parenting, Uncategorized

New (School) Year, New Letter to the Teacher…

Friday, August 19, 2016

Dear Team,

I’m excited to get to know and work with you all this year.  I want to take this opportunity to fill you in a little bit about Big and our family.  I’m sure most of you already know Big, but there are lots of things an IEP just can’t tell you about him. First, he is a kind, loving, smart, creative and amazing boy who happens to have Autism, Anxiety and ADHD. He IS medicated; however, as we begin the new school year and undergo some changes at home, it may take him some time to find his groove at school. My husband HUBS and I expect for Big to be challenged and to behave at school.  Like my dad has to remind me: “Even good transitions are stressful.”

Often, one of the hardest things to determine is whether a behavior is “autism/anxiety/ADHD” or just a nearly twelve-year-old boy. When Big feels anxious, his behavior can deteriorate rapidly.  He has learned lots of coping mechanisms, some good, some not-so-good. Mrs. XXX and Big have worked for five years on social skills and knowing how to react in a given situation. Big knows the ways things should happen, but in the moment has difficulty putting his knowledge to action. Like many on the spectrum, anxiety can show itself as stimming (for Big, it can be a vocal stimm such as squawking or having to repeat the beginning of a phrase multiple times before being able to complete, or needing to repeat a phrase or question over and over). Other stimms Big exhibits are, finger flicking, pinching his forearms (not hard), and nose picking. That last one is one we’ve been working on forever…and may be the one I’m most easily frustrated by. Another way to tell when Big’s anxiety is peaking is when he becomes less flexible in his thinking. Many of you saw an example of this at meet the teacher when because we had sorted the supplies by class, Big couldn’t handle not delivering the materials as he planned. When he has “met his limit” (especially on group projects), he can become especially rigid. Big has come a long way in becoming his own advocate; he will often ask for time away from the class to get it together, or to draw or another soothing activity. He’s gotten really good at avoiding meltdowns and heading them off on his own. He does sometimes need the verbal cues “breathe” and “rational thoughts.” We do not force eye contact with Big. Usually, we ask for initial eye contact and then he’s free to look wherever he needs to.  Occasionally, we give the verbal cue “eyes” to remind him. I have to remind myself that he can either look at me or listen to me but rarely both.

As well as Autism, Anxiety and ADHD, Big has auditory processing disorder. This will lead to situations where he asks you a question after you’ve already given instructions. It’s hard, sometimes, to determine if this is an aspect of ADHD (not listening) or the APD. At home, I usually ask him to repeat back to me what I’ve already stated. Most of the time, he can, and then the information clicks. If he cannot either legitimately recall, or just needs to hear again, I will repeat.

Big’s two biggest challenges academically, in my opinion, are organization and handwriting. I know that most sixth graders can remember to turn in their papers, etc. I can promise that IF by the time Big gets home from school he remembers an assignment and it’s in his folder, we will make sure it is complete. If there is a missing assignment 9 out of 10 times, it is in his folder.  IF there is ever a time that he is missing assignments, I ask that before you send him to the homework table, you ask him directly (IE not the whole class…he might not remember because of the APD) and consider helping him look in his backpack or shoot me a text.  Something small such as homework table can ruin his whole week.

I am going to work exceptionally hard at giving Big the room to grow even more this year. In order to do this, I have to know that we are all a team. I don’t have to be told about every minor hiccup in his day, but if major things (such as a meltdown) happen, I ask that you let me know.  I’m a BIG believer in communication. If you ever have questions or concerns, I have my cell phone on me at all times. My number is xxx-xxx-xxxx and my email is austisminourhouse@gmail.com Hubs is also often available.  He may not answer immediately but his number is xxx-xxx-xxxx and his email is blahblahblah@gmail.com  You should know, that should we (parent/teacher) ever have a situation where we may not see eye to eye, Big will NOT know this. We strive to let him know that this is a working relationship we value.

WhenBig has a meltdown, it is important to know several things:

  • Don’t touch him unless it is for his own safety. (In general, Big does not like light touches. If you ever want to hug or touch him, firm is best.)
  • Don’t try to talk him out of a meltdown.
    • Instead, remind him to breathe.
    • Remind him that when he is calm he is smart.
  • PLEASE don’t let him meltdown in front of the whole class.
    • Offer a walk to get a drink.
    • Offer a soothing activity such as a piece of clay, drawing or just sitting for few minutes.

I promise, Big and you will learn so much from each other this year.  I am so excited to see how far he will come. The second page below contains his schedule and then a list of each of the people on our team this year along with their ISD email address.

