Friday, December 30, 2011

Somethings Old, Somethings New: 2011 in Review

 In 2011 I Learned:

Curiosity Can Kill a Behavior Plan: You'd think that R's days in kindergarten would've taught me to recognize that his innate desire to know what something is like typically means he has to experience it for himself. When he came home the first week of kindergarten and informed me that "going to yellow isn't really bad, it just means make better choices" and then proceeded to tell me "I'm going to try red tomorrow so I can see and touch the walls in the quiet spot" my Uh-Oh alarm went off. The next day his teacher asked him if he'd like to go sit in the quiet spot by choice, not as a consequence of making a bad choice. He happily ran over, took a seat and rubbed his hands on the textured walls for a few minutes then said, "I like the walls there, they feel good." 

So why was I surprised when he had what I refer to as his "Record Breaking Attempt" week this year? Our elementary school uses a Tally/Dart/Demerit behavior system beginning in first grade. When Lil' Man started racking up darts on a daily basis for behaviors we KNEW he could control, his special ed teacher and I came up with what we thought was a genius plan. We informed him that if he received 3 darts in one school day he would have to go to morning detention the next day. What was I thinking?!? Of course, the very next day he got 3 darts - he actually called his gen ed teacher over to watch him break a classroom rule to be sure she saw him and gave him #3. I was aggravated, he was pleased as punch. "Mommy, tomorrow I can see detention! I did darts on purpose so I could go." 

Lesson Learned: It's a whole lot better for everyone if we figure out what R wants to see/touch/experience and give him the opportunity to explore it rather than leave him to his own devices for finding out.

It Isn't Crazy If It Works: My 5th grader can be the dictionary entry for 'forgetfulness'. On any given day it's a sure bet he'll forget where his shoes are, where he put his jacket and of course, his homework. Even with his teacher checking his academic planner before dismissal each day he came home without the book or worksheet needed for homework at least two days a week. Consequences, rewards and talks about responsibility were epic fails in this department. It was time for drastic action!

I take and pick up the elementary Crew members each day, and while waiting in the car rider line inspiration hit. I started getting to school each afternoon early enough to park, go inside to his classroom and (with the teacher's permission) announce loudly, "Hi Sweetie! Mommy's here to make sure you have everything you need for homework tonight." Score one for Mom.

Lesson Learned: Sometimes you have to think outside the box, do something just a little unexpected and crazy, to motivate your child. When typical approaches don't work, try the atypical.

Recognize When It Just Isn't Worth It: C has been in a self contained classroom since the middle of last year when it became obvious that the transition to middle school was too much for him to handle without more support. Administration and teachers don't particularly enjoy prying your child out of his locker after he's wedged and locked himself inside; when your child hangs over the second floor railing and the "all male staff report to..." call is made it is not a stellar day for anyone; if your child spends more time sitting in the office than he does in the classroom it's time for a change. For C, that meant a change in placement and learning in a self contained classroom with a teacher who is extraordinary in working with and understanding children on the autism spectrum.

At the end of 6th grade we developed a plan. It was a good, well thought out, slow transition plan so C could move back into his gen ed environment. We involved him in making the plan and he chose to start with his favorite subject, science. He'd love going back to a class that involved lab work and experiments, right? Right! From the very beginning of the transition, and that was just talking about when it would start, how long the class would be and showing him video of the class, it was a battle. He began sleeping less staying awake from anxiety over the change, he acted out in his self contained room after months of great days and he definitely acted out at home as well. After a few rounds of email exchanges and discussions with his teacher the plan we were so proud of creating was scrapped.

Lesson Learned: There is no such thing as an air tight plan, especially when it involves one of my spectrum kiddos. Yes, his teacher, his therapists and I want him to return to a gen ed environment and believe he can - eventually. It won't be this year, and that's okay. If spending another school year in the self contained room is what he needs to build his confidence, social skills and his ability to recognize when he's approaching sensory overload then that's the plan we need to follow. It doesn't hurt that he also saw us accepting a change to plans without anger, tears or screaming, either. Lead by example, right? :)

Don't Wait Until It's Too Late

Each graduating class at our high school has a vice principal, guidance counselor and academic coach that will follow them throughout their four years. I'd like to go on record as saying that this concept is GENIUS! The academic coach for Team 2015 is amazing, patient and FREE. Once a week, son #1 spends an hour after school with her doing geometry test corrections, homework and reviewing material that he hasn't quite mastered yet. Was he happy with me for making him go to after school tutoring? Nope! Trust me, he made his displeasure well known. But I love him enough that I made him go anyway. He's a teenager, I have many years of him not liking my decisions regarding his activities ahead of me. My Mom assures me I'll live through it and that grandchildren are God's reward for surviving your own.

Lesson Learned: Don't wait for your child to say they need help with a subject because odds are they will tell you they don't need any at all. Remember, teenagers only THINK they know everything. The high school years require just as much of my attention and involvement as the earlier years, if not more. Also, bookmark some good math help websites. If you are anything like me you'll be using them often during geometry homework!

Don't Overlook the Good Stuff: My daughter in 3rd grade is the "easy" one of the Crew. Okay, so she has her mother's penchant for talking, a lot, which can be a little problem if the teacher is talking. Other than that tiny little thing, she's an academic and behavioral cake walk. We're talking straight A report cards and empty tally/dart/demerit charts nearly every day. That has led to her not getting an equal amount of my attention as the boys do on most days. When that realization slapped me in the face it was a wake up call and it was loud. 

Lesson Learned: The fact that Miss S doesn't require the same amount of academic and behavior attention from me doesn't mean she needs it any less than the others. 2012 is going to be the Year of Praise and Recognition for Miss S. She's feisty, social, smart and has a huge caring heart and I'm going to remind her of those things much, much more often.     

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I Can't Be the Only One...

Today, as we enter the second week of Christmas break from school, I'm going to share one of  my biggest parenting flaws. Judge if you want, but we all know you have one or two yourself.

I'm one of the best there is at dealing with my children's meltdowns. I care for kids who puke for 24 straight hours, without ever hitting the toilet or garbage can in front of them, with compassion, ice chips and cuddles. I'll read 5 books aloud in one sitting, make costume pieces for school music programs and spend far too many hours on eBay to locate "the HAVE to have" item on one of my kiddos' Christmas or birthday lists that was last manufactured in 1996. So far, so good, right? Just please, dear God in Heaven, please don't ask me to play with you.

That's right, I am the mom who cringes when I hear "Will you play a game with me?" I enjoy UNO and Monopoly just slightly less than grocery shopping in the rain. I would rather scrub the toilets and surrounding floor (remember I have 4 boys under 15 years old) on my hands and knees than play with Fisher Price Little People, Thomas the Tank Engine and Barbies. And video games? Really not my thing - ask my son C, he'll tell you that not only do I not like them, but if conned into playing one I'm asked to quit pretty quickly because I "take stink at it to a whole new level".

I have moments of guilt when I think about how often I beg, plead and wiggle my way out of playing with one or another of the Crew. Sometimes I even force myself to say yes to a child's request, usually when I'm more desperate for a few minutes without whining than I am to avoid the toy or game of the day. During those times, I'm usually looking for a quick escape or way to get another sibling to play and get me off the hook.

