the beginning.  I want to help them to see the POWER of that diagnosis.  I want them to understand that Autism is NOT the end of the world, no matter where on the spectrum a child falls.  I want to point out the success stories that you can find anywhere, but is somehow very difficult for a grieving parent to see.

You see, I've BEEN that parent.  It took a long time before I was able to see the positives of Ballerina's and Music Man's diagnosis and not just going through the motions.  And I know that the fears never fully go away.  And because of it, those are the people who I feel I can most benefit.  I still have to figure out the best way to make that happen, but I'm more sure than ever that I have found my "professional" calling.

If anyone has any suggestions, I'm all ears!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

An AMAZING Week!!!!! (long post --- squeezing it all in one)

For those of you who braved reading my last post, you know that I was going a bit nuts about the road trip we were about to take.  And for those of you who have been reading here for a while, you know that I was worried about how Ballerina and Music Man were going to handle the roles of being a flower girl and a ring bearer.

Well, both events are over (the road trip last week taking place BECAUSE of my brother's wedding).  And I couldn't have hoped for anything better than we got!!!!

I'm not going to say that everything was perfect.  It wasn't.  And I didn't expect them to be.  But I also expected things to be harried and I was ready for meltdowns everywhere I turned.  That is NOT what I got.

First of all, we started on Wednesday with 12.5 hours in the car.  We did take breaks, and some of them were longer than others.  We arrived at our hotel in Peru, Indiana around 9:30pm after this very long drive.  We had no potty-issues through the entire drive (well, not in terms of accidents).  Music Man did decide that he was NOT fond of public restrooms and the unexpected noises that they contain, and he especially didn't care for the self-flushing toilets!  But, we were able to convince him to do what he needed to do and he was rewarded with snacks, gummy bears, and a McDonald's Chicken Nugget Happy Meal.  All-in-all, the drive was uneventful.

When we went to visit family on Thursday, we also weren't sure what to expect.  We went to Dad's aunt's house (about 5-10 minutes from the hotel) which happened to be where Grandma and Grandpa were staying.  I had an appointment to get my hair done (I had to make sure I was GORGEOUS for my baby brother's wedding after all).  There was a playground near the salon, so Dad dropped me off and took Grandma and the kids over to this spot so they could run around in the sun and just be kids and have fun.  They enjoyed this!  They later went back to Dad's aunt's house to play and wait for me to be done (because when you're trying to hide so much grey hair, it takes a couple of hours).  They kept themselves busy with books, phones, and the piano.  They also ran around the back yard a bit.  When I arrived, I had a quick lunch, had a talk with my mother-in-law and aunt-in-law (she's a Mary Kay consultant, and my source for make-up).  We then took the kids back to the hotel for a quick swim in the indoor hotel pool and then back to aunt's house for dinner.  By the end of the evening, the kids were acting up a bit, but nothing too terrible and we were able to get them settled back into the hotel for the night.  They fell asleep VERY quickly (who were those children?).

The next day was another travel day.....bye bye Indiana, hello Novi, Michigan.  It was going to be about a 4 hour drive so we took Big Brother around to see some of the places that were important to his family (his family owned a mill, community has a covered bridge, etc).  We showed him the sites and then got ready for another long drive.  The weather didn't cooperate much, but still the ride went smoothly enough.  We got ourselves checked in and as soon as the kids' beds were set up for them, they fell right to sleep.

Saturday was when things really got going.  The wedding rehearsal was in the afternoon.  The rehearsal dinner was in the evening.  We needed to attend both events.  After all, I was a bridesmaid, Dad was a groomsmen, Ballerina was one of the 3 flower girls, and Big Brother and Music Man were the ring bearers.  We had to play around with the order of who walked in and with whom (Ballerina didn't want to walk in with the other two flower girls, so it was decided she would walk with me [and my handful of gummy bears]).  Music Man was happy enough to walk with Big Brother though.  We taught them to come into the sanctuary and sit down in the front row, where Dad's parents would be sitting (they love spending time with Grandma and Grandpa).  We had a backpack with books all ready for them (but for the rehearsal they had their phones) and of course, they had gummy bears.

Overall, the rehearsal went well.  We were able to relax a bit and head back over to the hotel before dinner and give everyone baths before putting them into their nice clothes.  And the rehearsal dinner could have gone better, but it also could have gone much worse.  They didn't really come across as being Autistic children......just children who were bored because too much had been expected of them that day.  We left on the early side, figuring that we didn't want to push our luck.

