Tag - school

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Beach Day
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Summer’s Finish Line
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Back to School
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Tigers Roar
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My Boy, He Has Some Skillz!
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Hello, Doom! Welcome Back to School
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July 9: Oil Spills and Things
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Clouds
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Of IEPs and Other Life-Changing Meetings
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Treading Water

Beach Day

We are excited, we are nervous. We are headed to the beach with the entire 3rd grade. How lucky that field trips here are decidedly un-school-like. It is easy to be with you, even though you are antsy and talking non-stop.

You are anxious. Truth? Me too.

IMG_bday2We are finding our way. We’re from the land of Target and neighborhood pools and McDonald’s happy meals. What do we know of crabbing and swimming in icy waters, where kids are born running barefoot over rocks and chowda is better than oatmeal.

What do we know of living with less, with breathing in the salt and sea? Of feeling less, yes, but here the less is bountiful and filling — like a song. Well, we know not, but we sing and are better for it each day.

A friend reminded me today: I left a village behind. Every kid needs one, every mom too. It is hard to be a single mom without a village. Well, we start anew.

You make friends, you falter. I do too. We are compatriots, buddy, singing the same tune.

One day you’ll look up and there it will be: you are a child running to something instead of away.

Love, Mommy

Summer’s Finish Line

John had the entire month of August to get sick but instead spiked a fever the night before the first day of school: a day circled and highlighted on our calendar since the end of June.

July was a piece of cake with summer camp to fill our days. But August! A month of unstructured weeks and hours. Fourteen days at the beach with family had its own poetry and routine but that left two more weeks. Two more long weeks. Pool fatigue set in and really — you can only go to the library so many times. That finish line was looking mighty fine for us all.

We went to open houses, met teachers, surveyed the land. We went to Target, stocked up on supplies, cleaned backpacks and lunch boxes. I began to talk to John in earnest about going back to school. “Back to school?” he laughed, jumping up and down. We picked out clothes, read stories about school, ticked off our classmates’ names (a total of four).

Finish line.

And then the middle of the night fever, the early morning refusal to eat or drink. The phone calls to the pediatrician, the bus depot, new teacher and school. The disappointment. (We were all disappointed, I will not lie!) But I felt so bad for him.

John loves school.

He loves the bus, the staff, the routine. And I love that he loves something that is apart from us. We had made it through so many days already, what was one more. But John sobbed for nearly two hours, I told him, “First doctor, then school tomorrow.” He’d repeat it, calm a little, then as if heard the injustice for the first time, cry again and wail, “School tomorrow?”

So John’s first day of school was Sam’s second. We were lucky: strep was negative and he awoke happy and fever-free. When the bus pulled up, he ran down the drive to meet it.

And his teacher this year? Fabulous.

Back to School

I am alone for the first time in months. Hello silence! How I’ve missed you. Which also means: Hello self! There you are! How are we feeling about being alone? Should we eat some ice cream or should we write. I’ve carried half-written posts around in my head all summer, never finding the space or time to sit down and share them. My boys turned seven. We had a lovely family vacation and I sank into brief breaks here and there — a book on the beach, a stroll on the sand — but nothing quite beats the sound of silence for this weary mom.

Back to school brings with it the familiar angst, the wringing of the hands, the transition to something new. We’re in second grade. The amount of worrying I do as back-to-school ramps up is ridiculous. Ridiculous. It helps when I hear that I’m not the only neurotic mom trying to micromanage every aspect of my kids’ lives. As if I could.

Last year I lost sleep over John’s then-new teacher, so worried was I that she wasn’t going to be as good as his first one. She turned out to be better! You’d think I’d learn from that — and I have, really. It just has not stopped me from fretting anew about all of the things I cannot control. This part of being a mom is the absolute worst — the letting go, the trusting. I do not do it well. The only thing that makes it bearable is that my kids are much more resilient than me.

So here we are: Sam moved up to second grade with not one friend or classmate from last year. Not one. It’s like they went out of their way to isolate him. This, when social skills are paramount on his IEP.

