The Mending Wall

IMG_6047These wildflowers grow on a narrow strip of grass between someone’s property up against a century old stone wall and a city sidewalk near my home. There is a handwritten sign on a stake stating simply PLEASE DO NOT MOW OR SPRAY WILDFLOWERS. THANK YOU. While seeing them in full bloom one might wonder why someone would do that even when instructed to.

Today we were shaken again to our core. Today we were reminded again that nothing should be taken for granted. I am angry that again I feel afraid for my children when they leave the comforts of home.  I am conflicted because A2 is sick and at a time I should be saddened for 50 families and frightened at the fact that laws continue to exist that allow for permits for individuals to decide the fate of 50 people in one rain shower of shots. People who were given the right to exist with equal love are gone and we are all reminded there is still an opposing view.  But A2 is the kind of sick that makes his father talk in circles and makes me stone faced and logical. The kind of sick that sinks our instinctual fears as parents until the wind kicks up again and fills our sails to let us know it’s smooth waters soon. I can’t fear all things at the same time.

So I can stop to show you these flowers I saw today. And you can stop to see them. And we can all appreciate that someone stepped up to make sure that they bloomed to their full beauty for all of us. Please see them. Just for this moment. ‪#‎onepulse‬  

On the Eve of Your 11th year…..

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Your brother saw the ocean for the first time about a month before we knew you.  The expanse stopped him in his tracks leaving him silent and still.  The moment you were born 11 years ago today you cried and screamed and when they held you up for me to see I instinctively whispered your name.  You stopped crying, found my eyes  and you were silent and still and you took my breath away.  Your presence in our lives has been like seeing the ocean for the first time–beautiful and tumultuous and every day is like seeing the world in a way no one else gets to.  I feel lucky I get to be your mom.  Happy Birthday sweet A2…….

The Gorilla in the Room…..

There have been so many news stories, articles and commentary on social media about the tragic situation over the weekend that at this point I am fairly sure you would have to live in a cave to not have at least heard about it.  In case you do live in a cave, here is what I know about the situation with the little boy who fell in the Gorilla exhibit in Cincinnati:

  • He fell 10 feet into the moat
  • He fell 12 feet into the moat
  • He fell 15 feet into the moat
  • He was seriously injured but with non-life threatening injuries
  • He came out without a scratch
  • The gorilla rushed him but did not hit him
  • The gorilla approached him cautiously only after hearing him splash in the water
  • The gorilla did not intend harm, he almost seemed to be protecting the boy
  • The gorilla violently was dragging and throwing the boy in the water
  • It took 10 minutes before anything was done by rescue team
  • It took 15 minutes before anything was done by the rescue team
  • The boy had his hand in his mother’s back pocket to stay close and in a flash he was gone
  • The boy’s father crawled out onto the ledge to jump down into the moat
  • The person who filmed the footage crawled out onto the ledge to jump down into the moat
  • Eyewitnesses say she was on her phone and not paying attention until they saw him in the water
  • Eyewitnesses say the boy was gone in an instant and he was seen crawling out onto the ledge and was pursued immediately by family and spectators alike

From reading up….here is what else I know:

  • Jungle Jack Hanna supported the zoo’s choice to kill the gorilla because there was no other realistic option
  • A large part of the community did not support the choice to kill the gorilla and sees the tragedy of killing an innocent endangered animal because there were other options
  • A large part of the community ponders how in the world the zoo could have such an unsecured area that a child could breach it that quickly
  • PETA did not support the choice to kill the gorilla OR have him in captivity in the first place for our entertainment
  • A child slipping away from a parent can happen to anyone in an instant
  • The mother is completely responsible for the death of that gorilla, is a neglectful parent and clearly was not watching her child and should have him removed from her care to be raised in foster care.
  • The mother has received several death threats
  • A gorilla is dead and a boy  is alive

And lastly….here is what else I know:

  • A 4 year old boy is alive
  • NOTHING.  ULTIMATELY, I KNOW NOTHING.  AND NEITHER DO YOU.

Yes, its a tragedy no matter what.

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Not gorillas…..I know….but I own the image.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 21. T is for Teachers and Therapists.