Thanks,

Kristi

CLASS SCHEDULE

CLASS                         ROOM TEACHER                   TEACHER E-MAIL

  1. CLASS                     123       TEACHER                     TEACHEREMAIL@SCHOOL
  2. CLASS                     123        TEACHER                    TEACHEREMAIL@SCHOOL
  3. CLASS                     123       TEACHER                     TEACHEREMAIL@SCHOOL
  4.        …
  5. …             

OTHER IMPORTANT TEAM MEMBERS:                    EMAIL

On Campus                                                      

PRINCIPAL X                                                                  EMAILADDRESS@SCHOOLEMAILNAME

Off Campus              

NAME XXX                  LSSP                                        EMAILADDRESS@SCHOOLEMAIL.COM

(NOTE: I included every member of our team: every teacher, the principal, speech, OT, School Psych, etc.)

A  Big Fat PS to you, my lovely blog readers, I’m anxious about this transition. Like SUPER, DUPER anxious. But, you know what? It helps knowing you’re not alone. It helps knowing that you have friends:  real-life, on-line, imaginary and otherwise holding your hand or your hair as you feel the wave of nausea.  Love you all oodles. 

 

 

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How do you teach your children…

Do you ask your children if they are living their life in a way that reflects who they want to be? Do you wait to ask when an incident involving them arises, or do you make it a routine? Do you ask when they bring up things that happen to other kids? Adolescence is hard on all kids. I remember. You couldn’t pay me to go back to sixth grade. No way. No how. But how do you talk to your children?

Do you talk to them about the importance of treating those more venerable with respect and care? Or do you rely on the fact that you are raising them right. That they “know better” ? Because, I guarantee you, even if they are raised right and know better, there will be a time. One moment, maybe on the playground or the locker room or the cafeteria. One moment, where they will have a choice.  Do I? Or don’t I?

Even “good kids” choose I do. They choose in that moment to target a kid because he or she won’t get it. That’s when it stops being “kids being kids.” And friends being silly stupid. This is bullying. Even good kids can be bullies. Is yours?

Anytime something comes up where my kids talk about things that happen on the playground or things they’ve heard. We take a moment to talk about who they want to be. Do they want to be the type of person who stands up and speaks out even if though it’s not going to make them popular? I hope that I’m raising my boys right. I hope that they are “good kids.”

But, what if they too choose in that moment to decide to do the wrong thing? What then? How will I handle it? My husband and I actually have a plan, believe it or not. This is something we talk about. Maybe we talk about it in anticipation, not of my kid being on the giving end, but the receiving. Maybe our plan is kind of like a little prayer. Maybe its a little whisper to the universe saying, please let other mamas and daddies know. Please let them know that my kid is not less than. Please let them know this so that if when my child is bullied they talk to their children about who they want to be. Please let them teach their children well. IMG_0056

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Embarrassment is Growth?

Yesterday was a rough day. Big failed to turn in a homework assignment and had to sit at the “homework” table during lunch. The way this table works is the kids that file through the cafeteria at lunch see their names on the table and know they have to sit there and finish whatever missing assignments they have instead of sitting with friends and having recess. I don’t want to discuss the pros and cons of homework and the table at all; I don’t want to discuss taking away a kids’ recess or punishing for things that may or may not be out of his control. I don’t want to discuss his IEP and what should be added to prevent future incidences. Maybe I do, but not today.

Big doesn’t go into the cafeteria daily; he heads out to the patio to eat with a group of friends. Yes, you read that right. Friends! He didn’t see his name on the homework table list, so someone had to come out and get him. You can imagine how well that went. I don’t have to; I have spies everywhere. He had a major meltdown. Major. He has been on a really good streak this semester and has shown huge growth in his ability to deal and cope in a more age appropriate manner. Notice, here, I say more age appropriate. He’s still a kid on the spectrum, after all. He was a.) in the cafeteria 2.) missing his recess 3.) didn’t understand what assignment was missing f.) thought he was going to miss a weeks worth of recess, and finally he was “totally humiliated, mom.”