My brood won't have a wealth of memories that include me rolling dice, dealing cards or using a character voice while pushing trains on a track or changing Barbie's clothes for the 24th time in an hour. I'm hoping the ones of me scrubbing carpets at 2 a.m. when they were sick, knowing when to give some deep pressure squeezes and reading the same book 12 times in one day will help them forget me hiding in the laundry room every time the game cabinet was opened.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

BEST Christmas Eve Ever!

I should be sleeping, but the gallon of coffee I consumed from 8p-12a hasn't totally worn off yet. Gifts are wrapped and under the tree, stockings are stuffed and visions of sugar plums are dancing in the heads of my babies. It is QUIET, and that gives me some time to reflect and think. And drink some decaffeinated coffee ;)

Today was the BEST Christmas Eve I remember for many, many years. And I know exactly why. I let go of every expectation and "normal" tradition related to the day and evening before Christmas.

Itchy, matching, expensive clothes worn for a photo session that leaves me aggravated and the kids even more aggravated were skipped - it was a PJ day here for most. The huge feast that I cook and clean up, after rounds of "do I HAVE to eat that?" was traded in for pizza night, which elicited no complaints and far less dishes. We had each other for company, and that was plenty, especially for the ones who had their engines running at supersonic all day.

Guess how many Christmas cards I sent out this year? ZERO! To be perfectly honest, I'd rather tell you Merry Christmas via the internet or face to face than sign, address and pay postage for cards. One less thing to do this season lessens the stress and frees up time for other things, like writing a blog post!

The one tradition we held was letting the Crew open their gift from us this evening. Years ago, we instituted the Christmas Wishes Rule: one gift from Mom and Dad and three gifts from Santa. If your list has a high ticket item, like an iPod Touch, you get one gift from Santa. I took this gem from a friend during my oldest's preschool years: "If three gifts were enough for the Man who saved your soul, it's plenty for you." There's no surprises Christmas morning - what you asked for is what you get. In our house, eliminating surprises is a very good thing!

I spent a lot of years stressing and jam packing "fun" activities into Christmas Eve because I was worried I wasn't creating wonderful Christmas memories for my children to look back on as adults. But you know what? I'm betting they will remember the year Mom wasn't cajoling, bribing and finally demanding that everyone look happy and at the camera for just two minutes. They're going to remember lounging in pajamas, with no scratchy tags, no too hot sweaters and no rushing out the door to get somewhere. They will remember that Christmas is about Jesus' birthday, not about the number of gifts you receive. They will remember being allowed to watch Christmas specials and play video games while eating pizza. I think they will remember this as the BEST Christmas Eve ever.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Children are NOT Soup Cans

In the past couple of weeks there has been a surge in articles about children being labeled. It least it seems like a surge to me. The LA Times, The Washington Post and an Australian newspaper all published stories about special needs children and their "labels" this week. With each new story I became more and more irritated with the word label. Here's why:

My children aren't soup cans, they don't have labels. My children with atypical neurology have DIAGNOSIS'S. In my world there is an enormous chasm between those two words. My children don't walk around with their nutritional value or calorie amount plastered on them. Not one of them have a bar code on their body.

The media outlets have worked very hard lately to make the general public believe that parents raising children with autism and ADHD are consummate scammers who spend their time finding doctors who will make bogus diagnosis's and prescribe a variety of unnecessary medications, demanding services from schools that their child doesn't truly need and, let's not forget, milking the system for SSI payments and medical/psychological services.  And after impugning the character and questioning the motives of parents they've never met or spoken with, they have the audacity to call parents to task for LABELING their child(ren)?! In the words of my 12 year old, the media can bite me.

My son who has a diagnosis of ADHD was privately tested, to the tune of $2,600, when he was in first grade. He attended a private school, so we elected to pay for testing rather than wait for the school to arrange testing through the public school. I'm pretty sure his teacher would have placed him in the front of the room, near her desk if I had known to ask. Yep, that was the big ole payoff from school he got for 6 hours of evaluations and we got for paying more than $2000. Would I go back and change it - HELL TO THE NO! We learned how to help him learn, we learned how to help him manage his "ants in his pants" and we learned how to help him become more organized. Worth every penny. (Don't worry taxpayers, he has, nor has ever had, special services, extra time on tests or anything that costs you a dime. You can sleep easy now.)

Let me tell you, child birth was easier than getting a diagnosis for my 12 year old son with Asperger's syndrome. I began talking to his doctor when he was 15 months old about behaviors and expressing concern over how rigid he was in routines and play. At six he was in counseling with a psychologist for anxiety. When his behaviors continued to worsen both at home and at school our pediatrician referred him to a pediatric neurologist who said that he had obsessive compulsive disorder to such a degree that any other issues couldn't be identified until that was under some kind of control. After three years of seeing therapists, pediatricians and a neurologist he was medically diagnosed as having Asperger's syndrome, which is a form of autism.Then we got to enjoy the nearly year long battle to have him evaluated by the school system for an autism spectrum disorder. Remember, a child doesn't receive services at school until they have an EDUCATIONAL diagnosis. Does any of this sound like a walk in the park to you? Like I had doctors and a school system tripping over each other to "label" my child?

I readily admit that Little Man's diagnosis was easy. When you're taking a pre-school aged child with you to big brother's IEP meetings, behavior intervention plan meetings and functional behavior analysis meetings he becomes well known. When he spends those hours under a table squeezing himself into the tiny space between chair legs, won't make eye contact while speaking to familiar people and has meltdowns when his nap and snack routine has been altered by these meetings the autism consultant notices. So yes, he was "the easy one" in terms of being diagnosed.

My boys have diagnosis's that have then led us to the resources that will help them become independent, self sufficient adults. And guess what? A LOT of those resources have been books I've read, internet research I've conducted and advice from other parents who have the same issues at home and school. So again, do not lose any sleep members of the media and taxpayers, you paid for none of that and it didn't affect YOUR life in any manner.

I don't walk into your office and slap a label on you of ignorant, uneducated or uninformed, please show my children the same respect. Should ignorant, uneducated or uninformed ever become diagnostically possible, I will be sure to refer you to one of the specialists we know. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Glitter - Tiny Pieces of the Seventh Circle of Hell

I have a daughter who'd make Martha Stewart proud, and she didn't get that from me. She is an 8 year old art addict - if it can be cut, taped, glued or painted she's on it like white on rice. I indulge her sweet little heart of an artist in every way possible, UNLESS there is glitter involved.

I have two theories of where glitter originated. 1) The Seventh Circle of Hell occasionally has pieces break off it and those pieces crumble into tiny shiny fragments that Satan himself then blows to earth. 2) A pre-school or elementary teacher invented glitter as their ultimate tool of revenge against parents.

Once a project with glitter enters your home, it's all over. Never again will you have a floor that doesn't sparkle, clothing that doesn't look like you raided the Kardashian sisters' closets or food that doesn't shimmer under the kitchen lights. You've heard the saying "it reproduced like rabbits"? Glitter makes a mockery of that statement.