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
(Music Man wearing his "tuxedo" shirt)

Sunday was the wedding.  I had to be there early for them to do my hair and be ready for pictures.  Dad brought the kids with them when he arrived early in the afternoon after taking them to a McDonald's near the hotel with a HUGE play area.  They were able to run around and play (while still in their every-day clothes) and get some energy out.  When they arrived at the synagogue, they read a few books to the bride's parents so Dad could come out for pictures and they were ready to get dressed.  Big Brother couldn't wait!!!!  He wanted to wear his suit and shoes and show his brother and sister how they were supposed to behave.  So, he got dressed first.  Then Ballerina wanted her pink dress.  I swear, she was such a pretty thing, it made me so happy (especially since we had problems getting her a dress -- perhaps I'll tell that story another day [I don't think I told it here yet]).  Music Man also got into his suit and was getting ready for the big moment.

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App  Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App

It had started to rain, so we had moved the picture-taking to inside the sanctuary (which actually may have already been planned).  This was when they were taking pictures of extended family and bringing the children into the wedding party photos.  I had made a request to get a picture of the 5 of us since it's so rare that we are all so dressed up.  While the photographer was taking pictures, Dad and I each gave our phones to someone to maximize the chances of getting a single good picture.  My cousin managed to snap this one.  I'm happy with it!

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App

But soon the pictures were done.  I was asked to sign the Katuba as a witness, so I joined my bride and groom at the table in the temple library and participated in the ceremony.  We watched both the bride's and groom's fathers sign the Michigan Marriage License and then the bride's sister and I each took our place next to the bride and groom, and we each signed our names to the Jewish marriage license (for lack of a better description).  All that was left was the ceremony.

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
(notice Big Brother's silly face in the background)

The wedding party lined up for the ceremony.  This is when we had our biggest problems.  You see, Ballerina had decided she didn't want to walk in with me after all.  She didn't want to walk in at all.  Music Man was doing fine.  Because we changed the order a bit (groomsmen coming in before bridesmaids) it was decided that Music Man would walk in with Dad (since he had the gummy bears).  With her behavior, it was also decided that she would walk in with Dad and they would both be seated together in the front row.  I didn't see their entry toward the Chuppa, but I was told that Ballerina wasn't dropping her flower pedals, until reaching the end of the aisle.  Then a few pedals fell from her basket and she insisted on going back to retrieve them.  Then she wanted to walk up to the Chuppa (which was not her place).  There was a slight issue to get her to realize she needed to stay with her grandparents, but that was resolved quickly and she was fine for the rest of the ceremony.  Between regular infusions of gummy bears and a selection of their favorite books, we were all able to enjoy a beautiful ceremony.

The reception was nothing short of fun!!!!!  There was dancing to be had!  And there were places to explore.  Music Man had some difficulties at the start of the reception because it seemed to be a bit too much too quickly.  But once he realized he could go onto the dance floor and do his own thing, he too had a GREAT time.  But Big Brother and Ballerina were on the dance floor until they truly were exhausted.

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App  Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App  Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
(after the bride and groom were lifted into the air, Ballerina insisted on having a turn too)

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App  Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App  Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App  Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App

On Monday morning, we said goodbye to the whole family, took another trip back to the playplace at McDonalds, and got on the road.  We left Novi, Michigan at about 11:15 in the morning and arrived at our front door with 3 sleeping children just before 10:00 in the evening.  We were all exhausted, but we had an AMAZING trip!!!!!!!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Insanity Has Taken Over!!


Yes, things are totally insane right now!!!  We are less than 2 days of a HUGE road trip, and the incessant planning and checking and re-checking and shopping and packing and unpacking to be sure we have everything and re-packing and checklisting......they are all in full force!!!!!

It's currently Monday afternoon.  Bright and early Wednesday morning, we plan to be on the road.  We are taking a road trip.  We're going to Indiana first to visit with Dad's family.  I don't think many of them have ever met Ballerina and Music Man and just a few more have met Big Brother.  Since my Mother and Father-in-Laws grew up in the same small town in Indiana, many in their families have stayed reasonably close.  And we're hoping we can find a way to see as many as possible without fully overwhelming our kids.

Then, on Friday, we're heading to a suburb of Detroit, Michigan for my brother's wedding.  All 5 of us are in the wedding and the saga in getting Ballerina's dress is a story for another time (when there's time).  But it's straightened out now and she is perfectly happy with her dress and can't wait until Sunday when she gets to wear it for the big day.

But Dad and are are compulsive planners.  And every time we are serious about planning, things tend to go smoothly.  We make regular car trips to New York or Connecticut.  Sometimes we go to Pennsylvania for a long day or a short weekend.  But in general, we know we can pick up things that we forget along the way.  We are determined to not need that crutch this time around.  We are going to pack correctly and make sure that everyone has everything they need for the whole trip.

So, we have the checklist for packing.  And we have the checklist for loading the car.  And we have the grocery list to be sure we picked everything up we needed from the store.  And we made sure that the dog would be well cared for (including a vet visit today to make sure her immunizations were up to date).

