In the most typical of situations sibling issues exist. For sibs of those with significant impairment, these kids are often the invisible bystanders. Their issues and needs sometimes take backseat to the immediacy and reality of their sibling with Autism needs. We ask them to deal with leaving fun events earlier than they would like, let embarrassing situations roll off their backs and stifle disappointment. The rate of having more than one child with neuro diversity is high. Sometimes, the less impaired child is asked to cope and step up in ways that would challenge even the most typical and mature of children.
Autism Awareness Month A-Z original 2016
B is for Behavior
B is for Behavior
All behavior serves one of 4 functions. To gain attention, to escape a situation, to gain access to something (usually tangible) or a response to an internal stimuli such as hunger, illness or exhaustion. Seriously. Just 4 reasons anyone does anything. Think about it…you won’t come up with a 5th..I have tried. Of course, if it were that simple we would all live in harmony. However, there are some times it gets tricky. For instance, when a behavior is triggered by something internal, it can be incredibly difficult to identify. So if a child with autism likes to clap his hands near his ears is it because he likes the sound? Or is it because he likes how his hands feel when he claps them together? Or is it because it creates a little wind near his face which he likes? To make matters even more…
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Autism Awareness Month A-Z 2015
A is for Aides
A is for Aides.
Though I can’t find pictures of all of them, they have all made a significant impact in our lives. Without them, A1 would not have made the gains in language, socialization and self care that he has. They have cleaned vomit out of their cars, do not ruffle at the idea of diaper changes, and have endured power struggles with grace and maturity. They are the extra eyes and hands in a world where we have none but need 20. They are young…and move on with their lives from us but we have always known that we sacrifice longevity for love and are happy that so many reach out to stay part of our village.
I smiled 5 times today.
Three times in public and twice in private.
I smiled within 30 seconds of arrival. My boy was flapping and waving with excitement to each bus. If given the opportunity, he would have run down the line to greet each one. Not the drivers, but the buses themselves as if they were fresh out of the stations of Sodor. Joyous in his innocence believing they each had their own personality. I saw him in a sea of adolescents, heads down, pushing past each other. Like the hustle and bustle of a subway train. Commuters with backpacks instead of briefcases. Shuffling, shuffling. Off to homework or tutors or practice for being the best at something since they were three. The commute to the next thing. He sees me and gallops with an outstretched hand. I am greeted with a smile. Always.
I smiled 5 times today. The instinct as a mother renders me helpless against noticing every single first-time. The same first times which beckon camcorders and cameras like the song of the siren and then whose passion slowly dissipates in the way the empty space between toothless grins are replaced by teeth yet too big for the spaces filled in. Our first times never end. Just more space between. My boy said his phone number out loud after years and years of practice. With no fanfare. He was just asked.
I smiled 5 times today. As I held up a wall, socially grinning and making deals with God. Chaperones milling about-clearing dishes, filling glasses- in a last attempt to seem as if they are helping while stealthy snaps from iPhones capture stealthy photos of their angels’ first dance. I am not a chaperone. They believe they are clipping gossamer wings for grounding by hiding in the shadows, but their swans are molting on their own and would snap at outstretched fingers offering bread if given the opportunity. Mine laughs heartily and offers a thumbs-up when he sees a raised phone in his direction.
I smile and sometimes my child sees it happen and sometimes he does not. It doesn’t matter because he knows my humanness anyway, just like he would if his genetic dice were rolled differently. Today he did not see those drops of glistening joy and pride and I am no less embarrassed, no less ashamed, no less human for it either. And neither is he. I have won the emotional lottery. And because of that, sometimes I smile.
My child is an enigma leaving us to figure out what HIS autism means, what HIS cognitive deficits mean, what HIS communication disorder means. And there are times none of that matters at all. He traverses along his own path, one others his age were expected to leave behind long ago by both parents and peers. One lined with The Wiggles and goodnight kisses and “marching parades”. A path without expectation and never dissapating in private . And because of that, sometimes, I smile.
My child’s joy is palpable and my heart levitates outside of my body watching him experience it. He can display the weight of his world, but then laugh at the same time if presented with the right silly face. I am never sure which emotion is primary for him but my own worldview tells me joy prevails because I could never do that. And because of that, sometimes I smile.
My boy wants to be part of the world. He navigates that weird and still uncharted middle school territory with explicit assistance. And when that help wanes, sometimes another child sees his light from across the room and without fanfare, crosses over, takes his hand and leads him to the dance floor to be part of the world. I am front row witness to the rare kindness and unconditional love we may have all forgotten before we went mad in this world. All because my boy is just that worthy. And because of that, sometimes I smile.