There is no vacuum made that has enough suction to suck up glitter. Mop it up? Forget it! A mop will just redistribute the twinkling pieces to another portion of your tile or wood floor. You will leave your home looking like you're ready for 70's night, forever. You will think after dusting, vacuuming, steam cleaning carpets, sweeping and mopping that you have FINALLY eradicated your humble abode of the evil presence, and then you will find MORE. Suddenly the mere mention of Las Vegas, awards shows and Mariah Carey will make you cry unabashedly.

You want to tick off someone royally? Put glitter in the card or letter you send them. As these surprise glitter attacks become more common, people are beginning to think of party invitations and Christmas cards like letter bombs. "DON'T open that - It may be loaded!" Opening what was once anticipated mail becomes a lesson in how to don a Hazmat suit. If this horrible trend continues, authorities may have to train and deploy Glitter Squads for the protection of sane people's homes.

I realize that there will always be glitter fanatics. Should there come a day when it is unlawful to have and use the abhorrent craft material, an underground black market would surely arise. None of us want that. Instead, I propose creating glitter free zones. The No Glitter logo could be displayed prominently on front doors, children's backpacks and mailboxes. All the sparkly loving people can glitter each other to death - just leave the rest of us to our shimmer and shine free existence.

                            JUST SAY NO TO GLITTER

Monday, December 19, 2011

Openings Still Available...

I actually wrote this a while ago as a note on my Facebook page; a few edits later it is now today's blog post. Apologies to those who read it then and are now reading it again! Today, it is a very appropriate and relevant post about my house ;) I hope you enjoy it!

I have decided that I cannot be the only mother/wife on the planet with family members who need some remediation regarding household jobs. In an effort to help my friends keep their sanity (and see the floors and counters in their homes) I've decided to form the Owens Institute for the Chore Challenged. Below you will find classes currently available:

Treasuring the Empty Trash Can - If it's overflowing it needs to go out the door!
If the item you are trying to place in the trash can has to be balanced on the overflowing items already spilling out of the can, it's time to take the trash out! This course will cover how to remove the overflowing bag from the trash can, take said bag to the proper disposal area and place a new, empty bag in the trash can. Pictures of full vs. empty trash cans will be provided for reference.

Toss It In! - How to find and place your dirty laundry in the hamper/basket/pile all over the laundry room
While this comes as a shock to many a family member, it is NOT ok to disrobe in whatever room you happen to be in and leave the pile of clothes at your feet. Course will cover appropriate places to undress and where to place dirty clothing once removed from a body. Students will be provided with pictures of appropriate places for dirty laundry; please send either written directions or a map detailing the route to your laundry room/laundry hamper as many students are clueless as to where these things are located in their home.

Clearing a Path to Pleasantness - Basic picking up of items on the floor and returning them to their home
I've seen it a million times. Family members who will make a death defying leap over a pile of toys, or dishes that somehow made it to the family room floor, instead of picking the item(s) up off the floor and returning them to their appropriate place in the home. If you've been (or taken someone) to the ER for injuries related to tripping over toys, this is the course for you! Emphasis is placed on first noticing the pile on the floor and then recognizing the proper location to place the item.

Make a Match - How to place a PAIR of shoes in a location where you can find them again
If I had a nickle for every time I went in search of a shoe that was "lost"....Students successfully completing this course will recognize two matching shoes and master the art of putting both shoes, together, in a predetermined spot where they will be found with ease the next day. Students will need to wear/bring a pair of matching shoes to each class.

Sanford and Son Sabotage - Look! There's a lawn under all that stuff!
If you currently have enough bikes, scooters, balls and other outside toys scattered across your front lawn to cause people to think you are having a yard sale, you are not alone. Participants will learn the proper procedure for placing their outside playthings in a garage or other designated area. The use of bike kickstands, where to place a helmet so it can be found the next day and how to ensure there is room left for parking a car in the garage will be extensively covered and practiced.

1. Students must be out of diapers and able to use the bathroom without assistance, regardless of the age of the student.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What is Autism, by my Son with Asperger's

My 12 year old son who has Asperger's syndrome has a friend coming over today! Only my friends raising a child with an autism spectrum disorder can understand why this is so freakin' exciting for me - and him. His friend has Asperger's as well and his mom and I sometimes call them "brothers from another mother" LOL They met this year in their self-contained classroom and immediately hit it off. Today is the first time they are spending time together at one of our homes.

Last night I shared on Twitter and Facebook that my son asked for a tux to wear today. "I need to look my best. It's an important day!" I bounced between wanting to laugh and wanting to cry. The fact that he sees having someone come play with him as an event worthy of wearing a tuxedo breaks my heart.

Anyway, this morning as I was convincing him that "regular" clothes would be absolutely fine to wear I began thinking about the piece he wrote (ok, he dictated with me serving as the writer) that was read to the entire sixth grade at his middle school at the peer awareness session held during Autism Awareness week last year. His teacher and I barely held our tears in as it was read, we were so proud of him! Today, I wanted to share HIS view of having an autism spectrum disorder with you. 

This is Christopher's 'What is Autism' piece written for his teachers and peers. I am so, so proud of him! 

Autism is a challenge. On the outside I look and seem like a normal person, but sometimes I have severe emotions. Sometimes I get angrier than I should. When I feel overwhelmed I might run away or hide from the problems. I mean that literally! (That doesn’t mean I am a wuss!) Sometimes I am inappropriate, but I don’t mean to be. I sometimes don’t know what I said or did was inappropriate until you tell me.

Sometimes I learn things way faster than other people and sometimes it takes me longer to learn stuff than other people. I do NOT like working in groups! I like to do things solo.
I have an above 10th grade reading level – I LOVE reading!!! I have a huge vocabulary and I like to talk, A LOT. I can spell almost anything. I hate writing anything that is long, like a paragraph. I type my assignments when they are long.

I have habits that hinder me. I squint my eyes even though I don’t need to – it’s hard for me to remember not to do that. I always have to put my left foot down the stairs first. If I don’t I have to go to the top of the stairs and start back down again.

I take things you say very literally most of the time. I am working on not taking everything so literally. I am new to the world of sarcasm but I understand sarcasm more often now.

I don’t have many friends and I stink at making friends. I’m relatively good at keeping them when I have one. I currently have 4 friends. I like being noticed and sometimes I act weird. I do that on purpose to try and make friends.

I want to have more friends. I don’t like it when you criticize or tease me. It makes me feel bad when you pick on me. Having autism doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings just like you. I am like you in a lot of other ways too. I hope this helps you understand me better.

Footnote: Autism is not contagious. Thou art not at risk of catching it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Special Needs Parent's Christmas Wish List

The Christmas break from school has begun for most of the families I know. Along with that, parents of special needs children also have the challenges that come with disrupted schedules, changes in routines and the general feeling of anticipation and excitement floating through the air that tends to throw our kids WAY off balance emotionally.