The first week the students line up in front of the school by classroom. On the first day I lead an anxious little boy to his new teacher. He is quiet. He notices several former classmates in a separate line. He waves and says hello under his breath but they don’t notice. I tell him “They just didn’t see you, honey.” If his teacher wasn’t excellent… I think, but she is. Members of his team try to reassure me that this is going to be Sam’s best year yet but I have no objectivity. My head has checked out and given control over to my heart, which by the way, is breaking! He’s all alone! He’s sad!

Of course I go home, call the husband and sob. He picks up after the first ring, says he’s been expecting my call. He hears my concerns, wonders if this might not be a positive in some ways. But you didn’t see his face! It’s not right, I say. I spend the rest of the day drafting anxious emails to the principal and his team — should we transfer him?

I save the draft and decide to see how his first day went. If he’s sad, I will hit send! I go to the school and wait out front for him. I’m prepared for the worst, my imagination is by now, firmly in overdrive.

“It was a great day!” he says running to me. “I love second grade!”
Resilient. Positive. Confident.

He has already memorized half of the class in alphabetical order, of course. He rattles them off to me, “…numbers 12, 13, 14, and 15 I don’t remember yet, but I will tomorrow. Number 16 is… ” He even found his best friend C. at recess and they played together. Huh.

Letting go… trusting… it’s a process. He teaches me. How I love that boy.

Tigers Roar

John surprised me today…after reading a book about animals, we pulled out toy animals (tigers, bears, birds) and John began to do some pretend play! He took two tigers and made them roar at each other and march along the table. He played with the animals for 15-20 minutes… Go JOHN!!

—John’s teacher

This child amazes. The many things this boy could not do and is doing. He is reading books. He generalizes words from his programs and can transfer knowledge to a book he’s never seen before. There used to be a time that bed time consisted of my sitting on Sam’s side of the bed to read a bedtime story but every night John demands: Read story? and I plop myself between them.

Amazing that we are here.

My Boy, He Has Some Skillz!

My little boy is sad. This makes me sad. As I may have alluded to earlier in the school year, Sam is finding it tricky to navigate the social wormhole that is first grade. He actually says, “Mom, it’s tricky.” My boy is nothing but astute when it comes to feelings, his feelings, but has a harder time figuring out his peers.

He had one constant friend, a little boy who is perhaps a little quirky too — but unlike Sam, X seems to be accepted by all the cool kids (the kids that Sam desperately wants to play with). Whereas in kindergarten play date invites were passed out to all like a bag of lollipops, first graders have settled on their favorite flavors and invites are not as forthcoming. Birthday party across the street? Not invited. He was hurt and blamed me for not taking him (I gladly accepted the blame).

This one little boy, though, had been pretty constant.

So when Sam announced that he plays alone at recess now — an unstructured, loud environment that had gotten better (I thought) with intervention from a few adults that were asked to facilitate — I asked him why? What about X? That’s when my little boy said that X has a new friend. And that’s when he started to cry. “He was my one, most special favorite friend, Mom. He doesn’t play with me anymore.”

Help, readers! I’m feeling blind rage towards first-graders! My first instinct is to scoop him up, move far away to a place where he is loved and admired for being such a special, brilliant kid. A place with kids who get him. Doesn’t a place like that exist? Yes, he is quirky. Yes, he sometimes sounds like a 30-year-old when he talks. Yes, he has a hard time modulating his voice. But he is loving and caring and wants to be your friend. He wants you to be his friend. He is a damned good friend.

And just so you know, we have had X over numerous times. They play really well together but lately I hear X scolding Sam: “Why do you talk so loud? You don’t need to yell, Sam.” And while I know he has this tendency — I can’t tell you how many times a day I remind him “Inside Voice!” — I bristle to hear one of his peers, who can be just as loud, lecturing him this way. I hate later, after the play date, when I ask him about it and Sam asks me, “Do you think he’ll still be my friend?” I hate that the answer was apparently not.