My boy buoyantly flaps and hoots and repeats my name over and over and over in the space that should be the calm of my home. He also hops and beams and laughs when I walk away from my dishes, my reports, my vacuum when I cannot keep answering him from another room. He hops and throws his arms around my neck and kisses my forehead with a joy that is supposed to shed after our souls are deposited into these vessels given a name and a face. His love is like something from another place. And because of that, sometimes I smile.
These are the words of OUR life. He and I are both doing the parts we think we are supposed to do no matter how imperfectly executed. Because he is my best boy. Because I am only his mom.
And sometimes we smile.
(originally published 3/2016)
There is a large manila envelope still sealed sitting on my desk. No matter how much I stare at it, it doesn’t:
1. Spontaneously burst into flames
3. Take care of itself.
It does not contain a subpoena, a warrant for my arrest or an eminent domain letter. It was not delivered certified mail or by official messenger. It was hand delivered by my 6th grader because the teacher very graciously contacted me ahead of time to ask me how I would like the prior written notice papers from the last IEP meeting delivered so I could sign and return them in a timely manner to the school. It has been sitting and judging me silently for over three months now as it sits untouched. I am reduced to a Pavlovian dog, except my bell is an envelope and my saliva is anxiety. A crippling-can’t-get-any-thing-else-done anxiety. And I rationally know there is likely nothing in that envelope that should really cause this kind of response. But that’s the thing with phobias or irrational fears and trauma response.
Yes…I said trauma response.
Often times prior experience attaches itself to something innocuous and we then pair our previous response with a neutral stimuli and generalize it over time. Caller ID with the school prefix, email and now apparently manila envelopes have become the manifestation of years of battles, blockades and having my already fledgling parental competency called to the carpet.
For me….my defining moment were words uttered in a meeting 7 years in….but 3 years ago: “Its not fair for one (A2) to get more just because of your parental advocacy” (which was agreeable…but in a whole different way given we were discussing data collection that was reportedly correct, not collected by me…and concerning).
It is silly I suppose if you are the one who stuffed the envelope and have no knowledge of my defining moment or my other, more academically impaired child. She certainly must be wondering about the warning likely issued by the elementary school about my hypervigilance, because the experience she is having is the opposite. A parent who is late to answer emails yet bizarrely will parse apart data collection in an IEP meeting….and be spot on why it was taken incorrectly must mess with her own schema of special needs parents. I have learned to become a very hands-off parent in hopes of preserving my own life in the last year. I have a double-decker weekly pill case that houses my capsules of life extending medications that would impress most of the AARP crowd. Yet I am not yet even 50. Years of sleep deprivation and external stress can only wear so long in a genetic cesspool.
So there it sits….but not without words. It screams to me every day over the din of my responsibilities. But I am strong and I can withstand long term, unfocused wailing.
So I leave you with 3 truths….
A. I am human.
B. I love my child more than anything I could have ever imagined.
C. I am preparing for an uncertain future in a time that I will no longer be here to advocate in a world that does not see my child as perfect as I do.
…and there are things that get in the way of of the co-existence of Notions A, B and C.
Sorry about the envelope.
**Originally posted New Year’s Day 2016. The last 2 years have been harbingers of change, both good and not so good both as special needs families and also as citizens of the US. Every few months, I come up for air to advocate, teach and discuss some uncomfortable truths only to slip quietly under the water again to peacefully watch my children’s lives pass before my eyes. The future looks a bit bleak for those of us who can see retirement years on the horizon at the exact same time our disabled children “age out” of the system and also our parents are elderly enough to run out whatever savings they might have. It is too hard to dance freely on the rails without worrying about the oncoming future barreling down like a freight train. Perspective is always an odd thing, especially in retrospect. I wish all of you the freedom of worry and the ability for mindfulness in the coming year.
A few weeks ago I was stuck in traffic. Albeit Midwest traffic, but a standstill is a standstill. A1 was incensed in the same way any curmudgeonly old man dealing with road lock might with a loud “C’Mon!!!” and a quivering fist in the air. Except he is a 6th grader who was going to be late for religious school. And he has never personally navigated traffic of any kind. I calmly explained to him that sometimes life is quirky. Had we left 15 minutes earlier we might be part of the accident slowing everything down. Or maybe by showing up 15 minutes late he might miss the most boring part of class. For all we know inconvenience is a blessing in disguise.
For all we know.
