Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What's Behind Door Number 3?

A letter came in the mail yesterday that ranks up their with audit notices, jury summonses, and credit card bills all rolled into one. If you look at that letter now, you can see all the signs that it made its reader crazy -- the paper has clench marks, some tear stains, maybe a drop or two of my blood...

"With a heavy heart" the principal wrote that my boy's first grade teacher will not return after winter vacation. I should say, my boy's SECOND first grade teacher. His first teacher lasted about a month before she left for a job at a better school, where her kids attend. They did not replace the first teacher, they just took the whole class and added to another. In one fell swoop my kiddo lost the experienced and highly regarded teacher I'd begged the universe for, the classroom I'd helped him transition into, and the small class size. He landed in a different room on a different floor with an inexperienced young thing trying to handle 28 first graders, including some who had made life nightmarish for Roo in kindergarten. Now, she's gone too, and I called the principal urgently requesting contact with the third string before school resumes in what seems like a year and a half (or on January 10) after this lengthy winter break that helps nothing but the pathetic budget.

So, tomorrow my husband will take Rooster by the classroom to meet New Teacher #3. We worked for several hours today composing a letter to #3 about our expectations. It goes something like this:

Welcome, please try to last longer than Lee Press on Nails.
Our boy has autism, and we know more about him than you do.
We are sick of getting the run around.
We pay an ed therapist a lot of money because she knows what she is doing, and none of the teachers here seem to. We've brought her in for meetings with the other revolving cast of characters and explained how her strategies help our guy with academics, especially math. Use them. Like, on Monday, when you start. Use. The. Strategies. They aren't rocket science. They are simple and they work and you will use them.
The IEP says you need to help out. Read it. Help out. Do your job.
We will be in touch. Lots and lots of in touch. In your mail box. In your email. On your phone. In the homework folder. Often. One of us works right across the street, and can run fast, find you in heartbeat. Want us to go away? Gladly. Then stick around, use the strategies, read the IEP, help out, and do your job.
Our boy has autism, not the plague. He's sweet, cute, and he works his butt off.
Rooster's parents, the Bears

Does anyone have $46,000 I can borrow? Um, annually? I heard of the perfect private school for my boy, only it has one problem. Or make that 46,000 problems. But the public school he's in now has ten times that many, a half million problems, all for "free."

Take That!

Okay, pardon my journalism major while I paraphrase this post, because I'm old and my memory has holes in it the size of our school district's deficit. This gives you the gist.

My kids sat in the playroom at a small table making crafts. Each one designed a colorful creature using materials from a kit sent by their adoring and generous grandma. I eavesdropped from the kitchen.

Peaches: I'm going to name this guy autism. He's a bad guy!
Rooster: Yeah, autism is a bad guy.
Peaches: Let's punch him in the nose!
Rooster: (Laughing) Yeah, let's beat up autism!
Peaches: Kick him in the face!

Where on earth do they get this stuff?

I interject from the kitchen: Kids, you know people who have autism are not bad, right?

Peaches: We KNOW that. Rooster has autism. But autism is a bad guy!
Rooster: We're going to kick him in the face.
Me: Well, you don't have to like autism. But I don't hate autism. Because I know a lot of people with autism and I really like them.
Peaches: Well, but autism is not good. I mean, the people are good, but not the autism.
Me: Maybe. But punching something you don't like doesn't seem like a good idea. I don't like "beating up" talk. I don't think you should kick people in the face!
Rooster: It's funny!

My husband gets in on the conversation: You know, kids, autism means that your brain works differently from how most people think. That's all.
Peaches: This (holds up creature) is autism, daddy! He's a bad guy so we're going to make another guy who punches him.
Husband: Do you know any people who have autism?
Peaches: Yes! Rooster does. Come on, Rooster, let's play with these guys!
Rooster: Yeah! I want to beat up autism! Kick him in the face!

Friday, December 24, 2010


After lunch at Z Pizza yesterday, we passed right by a shoe store. Since apparently someone has been plying Peaches with Miracle Grow, I thought we should duck in and grab her a new pair of kicks that fit. About a month ago, Roo got new shoes, so I had no plans to get him any yesterday. Of course, then he spied the light up shoes with skulls on them, and his sister says, "You HAVE to get those, Rooster, they are so much cooler than your OLD shoes." Thanks, Peach. Suffice it to say, my boy lost his marbles that I would not give in and buy him an extra pair of $50 shoes that he does not need and I find aesthetically abysmal. He cried all the way home and told me about 600 times that he HATES the OLD (more expensive, bought just one month ago, light up, cute) shoes because they stink and he would throw them in the garbage.