Instead I hug him tight and tell him that it’s hard when our friends seem to forget us when they make new ones. I suggest he try playing with both of them — and this is where it’s tricky for me. I know that social relationships adapt and change frequently at this age. That is to say, I know this because I am told this. I have no practical knowledge of this phenomenon. I look around and what I see are pretty solid friendships going back to last year. What I see are kids who once played with him? Now they ignore him.

But then he says, “Mom, it’s okay. I feel better. I’m drawing you a picture of how it goes.” Ten minutes later he brings me this, an “Imformaition” key helpfully written on the back, and he explains:

“1. First I start off with the Happys (they are yellow).
2. Then something happens and the Attack begins (those are the red mixing with the yellow).
3. A Volcano forms and erupts (I yell or make noise).
4. The Angrys come in (they are red).
5. The Smokys are here and they make me very quiet.
6. The Blues, I am very sad.
7. There is a Problem now because I can’t talk.
8. I Rest and then the Happys slowly return.
9. The Betters are here (they are green). And I’m okay.”

He is more than okay. He is way better than I am.

I can’t help but think that if he can so clearly express every stage of every emotion he feels, then he is doing way better than 99% of us. I think how I’ve had my head in the sand the last few months, not really able to deal with much and wonder how it might be different if I could draw myself a map of “how it goes” for me.

Homework.

Hello, Doom! Welcome Back to School

John is a gentle soul. I don’t just say this because I’m his mom — anyone who has ever met him says it too. He’s so easy-going, a sweetie, a love.

This week he came home from school with the word “aggressive” attached to his day. As in “John became aggressive and needed two of us to restrain him.” 

My heart sank, I immediately went into fight mode. I knew it! I thought, he’s in the wrong placement, with a new teacher who doesn’t get him, who can I call, what can I do? Must call an IEP meeting! He’s never been aggressive, doom, doom, doom.

I rifle around for phone numbers, the teacher’s, the autism office, the principal. Oh my god, who do I call to protest this word attached to my boy? I tried to picture Aggression and John in the same thought and came up empty. Sure, there’s the body-dropping when he really, really, really doesn’t want to go in to the house/store/party. There’s the whine and the Are you okay? when he protests the potty or bed time. He’s never hit me or another child. He used to bite Sam on occasion, but to be honest, Sam usually provoked it.

I call the school, ask for the teacher. Stew, wait on the line. She’s gone for the day. I call the autism office and get a number out of order. Stew, fume, tap feet. Find number for someone in Dept. of Ed and just as I’m pondering whether to make the call, Twins Dad calls me. He barely says hello before I’m falling all over myself, The injustice! Can you believe it? WTF, who do I yell at?

Because he’s the rational one most of the time, he talks me down, says it’s very possible that John could have lashed out — first week of school with a new teacher after three months of little routine. Transitions. Hello? Suggests I send an email with my concerns to the teacher, copy autism office, ask for just a little more detail since we don’t often see this word and John together.

Oh. Well, that makes sense. I stop, take a breath and write 26 different versions of an email asking for more information and wait. And wait. And wait. I wait until 10 p.m. and decide it might be a little unrealistic to expect a response now. Go to bed and fret about John’s whole year (of course I do, because if I didn’t, what would I do instead — sleep? Don’t be crazy, people).

The next morning the phone rings. His teacher. His new teacher who I’ve already decided to not like. She tells me what transpired. He was on the computer. He loves the computer! I think to myself. And he did not want to stop playing on the computer. Oh, I think, I could see that. So we told him we’d be moving on to another activity and gave him a warning. Hmm…I wonder how that went. He body dropped. Yes, I can picture it. Then he started flailing and scratching me. He tore my badge and my necklace. I had to ask for help to restrain him. Oh, baby, were you that mad? I can see it. Almost.

And then, just as I’m starting to hyperventilate on the other end, my mind already going down a path to Behavior Modification Plan, his teacher, the new teacher I’ve already decided not to like, says “I think he’s just testing me to see what he can get away with since I’m new to him.” And I start to thaw a little. “Please don’t worry, I’m sure this is just part of his transition back to school,” and I release my breath. I might start liking her.