While reading and replying to tweets made by my support system of "people who get it" this morning, inspiration for this post smacked me right upside the head. To all of my friends, those I've met face to face & those who I know and love through the miracle of social networking, these are the Christmas gifts I wish for you. I'm sending them wrapped in gratitude and hugs :)

1. An offer of a break for a few hours. I hope someone who knows, loves and can be trusted to care for your wonderful child will call you and say "Why don't you take the afternoon off today? Have lunch with a friend or your spouse, shop without a child in tow, take long bath and a nap. Don't worry, we'll be just fine!"

2. A Stranger's Compassion. While running errands, or grabbing a meal out, when your child begins to meltdown, flap, squeal or be far too loud I hope one person gives a sincere smile and says "Is there something I can do to help? I could stand in line for you or bring your tray to your table."

3. A family member or friend who ASKS to be educated about your child(ren).  I hope someone in your circle who has never really understood your child(ren) says, "I don't know how you and your child feel, but I really want to understand. Can you tell me more about autism/ADHD/sensory issues? What websites and books do recommend?"

4. An unexpected moment of joy. I hope that you have a moment where your child does or says something new that leaves you glowing and reminds you that all the SLP, OT, PT, tutoring and social skills lessons are more than worth the drive, cost and time you've spent on them this year.

5. Belief and Hope. More than all of the above, I hope, pray and wish that you believe there are people who understand, get it, feel what you feel and care about you. I hope you believe in yourself and your decisions for your child. I hope you realize that YOU are the expert on your child, and doing the best you can with what you have equals extraordinary parenting. I wish you hope and faith to feed your soul on the rough days and fuel you on the exhausting ones.

Here's hoping all my wishes for you come true!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Note: This is one of the most difficult blog posts I've EVER written/posted. It has taken me two days to get my thoughts in some semblance of order and calm my fury enough to put them into words. No promises, but I'll do my best to keep my anger under control while I write.

The LA Times is currently running a four part series on autism. One part of this series focused on whether there is an increase in autism or increase in the diagnosis of autism. An entertainment attorney commented on the article saying:

"Many parents today want a diagnosis of autism spectrum for their child, not only because there is a great deal of funding allocated for services for those children, as the news article explains, but also because this qualifies the child or family to collect a good SSI payment each month. If a family can get a few kids diagnosed with such things, the family can live off the payments. This was caused because welfare payments are so low, welfare is so hard to get, and intact families with both parents present do not qualify for welfare. The real story would be to check out what percentage of families with child with an autism diagnose are collecting SSI. That is where you will find the real secret behind this "epidemic." Also, school districts that will receive extra funding for each child with autism will be far more likely to make such a diagnosis.When I was a kid, there were kids who kept track of details, counted things, paid little attention to others, and seemed socially awkward. There were called future accountants.I realize there are actual cases of autism, which seems to be a form of retardation. A lot of this spectrum stuff, I think, is based on wanting to collect available funds, without regard for the fact it stigmatizes the children for life to have such a diagnosis.Anyone who writes a scathing reply should reveal if their family is collecting SSI or if they or their school is in any way collecting funds based on autism."

The portions of this uninformed, ignorant person's comments that truly set me off are the highlighted sentences. The entire diatribe is offensive to both parents of and children on the autism spectrum, but my focus is on the over-the-top moronic statements. If I covered the entire comment this would be a novella, not a blog post.I have wanted a lot of things in my life but never ONCE did I WANT my child to be diagnosed with a neurological condition so our family could roll in the big bucks of SSI. And as we all know $679.00 per month (the max SSI monthly payment) puts you in that upper 2% tax bracket if you are "living off the payments". I can assure you that NOT ONE family who receives SSI payments for their autistic child is now living high on the hog. And to say that parents chase down a diagnosis of autism for a whopping $679/month is cold, cruel and disgusting. There is NO SHAME in finding and using every resource available to help your child with autism!

I have to hit on the schools receiving extra funding portion of her comment as well. In our school district the Autism Consultant position was cut from the budget this year, even though we have had an influx of children with autism both starting school for the first time and current students who have been recently diagnosed. Our district shares ONE OT with six elementary schools, 2 middle schools and a large high school. Speech Language Pathologists are shared among schools and we have had special education aide positions cut. The staff my children work with are remarkable 99% of the time, but let me tell you the school was in no hurry what so ever to give either of my boys an educational diagnosis of autism. In fact, my oldest child on the spectrum had a medical diagnosis for nearly a year before I could even get the district to agree to an evaluation for ASD. I am not always the biggest fan of our district's decisions, but I know for a fact that they aren't handing out educational diagnosis of autism left and right.

Autism is a form of mental retardation?! WHOA! I'm sure in the pursuit of a career representing entertainers she has amassed a great deal of knowledge on entertainment law but when it comes to autism she is a Grade A Moron . I can say that with great confidence because my 12 year old son with autism spectrum disorder has been called things such as genius, gifted and brilliant when it comes to academics. He has the social grace of a six year old most days, cannot function in the general education environment YET and is the stuff of legends among staff members at two elementary schools and one middle school because of the things he says and his penchant for (a) locking himself inside his locker and (b) running when he becomes stressed or upset. (The child hurdled the Dean of Students last year while running from a situation. I'll tell you all about that another time, promise.) So you can trust me when I say that autism IS NOT a form of retardation.

Let's discuss the "stigma for life" that accompanies an autism spectrum diagnosis. Perhaps instead of making wild unfounded and hurtful accusations against families who already have more than enough to deal with on a daily basis, this attorney could her voice and time to DESTIGMATIZE an autism diagnosis. My boys on the spectrum are hilarious, bright, loving people. Stigma is defined by as "1. A mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one's reputation. 2. Medicine/Medical A mental or physical mark that is characteristic of a defect or disease."Autism is not a defect, disgrace, stain or reproach of a child's character. Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior (definition taken from Wikipedia). So take your stigma and shove it where the sun don't shine. (Sorry, lapse in anger management skills there.)

The major problem with comments such as those made by this ignorant woman is that others read her misinformation and then feed their negative perceptions of autism. Yes, autism is a pain in the ass some days. Winning the battle against autism demands hard work from a child, their family and teachers every day. It's frustrating and it's exhausting for everyone involved a lot of the time. But autism sure as hell isn't a money making endeavor, form of retardation or a stigma.

Before making generalizations and comments about autism I strongly suggest reading this article It will save you a lot of embarrassment and maybe even each you a thing or two.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What's Your Playlist for Life?

I freely admit that I am addicted to my iPod nano. Music is like therapy for me, only cheaper and I don't have to make an appointment to reap the benefits. To say my music library is eclectic may be an understatement, but every playlist has its place in my life depending on my mood - or which kiddos are in the car with me.

The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables Broadway recordings take me back to the time when all my extra hours were spent on stage, auditioning to get on stage or working on a show coming to the stage. Life was good, with friends who sang loud in the car and ran lines with me until we were as perfect as high school theater students can hope to be.

When I listen to the playlist full of Phil Collins, Def Leppard, Kenny G, Madonna and various other icons of the 80's and early 90's and close my eyes I am immersed in my college memories at Ball State. Lazy afternoons at the Duck Pond, my days serving as an intern for the state senate, and (Mom, don't read this part!) weekends spent with a college boyfriend. I often THOUGHT life was hard back then with my 16 credit hours, job at the Awful Waffle (that's the Waffle House for those of you who don't know) and my heart broken a couple times over four years. If I knew then what I know was a cake walk compared to "the real world"!