Tomorrow Dad will be home and we will make sure everything is set (with the exception of the actual packing) so that, when the kids go to bed, we can just pull everything together and have them waiting by the door.  I can bring Domino to the "Doggy Hotel" as early as they open and Dad will be able to make several trips out to the car, loading everything in it's proper place so we can pull out what we need when we need it.  We can also set up the numerous movies, books, stuffed animals, homework assignments, etc. so we can do things as we're driving.  The snacks for the road have to be where we can easily get to them.  And, hopefully by 10pm, we'll reach our destination in Indiana.

But before that happens, I'm off to pick the kids up from school.  I have some PTA responsibilities that have to be met, Ballerina has her dance class tomorrow afternoon, Big Brother has scouts tomorrow night and I'm supposed to be at a PTA Meeting (which will probably NOT happen).  All clothes worn since Saturday will need to be washed so they can be packed, but we need to remember to leave something home so they can dress the following day.  Despite going to the grocery store today, there is likely going to be another trip tomorrow, Dad has to pick up his tuxedo (because, like I already mentioned, he's in the wedding), and we have to get iPods and iPhones properly loaded.  I also have to finish up my popcorn duties for the week for the local cub scout chapter.

Can you tell I'm going just a bit nuts right now?  INSANITY!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

School is "Normal"

Our family's life is NOT "normal".  It's eccentric.  It's planned.  It's busy.  And it's all about "routine".

On August 27, our new routine began.  School started.  And "school" now means something different than it has for the last 2.5 years.  It means going down the street to our neighborhood school.  It means that all 3 siblings are in the same building.  It means that we are just like everyone else.

But are we?

In the 3.5 weeks of school, Big Brother has been caught lying and punished appropriately (which is still ongoing).  Ballerina left the sheltered world of special education and is expected to comply in a classroom with 16 other students while Music Man is next door to her in the special education classroom with a slide and a swing clearly visible in the room, something that she doesn't get.  Music Man has those comforts available to him, but he has a teacher literally in his face from the beginning of the day until the end until he shows himself capable of independent work.

All three of my children are being more challenged in school then they have ever been.

For Big Brother, the challenges are more academic.  He's very bright and has very high expectations of himself.  But he does have his academic shortcomings which are truly coming to light as they are being addressed.  I think he's finding this very frustrating because he doesn't like it when something just doesn't come naturally to him.  But as he learns these new materials, his confidence will blossom.

Music Man has also seen less of a change.  He is used to being in a classroom setting.  He's used to learning much during circle time and transitioning to a group table to do assignments, as that's what he's been doing since he turned 3.  And from what I can see, he is handling the transition to the new school year the best of my 3 kids.

Ballerina has the hardest change of all.  She started kindergarten -- a huge milestone for all kids.  And she left the protection of special education (even though she still has the support of an IEP) and she now has to meet the expectations of her teacher.  And her teacher will not back down (for which we are VERY grateful).  But she has had a great deal of difficulty adjusting to her new school.  She is regularly placed in Time Out (currently averaging 2-3 times per day).  She wants to do things her way and she really doesn't understand why she can't do things the way she wants.

Today though, was her best day.  She only had one problem.  She didn't want to come in from recess and she, once again, found herself in Time Out when she arrived back in the classroom.  But, unlike most days, when the Time Out was over, she did what was asked of her and really didn't require any additional disciplining the rest of the day.

We will be evaluating Ballerina's transition in a review meeting next month.  At that time, hopefully she will have finally found her comfort zone and will be more compliant with her teacher allowing her to be more comfortable with her peers.  I'm really not pushing her academically right now......she is ahead of many of her peers in reading and the math will come quickly once she understands what her teacher is asking of her.  Right now, her behavior is my biggest concern.

So, about 1 month into the school year I can say that things are going about as well as planned.  Dad seems to feel that things are going better than expected, but I'm not sure I agree.  In some respects, he's right.  But I wish we were further along than we are.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Honesty and Integrity

Today's post has nothing to do with Autism or the twins.

Today's post is about Big Brother.

Today's post is about trust.

You see, yesterday I learned something about my first born child.  I learned that he has been lying to me.  I learned that he's been lying to me for quite some time.  He wasn't telling big lies.  It was a little lie.  Over and over again.  And now that I know, Dad and I quickly needed to decide what should be done about it.

As is often the case, I learned of these lies by accident.  I had asked someone a question, and the response that came back to me told me more than I was already aware of.  This person thought I was asking them about something that had just happened, when in fact, I was just thanking them for telling me something else a few days before.