Netflix is showing the movie Sliding Doors this month (and serendipitously also showing Serendipity, a way more palatable existential rom-com). Gwenneth Paltrow’s life splits off into parallel simultaneous existences based on minor differences in circumstance that alter the outcome of her immediate future.
Ultimately, three things are revealed:
#1 The event that changed everything was out of her control, seemingly extraneous and unnoticed by her
#2. Everything that happens happens in parallels whether she is part of it or not
#3. The outcome somehow is going to be the same regardless of the path.
I showed this movie to A1 to drive a concrete point home in the spirit of control and lack there of. I have this funny thing with the idea of omnipotence and omniscience at the same time–a notion that seems cruel to those of us whose minds cannot conform in that manner no matter how much salvation sounds like a cozy deity-down comforter everyone else can snuggle in. It means people like A1 and me are damned from the start because we just CAN’T …and it was planned it that way. Like being forced as a child to hug and kiss a relative even when that relative knows it makes you uncomfortable to do so. All in the name of making that relative feel warm and special. Except what kind of weirdo feels all the good feels by making a child squish their body against theirs against their will? That is why I show Netflix movies to my kid instead of reading parables. I’d rather he believe that people just think he has bad taste in movies than that his life and choices are meaningless and filled with anxiety because his synapses don’t fire in a way that will ultimately please an all knowing being who made him that way. We cannot help thinking about how our moments might be affecting an unknown future.
A2 operates differently. These things do not need to be explained to him because he is only in the present. I am happy because Daddy is here NOW. I am not happy because I want Daddy here NOW. NOW I am happy and screw Daddy because we are on our way to Chuck E. Cheeses. If all is no worse than status quo, then optimism and hope are not necessary if you are only worried about right now. It really isn’t until someone introduces you to unrealized expectations or well conditioned responses that you develop a sense of disappointment, dashed hopes and anxiety of an unknown future.
In recent years A2 has also taken to obsessively asking “what is the time?” and watching any clock either as if it is a piece of art to be analyzed and admired or else as if at any time it might fly off the wall and attack him like the starlings from The Birds. His authenticity and ability for stopping and acknowledging the moment in the the moment, realizing there will be a new moment soon is a gift.
As we stand on these tracks together I think about how Autism has robbed A2 of a regular childhood but probably not because he views it that way but because I do. There is a lot of track already behind him but there is much more ahead and I strain to see the horizon in case a train comes barreling down the tracks…because at some point there will be a train. And there is nothing I can do to stop that. However, A2 only looks at the rails beneath his feet being careful not to trip and he only looks back to look at me. If he were to hear the distant whistle, I am sure he would simply step off the track in that moment so he could watch the train go by. Because my focus is on the horizons while stumbling down the rails, I run the risk of getting my foot stuck between the slats and then panicking thinking about the possibility of the oncoming engine. I am hoping that in 2016 I can continue learning from A2 as I struggle with the concept of mindfulness, especially when the moment seems bleak. I hope for the ability to recognize each moment as unique and not as good or bad and that I can cherish the people and things that are important to me regardless of how time seems to be treating us in the moment.
I just need to remember to point to my wrist and ask “what is the time?” and know that it will be different soon.
(originally posted 10/2015)
Every few years, I go on a life sabbatical. Life sabbaticals work differently than educational sabbaticals mostly because they are not real. The notion that there are people who receive paid time to disappear somewhere to have a temporary life that doubles as a say-no-more way to avoid other social responsibility is magical. “No, no, I won’t be here to chair that research project, I will be away on sabbatical.” versus “Well…you’ll just have to have that IEP meeting for my kid without me, I’ll be on life sabbatical. Have your people call my people” doesn’t quite have the same heady ring to it and might necessitate a call to a mental health professional.
Unlike our neurotypical cohorts, many of us special needs parents are preparing for a forever life. Though we feverishly plan for it, there might not be a high school graduation send off party unless of course that party is sending off what few resource and assistance waivers our children got before they age out of the system. Diapers and tantrums are likely going to get larger. With the passage of time I am already finding myself getting smaller, more tired and more complacent in the frenetic searching, learning and advocating as certain realities set in. This is troubling.
Apathy is the ugly stepsister of passion. While passion will gladly cut off a chunk of heel to make her foot fit into that glass slipper in hopes of a prince, apathy will do so because its easier to make do than to shop for something to wear to the ball.