Day 20 2016: T is for Teachers and Therapists

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Day 20

Day 20:  T is for Teachers and Therapists

97. A2 has had a total of 97 teachers and therapists in his short 9 years. Some were hand- picked….some chosen by fate and luck of the draw. Some were published…lauded recognizable names….some were quiet presences of whom I cannot remember their names. Some have been with us for the majority of his life. Some have only jumped in for a blip of time in his almost 80,000 hours on this planet. Some were stellar….life alterers….some just showed up because they had to. Some interpreted my coolness or seeming indifference to them as being non-caring. Some recognized that I always had my child’s best interest in mind all the time and understood it was important for me not to be too attached for fear of losing perspective and not holding them accountable should his learning derail. All have had a permanent impact…

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Day 18. R is for Relationships

Day 18 2016: R is for Relationships (originally posted 4/2015)

Running through Water

Day 18

“Are you sure he has Autism? He’s so friendly…”. While there are more nuanced aspects now to the criteria, failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level is one of the defining and most obvious diagnostic identification for children with autism. Interest in people in general, desire for friendships and loving behavior can muddy the diagnostic waters and confuse people about what autism is and what autism isn’t. Disconnectedness, aloofness and lack of desire to be touched does not always translate as a lack of desire for relationships. The desire is there, the understanding for how that happens is not. It can just be easier to be by yourself. A1 can tell you that. Indiscriminate friendliness, hugs and kisses to those he loves and the compulsive desire to be around a lot of people doesn’t always coexist with developmentally appropriate social skills. A2 probably would tell you that part…if…

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Day 10 2016:J is for Just Ask

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J is for Just Ask

When I sat down every day last year to do this A-Z project, my biggest take away was the candid responses from friends and acquaintances.  Many of whom told me they wanted to reach out, but often times they didn’t know what questions were ok to ask. I understand that on a few levels:

  1.  As an inhabitant of this earth, when we see something we don’t understand or is different, we feel compelled to want to know the “why” or the “what happened”.  Perhaps its part of the survival instinct.  A primitive way to avoid something that is contagious or preventable.  So, often times when it’s not thought about and someone approaches me and says, “what’s wrong with him?”, my instinct is to say back “rude people are what’s wrong with him”.  When I shift my schema and recognize that even in those awkward moments there is the possibility to make it teachable, I can have a lot more empathy for the individual asking.  After all, I am not sure I am that much more comfortable with a stranger asking me a more direct question either. (ie: “why is he making that hooting noise over and over?”)  when really I might have absolutely no f-ing idea myself in the moment but I would very much like it to stop.  Parents–whether we like it or not, we are the conduit to bridging our children with this society Many of us are their voices. Even if one person out of 10 who ask are asking to be nosy or rude…if we do not respond as an advocate, we make the assumption that all people who ask in that way are being nosy or rude.  So, instead of “mind your own business” or “whats it to you”….try “I think what you meant to ask is that you notice that he can’t talk.  This is his speech generating device, would you like to see how it works?” or “My child can understand everything you say and the way you asked that in front of him makes me uncomfortable.  There is nothing wrong, but it seems like there is an aspect of his behavior that you would like to know more about.  He has Autism and maybe one of us can tell you more”.   Pollyanna much?  Yes. But the only way we will change the asker’s behavior is by gently alerting them to the problem, offering a solution and giving them a reality check.
  2. On occasion, people want to ask how they can help.  A lot of times people don’t realize we need help.  For those of us who have kiddos who don’t have a tremendous amount of trouble in the community, many of us move along to normalize our experiences. I have been told that I give off the air of having everything under control and that I don’t need anything.  Part of this is for my kids benefit…no one wants a hot mess of a mom in public.  Another part of this is because as my job as a therapist in this close-knit community, I feel like I need to maintain a balance of vulnerability and strength. The hot mess part needs to ride in the back seat and can ask “are we there yet?”.  There are other parents whose kids CANNOT safely be in public places.  So, you just don’t see those people.  Their life behind closed doors is like an invisibility cloak…..they are not getting asked often for those reasons.  Frankly, many of us have NO IDEA what to tell you about how you can help. My family comes infrequently enough that to dole out a honey-do list also requires having to walk them through where things are, etc…..which means more work.  If there were an emergency, they are not enough of a trained listener to know what he needs if he tells them.  When a friend asks if they can watch my kids so we can get out…well, I still haven’t figured out exactly how one explains that you can’t imagine asking them to change a 10 year old’s diaper ….or telling them they probably won’t get to sleep through the night and need to keep one eye open when they are sleeping.  Sometimes people ask to help but they just don’t want to do what you do need. Their perception becomes that you are unreasonable or are not taking their help.  All can serve as barriers to asking the right questions or giving the right answers for assistance.
  3. People make assumptions instead of asking at all.  Just the other night, a young woman I work with asked me for advice in a situation about a member of her not-for-profit youth group.  This teenage girl has Autism and when the entire group is together she tends to get very dramatic and will end her tirade by running out of the room.  This young woman sighed and said, “She only does it in big groups. Obviously attention….we are thinking of ways to let her know that maybe this group isn’t a good fit for her. It’s not-for-profit, so we can’t tell her she can’t be part of it.” We discussed the fact that perhaps they were misreading the function of the girl’s behavior.  The consequence is what sustains the behavior– if no one is rushing out after her, what is the likelihood that this behavior is to get attention and not escape or something internal due to the stress of being in a large group?   She wondered aloud if they should contact the girl’s mother to try to figure it out.  I wondered aloud what would happen if they just asked the girl herself, since she is her own expert.  Use the time and energy to find out what she needs to be a part of the group in a way that works for her rather than using that energy to figure out a way to help her move on.  We cannot help but to look at others using our own lenses.  But sometimes our lenses are smudged, are rose colored or even broken.  By not asking in this kind of situation, others assume they know what is best.