At our elementary school, they have a system for everyone's accountability of their behavior.  Everyone starts the day on "Green" and for transgressions their color changes.  There is Yellow, Blue and Red.  Yellow is simply a warning, blue is more severe, and Red, well, you don't want to go there.  The rules are clearly defined out at start of the year and expectations grow as the year progresses.  Each student receives awards over time for good behavior that are not available to students who behave poorly.

I have, from kindergarten, asked Big Brother to tell me where he was on this color scale at the end of the day.  There were a couple of days in kindergarten where he had to change his color, usually only one step for very mild transgressions.  These were usually met with a requirement of him fully explaining (separately) to myself and to Dad about what he did and why he had to make the change to his color for the day.  Depending on what had happened, sometimes there was a more severe punishment, but this seemed to be sufficient for his actions.  He was punished at school by having to stand in front of the class and make the color change.  He always seemed to find this humiliating and served as it's own form of punishment, just as it is designed to do.

Well, in first grade, he never had to change his color.  He went through the whole year on Green.  He never reported any transgressions and he was rewarded for such good behavior at the end of the year with a Wii game -- Lego Harry Potter.  At least that's what we told him.  Truthfully, we were planning on giving it to him at the end of the school year anyway, but he earned this because he had spent the whole year on Green.

Since starting second grade, we were noticing him telling us he was changing his color quite frequently.  In the first 10 days of school, we were told of him changing his color 3 times.  So, we offered him an incentive......if he were to maintain a Green card for the week, he would get an extra 15 minutes of Dad reading Harry Potter to him before bed.  We all agreed and thought it would be a good idea.

On Wednesday, I asked Big Brother if he had stayed on Green for the day, and he told me he had.  I gave him a high-5 and we headed to the car and I didn't think twice about it.  I just left it alone.  Yesterday, I heard from someone who was telling me about how he had changed his color for the previous 2 days (Wednesday and Thursday) and why it had happened on both occasions.  This message also told me about several occasions of him changing his color in first grade that he neglected to tell me about.  Big Brother wasn't home, and I was grateful.  I was grateful because I wanted to STRANGLE him!  I notified Dad (who was at soccer practice with Big Brother) and on the way home, Dad pointed out to Big Brother that both Dad and I now KNEW he had been lying to us for quite some time.

Big Brother was mortified.  He has been very upset since this happened and has wanted to know how we found out (which we aren't planning on telling him).  He was so upset last night that he didn't want to come and talk to me to say goodnight, afraid of what I would say or do to him.  We have made it very clear that he is still loved.  We have also made it very clear that we do not tolerate lying.  We have pointed out that, if he had told us what had happened rather than lying about it, chances are he wouldn't have even been punished, or if he was, it wouldn't be anything severe.  But now he is being punished.  He's being punished for having to change the color of his card so frequently AND for telling us lies.

Here is what Dad and I have decided to do....

(1)  No Wii / Playstation / Computer for 8 days (next weekend).
(2)  We have been giving him Friday off for good behavior from his reading.  Not any more.
(3)  We are taking away Wii Lego Harry Potter for a month.  He was told he received it for his good behavior last year.  Since he wasn't so well-behaved, he shouldn't have it at all.

That is his tangible punishment.  However, there is the intangible side of it all.  He now needs to re-earn our trust.  It is my philosophy that we should trust our children, even knowing the possibility that they may not be always telling us the full truth.  Until they break that trust, we as parents should give them the benefit of the doubt.  Once that trust is broken, it is up to each family to decide what it takes and how long it will take for that trust to be re-earned.  It must take longer than the more tangible punishments.  But you have to allow your son and/or daughter to re-earn your trust.  And that's what Big Brother is about to do.  He is going to have to work VERY hard to make sure that he remembers what happens to people who don't tell the truth.

He's a good kid, and I truly believe he's sorry.  Now we need to be sure that this never happens again.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tough Mommy Moment

I know it's been a while since I posted here.....we had several computer issues that made it VERY difficult to write a post here (or anywhere).  But the computer's fixed and I have 15 minutes to sit down, so I want to pass along a story....

School has been in session for about 12 days so far.  We have been seeing ups and downs for all 3 kids.  But today I want to tell you about something that's been going on with Ballerina......

When kindergarteners (through second grade) at our school walk into school in the morning, they congregate in the "All Purpose Room".  They line up with their classes, socialize a bit and wait to be escorted to class. The kindergarteners started joining the first and second graders on the 2nd day of school.  On that day, Ballerina was escorted to the end of the line.  This way, she was able to hold the hand of a teacher to ensure there would be no elopement (we haven't had an issue with this for quite a while, but with a new school and new situations, you can never tell).  She was successfully escorted to class and a new routine was established.