Endless details and inconveniences are just part of daily life in parenting regardless of circumstance. Its like the service charge for the privilege of parenthood and an occasional break from that is necessary for even the strongest of mommy constitutions. However, there are those of us who are so steeped in the present at all times where there are rarely idle moments not spent trouble shooting, even in the middle of night as we play musical beds and double-check doors. So I am mindful in the moment and I am mindful in that moment contemplated 30 years from now. The whispers of all the things that will come in between need to shut the hell up because I simply have no room at the inn left to consider those things.
As caregivers we are told to take care of ourselves, take time off, do what we love. This seems like cheap advice and when heeded I am reminded that ultimately not much is different on my return. The airline may have lost my tagged luggage of anxiety while I was away, but it is surely taking a circular ride on the carousel at gate 6 when I arrive home. Time away takes me to places from my past. A time when existential angst was poetic, selfishness was better defined as a deep level of internal awareness and laziness was a sleep credit I could one day consider cashing in. The dichotomy for the surrendered love for your child and also wondering what it would be like if your heart didn’t bleed through your blouse every day is a quiet and unreasonable Sophie’s Choice. Sometimes its just easier not to be a tourist in your alternate universe.
In my life sabbatical, I am lucky to be able to spend a few days away from my forever life with soul companions from my past who live in sleepy mountain towns in New England. Their lives are so vastly removed and different from mine, yet anchor me to a world where I once lived. Lingering, casual vegan meals out where my fork is already unwrapped and folded into a crimson origami pocket on the table. Conversations are still tangential but are about politics, performance art and anecdotes of escapades in places like Nice and Machu Picchu. I meet new people—interesting people who talk about ideas and experience rather than people or events. Though these conversations have evolved over the years and now include points about how difficult camping at high altitudes can be with stiff morning joints and schlepping a c-pap machine, I am transported into a life of things that were once very important to me. Supportive friendships not sullied in the day-to-day. I can have amnesia and even forget that words such as “occupational therapist’ and ‘trash day’ and ‘bus bully’ ever slowly seeped into my repertoire of significant and meaningful topics of interest.
While recently on one of these life sabbaticals, serendipity appeared in a cameo. In an unexpected and out of my control change in travel plans, I had the opportunity to attend a reading of a famous contemporary writer with cult-like status. His prolific works speak to anyone who has ever had a family or even just been alive despite the level of quirk and shock and neurosis woven through his stories. There is a distended familiarity in his writing and when he lends his voice to the story telling it feels like you were reading the original works in the wrong dialect of a foreign language you learned in high school. That epiphany of disappointment of what was missed in the original reading is quickly tempered by excitement to re-read in the voice and inflection intended. Book signings are often part of these events and this writer is certain to ask each fan a question and attempt to tailor a sentiment attached to how he feels about them in the moment. And he can be honest. And brutal. And weird. And sometimes all. But regardless of what is written, it is enough to brandish your signed copy around to show everyone how he thinks you smell like coins. He is a story-teller and I believe he likes to stoke fires and create the story to be told even when he isn’t directly the voice.
While he briefly engaged my theater dates for the evening, I already had a question posited regarding his physical writing process. I thought if I asked him something preemptively I could kill our allotted time without ruining my self-esteem. “You wrote for such a long time pre-PC. Was it difficult to make the transition from handwriting your ideas to typing them out? ” He answered and asked why I was asking. I guess I should have realized that was possible as a visitor in my sabbatical of the impossible.
“I used to write a long time ago. And then I didn’t. And now I am trying again but now there are computers and expectations. And its hard.” I started reaching for my book he had not yet finished signing, but he continued.
“What do you write?” Oh crap. I looked at my anchor friend who was smiling at me and nodding and guessing he must not have seen the poor young woman ahead of us get eviscerated over her cheap perfume. “Its just a blog”. He reached back to put something on the floor behind him and continued. “What do you write about?” He still wasn’t done signing my book otherwise I would have grabbed and ran…..the door was still ajar.
“My kids. There are…disabilities.”
“What kind of disabilities?” he asks without pause (door squeaks open a bit more).
I run down a quick and dirty list. He then paused and thoughtfully balanced the Sharpie between his thumb and index finger while resting his chin in the palm of his hand. “Autism, yeah. My (distant relative) has (another relative) with autism. I fucking hate him. I HATE that kid so much.”
And there it was. Door now wide open. Mouths of theater dates wide open.
Hole in my heart wide open.
I ruffled. “What is it you hate about him so much?”
“He doesn’t play with toys. They buy him toys but he doesn’t play them. He makes a mess of everything, destroys everything. Their whole world revolves around him and its ruined their life. I fucking hate him.”
In that moment I tried to decide if he was:
A). a creative genius and there is nothing like making people uncomfortable or angry to get to hear some real truths.