(Just a little bit, though)

Because this business of being his advocate, of making sure he’s getting the best, the most appropriate education, feels huge. Often. I worry that if I don’t stay on top of it at all times I’m letting him down, I’m not doing enough. I’ve always been a fight or flight type of gal, and I see now that learning how to pick my battles while letting a lot of it go is my biggest challenge.

July 9: Oil Spills and Things

On the last day of school I found out that John’s teacher is not returning next year. Nor are three out of four para educators. If I hadn’t surprised his teaching staff with an end-of-the-year visit to bestow gifts, I believe I’d still be in the dark.

This information sits in my chest, heavy, the way the oil spill in the Gulf does. Since the spill happened, I can’t read about the cleanup because it makes me physically ill — so much destroyed, all of that innocent wildlife, the tragedy of it — and me here, helpless.

While poolside, Fall seems far away. But it will be here before we know it, and it’s as if I must make myself read about the oil spill and the cleanup efforts every day. Twins dad would say it’s because if I’m not worrying, then by golly, I should find something!

The autism program is growing. Four new programs will open up in schools next year and John’s teaching staff has been tapped to open one of them — lucky for them! But who will take their place? It could be a phenomenal teacher, one with enthusiasm and ideas and love for what she does. New paras could be hired, ones who actually know something about autism…or not.

What happens to their argument that John would be best-served by staying one more year where he is, not the least of which was supposed to be the continuity of the teaching staff? The argument that he wasn’t quite ready for the less-restrictive program we toured, and being such a young five, would only benefit from staying in the smaller, one-on-one program to bolster his skills.

Except, except… the day I surprised his classroom with my visit, the day I heard this news, I was saddened with what I saw: a young girl in a corner screaming and banging her head. A boy hitting a table over and over with a block. Three children sitting in front of their teacher for circle time, uninterested. John next to them, hands clamped over his ears in real distress.

All I could think was, This is what John’s day looks like? This is what’s best for him? What kind of learning could possibly take place in this setting?

We have been enjoying this summer in a way that was not possible before. Maybe they were too young and I was too scared to venture out very often. There is a measure of independence that Sam, especially, has gained which has opened up my world and lets me relax, focus more on the moment. The days have a lovely, lazy quality even though there’s camp and routine around that. We go to the pool every afternoon and lie around in the sun, happy to have no cares other than what’s for dinner. Except I walk in the door and there’s today’s newspaper with the heart-rending job of rescuing pelicans and god, I feel it again in the pit of my stomach.

I think I need to call an IEP meeting for August. I can’t avoid it much longer. Would you?

Clouds

He runs out the doors of the school clutching a rolled-up poster, you know — the laminated kind used in classrooms everywhere. “Mom!” he says, “Look! Look what I have…CLOUDS!” He quickly unrolls it for my inspection. “Here are the cumulonimubus clouds, the altocumulus clouds, the nimbus clouds, the altostratus clouds. Mom! What’s your favorite cloud?” I tell him I like the kind that are puffy like pillows and he tells me those are cumulus clouds, don’t I like more? I ask him, well, what are your favorites, Sam? “Mom, I love ALL the clouds.”

Indeed. Sam loves everything.

Sam’s capacity to retain information is astounding to me, maybe because my brain struggles to recall the simplest things…why am I at the grocery store, what did I need to get? I have found as I’ve moved through my early 40s that my memory isn’t what it once was. It could have something to do with the dearth of sleep of course, or perhaps the sheer volume of autism knowledge that has taken up residence in each room of my tired brain. I am amused by his excitement and perhaps a little jealous.

He sits in the other room drawing yet another cloud book for his collection and I hear the slow roll of syllables as he pushes them around his tongue like he’s playing an instrument “nim-bo-stra-tus… stra-to-cu-mu-lus”…” not learning a new language. “I only like non-fiction, Mom. Remember. Okay?” He likes the black and white, the literal, the facts.