When I say a new routine, I mean a new ROUTINE.  For Ballerina, we have a saying in our house...."Once makes a pattern".  Every detail of that procedure was cemented in her mind.  Ever since, she's been walking into the All-Purpose Room and walking to the back of the line, leaving plenty of space for her classmates to come in before her.  And, as more students arrive, she's been sliding back, making sure she's the last one on line.  I've been walking in with her and encouraging her to move forward and simply get in line when she arrives with her classmates arriving later to file in behind her.  But she really wanted to stay at the end of the line.  Since she wasn't causing trouble with this, everyone allowed her to get away with this.

Well, now it's the 3rd week of school and jobs are being assigned to each student in the class.  This includes the job of the "caboose".  The "caboose" is simply the last person on line, and everyone takes a turn there.  And, I have learned that her need to be last in line is not only at this first transition of the day, but every time the class lines up to transition from one place to another.  Because of that, we need to put a stop to the behavior.

Yesterday morning, I decided to start trying to put an end to this.  I got on the line myself, sitting "criss cross applesauce" (which is very uncomfortable to this nearly 41-year-old overweight Mom) and encouraged her to sit in my lap (with the approval of the para who was patrolling in the room).  She did this, and I thought we had made some real progress.  About 2 minutes later, another classmate arrived and sat behind me.  Ballerina kicked and screamed (which I [stupidly] was unprepared for) and she got up again and moved to the back of the line.  So, since she had experienced the success, I had to stop for the moment.  I went over to her and told her that she can NOT always be the last person on line.....that the middle of the line is fun.  I pointed out some of her classmates that she either talks about at home or who I have come to know from other means and how they were sitting and talking nicely together.  "This is what big kindergarten boys and girls do!" I explained and asked her if she was a girl or a boy (a favorite game of hers).  And I told her that I would see her later and left.

When I picked her up from school yesterday, her teacher and I had a short conversation about putting an end to this pattern.  I suggested trying to get there early enough so that she would be first on line so she still wouldn't be sandwiched between other children (which may have been part of the problem as she really isn't capable of articulating that kind of situation to me).  But I can't get into the school until 8:30.  There is a day care center on school property and those children are already in the school by that time.  There are 2 students in her class that attend that center, and they are always first on line.  So, despite knowing this and trying it this morning, we were still going to be the 3rd student on line, at least.

So, I did what I could do as a parent that I can't have the teachers or the paras do.  I forced the issue.  I sat down and had Ballerina sit on my lap.  I was restraining her (but not doing anything to cause harm).  I asked the next student to please sit behind Ballerina and continue the line behind us.  But Ballerina was going to do what was expected of her.....she was going to take her place in the middle of the line.  I was hoping that, once she realized I meant business, that she would back down.  But she didn't.  I was able to stop her (I think and hope) from kicking the other students around us (at the expense of myself) and she screamed most of the 15 minutes until it was time for her to be escorted to class.  Her teacher came over and I apologized, but told her that once I started, I couldn't stop.  Fortunately, she agreed and made sure that Ballerina went all the way to class in the middle of the line (despite her desperate attempts to migrate to the back).

This process attracted MANY stares, by both the other students and the paras.  By the time the teachers arrived, things seemed to have settled down a bit.  I felt terribly guilty because, like I said, I was doing something that would be illegal for the school staff to do.  I briefly talked to one of the paras trying to explain the situation.  She told me not to worry.....she too has an Autistic child and seeing what I was going through brought back painful memories.  She knows that sometimes it's necessary to force a situation and that I wasn't doing anything that would hurt my child.  I was VERY grateful to hear that because I was worried that, before the end of the day, Child Protective Services would be sitting at my front door to take my children away.

Also, Music Man's teacher came over to me (as I was a burned out bundle of nerves after Ballerina had left the room) and told me that it was OK and that she was walking to class, not quietly, but not fighting either.  I have sent a note to Ballerina's teacher to find out how this affected her day and have not yet heard back.  Hopefully, I didn't set a terrible tone for the rest of the day.

Sometimes things are more difficult than they need to be.  I know what I did was right because if I didn't do it, the situation would never change.  And I know Ballerina.  I know that sometimes you really have to force a situation to happen.  But I hate it when it happens.  And I hate it even more when I have to do it in public.  And it's even worse when I have to do this in front of her peers who may remember watching this for years to come.

When I picked up Ballerina from school, Mrs. R. (her classroom teacher) came up to me to tell me something......after recess, the class lines up to come inside to return to class.  Ballerina, as expected, went immediately to the back of the line.  She saw Mrs. R. and took her place in the middle of the line!!!!  She still tried to migrate to the back as they were walking to class, but she was walking in the middle of the line without much verbal complaint.  I still plan to keep pushing this tomorrow and Friday, but the message may be sinking in faster than I had anticipated.