Since becoming a parent of five extraordinary children, some which face neurological challenges, music has taken a different meaning. I use it to convey a message I can't say any better than the artist has, to soothe a restless body and soul and to inspire me. So, tonight I chose to write about the playlist of my current life. Some you may know, some you might not, some you will like and others you will despise. I hope my list will make you think about the songs that play in your life's background. I'd love to hear your list, too :)

My Life Now Playlist
 1. You're Gonna Miss This, Trace Adkins - Hard to find a better song to remind me that one day I will sit at home wishing I could do it all over again

2. Life is a Highway, Rascal Flatts version - When my youngest, who is on the autism spectrum, had pneumonia we watched Cars for five solid days - I'm NOT joking. If his eyes were open, it was playing. I will forever love Lightening and Mater for helping us muddle through a miserable, worrying week.

3. Firework, Katy Perry - I actually printed the lyrics to this song for each one of my brood. If you've never heard it, go listen now. If I had my way it would be the Special Ed Anthem.

4. Boogie Shoes, K.C. & the Sunshine Band - Believe it or not, this was my current 12 year old's lullaby of choice. In fact, swaddling him tightly and dancing around the room to this was a sure fire way to calm him as an infant - and yes it HAD to be this one song.

5. Sweet Baby James, James Taylor - My oldest was a very fussy baby, but pop in James Taylor's Greatest Hits and poof! The screaming at least fell to mild whimpering. He won't admit it, but he still likes it sometimes, 14 years later.

6. I Hope You Dance, Lee Ann Womack - This was a huge hit when my only daughter was born. I have a book and CD special edition of this to give to her when she graduates high school. Beautiful, perfect lyrics for any child but especially your little girl(s).

7. Superman, Five for Fighting - "It's not easy to be me" Every time I listen to this I remember that my babies with neurological impairments, like autism & ADHD, need me to understand that it's not easy to be them. It's a good reminder for me on the days when I want to scream as loud as they do during meltdown mode.

8. Hit Me With your Best Shot, Pat Benatar - A nice solid kick in the butt when I'm moping about things I can't change.

9. Hysteria/Pour Some Sugar On Me, Def Leppard - Tired goes with the territory, but these are guaranteed to get me moving, singing along and smiling.

10. Landslide, Stevie Nicks - Not only is it ok, it is necessary, to occasionally give yourself a few minutes of a pity party. There are not enough pharmaceuticals on the market to make a person strong, happy and content with their life 24/7, 365 days a year. This song is my cry in my coffee pity party time. I believe everyone should have their own song or two for this purpose, then when they're over you pull yourself up and get the job(s) done.

What is on the playlist for YOUR life? Remember, friends share :)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I'm Thinking of Forming my Own Villiage

Just yesterday I told a fellow blogger/parent of ASD children that I'd love to be her neighbor. Imagine it - living next door to someone who "gets it"! The more I thought about this, the more the idea has grown into a fantasy of sorts.

Maybe we could name it Nirvana Neighbors, or perhaps Get It or Get Out.  The whole thing has taken on a life of its own in my mind today. An entire subdivision dedicated to families who experience life differently than the majority of families (insert sound of dreamy sigh here).

The bus stop would be full of children clinging to their parent or trying to dart far away and not one person would shoot the "can't you control your child?" look at you. Seeing a six year old dash out the door in Batman underwear, and that's it, would get chuckles from the neighbors, maybe a "Little Guy, I think you forgot something today" comment with a smile, but not the "LOOK AT THAT KID! Where are his parents?!?" scream from the mom across the street.

When neighborhood kids get together everyone expects that it will be mostly parallel play, with the occasional "You aren't following the RULES!" screech. Neighborhood parks would have multiple electric outlets, because hey, playing on the iPad/Nintendo DS OUTSIDE the house is a step forward. Overgrown lawns, or lawns that have more bare spots than green spots, wouldn't cause a single eye to bat. It would be common knowledge that overgrown lawns are due to a child who HATES the lawn mower's noise and the family has to wait until said child is not home to mow; bare spots are simply signs that a family has more important things to spend time and money on than grass, which by the way, would have to be mowed.

Whispers of "does he/she own any other clothes?" would be non-existent; it would simply be understood that some of the kids refuse to wear anything else and never questioned that said child's mother washed and dried his uniform of choice every evening. Mothers who showed up at the park, bus stop or local store dressed in matching fashionable clothes with hair and make up perfect would be the ones looked at like aliens from another galaxy. In fact, in this neighborhood, if you look like that the rest of us would assume you've had an experience that surpasses orgasm and we would feel no guilt in dropping our child/ren off at your door while we showered and brushed our hair and teeth in the same sitting.

There would be an extensive screening process for families wanting to join our little village. A questionnaire with things like:

1. What do the acronyms SLP/OT/PT/BCBA/ABA mean? How many of these do you know and are they good?

2. Have you said the phrase "If that were MY child..." since becoming a parent? If so, when and explain the circumstance in which it was said.

3. You see a child throw himself/herself on the ground, yell "I hate you! It's not FAIR!" and an exhausted, exasperated parent at the park. Do you:
A.) Look with disdain at the parent with your hands on your hips
B.) Run like the wind in the opposite direction
C.) Smile genuinely at the parent, stand next to them and ask "Can I get you a coffee or Xanax?" with a knowing laugh

4. Do you know what an IEP is? Can you read and write goals for one? Please provide recent example.

5. Is any member of your household a therapist, attorney, special needs advocate, physician or bartender? Are they willing to be on-call for emergencies involving neighbors?

If you happen to know anyone with millions of dollars who would like to bring my dream to fruition send them my way. In the meantime, I'd love to have all of you who get it become my virtual neighbor. I'll even throw you a welcome to the neighborhood virtual party :)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Yes, you have to....

I don't WANT to! It's HARD!
I know it's really hard right now, but the more you do it the easier it gets. It was hard for me when I first started doing it, too. I don't always want to do my work either, but it has to be done. Now, let's get to work.

It's not FAIR! So-and-So doesn't have to do it!
LIFE isn't fair, not for you, not for me, or any other person. And So-and-So has to do other things that YOU don't have to do. Now, let's get to work.

I don't know HOW to do this!
Lucky for you, we have a ton of information available to help you get started! Pick which piece you want to look at first. Now, let's get to work.

I am NOT going to do it!
Yes, you most certainly are going to do it. AND you are going to change your attitude NOW. It's my job to make sure this gets done, and done as well as you can do it, and I take my job very seriously. Now, let's get to work.

I don't want to because I think I'll do a bad job at it.
First, if I thought you weren't able to do this I wouldn't insist that you do. I KNOW you can, and I believe you can do a terrific job! I promise, if I see you giving your best effort and doing your best work, I will never be angry or upset with you. Now, let's get to work. 

OK....will you help me?
Yes! I will ALWAYS help you, whenever you need me. Remember, help means I give you some tips and guidance while you do it - it doesn't mean I'm going to do it FOR you. Now, let's get to work.