B). a complete asshole amusing himself and disguised as a creative genius and gets people to talk about him no matter what
C). Has absolutely no filter and has potentially is on the spectrum himself. Which would make sense if you have ever read any of his stories. This one is familiar to me. And also likely the thing he purportedly hates about said distant relative.
Regardless, I had to respond.
“Well, I don’t hate my child, but there are times I hate autism. Sometimes it feels like it is ruining my life. I want to be done still getting poop under my nails but my 10-year-old is in diapers…. I guess I see it this way. No matter how hard so many days can be there is one thing that I am sure. It must be way, way harder for him, harder than it can ever be for me . And that makes me sad for sometimes feeling the way I do.”
We stared at each other for a time that was a few seconds longer than comfortable.
“ I don’t think I would have thought of that perspective” he said. And he then finished signing my book. As he handed it to me and I turned to leave he said “Wait. Whats the name of your blog?”
After I got over the “I’m really angry and I don’t care if this is a schtick for ideas or even if he has autism himself” I grappled with “THIS FAMOUS WRITER MIGHT READ MY BLOG!” HE’S GOING TO HATE IT!” (#humblebrag) I spat out Running Through Water.
“I like that. It really captures what that’s like doesn’t it?” he said as I wondered if I just made him more uncomfortable than he made me. “Yes” I told him “both on the good days and the bad ones. Sometimes you are exhausted and get nowhere …..and sometimes it makes you weightless.”
I peeked at my book where he had put two fish stickers over the writing errors he had made to both cover up his mistake and also call great attention to the fact he made them in the first place.
“You make me want to live again” he wrote.
Frankly I don’t even know what it means, but my story is right here Mr. Writer and you got me to tell it. My writing is far less than anything I would ever want it to be, but it lay dormant for 25 years. My muse comes in the form of a cherub faced innocent who makes my soul light brighter than I could ever imagine. He doesn’t ever get a life sabbatical. Life sabbatical is a sham. I love my children but I hate my fears for them. Time away makes me miss my old life but it also makes me know if not for my experiences now I would not know that there was something to miss. And I suppose its ok to allow those ideas to coexist as past and present collide and am reminded of poetry from my old life that I just didn’t believe:
“When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” (Khalil Gibran)
Every day is an opportunity to live again with new perspectives our old selves could not have imagined.
(originally posted 10/2015)
A couple of years ago I was coordinating a party for my child’s 4th grade classroom. 20% of that classroom had food allergies. I gently reminded parents the goal was for all children to be included, be safe and have fun. I was perplexed when one parent refused to change a cookie decorating idea which did not meet these basic criteria.
“Kids who can’t make or eat them can at least enjoy them for how cute they are!”
In what I believed was a teachable moment, I reminded her this still excluded a fifth of the class and also created a potentially dangerous situation. This parent became so incensed that she quit the committee. While I still get as excited about Halloween as the next guy, I was horrified as one of those children was mine.
Another parent was willing to not only exclude him, but risk his safety because she was so excited about her adorable cookie project.
Halloween has become the holiday where those children with differences become the most exposed and have the potential to be the most left out. The numbers of children with food allergies and other differences have risen sharply since I was a child. As a parent with kids with food issues and also autism, it took me many years to figure out ways how to adapt the most super-fun holiday so it was still fun. Turns out, there are lots of ways to do this both as parents and as community members.
Here are some of the top ideas for the “BIG 3” to make Halloween still the coolest holiday ever
1. FOOD ALLERGIES:
a. PARENTS: Sort out the candy with your child to teach his what is ok to eat. Have the “SWITCH WITCH” visit later that night and exchange that bag of candy full of offending allergens with a present. Your child will be thrilled to have the best of both worlds. And hey, there is no rule that says the switch witch can’t give you that bag to stash away and secretly eat after the kids are asleep.
b. SUPPORTERS: If you paint a pumpkin teal and have it on your front porch it will alert parents of kids with food allergies that you have an allergen alternative available. If you are planning a class party, ASK about allergens—be sure to ask about brand specifics and preparation—that can all play a role in safety. Please remember what it would be like to be 8 years old where everyone gets to eat really cool looking cupcakes except for you. If that were easy to do, none of us would ever be on a diet. The willpower of a child with a food allergy is like nothing most of us can ever understand.