Monday, August 27, 2012

First Day Of School

It's August 27.  And, if you've been reading my posts lately, you know what that's the start of another school year.  And it's the start of a BIG year.....Big Brother is now in 2nd Grade and Ballerina and Music Man are now in KINDERGARTEN!!!!!  Music Man has the shelter of a special education classroom and Ballerina has been thrown to the wolves, starting her career as a student in a general education classroom.

I've been both excited and terrified (this is beyond nervous) about what's coming.  Ballerina has not been excited about starting school this weekend, but showing signs of nervousness.  I'm not certain if that's me projecting my own fears onto her or if she really wasn't happy about Mrs. R winning the battle of wills this past Friday during the Open House.  And everyone has been making such a big deal about kindergarten, I can understand her feeling apprehensive.  To make matters more complicated, I took her to school this morning rather than her arriving by bus.  And it's not the same school she's been attending the last 2.5 years.  She is now attending the same school as Music Man, for the first time.  Yet they're separated by the wall between the two classrooms.  And Big Brother is all the way down the hall, as far away as he could possibly be.

But, when they woke up this morning, we just jumped right in.  We had a normal breakfast.  Ballerina had her morning pudding (Focalin XR) and actually finished her cereal (slightly unusual).  Then she played on her phone and in front of the mirror.  She enjoyed looking at the princess in the mirror.  Music Man too was having a normal morning.  But I could feel the tension the closer we came to walking out the door.

For Music Man, it came out when I started putting on the socks and shoes.  He didn't want to wear sneakers or socks.  He knew that this meant it was time to go to school.  And the crying started.  He was all right once we got outside and into the car, but when we pulled into the school parking lot, things went from bad to worse.  He really didn't want to be THERE.  School was one thing, but Big Brother's school was another.  But as we were walking to the door, he saw the paraeducator for the kindergarten class, and he immediately started to feel more comfortable.  I could feel him stop pulling me away from the school and considering going with the para.  And, a minute or two later, she held out her hand, and he took it and went happily to his new experience.

For Ballerina, things didn't go so smoothly.  She became upset when Music Man got upset (not much of a surprise).  That was when she realized something BIG was happening.  We walked into the kindergarten playground where the other kindergarteners were waiting and she began to cling.  She kept insisting, "I CAN'T!" and was just VERY upset about everything.  After a couple of moments, Mrs. R came over to Ballerina and me.  She said that I could stay for a few minutes, or I could leave.  But if I was to leave, I had to go and not look back.  I thought about it for a moment, and realized that I needed to do JUST that.  So, I got Ballerina back on her feet, gave her a hug, and told her to have a good day.  I gave her a hug and a kiss, and then left the playground to check on Big Brother, listening to her crying and screaming the whole time.  I just hope she didn't see that I was crying too.

Later, I asked some of the parents who were dropping off their kindergarteners to check up on her, and they informed me that she was no longer upset and that the teachers had her under control.

It is now 2:45 and I am getting ready to pick them up from their first day of school.  I only hope that they ALL had a good day!!!!!

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Big Brother preparing to leave for school.

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Getting ready to get in the car to head to school for the first day.

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Getting ready to enter the classrooms and begin a new year of learning.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Test

The last two days have been a bit of a test.....Back To School Night last evening and Open House today.  This was my chance to see who these teachers are and what they will be able to do to help Ballerina and Music Man.

First of all, let me say that I got my wish in Ballerina's teacher.  It was the specific person I was hoping for.....while being kind, she is extremely strict and the children in her class learn very quickly that this is NOT a woman to cross.  This is EXACTLY what Ballerina needs.....she needs to understand that lines in the sand have been drawn and she needs to behave in an acceptable manner.  I think this teacher will give her that structure.

Overall, I spent most of the night in Music Man's classroom listening to his teacher.  I am familiar with the kindergarten curriculum (which is relatively new) as Big Brother also experienced this same curriculum (he was the first class, so his teachers have been learning along with him).  Even though the Learning Center follows the same curriculum, things are presented in a slightly different fashion, so that was the presentation I attended.  I really do like much of what this teacher does.....she too is kind but firm and her reputation is untouchable.  I know of several children who have been through her class since we began learning about educating Autistic children and, as a parent, you couldn't wish for better.  The only surprise was that there would be 3 first graders in the class as well (how this would be handled was explained to me [and the other parents]) and I know we are not alone in this.....the other program we considered had combined classes throughout elementary school.

Then, after the Learning Center teacher was done, I went to talk to Ballerina's teacher.  She had finished talking to the parents, but we talked briefly about my concerns and fears and made my recommendations about how to handle certain potential situations.  I had written a letter to her, but chose to not bring it in (it really just didn't feel right to do that when the time came) and when I left, I felt much better about the situation.  I knew her slightly from personal experience, but mostly by reputation.  This conversation proved to me that her reputation is well-earned and, like Music Man's teacher, she is quite firm with these children while still providing a fun and loving atmosphere.