I did not back down one centimeter and gave him the same reminders all 600 times. (Not looking for opinions on that one, just saying.) When he threw his shoes in the trash, I made him take them out, apologize, and listen to my speech about appreciation, money, etc...

Cut to this evening. Although I am Jewish and my kids and I light candles, we also have a Hanukah bush and will open presents tomorrow morning in our play room. (Guilt, guilt, guilt.) So I suggested maybe we already have too much stuff and maybe we should do a quick sort and organize. Peach says, "What do we do to organize?" So I suggest we look through our stuff and decide what to keep, what to throw out, and what to give to other people who might need or want the stuff we aren't using.

Rooster appeared engaged in playing with toys. Without missing a beat, though, he looks me right in the eye and says very calmly, "I have some stinky shoes I want to give somebody who wants them. They can HAVE them."

I don't know if that READS funny at all, if you can picture the scene or you had to be there, but I can tell you it took me 10 minutes to breathe again because I laughed so hard it was silent, and the kids looked worried I might keel over.

So, autism. Maybe it causes some perseveration and tantrums here at casa del Rooster. Maybe it gives me worries that keep me up at night. But I think we spit in its eye tonight. Go, Rooster. Go wit, go conversation, go eye contact, go FUNNY, go joint attention, go Rooster, go. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pamper Your Chef

Okay, today is the day for you to do some holiday shopping.

If you click the link above, you will see my friend Elizabeth has exciting information about how Pampered Chef shopping can benefit one of the best community building resources out there for families raising special kids, Hopeful Parents. But hurry! Time is almost up!

By the way, I am partial to the stoneware, myself...

Ho ho ho!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Special-ization and Survival of the Fit-ist

As I type, I try to block out my son's screaming tantrum. We rarely sees these ragefests anymore, but they sure bring back old memories. We used to see this nightly. Now we go long enough between them that I can no longer recall when he last turned red as a tomato and slammed every door in the house like this. So you think I'm upset? Frustrated? Angry? I'm not. It's fascinating on so many levels.

First, as he stomps and screams and paces, his sister calls out prudent advice. "Take a deep breath," she suggests. "Do you want me to tuck you back in?" she offers. She modulates her tone of voice. She asks me for guidance. Shazam, my girl returns! Just like we haven't seen the Rooster act out much lately, we also haven't seen that sweet, gentle girl we call the Peach, either.

And I'm fascinated about how these things are coming together.

For a few weeks I've worried and lamented all about Peaches and her inescapable change in personality. She gets in some trouble in preschool, she acts out at home, she seems sensory seeking, she becomes remarkably hyper, she crashes into everything she can find, she puzzles us and her teachers, she gets distinctly LOUDER. Then, a few days ago, I picked her up from after-school care and she hands me a pile of adorable holiday cards she drew. "Thank you!" I cooed. "I love them!" She stares at me and says, "They are not for you! They are for the HELPERS. You have to MAIL THEM." Ah, a clue. On Halloween, we'd said goodbye to the "helpers," our ABA therapists who felt like they lived with us for two years. I begin to wonder if Peaches misses them, misses the structure, misses the attention she got when her brother's ABA included her. Fast forward a few days, and NPR has a story on siblings and why they tend to vary so much in personality. One theory ties in to Darwin, and generally follows the notion of specialization of species. Roo came along first and took the role of Tantrum King, so Peach came along to be Princess Perfect. Well, not always -- Pixie Mama can attest to Peaches not always living up to her name -- but now that Roo is doing much better overall, Peaches has plummeted. And it all makes some sense.

Tonight, before the Rooster flipped out because his daddy denied him some candy, I thought about these recent changes, and I asked Peaches, "How do you feel when Rooster behaves himself better than he used to?" She shrugged and looked down. "Peaches, how do you feel now that Rooster doesn't need helpers anymore?" She shrugged again. "Sweetie, how do you feel when people tell Roo how great he's doing?"
She looked at me. "I'm not doing great?"

Ahhhh. Can't believe I didn't see this all coming.
And then within an hour, the candy rage ensued. And there came my girl out of hiding, gentle and maternal and in charge.

I need to do a better job at balancing my kids' needs. I need to give them both room to specialize in excellence. I need to remember what we learned about ABA and the need for attention. I need to brush up on my Darwin.

The screaming just stopped. We all survived the fit. I call that survival of the fit-ist.