Let that sink in. My autistic child felt humiliation. Initially, I was frustrated, frazzled and fangry. Who in the world wants their kid to feel humiliated? No one, right? But, just now, I was on the phone with my mother-in-law debriefing her on the week since she last saw the boys (Sunday); I was telling her about Big’s day yesterday and I had what Oprah likes to call an a-ha! moment!  This is huge! This is growth! This is what we work so hard for. Stick with me; I see your confused looks. No, I don’t want my kid to feel embarrassed and humiliated. But he did. He felt it. Do you see what this means? The years of talking about how we make other people feel, the years of reminding him to think about the people around him in the moment and their experience in the world, and countless conversations about how we look to others…that talking, the work it’s working. As little as a year ago, he would have had a meltdown about missing recess and all the other reasons he listed, but he wouldn’t have felt embarrassed in the least. He wouldn’t have cared what other people thought of him. Yesterday, he cared. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want my fabulous boy walking through this life thinking solely about what people think of him. I want him to take that with a grain of salt, which I totally think he’ll get to the middle ground one day.

Yesterday, he felt.  Truly, felt.  Today, I see growth.

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Meltdown Hangover

I am 99% of the time firmly in the autism is beautiful, never easy, but beautiful camp. I never presume to tell you how the autism in your house should make you feel. Ever. That’s not my job. I know Big’s autism isn’t about me, but it kind of is. I’m his mama. He walks around everyday with a large piece of my heart. So, when his heart breaks, mine rips open. Today I feel like autism is brutiful, to steal a phrase from the great Glennon.

If you follow our Facebook page, you probably know about yesterday’s meltdown. If not, you can read about that here. It was a doozy. The important thing on his end is that he made it, he moved on. He ended his day and night on a positive, joyful even, note. He woke this morning bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to take on the day. 

Here’s the part where it’s about me. I have a meltdown hangover. My head and stomach hurt. I’m tired and feel like one of those nights from long ago when I took tequila shots. My chest has a tightness and anytime my phone buzzes, I panic just a little. I start looking toward the future distant and the one that is creeping up at a pace I can’t stand. I’m scared of puberty and what it will bring for my kind and gentle boy. Teenagers aren’t exactly known for taking care of the ones with fragile hearts and spirits. I’m scared of impulsivity and boys and adding autism to the mix of an already combustible cocktail? I don’t know if I’ve got it in me. 

Yesterday Big said, “It is all too much mama. I can’t do this anymore.” At that moment, my heart shattered into a million tiny pieces. Fighting through tears on the phone, I said, “yes, baby. Yes you can. You can always do this.” His little voice over the phone was so unsure. So scared and tired. I did the best acting of my life in that moment, not sobbing. Sounding upbeat. 

Today, I can’t shake it. I can’t have some hair of the dog and Tex-mex for this hangover. Time. I just need a little time. This weekend we are due for heavy rains and flooding which means couch time and seeing my boy be himself, naturally happy and silly and getting on my last nerve. Maybe by Sunday. Sunday morning over cinnamon rolls and coffee I’ll bet my hangover leaves. 

I made this photo today saying Big might very well be the picture of resilience. Maybe that’s the beauty of his autism today. No matter the challenge, he comes back. I should learn from him.  

 
Pardon any errors here. I’m blogging on my phone while the WeeOne dominates the computer. 

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Autism and Long Division

Wednesday is graded papers folder day for BigBrudder. We look through all his work and go over mistakes to make sure he’s getting the concepts taught at school. 10 out of 10 times he’s rushed and made a simple mistake.

His class has been working on division for quite a while, but now they’ve moved on to “long division.” BigBrudder had missed two questions. On the first problem, I neatly wrote it out on large graph paper to give myself a brief refresher course. Okay. Not so brief. But that’s not BigBrudder’s issue. Math is not BigBrudder’s area of expertise…dinosaurs, science, reading: yes. Math. Eh. I think he’s yet to see the utility in long division. So, I began working with him; quickly realizing this May be daddy’s area to help. I was trying to force my way. BigBrudder’s teacher has taught several strategies for division. One of them being a series of boxes, tick marks and some other something that symbolizes a group of numbers. This is BigBrudder’s preferred strategy. Daddy had him rework he problem using his strategy taking his time. He got the correct answer. He then said, “Bubba, explain to me the way your strategy works.”

BigBrudder got a few sheets of his special graph paper, a fresh pencil and ever so patiently went through all the steps, drawing legends for the boxes, tick marks and various symbols. He worked one problem himself and then said, “Okay daddy, now I’m going to write out two problems for you to work on your own. This is your time to shine.”

The next day I walked the boys in to school, and I asked his teachers if this is a phrase they use in class. Each of his teachers assured me that “no, I don’t say that.” Today, his reading teacher said, “I believe that’s coming from within him.” You know what? I do to. It’s his time to shine, and he shines so bright I need sunglasses.

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