For the Open House, Big Brother was in his element.....he went in, met his teacher, bragged about his trip to Grandma and Grandpa's house (how he went to a planetarium and the Intrepid, attended a carnival, swam in a lake, etc).  He spent much of the time with Ballerina and I, giving her a tour of the school.  She learned where not only her classroom was, but where the cafeteria, art room, gym, music room, library, and computer lab were located.

But she did start testing her teacher.  She didn't WANT to look at Mrs. R.  She didn't WANT to do the "assignment" (scavenger hunt around the classroom and school).  She didn't WANT to put the stickers for success on the paper, but put them on her fingertips.  But Mrs. R insisted.  And Ballerina complied....not exactly willingly, but by the end, quite enthusiastically.

Overall, it was a good couple of days.  My anxiety level has dropped slightly and hopefully things will feel even better once I drop them off at school on Monday.  In the meantime, it's time to enjoy the weekend!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

6 Days.... 6 days school will begin again.

This isn't the countdown of a Mom who can't wait....well, it's not EXACTLY's partially that......but it's the countdown of a Mom who is terrified about what's coming.

Yes, I know that it's difficult for any parent to send their children off for the first day of kindergarten.  But with Big Brother, it really wasn't difficult at all.  It was, in fact, easy.  He was ready for it and so was I.  And I knew it (on both counts).  But this time, I don't know if it's because of their Autism diagnosis or if it's because they are my "babies", but I'm NOT ready for them to go off to kindergarten...exactly.....

We are in that home stretch right now.  We are finishing up the homework assignments and I'm getting ready to attend Back to School Night on Thursday evening to familiarize myself with what's coming.  And I'm going to bring them to school on Friday afternoon so they can all meet their teachers and really get a feel for the classrooms and the school as a whole.  I am working with teaching Ballerina what will be expected for her, and we are working on a specific issue that she has picked up (she's decided that tackling is fun) so that she won't demonstrate this new game to her classmates.

And we are doing something else today......Music Man has a play-date with a future classmate (who we know from Ballerina's preschool experiences).  This other child's mother and I are both hoping that, if they have a familiar face in the classroom, it will help make the transition just a bit easier.

We are doing everything we can to be sure they're ready for what's coming.  I have fewer concerns about Music Man as he will be in a more protected environment which makes me feel more comfortable.  But this is shaping up to be a VERY interesting week!

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Realization Has Occurred

Yesterday, I discovered something......since the start of the summer, I have found some independence from my children.  Yes, I am the one who has become more independent.  They were already there.

A friend of mine runs a blog called the Oxygen Mask Project.  She recently wrote a post about coming home from some time away and, upon returning home, realizing how she had totally given herself to her children.  She talked about how she had the time to do the things she WANTED while she was away rather than the things she needed to do for her children, and all of the sacrifices that entails.  She willingly makes those sacrifices, as do all parents, because we love our children more than anything.  But she described quite a wakeup call when she returned home.  After reading it, I walked away thinking about how I always do the same thing.

Then, yesterday morning, I realized something else (and immediately sat down to write a post for Oxygen Mask Project myself).  No, I don't.  I DID!  That is until this summer.  This summer, I am taking that time to do what I need to do.  I am taking that time in the mornings.  After these kids are up, fed, and breakfasted, THEY go downstairs to play.  I stay in the kitchen / family room.  I make my own breakfast and sit to eat it.  I use my Keurig and make whatever coffee I feel like for that morning, and drink it while it's still hot.  I take a few minutes and go online.  I listen for my children and make sure that there are no problems and I can easily get to them should the need arise, but the time is MINE.

Maybe that's why, sitting here with school starting in 10 days, that I can claim I'm just as sane as I was the day school let out (all right, you can question how sane I was then, but at least it hasn't gotten any worse).  And it's made me a happier person at this point of the summer than I have been for a long time!

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Monday, August 6, 2012

It's Getting Closer

Last week, ESY ended for both Ballerina and Music Man -- because of the storms, Music Man continued through last Wednesday.  Overall, it was a good transition for us.  In the morning, I would tell them that it was time for "school camp" and they would get ready.  And now that it's done, it's "No More School Camp", and they're fine.

Who would've thought?

Overall, it seemed to have been a good experience for both of them this summer.  Music Man had a chance to say good bye to his teachers and friends.  He's still young enough that I don't think he sees this as a real goodbye, but who knows.  He got to do it in a more relaxed atmosphere then during the school year and I think he was happy both to see it start and to see it end.