After he’s satisfied with his cloud book, he’s done and ready to move on to his other current obsession, the U.S. atlas.

Not only did Sam come home with his poster of clouds, he also came home with this which knocked me over.

He told me he made it during Free Choice at school. What’s amazing about this is that he wrote it from memory—he did not have the book with him at school, one we’ve renewed twice at the library. No, he sat down in his classroom and wrote from left to right, alphabetically, by region. So Connecticut, Delaware, Maine—the Northeast, then Alabama, Arkansas, Florida—the Southeast, and so on. He wants me to know that Wyoming is hanging out solo because he ran out of room after Washington. I look at this and think, no way did he get them all, I can’t even tell if they’re all there by looking.

But I count them up, fifty states and nearly all spelled correctly.

Of IEPs and Other Life-Changing Meetings

(or “So then? The pendulum swung this way and knocked me down…”)

Two days ago we had Sam’s IEP meeting. At the beginning of the year, if anyone had asked me whether Sam would be going to kindergarten, I would have said Of course he is. But with a birthday so close to the cut-off date (making them a very young five), I’ve been second-guessing myself for months and carrying around the weight of what feels like an impossible decision. What is the best thing for Sam? He’s so quirky — would it be better to be the youngest quirky kid in a class or the oldest quirky kid? Is he ready to be mainstreamed with a bigger class than he’s ever known?

The whole issue has been muddied with an opinion from just about everyone. The general consensus seems to be that those who decided to redshirt their child have not regretted it and those who didn’t wished they had. It’s the gift of time! people say. It doesn’t help that several parents in our neighborhood are keeping their own neurotypical-summer-birthday-children back a year. If they can’t handle it, then how could Sam possibly handle it given all of his, um, challenges.

We were so unsure about what to do, that we pre-registered him back in early March (with a non-refundable $400) in a smaller, church-based kindergarten program. I had spoken with others who were sending their kids here for one year and THEN starting them in public K. We did this to be prepared, just in case. I was loathe to pay this deposit but with only 20 slots available, and a line out the door on registration day, we felt we had little choice. And when I had broached the subject with his Pre-K teacher, she suggested that an extra year never hurt anyone and would give him a chance to catch up with some of his peers.

So we were quite unprepared for his entire IEP team to say, without even the slightest hesitation, that he is READY. One by one they sang his praises and said it would be a disservice to hold him back a year. He loves to learn, his reading and math scores are above grade level. Even the social/emotional piece that so worries us has come a long way in the last three months. He is such a happy child, everyone loves being around him. He is so empathetic. One day, he went up to a classmate who was having a bad day and said “You are grumpy. Let’s find something to make you happy. See? This is what happy looks like.”

I burst into tears then and there. It was almost like someone making the decision for us… alright it was someone making the decision for us, but it felt right. It had always been my first instinct to send him but I had lost so much perspective.

I’ve been sailing pretty high ever since, so relieved to have this weight gone. I’m so proud of him, so in awe of how much he knows and hearing how special he is to this team of educators who have done so much to prepare him? Icing.

************

But.

It’s never easy or black and white. It’s definitely not rosy all the time. I am well aware of this, I should be, and yet I am easily taken by surprise. Seeing him next to his NT peers can either be reassuring (he’s going to be fine!) or alarming. This morning we went to his new school for kindergarten orientation. We had an appointment time along with about eight other children and their parents and I had prepped him before going. He was very excited.

But the building was new. And the children were different. And the teachers were not ones he recognized. And there was a lot going on in the room — too many grown-ups and too many things being asked of him. They moved the children around four different centers, but in five-minute intervals marked by a loud bell. Centers are certainly not foreign to him — the speed and cast of characters was. They spoke really slow and asked questions that Sam already knew the answers to (Can you tell me what this letter is? Can you cut this? Can you draw with this crayon? Oh why not? Here, make a flower! Go over there, let’s make a cookie!). But he could not or would not. He refused.