2. SENSORY DIFFERENCES
a. PARENTS: Respect your child’s sensory difference. If noise is an issue, avoid those homes that go all out for Halloween. Your child might be in for a “jump scare” that will end his evening of fun. Costumes are not always made out of the finest of materials. Have him choose his own and try a number of options until one feels right. Contact your local support groups for special needs—there may be sensitive Trunk or Treat nights available which may suit your child much better.
b. SUPPORTERS: Teachers and room parents—if you have children with special needs in your class, tone down the scary a bit. Spooky music should not be on full blast and the mulling around of 25 kids in costume might be disorienting. Have a quiet space outside of the classroom where the child knows he can go to escape if overwhelmed. And for Pete’s sake NO BALLOON POPPING ACTIVITIES OR STROBE LIGHTS!
a. PARENTS: Create visuals to help your child understand what to expect at school parties or trick or treat. Try on the costume ahead of time. If your child does not want to participate in Halloween festivities, don’t force them. Throw a small party at your house with old school fun and invite 2 or 3 children he knows for trick or treating. Stick to familiar neighbors homes and buddy up with a child who can model. Sometimes “just a hat” IS a costume with enough thinking on the fly.
b. SUPPORTERS: If a child does not say “trick or treat” or “ thank-you” he may not be being rude. He may not be able to speak or fully understand what is expected of him. Same goes for a child who appears too large or too old for trick or treating. If a child grabs a handful of candy or doesn’t seem to know what to do when you hold the bowl out, give them a prompt of what to do or physically help them. Their fine motor skills may be impaired and the ability to just pick one or two candies from a dish might be difficult. Still compliment an aspect of their costume even if it seems incomplete. This is still their Halloween too!
The anticipation of Halloween is still timeless. As a parent, I find myself still caught up in creating spooky Pinterest fails and contemplating what candy I can pilfer from my child’s treat bag without him noticing. Some costumes are so realistically scary that I am not certain my red meat consumption hasn’t finally caught up with me and am opening my door to the actual Grim Reaper himself. There is a revolving door of Elsas and Harry Potters who could just very likely just be the same child over and over again capitalizing on those homes with full sized candy bars.
Those of us who try to make our kids feel included no matter what can get very good at scooping up the world around, tying it in a different bow and re-presenting it to our kids and Halloween is no different. With the help of our community, little tweaks can make all the difference between Halloween being fun or being truly scary.
#autism, #halloweenparties, #halloween, #sensoryprocessingdisorder, #PTO, #specialeducation, #community, #inclusion #dignity #parenting #foodallergies #celiacdisease #specialneeds
My brother and I were sitting on the couch chatting about politics last winter when I showed him a segment from the Daily Show. It was a humor bit about calling a Wyoming elementary school to find out if they had a gun in the event of grizzlies. There was a laugh track and a brief photo of a gun, so it was odd to me when A2 gasped loudly, stood up from the couch waving his hands and both tearfully and fearfully begging, “No gun! No! Shoot, no!”
We are not hunters nor are we gun enthusiasts and neither are my friends. As far as I know, A2 has never seen a gun in person or on TV, given 100% of his viewing includes Barney, The Wiggles and NBA. He has never heard a gun shot. Neither he nor his brother ever pretended things were guns. He has been known to blow some zombie pirates away gleefully at Chuck E. Cheese, but those are not even guns.
I reached for him to comfort. He pulled away and continued to plead “no!”
A2’s language disorder renders him without the ability to elaborate and his anxiety rendered him without the ability to say much of anything as he stifled tears. I was perplexed.
The next time I saw his Intervention Specialist, I asked her how they handle lock down at school since I grew up when there were only tornado or fire drills. I literally have no concept of what they do. She informed me they tell the kids it is in case there is someone in the school who should not be. No mentions of guns or lack of personal safety, she assured me.
Fast forward one month.
While visiting my mother out of town, A2 was playing in the bathtub when suddenly he became very quiet. After staring off for a few moments, he pointed and gasped ” No. Shoot. No. Boom!” I tried to follow his gaze, when I saw this….
Apparently, the item of concern was the bottom of an electric toothbrush and he would not get out of the tub until I removed it from the bathroom.
My child who has no experience with violence or guns knows what a gun barrel pointing in his direction looks like. He knows he should be afraid. And he clearly was now on two very different occasions.
I HAVE NO IDEA WHY.
He is never, ever alone with an adult we don’t know well, generally not even family. His aides are almost always supervised.
There is only one place it is possible. This meant we would have to question the people at the place he spends the most time and we are to have the most trust. The ONLY place where he has potential to be alone with adults without us.
How in the world does one even go about doing that without placing the teachers, therapists and paraprofessionals in a position of not only defensiveness, but of questioning your motives or your sanity as a parent. A2 went 11 years with no mention of guns let alone a knowledge and fear of them. We had no other option than to ask because we don’t have the option of taking anything for granted in our world.