I did it!! Did you see that?! I really did it!!
Wow! It feels great when you do something that you thought was too hard for you, doesn't it?! All that patience and work really paid off - AWESOME JOB!!

I bet you're thinking you just read a conversation I've had with my children at some point. Yeah, I've had talks similar to this with each one of them, but this particular conversation is the one I have had, and will continue to have, with some teachers who educate my kiddos on the autism spectrum.

I believe that every educator has the ability to teach my children. Some don't have the knowledge, experience or skill sets required to understand how an ASD student learns or why they behave in certain ways, but those are things that can be learned - as long as a person is WILLING to learn new methods, ask for help and approach the challenge with a good attitude.

Now, let's get to work. :)

Monday, March 28, 2011

If I Teach You Nothing Else...

It's fairly safe to assume that my children will forever after have access to spell check, a calculator and the wold wide web for research. Academically, I have no doubt that they will surpass my knowledge. But there are things that only I, as their mother, am responsible for teaching them before they head off into the "real world".

If I teach them these things, I will consider myself a success in the mothering department:

What you need is vastly different then what you WANT
As your parent I will ALWAYS provide the things you need - you will have a home, food, clothing, education, discipline and boundless, limitless, unconditional love. Your home may not have a pool or be in the neighborhood you'd like to live in, your clothes may not be the latest "HAVE to have" brand name, you will not always like the meals I make and it's a sure bet you won't like the consequences enforced when you make poor choices. And you will LIVE through not having everything everything you want! Regardless of all else, when you go to bed at night, you will have no doubt that you are loved simply because you are my child.

You don't have to like me, but you WILL always treat me with respect
I am more than ok with you not liking me - I didn't always like my Mom either! But you will ALWAYS talk to me and treat me with respect - I have earned that. Learn it, live it, love it because you will need this every day of your adult life. You cannot go to work and your call your boss or co-workers names, talk to them with a snotty attitude and slam your office door because you're angry. Do those things and you'll be jobless.

I am not your best friend, and you aren't mine
I will forever be your loudest cheerleader, your fiercest advocate, the door that is always open, the hug that's a little too tight and too long, the shoulder to cry on and ear that will listen to problems and challenges you face. I'm your Mom. Being your Mom isn't a popularity contest and I won't make decisions based on how much you like me because of what I've decided. There are parts of my life that are adult only topics - I have friends to discuss those things with and frankly, some things are just none of your business.

Do it the best you can the FIRST time
Half-assed just isn't going to cut it - not here during your childhood and not in your adult life. You will not ever hear me give you grief because you did the best job you are capable of doing. However, putting forth little to no effort in a job or assignment you are expected to complete is unacceptable. I can guarantee you will spend far less time doing whatever it is to your best ability than you will spend listening to me lecture and serving the consequence of blatant laziness.

Stand up for what is right, even if you're standing alone
Your Dad and I have spent every day of your life teaching you right from wrong. Don't let a group of peers steer you away from the things you've been taught throughout your life! The fastest way to see yourself in an ugly light is to abandon your core beliefs. Integrity is a character trait that takes years to prove to the world (and yourself!) and mere minutes to destroy. Do what you know is right - your true friends will still be around when you do.

And lastly....

Girlfriends, Boyfriends and Friends will come and go - Family is FOREVER
You will have so many people during your life that come for a period of time and then are gone - lost friendships, broken romances, friends who move away. But no matter what, you have a family that loves you and will always be there when you need them. You are going to fight with your siblings 1000's of times during your childhood but when push comes to shove you KNOW that there's a group of people in your corner that love you and will be there whenever you need them. No friend in the world will ever love, support and go to the wall for you the way your brothers and sister will!

If you learn and believe these things, I will have succeeded in the most important role of my life.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Letters "LRE" Give Me Hives

Yes, I know, I am supposed to be thrilled when I hear "He's doing GREAT! We really think he's ready to move into his general education class(es). Our goal is for him to function well and learn in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)." Logically, I know that is the goal for my little Einsteins; emotionally, I go into panic/no, not yet! mommy mode.

I start wondering, mostly to myself in the wee hours of the night: "What's so great about transitioning into the gen ed class(es)? He's exceling in his academics, he has friends he actually talks to in class, his behavior is typically super (or is easily redirected), his anxiety level is almost nil in regard to school. I adore his teacher(s) and aides and we communicate with each other well and often. Why on earth are we fixing something not broken?!"

Then, I remember why. No matter how hard I try or how much I want it, I can't keep them in a bubble where they don't have to expand on the social and coping skills they've worked so hard on learning. Someday my babies will have to venture out into the "real world" where there are co-workers, bosses, girlfriends that turn into wives, crowds of people to contend with and environments that aren't completely structured. They have to be prepared to live independent, happy lives and the only way to become prepared is to gradually keep moving into the "normal" world now. BUT, that doesn't mean I have to relish idea.

Part of my dread stems from a purely selfish place. When our 6th grader moved into an inclusive classroom a few months ago, life became dramatically easier for all of us. No more 3 hours of homework a night - he finishes nearly every piece of work during school hours now. No more phone calls about unmanageable behaviors - he has actually started removing himself to a quiet spot and calming himself before there's an escalation to "meltdown". No more teachers who "don't get it" - he's surrounded by people he trusts, cares about and, most importantly, "get it" all day long. I'd be a liar if I said inclusive classrooms haven't made MY life a lot easier.

Another piece is the protective mama instinct running rampant. Right now, my boys LOVE their teachers, their classmates, their routine. (Change is NOT a happy word around here) The transitions are going to be hard for them, they will have some anxiety and fear of what's "different". There will be kids in their class(es) who think they are "weird" and may tease or taunt them. There will most certainly be chants from my boys of "That's not the way Mrs. _____ does it!" What if their teacher becomes aggravated with their rigidity and doesn't know how to help them cope? The list could go on and on, but I'm sure you get the idea.

Tomorrow my baby boy will transition to his general education kindergarten class for essentially the whole day instead of the hour and a half he's been going each day. In August my 7th grader will transition back to a block of general education classes with just a couple of hours a day in his current classroom. And yes, my heart is beating a little faster just thinking about these changes in their routines. Like I said, the letters LRE give me hives.

Monday, March 14, 2011

My Politically Incorrect Statement on Bullying

When I was about 5 or 6 I played with a little girl in our neighborhood who's older brother lived to tease and torment us. He relished making us cry and run home to "tell". One day, my dad had enough - enough of me coming home crying instead of standing up for myself. So he said, "If you come home crying again because he's picked on you and you didn't stand up to him, I'M going to spank you." I believed him. So when the little snot picked on us again, I decked him - bloodied that older boy's nose and sent him home crying! That wasn't exactly what my dad meant for me to do, but I didn't get punished for it either. AND he never bothered my friend and I again.

Now, I AM NOT advocating, promoting or supporting punching a bully in the nose or telling your child to use physical force in resolving an issue with a bully. In these times, you'll end up being sued and probably lose, even if the meanie had it coming!

