Monday, August 30, 2010

Tis the Season

Dear Teacher,
We haven't met yet, but since I'm a teacher, too, I am imagining we have some things in common. As the school year is about to start, I bet you are gathering materials, organizing supplies, and thinking, thinking, thinking. I wouldn't be surprised if you fall asleep at night making lists of things you need to do, then wake up in the morning wondering about too many administrative details to count. I bet you feel pressures in every shape and size due to budget cuts, bureaucratic red tape, reform efforts that make the local, state and national news daily, and a pile of memos clogging up your email. I can guess you feel at least a little sad to see the summer end, and a little wary of the heavy lifting that lies ahead, even if, like me, you adore your job.

For me, when I am feeling so many things at a chaotic time, it can be hard to remember that other people coming at the chaos from a different direction have their own swirling emotions that might collide with my own.

My little boy is about to be your student. He doesn't much want to gather any materials, and as hard as you have worked to gather your supplies, he isn't going to be as thrilled to use them as we would all like. He's six, has no concept of a budget or the impact of its reduction, and in fact he's more than a year behind his peers in math skills; actually, we'd be happy to see him grasp one-to-one correspondence. This summer he got his fourth pair of glasses fixed for what seems like the thousandth time, because we're desperately trying to help retrain his eye muscles in the hopes of avoiding a second surgery, and while you might have concerns about his reading and writing being below grade level, we are simply blown away by how tremendously far he has come through constant effort that only increased since school let out in June. While he enjoyed his summer time, he didn't exactly go on vacation -- he did tutoring twice a week, ABA behavior therapy five days a week, social skills classes, and day camp. He learned from every single thing. This summer our boy worked diligently to learn lots of important things, like how to ride a horse, take turns, identify coins, hold his temper, draw pictures, play board games, and even play some sports, and he is starting, very gradually, to learn to swim.

We aren't helicopter parents, we are just a working mom and dad trying our very best to raise both our children and help our son on his journey with autism. And as fall approaches, we think about the coming year throughout our days, too. We are watching the calendar with anticipation just as you probably are. We wonder if we are ready. We wonder if we've done enough to support our son, knowing he will start off behind. We wonder if we prioritized the right things, and if we've let him have enough room to be himself. We wonder about you, too. We wonder if you will see our boy, beyond his diagnosis, and how you will feel about including him in your classroom. We wonder if you will see how much we have in common as we head into fall, all a little nervous, all wanting the best for the year ahead, but all with our own backpacks full of needs, concerns, wishes, and fears.

Sincerely yours,
Rooster's Mom

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Our little girl spent a week with her grandparents, her first time away from home without us, giving us a week alone with our boy for the first time since adding Peaches to our family. She came home Friday after reportedly being on excellent behavior all week, and we were thrilled to get her back.

What a strange week it was while she was away, and how revealing.

When our boy has our undivided attention, he charms us silly. Without a peer around, he has no conflicts. When he doesn't have to share, he has amazing manners, all pleases and thankfulness. When he's getting the things he wants, the word "no" disappears from his vocabulary. When his sister goes away, he speaks of her with tenderness and longing. Wow.

When his sister returns, of course, some things go back as they always were, but even that brings surprises. How is it that I am still shocked that my son has autism? How does it still catch me off guard? Because once his NT sister, two years younger, shows up at is side, a contrast is inescapable, especially as we hear how Peaches spent the week doting lovingly on her baby cousin (two years her junior). And with a peer around, our boy has conflicts - oh boy does he. He finds sharing a huge challenge. He screams "NO!" Compliance evaporates. He says "mean words."

More than anything, I am happy to have everyone together under one roof again, and I'm so grateful to my inlaws for hosting our littlest for a week, but I am also processing all this transition.

First grade starts in two weeks and I'm scared.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


I don't want to talk about the end of summer and the back to school season, but there really isn't much choice. Tomorrow the faculty return to work at the school where I teach, and while I never did have a vacation, I did work days an hour shorter than usual, and I will miss that as I resume staying until 4:30. A week from tomorrow, Peaches starts her last year of preschool. And two weeks after that, the Rooster starts first grade. So, denial or not, here comes transition season.


We have had some firsts in these parts. Right now, my little girl is away from home for the first time. She and her grandparents are taking a trip a few hours away to visit family for most of the week. We left her today, and as I type, I am waiting to hear that they arrived at my brother-in-law's house safe and sound after their four hour journey. That waiting thing can be blamed on the poor quality of this post... I'm half here, writing for distraction.

I am also trying to distract myself from my stress of being a student again. Six weeks ago I started a one-year program to earn another credential, and I turned in a big paper today, with another big paper due on Friday. These are very rigorous courses and I love them yet find myself counting down each week; 46 more to go. All the writing for my credential can be blamed for the scarcity of my posts these days.