What is the worst case scenario you can imagine for your own child?
Those of us with anxious personalities can come up with a bevy of outrageous ideas when it comes to our child’s safety. However, let me assure you, when you have a child who cannot tell you anything while paired with the knowledge they will likely outlive you, you don’t have to have to be Type A, neurotic, high-maintenance, helicopter or any other of the words that may be assigned to you behind a closed lounge door by people who don’t truly understand the fears of every single parent of a child with a disability. We send our kids out into the world as a leap of faith in their teachers, therapists and caregivers. And we also have no choice but to accept whatever the answers are when they have nothing solid to give us in moments like this.
I have worried about many things throughout A2’s life, but gun violence/gun safety has been super low on the list of worries that keep me up at night. (Let that one sink in for a minute….). Almost more so than my frenzied concern over where A2 might have gained this new-found awareness was my sadness in knowing something stole a level of innocence from his blissful naivite about how the world works. We don’t have difficult discussions in the way my friends do with their children when they show up wide-eyed and fearful about confusing and upsetting events of the world around us. So many things that we as adults keep our fingers crossed behind our backs as we reassure them they are safe, hoping with all our souls we are right. I have assumed because A2 has not seen hurricane devastation up close and personal, cannot conceptualize a mushroom cloud and has never seen an automatic weapon mow down 500 people while enjoying themselves at a concert that he does not contemplate or worry about his own safety in these ways. That the things that fill his iPad with cartoon characters and songs about fruit salad are all he should worry about. Man alive…I am pretty sure I was wrong. Maybe the belief this is true is to protect my psyche, not his.
I have to take my best guesses as far as what my child does and doesn’t understand about the world. I also have to take my best guesses as to how he is affected by those things. It’s not wrong for me to shelter my tween from guns. For us, there is no meaningful teaching of gun safety or exposure that doesn’t end in a loop of doing it wrong somehow. The stern warning of “STOP! DON’T TOUCH! LEAVE THE AREA! GET AN ADULT!” is a useless four-step command since my child can only follow a two-step with any regularity. He certainly doesn’t have the fine motor skills to learn the power and healthy respect a gun commands under adult supervision at the shooting range.
So according to the professionals, my non-dangerously-mentally-ill kid (who does not have an aggressive or hateful bone in his body) who can technically have a gun just like everyone else when he is 18, can’t be taught how to handle it carefully, how to shoot it or when to use it, yet I am to expose him to firearms in a way that won’t frighten him and also so he knows they are not toys and won’t pick them up. I would very much like the manual on how to do that.
There are 300 million guns in the US. It sounds like my child has seen one of them in a way that caused him a great deal of upset and anxiety and how that happened will likely always remain a mystery. We have dulled our senses and turned down the volume on what we are willing to accept as normal here. And this uncomfortable truth will eventually spill over onto my beautiful boy who can never tell me what happened.
(originally posted 9/2016)
I is for IEP, IDEA and Inclusion.
These three “I” words have forever changed me as a person.
If you have a child in special education, you probably just had a shiver run down your spine just by reading those acronyms in print and may be thinking the same thing. All of these things serve as a blessing and a curse to our kids and also to the educators and administration serving them. Back in the day, the Individuals with Disability Act (IDEA) was enacted to refine and replace what few laws there were to protect children with disabilities within the education system. It was meant to also focus more on the individual rather than on the disability itself. IDEA has been re-written several times since 1990. There are several things it does both in a good way and also in not such a good way:
- FAPE: It provides a free and appropriate public education to all kids regardless of disability at public expense. The key word here being APPROPRIATE. The downside: There is a pretty decent chance that what you and your child’s test scores say and what you know is appropriate will be very different than what the district thinks is appropriate. And most likely because of that other key word….FREE.
- EVALUATIONS: This law makes sure children with disabilities are evaluated in a way that makes sense. We don’t want to use one specific test to decide if a child needs special education services. Not only is discrimination prevented, ideally these evaluations serve as a tool to know exactly what they will need educationally. The downside: Evaluations are only as good as the people trained to administer them and only as good as the educator who can recognize an issue in the first place.