However, I AM pretty tired of hearing adults say "Boys will be boys", "All kids get teased at that age", "Girls
are just mean at this age - it's a normal phase" and at the top of my list is "You should feel sorry for him. He's got poor self esteem and so he picks on other kids to feel powerful...poor thing."

Guess what? There's no law of the land that boys have to degrade and hurt each other; there's nothing in the handbook of life that says teasing someone is an okay thing to do; I've yet to find a rule for girls that says it's perfectly fine to be mean from the years of ___ to ____. And seriously, feel sorry for the child who makes another child miserable at every opportunity?! NOT happening, not with me. I don't feel sorry for them - I feel anger towards them.

I am sure that I am 17 miles over the political correctness line by saying this, and I don't care. I'm sick to death of adults making excuses for children who are just plain mean! It's high time someone said to the Bully on the Block, "You! Knock it off! It's not ok and it's not funny. I promise you, if I ever see you bullying another child you will be the sorriest, saddest child in this city. Are we clear?"

I am not callous, and I don't deny the fact that there are children who's sense of worth has somehow become tied to their ability to inflict emotional and/or physical pain on other kids. Yes, some bullies need guidance in identifying other areas where they can achieve recognition and excel, but you can't help them without first making them STOP. If you saw someone walking down Path A but knew Path B was really the road they needed to take to get to their destination would you just stand there and watch them keep headed the wrong way? No, I'm betting 99% of you would yell, "Hey! STOP! You're going the wrong direction!"

No more excuses, no more looking the other way, no more "It's none of my business. He/She isn't MY child." Stand firm, use your 'I mean business' face, invoke the power of your Mom/Dad voice and say STOP!

"The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing." Albert Einstein

Saturday, March 5, 2011

I Understand, So Don't Worry!

Over the past week I have essentially become the PITA of our school corporation. The decision by corporation administration and school board members to cut the autism consultant position beginning in the 2011-2012 school year has propelled me into "Mission Mom" mode and I have been using every available personal and public platform available to express my disappointment and anger over this decision. And I am certainly not alone!

BUT I want to explain a few things to my friends in the teaching field and others who may be impacted by how vocal I am being regarding this issue:

1. I understand that while many of my teacher friends support our stance in the privacy of their homes, they cannot use their voice publicly to stand with me and the other parents who are fighting this decision. You have jobs that you need to keep and students who depend on you. PLEASE do not worry or think that I am disappointed or angry at you for not joining our "mission". Your hands are tied and I understand.

2. There are parents of students in our school corporation that for one reason or another cannot publicly voice their negative opinions on the various budget cuts in 2011-2012. It's OK! Not everyone is comfortable or able to be a "trouble maker", and I don't harbor any resentment towards anyone for their decision. As your friend, I ALWAYS want you to make your decisions based on what is best for you and your family :)

That being said, I also want you to know and try to understand why I have to make a stand, whether that leads to me being thought of as a PITA or not:

1. Of my five school age children, 3 are students with IEP's in place. Two of those three are on the autism spectrum. It is my job to protect their educational rights and do everything within my power to ensure they receive every service available that will help them become independent, productive adults. There is absolutely NO DOUBT in my mind that not having an autism consultant available will negatively impact my ASD students.

2.  Academics are, of course, very important, but there are life lessons that I believe every child needs to learn. Being able to stand up and fight for the things you believe are important is one of those life lessons. We are a house filled with visual learners. I truly believe that my children both need and deserve to see me stand strong in my beliefs, and when necessary go to the mat defending those beliefs. Each one of my children needs to know and believe that the MOST important thing to me is THEM. They need to see for themselves that I will do whatever it takes, whatever is within my power, to make sure their needs are met at home and at school. They need to understand that sometimes when you take a firm stand in your beliefs, there will be people who don't like it and try very hard to make you be quiet and back down. They will have many tests in life, but the test of character will always be the important one - the one that will determine the course of their lives. It's my job to make sure they have the tools to pass that test. If doing that leads to me being labeled as a PITA, so be it.

"When you have decided what you believe, what you feel must be done, have the courage to stand alone and be counted." - Eleanor Roosevelt-

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dollars and Sense

Yesterday was the day I finally realized, without a doubt, that the administration of our school corporation has issues far worse than a lack of dollars to spend - they have a lack of sense that permeates their decision making ability. Even worse than a lack of sense, I now believe that "the suits" are far more concerned with standardized test scores, athletic programs and a constant CYA vigil than they are about the students they are charged with educating. It leaves me with a very heavy heart and a disgusting taste in my mouth.

Let's start with some background: From kindergarten through 4th grade my son suffered through school, begging to be home schooled. I received multiple phone calls each week describing behaviors like hiding under desks, stuffing himself into cubbies and tantrums that were self injurious. I was told "his day is shot, just come pick him up" at least 3 times a month. Teachers refused to let him attend field trips if I or his father didn't come along. When I visited to have lunch with him, I would sit in my car and sob as I observed recess after lunch; my son sat alone by a trash can playing with his "friends", the bugs, or sometimes would swing, again all alone.

I began asking questions about autism when he was in first grade. "Oh no, no, no, no. He's far too smart to be autistic....He needs more coddle him too much...." And so I followed the advice of the building administrators, because they knew what they were talking about, right? They wanted my child to be happy, healthy and well educated, right?

By third grade I had had it. We had been seeing a child neurologist who diagnosed my then 8 year old with OCD, and began talking about Asperger's syndrome as a real possibility. In he summer between 4th and 5th grade he was officially given a medical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I immediately shared this with the staff at his elementary school and was immediately met with fierce resistance. I began nothing short of a war to have the school conduct an educational evaluation. Finally, when the principal's request for yet another meeting to discuss my son's "behavior" was met with my reply of "Our attorney has advised me to not meet with any staff without her present", I got my requested evaluation - and I got it FAST. Nothing makes administration move so quickly as hearing the word "attorney" :)

Enter my son's guardian angel on earth, the school corporation's autism consultant. She called me the first day she went to observe and has been diligent in her communication with me since. It took her very little time observing and interacting with him to make an educational diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. She was with me for the grief, the anger, the tears. She came to IEP meetings during her maternity leave so that I had someone on my son's side. It took about 12 minutes for my son to completely trust and love her. It took me about 12 minutes and 5 seconds. I KNEW without a doubt that she was truly invested in seeing my child succeed, and my trust in her saved the school corporation a lot of money. She "talked me down" from the edge of suing the corporation more than once.

Fast forward to yesterday: I received the news that the autism consultant position has been eliminated through budget cuts. I was devastated, angry, sad and scared - I still am reeling. How are we going to navigate the rest of middle school and then high school without her?

But, thank goodness, there is room in the corporation's budget for 2 new positions in the central office! Why, they have been such a huge help so far, with 2 more people there I can only imagine how services for students with autism will be maintained and enhanced! (In case you didn't catch it, the previous statement is dripping with sarcasm.)

I have never asked, nor investigated, what the autism consultant salary was -I've only been convinced that it was nowhere near enough. Whatever the number was, it will be dwarfed by the cost of independent educational evaluations, attorney costs and other various outside resources that parents will now have to demand the corporation pay for in order to receive the educational and psychological services guaranteed to students with disabilities through federal law.