This past week, my husband took the kids to his parents' house for several days while I got some of my work done. It was an unusual week for me, for us, but a good one. My husband's parents are wonderful grandparents, and they all had a good time hanging out together, swimming and playing, and I cranked out some serious business. When I went to join them yesterday, Rooster had learned a bit more "swimming" (though he still wears his floaties) and I noticed some better impulse control, some leaps in language. All these firsts can be blamed for me feeling a little more emotional today, a little mushy and sentimental.

So I'm pointing my finger and placing blame every which way, but the real truth is: We're going back to school, and all the transitions freak me out. I feel like I'm falling down the rabbit hole.
Just saved myself $150 and an hour of therapy. Whew.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Good Times for Everyone

Lately I've needed a good laugh.

Thankfully, I know my way around the blogosphere.

Like music? Enjoy a snarky sense of humor? Need a good bookkeeper? Quote the Daily Show much? Ever accidentally whack your kid with a frying pan? (Well, maybe not that last one...)

If you haven't already, check out Good place to laugh and make a new friend.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What Next?

Recently I took Peaches to the park to play with her best buddy and his siblings while Rooster was off at day camp. "How is Rooster?" asked the sweet dad on the play date. "If you don't mind me asking, what is the prognosis for Rooster?"

No, I don't mind being asked -- I appreciate concern about Roo -- but I don't know what to say, exactly, either.

We have many people who micro-"ist" our boy. By that I mean that we have people who deal with his this issue or his that therapy... they touch his trunk, his tusks... but I don't know how many really deal with the whole elephant in the room of where our journey might take us. Then again, did my parents know when I was six what my future held? Do any parents have a prognosis for the future of their kids? You have kids, then you hold on for dear life... you wait and see where the journey takes you, I guess. Sometimes I wish I had a crystal ball...

Some of the ists in our life have tried to prepare us for the possibility of thinking about group homes one day, while others talk like they assume Roo is going to find some special Bill Gates or Steven Spielberg talent and take over some sliver of the world. And then there are a lot people who fall somewhere in between...

Lately, Roo has taken to asking me, "after first grade, THEN can I go to college?" I overthought this perseveration for quite a while before I smacked my forehead with my palm and realized that when my boy gets stuck on something, a movie or a book can almost always be blamed. You probably got it faster than I did, since I confessed to you last post that I am so not a movie girl, but Toy Story 3 is the origin for the college obsession. (I love when my boy asks, "When I go to college, can I come home and watch TV? Soon can I go to college?")

Well, we might not be ready for college come fall, but there are some big developments and a graduation of sorts underway. First, our boy is VERY GRADUALLY, and haltingly, and with lots and lots of support, reading his short little Open Court first grade books. Let's hear it for his AMAZING tutor, Ms. S. Wow, it's hard, and it's wonderful. I weep a lot. Roo gets exhausted a lot. We plod forward. Twice a week, he sweats and struggles and earns his giant sticker for tapping and blending, for sounding out, "See Tim spin." Second, the talks have begun to plan a graduation from ABA in-home services. Wheeeewwww. No, his behavior isn't perfect, but we might have squeezed as much juice as we can from this lemon, so to speak.By Thanksgiving, we should have 10 hours a week freed up, after almost two years of "helpers" and programs. Next up, social skills classes.

Math still mystifies our boy in a way that is beyond troubling. Numbers seem to have no significance to him. His four year old sister often tries to whisper the answer to the math questions we offer him or otherwise throw him a hint as subtly as, oh, a great big red hickey. Today I gave him a little word problem to ask him to add two plus two, and he goes, "Three! Six? Umm, maybe 10? Can I have a snack? WHAT?!" Meanwhile Peaches is all but thrusting her four fingers in his eyeballs.

At camp, the Roo has a shadow, and she tells us he has been learning to play pickle and kick ball, do hopscotch, make Fortune Tellers (aka cootie catchers), and step dance, among other things. A few days I have needed to pick him up later than she can stay, and he has managed the last half hour of the day okay without her there, just hanging out with other kids his age.

Last weekend, we discovered a place in the area that does FREE therapeutic horseback riding, and while Roo isn't exactly The Boy Who Loved Horses, he did pretty fantastic riding on Mark, the sweet white horse, with the help of three expert volunteers. After, we got to swim in the pool at the ranch, and while neither of my kids can swim yet, it's one area that our little guy is making progress faster than his sister. He still wears his floaties, but he's holding his breath and going under, blowing bubbles, practicing strokes and kicks a bit... he's not afraid of the deep water, and he's making progress.

I have no idea what my son's long-term anything is, and I'm not going to even try to predict tomorrow. The words tomorrow and yesterday still confound him, and he has a poor sense of time. But I am very proud of him, and I love watching him grow, change. I think about his "developmental disorder," but more I think about how far he has come. A year ago, who would have predicted my boy would be sitting straight and tall as instructed as he takes a horseback ride, reading to me proudly about spinning Tim, wanting to master hopscotch, holding his breath underwater?

The long term prognosis for the rooster is that his mama is going to love him.