- Individualized Education Program (IEP): These are legal documents that establish goals, accommodations and modifications to the general curriculum and access to qualified professionals to ensure a child with a disability is learning at the right pace and to his ability within their environment. These plans level the educational playing field for those with a disability. The heart of special education. There are 13 categories under which a child may qualify: specific learning disability, speech and language impairment, blindness, deafness, hearing impairment, visual impairment, orthopedic impairment, traumatic brain injury, autism, multiple disability, other health impairments, emotional disturbance, intellectual disability, The downside: Because they are legal documents and may be audited and are monitored on a quarterly basis, educators may have a very high self-preservation incentive to make certain your child is meeting his goals….at least on paper. The more savvy the parent, the more tricky this can become.
- LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT (LRE): This ensures your child is placed in an environment that meets his needs as independently as possible in an educational setting that is appropriate for him. The goal is to work toward the LRE. The downside: For those of us with kiddos with Autism or executive functioning issues, this is not always cut and dry. Especially those without intellectual impairment but perhaps have a language disorder or another issue which may stand in the way of independence. An emerging issue in the field is for those kids who are considered “twice exceptional”, such those who are intellectually gifted but with severe behavioral issues. And what does “least restrictive” mean anyway? My kid who needs 1:1 to learn can totally sit in a regular classroom to do that. However, I believe educators interpret LRE to mean that he be in a contained classroom without a 1:1 because then he might have more physical independence in that room. Who is right?
- PROCEDURAL SAFEGUARDS: Protections for your child…..protections for you as a parent. Because of IDEA, there are procedural safeguards in place to make certain your child is receiving the services the school says they will provide and a protocol to follow if you believe they are not. Additionally, these protections allow for parent participation and child participation as equal members of the child’s school team. The downside: Let’s face it. If you are not an educator or even know where to go to get what you need, you will never be an equal member of your child’s team. Procedural safeguards and parent participation are ultimately only as good as the questions you know to ask, as your attorney and as your bank account. The catch-22 if you do live in a very good school district? There is a good chance that anything that goes to due process is going to take a LOOOONNNNNGGG time. And think about that for a second. If there is a FAPE violation and it works its way all the way up to a due process hearing doesn’t that seem counterintuitive for your school district to allow little old you to go to court with them? Wouldn’t it make more sense to fix the problem since it would be much cheaper and less time consuming to do so? It’s not. At least not to them, because no matter how much the district doesn’t want to throw money at something, they can still probably afford to pay a better attorney for much longer than you can. And besides, the year and a half it could take…perhaps that child won’t need what it was you were asking for by then. Or worse, make your life complicated enough that you will have to back off and not follow through. That seems like a pretty good gamble for a district. It also doesn’t set a standard for other families to ask for the same.
The last 25 years have been interesting ones for the education system as a whole. When the parents who walked before us clawed and fought and struggled for these laws it was at a time before the internet, before all the revisions, before standardized testing existed in the way it did, before No Child Left Behind and before Autism was 1:68. IDEA is necessary no matter how you slice it, however it exists in a very different system than it did in 1990.
At this point I know a lot of the law like the back of my hand and the parts I don’t know, I am now educated on how to find those rules.
I have a list of socio-emotional goals for almost every developmental issue at my finger tips and I have an entire community of people going through the same struggles I am at the click of a button day and night. All of this has been achieved through this tiny-huge world we have online.
I know exactly the gap closure between special education kids and regular ed kids, not only for my district, but for my child’s school.
I know the 6 payment tiers that exist and the formula used to calculate how much extra funding my district receives for each of my kids for using special education services.
I know what belongs where on all 13 sections of the IEP and how to make a goal measurable.
And I know when I am being BS-ed.
I don’t know all of this because of my training…I know it because I live in 2016 and any parent with a computer and the desire can learn the same.
In 1990, my school district certainly was not expecting 1 out of every 6 children attending (or 15%) to have some sort of developmental disability or for the Autism rates to be 600% higher. My child’s elementary school currently has about 700 students and about 100 IEPs (last I heard)–all while serving about 29% of their students as English as a Second Language with limited proficiency. Teachers are stretched thin. Inclusion and LRE are so important for our kids future, yet most regular education teachers were not taught the basics on how to include and teach special ed kids in differentiated instruction or how to manage a classroom where there are multiple children with conflicting accommodations. (ie: When Johnny gets stressed, he can crumple paper…but Jimmy’s auditory sensory integration issues make it impossible to keep it together when he hears paper crumpling….). Parents are communicating, educated and knowing the legal hoops to jump through if their children’s rights are being violated. It is a system that cannot hold itself up and still serve our most vulnerable children to be the most successful they can be. Parents…please keep fighting for your kids. Please keep learning everything you can. Educators…please do the same. I do not have the answer. I am just hopeful it is found before my children have to move on from the “protective bubble” of IDEA and there are no grown up IEPs.