Soon he started with the nonsense talk (“I will NOT color, I will EAT the colors!”). The reaction to this environment was almost a physical one. I watched it spread from his face and head to his hands and legs. Soon he was pushing away from the table and running from one room to the next, yelling “No more school today!” In other words, sensory overload: too much new, too many loud people and sounds, too much to process. As I chased him from corner to corner, it was almost too much for me too. The eyes of the other parents on me was more than I could bear. The looks I saw in some of the kindergarten teachers made me want to weep. I could practically read their thoughts from the widened eyes and nervous glances. Is this kid really coming here?

There was an army of parent volunteers and I recognized several from the neighborhood. My face grew warm and I felt a storm gather behind my eyes and temple as Sam continued to spiral down. When one hand, kind and reassuring, landed on my shoulder it was a relief to cry again, although I wished I had been able to save it for here, for now. Thankfully, someone Sam knew from outside school came to my rescue and took him around the room, trying to identify the pictures of feelings on the walls.

He rushed over to me and said “Mommy, first I felt a little bit shy, and then I was scared, and then I was embarrassed. Then I felt proud and happy!”

As difficult as this morning was, I’m not second-guessing the decision again. I know that the special education team is ON this. They’re giving him a teacher familiar with Sam’s unique needs. I met her and immediately relaxed when she said she knew this was not representative of how Sam is every day, that these were exceptional conditions. And now that I’m home and remembering his face, so earnest and true, telling me how he identified his feelings (and knowing how hard that is for him to do even under the best circumstances), I know that I owe him my 100% absolute belief and trust.

The love goes without saying.

Treading Water

The boys are back in school and even though we are still not in our house — instead in a furnished apartment down the road from the old hotel — we are managing. I guess the great lesson from this whole summer is that we survive. It may look impossible at the outset, like we will drop to our knees and beg to be beamed away, but we will adjust. Two boys who have issues with change and disruption will adapt.

The adaptation ain’t always pretty. I should have completely omitted from my last post the part where they are sleeping through the night because that must have been someone else’s children. While Sam has had an easier time of it, John has started some vicious manic awakenings. Every night, usually from about 1:30 to 5:30 a.m., he is laughing, singing, yelling. When brought to our bed, he does all that plus kicking and poking and jumping.

Desperate, we’ve started giving him melatonin before bed, a remedy I’ve read has worked wonders for many of you other sleep-deprived families. I was pretty skeptical, but as far as helping him fall sleep? Amazing. Normally it could take up to 90 minutes while one of us lies with them. Now: 5 minutes. I am slowly reclaiming huge chunks of my evenings. The only caveat is that it may help him fall asleep, but not stay asleep, which is why I’ve been up today since 3:20 a.m.

I’m afraid that the lack of sleep is not only interfering with John’s school day (he’s pretty low-energy mid-morning), but it is also making me less patient, more irritable and very frustrated. I watch Twins Dad’s reservoir of patience at 4 a.m. and am simultaneously grateful and dismayed that I can’t match it. I’m done and the day has barely started.

John has always had this sleep issue, but it used to occur much less frequently. I remember when he was barely two and I would go to him in his crib and his legs would be hyperextended and he’d be so tense, so wide awake, that I worried about how stressful it was on his tiny body. I don’t know how to help him when he’s like this or if I even should.

Do I get earplugs, double-bolt the doors and make sure he’s in a safe place? Is there something I haven’t tried yet? This morning, John could not tolerate covers of any kind, not even a sheet. And yet, he sought out Twins Dad with his feet and legs and arms, reaching out for him with an urgency I’m not used to seeing. Then as soon as he’d make contact, he’d jerk his legs, almost involuntarily, and push away. Over and over and over.

In the dark I rage at the fact we are still not in our home, as if that might make all this bearable, that the familiar would make these night-time awakenings cease. I guess the great lesson from this whole summer is that we survive. It may look impossible at the outset, like we will drop to our knees and beg to be beamed away, but we will adjust. Two boys who have issues with change and disruption will adapt.

And hopefully that means Mommy too.

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