How's that for Dollars vs. Sense?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dear Indiana Government Officials and Indiana Educators

If you live in, or anywhere near Indiana you know that there is a raging war of words between our governor and the educators of our state. The governor believes students will be better served by implementing new accountability standards for educators and negating their right to use collective bargaining in contract negotiations. Educators believe the governor's plan sabotages public schools, pours money into ineffective charter school programs and undermines teachers' ability to receive fair contracts. I think I got most of it in this tiny nutshell. If you want the nitty gritty details, trust me, you don't have to try too hard to find them from either side of the issue!

I don't have a solution to make everyone happy. Honestly, in the political arena, there is seldom ANYTHING that makes everyone happy. I am torn myself on the issue and have been researching both viewpoints. I DO know that the way the 'debate' is going now isn't productive for anyone, including taxpayers and students of Indiana. So I have this radical, crazy idea that I'd like Governor Daniels and all the others involved to at least consider.....

How about we start from here on out with some ground rules for the debate:

1.) When entering a meeting with the 'other side', greet each person with "Hello my friend!" Yes, I'm stealing this from my son's special education kindergarten teacher. It's amazing how a friendly greeting can start things off on a good note.

2.) You may only use kind words in your speech bubble. Yet another gem from kindergarten this year! There will be no personal attacks, no name calling, no accusations of wrong without proof.

3.) There will be no shouting over each other to be heard - if you need them, I will provide sets of my turn/your turn signs for the meetings. Remember, the first rule of good communication is LISTEN. That one comes from a super autism consultant's social skills lesson.

4.) Take a break if you need one. It's better to take 5 or 10 minutes to calm down than waste hours having a meltdown. I'd suggest having some sensory tools on the table like fidgets, chewing gum, mints, etc. An overstimulated, overwhelmed debater is a cranky debater ;)

I'm sure you've noticed that all of these rules come from special education classrooms teaching students with autism. Have you also noticed that these rules can, and should, be used ALL the time by everyone? Maybe what Governor Daniels, the state legislators and educators need is a week or two of social skills lessons and kindergarten morning message. Conflict is inevitable on hot button issues, but if I expect my 5 and 11 year old children with autism to play by these rules I think it's reasonable to expect adults debating education reform to follow them as well.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rock the Boat...Don't Rock the Boat, Baby

Today I participated in a debate, via Facebook comments, about the education reform plan supported by Governor Mitch Daniels here in Indiana. I do not intend on carrying the debate over into my blog, but instead am writing tonight about a comment made while discussing whether the reform would be unfair in how special education staff would be evaluated for merit based pay.

A wonderful friend commented that many parents in our school district are unsatisfied with special education services and how services are provided but things will not change because individuals are not willing to "rock the boat", either themselves or form as a group. Maybe she has a point, but boat rocking comes at a price and in my humble opinion, is to be saved for times when no other acceptable option is available. Not to mention that if you continually rock the boat, you are sure to be thrown overboard by the people who don't want to end up in the water with you ;)

You should know that I am the daughter of a boat capsizer (yes, I just made that word up - it's my blog and I can make up words lol) My mother is a force of nature when she takes on a cause, works to right an injustice or Heaven forbid goes into Mother/Grandmother Bear mode. She took on the Indiana State Board of Education in the 1980's and WON; she physically threw herself across one of her pediatric patients to prevent a procedure until the child's specialist arrived (by the way, the specialist was thrilled she stopped the unnecessary procedure); I had to say to her once, "Mom! I have to come back here - please!" when she was more than ready to beat my OB/GYN over the head with a boat after I developed a severe infection 4 days after giving birth to my first child. So, I come from boat rocking lineage and am pretty darn good at it when needed!

Like I said, I believe rocking the boat should be viewed as a last resort method of getting needed results. My Mom taught me early that 'honey gathers more flies than vinegar' and I know that to be true. Besides, I really am a nice, cooperative person at heart so I would rather have someone choose to work with me because they know we are both trying to achieve the same goal than force and intimidate someone to work with me. Now, if honey doesn't work after sincere efforts, you gotta' be ready and able to makes waves....

My children are all in a good educational environment for them now. I am working with multiple staff members and seeing positive results in all three of my children with IEP's in place. Did I have to rock the boat to get to this point? Heck YES I did! Do I regret the fallout from those actions? NOPE! There are individuals who were friends that aren't any longer, staff that doesn't much like me and I'm quite certain I've been called things other than my God-given name - but my babies are all in healthy, happy learning environments now so I am completely okay with all of those things.

Yes, I can Rock the Boat. But sometimes, it's better for everyone if you Don't Rock the Boat, Baby. My Mama is proud :D

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

NOW I Know Why It's Called Language ARTS

My aspie's sixth grade Language Arts class could be the considered the seventh circle of Hell for me. It isn't the teacher - she's a wonderful, caring, understanding woman who definitely knows her stuff. It's the writing projects that lead me to dreaming about jamming a pencil in my own eye rather than work on them with C.

My son is incredibly imaginative, creative and intelligent. He reads at an 11-12th grade level and has a vocabulary that resulted in his 5th grade teacher making the rule "You can answer out loud IF you promise to use words other 5th graders know." He has the capacity to become an extraordinary inventor, scientist or engineer. He will NEVER be a writer.

I suppose a part of the pain I experience during these writing projects stems from the fact that I am and always have been one who loves to write. I can express myself best in written word; it is a release for me to put my fingers to the keyboard - or pen to paper - and 'say' what I'm thinking and feeling.

C is my polar opposite when it comes to expressing himself and his knowledge via the written word. He'd rather I pull out his fingernails than be verbose in his writing. This is the child who answered an essay question in elementary school with "See page 67". His reasoning was that obviously the teacher would know he read the material because he told her exactly where to find the answer and writing something already written in a book is just a waste of time. Sigh....can you hear the thumping of my head against the nearest wall?

C is absolutely unwavering in his belief that writing should use the fewest words possible, when he's the writer. That brain of his simply cannot comprehend why a teacher would want him to use a lot of descriptive words to tell her about something she already knows. Add that to the fact that handwriting is a huge chore for him and his very literal, black and white thinking and you've got a literary disaster in 50 words or less.

I feel for his Language Arts teacher. I can truly understand how frustrating, disappointing and maddening it is to try and coerce him into writing anything with some substance. His teacher this year has extended deadlines for him and even allowed him to bring an essay exam home to complete. She isn't at fault in any way - it's the damn autism spectrum disorder that's to blame (and if we're being totally honest, I do blame him some, too. Lord, that child is STUBBORN!)

The current project he's already late in turning in involves writing a reflection consisting of a minimum of 5 paragraphs, 5 sentences minimum in each paragraph, and creating an audio collage of "several" songs that he thinks convey the message in the book and writing about how each of the songs relate to the story. All I can say is UGH, UGH, UGH!!! Tonight he quibbled with me about the meaning of several - he insisted it means only 3. He then managed to choose ONE song and write ONE sentence about how it applies to the book. That was an hour of work - he may have this done by the time he finishes 7th grade at this rate. And it's a safe bet that I'll be bald by the time he finishes....