Ballerina had a different experience this summer.  Her ESY program was designed to give these kids a chance to learn what would be expected from them when they start kindergarten later this month.  It was taught by a general-education kindergarten teacher (coincidentally, the one who had been working with Ballerina since February) and she treated them just like she would treat an incoming kindergarten class, with those same expectations.  In our phone conference, the teacher explained that these kids are all preparing to enter a general education setting or an Early Learning Center setting (similar to the class Music Man will be starting) so these expectations will be set for them during the year as well.  Ballerina responded well and didn't have too many behavior outbursts.  The teacher also explained to me that she really does seem to take her cues from the other kids in the class.....if they are having a bad day, chances are, she is having one too.  While this piece of information doesn't really surprise me, it is something that I hadn't thought of, and I will have to remember to pass this information along to her kindergarten teacher once I learn who she is.

Right now, that's probably the biggest outstanding question for starting kindergarten -- who will Ballerina's teacher be?  I sent a note to the principal asking if this information was now available (her CAPP teacher from last year has offered to give her a social story and this information would be EXTREMELY helpful), but he informed me that the classes won't be finalized until August 13.  So, we're going to have to wait another week to get this last piece of information.  Then we will be all set for the final preparation of entry into kindergarten!

But, in the meantime, there are other skills kids have when they enter kindergarten.  They know how to play, and to play appropriately.  This is something that we have always had issues with for Ballerina and Music Man.  But over the weekend, this happened......

So, now it appears they have found this skill.  After all, they have a ready-made playmate right beside we just have to encourage them to continue this new behavior!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Ballerina

On Sunday, the dance studio where Ballerina takes dance lessons was holding an Open House.  They are preparing to start their second year and are, I think, still trying to find students to fill out the classes.  The Open House was from 12-6 and when Ballerina dressed for the day, she wore her leotard with the skirt.

When she saw me bring that in for her to wear, the grin spread across her face from ear to ear.  She KNEW she was going to go to the dance studio that day.....even though we had told her, this confirmed it.  She couldn't wait to go.  Every 5 minutes, she was asking if she was going to "Dance".  It even distracted her during her gymnastics class that morning.

But at 2:00, I brought her to the studio.  I said "Hello" to the owner who was working in her office, Ballerina put her shoes in the cubby and came to me to put on her ballet shoes (which were too small, at least when she wasn't wearing tights) and then run into the studio where her classes were held last year.

By the time I got in there, she was already standing in front of the mirrors dancing.  She was performing her show routine from last year (which she refused to get on stage to perform at the recital). She was making faces in the mirror and having so much fun.  Then I pulled out my secret weapon -- her iPod.  On this is the video "Wiggle Dancing In The USA" and it contains the song, "Music Box Dancer".  She has watched this particular song often and has learned the dance by heart.  And on the moments where the video turns away from Dorothy the Dinosaur (who is the dancer here) to pan to the band, Ballerina has made up her own choreography.

When she stepped into that dance studio, you could see the look on her face that screamed (with a HUGE smile), "I'M HOME!".  I suspect we'll be enrolling her in dance classes for a VERY long time!!!!

But I nicknamed her very well.....she most definitely is my Little Ballerina!!!!!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Making a Bad Situation Worse

Last week, we turned on the news to learn of a tragedy in Aurora, Colorado.  A young man walked into a movie theater and started shooting.  All together, this person's actions led to the murder of 12 people and wounding 58 others.  My heart goes out to everyone touched (directly and indirectly) by this senseless act of violence and I hope they are able to quickly find peace.

This tragedy was compounded by Joe Scarborough, the host of the MSNBC morning show, Morning Joe.  On his program on Monday morning, he made the following statement..... "As soon as I heard about this shooting, I knew who it was.  I knew it was a young, white male, probably from an affluent neighborhood, disconnected from society -- it happens time and time again.  Most of it has to do with mental health; you have these people that are just somewhere, I believe, on the autism scale....I don't know if that's the case here, but it happens more often than not.  People that can walk around in society, they can function on college campuses -- they can even excel on college campuses -- but are socially disconnected."

There is nothing to support Mr. Scarborough's allegations.  Autism, in any of it's forms, has never been linked to violence, especially not on this scale.  Autistic individuals are NOT sociopaths.  Autistic individuals have difficulties understanding social cues.  And they are more often the victims of violent crimes then are the perpetrators.

An autistic individual made a video following this program yesterday.  He starts of by introducing himself saying, ".....I am an Autistic individual and I am NOT a murderer."  Kerry goes on to explain the many faults of the broadcasted statements and the harm that they have on the efforts to educating the general public about Autism.

I join with many others in asking Joe Scarborough to retract his statement.  A petition has been started on that is trying to reach 5,000 signatures (currently over 4200).  I urge you to join me.