Lets face it. It’s uncomfortable to ask about people who are different than we are.  We may be curious, afraid of coming off as rude or misread other’s cues.  We may not want to know the answer, we may not want to change our own ways.  We may already have assumptions and think we are right, we may be uncomfortable due to our own scripts about social norms, or frankly, some of us…we may just not care.  For those of us being asked, we may be offended, we may be hurt, we may not want to talk about it.  We may not know the answer, we may not want to admit to an issue or call attention to it or we may not want to be reminded.  We may not want to be rejected.  So let’s all agree on something. Asking and telling can suck at the outset.  Let’s move past it. Those of us who are Autism Families…we ARE the awareness. How you choose to let that manifest is up to you.  In my world, however, if you ask me, I promise to tell you……

Day 2 2016: B is for Behavior

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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 complicated…a behavior can change function midstream and without warning.  So that same kid who liked hearing the sound of his own clapping next to his ear and his parent rushes over to him and holds his hands and tells him “stop!  Lets play instead”….her reaction may have just inadvertently changed the function of the child’s behavior from internal reasons to external. Perhaps it becomes a great way to get his parents’ attention now too.  Such is the nature of human existence…including humans on the Autism Spectrum.  It is easy to judge others without understanding when looking at their behaviors through our own lenses.  So next time you see a child having a tantrum in public or seems out of control, bear in mind that the function of his behavior may not be attention like you might be used to from a bratty kid. He may be responding to sensory overload and needs to leave or perhaps if you hang out long enough you may come to find it may be screams of joy because he has no other way to express it.

12 Times my Kid Was Way, Way Cooler Than North Carolina

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A1 got off the bus last week and immediately came to find me.  This is unusual as it is typically the other way around.

I hate riding the bus.  I try to keep my headphones on so no one will bother me….but they even make fun of that” he blathered.

A1 is not one to seek out trouble, but he has no ability to not verbally respond to it when it comes his way.  Impulsiveness and rigidity.  Such is the way of  ADHD and Asperger’s and as he gets older, he gets more and more aware of this but doesn’t seem to have the impetus to make it stop.

It wouldn’t be so bad if even one kid stuck up for me or was on my side. B was making fun that I couldn’t run all the way around the track in gym“.

He went on and on. And I nodded imagining A1 trying to explain at length why his Keens rubbed against his heels or how he was out of breath….stoking a fire that he did not know was smoldering.  I did not hear much else until the end.

“….and then B said to me ‘at least I’m not a transgender.”

I stood for another moment gathering my thoughts and wondering what A1 was thinking as I just stared at him floundering to find something to say.  I took a slow, deep breath, “and what did you say when he said that?

I told him ‘If you think I’m cute, you can just say so…..’”

Bam.

He didn’t deny it.  He didn’t admit to it.  He didn’t give the other boy the power to use that in a way that would have inadvertently bullied anyone else in earshot.  He shut that shit down.

I am sure if my child had the ability to remain quiet, he would.  However in that moment I have never been more proud of him.   He is potentially the coolest person I know and possibly not as vulnerable as he feels….and it’s not because he is 12 and has shoulder length black hair with Manic Panic lizard green tips.  He ultimately understands what it means to be transgender….to be different in a way no one gets.  He also doesn’t understand what the big deal is and why “adults can’t get over it either”.  He had several options of comebacks and told me he recognized that given the slurs thrown his way there were many cruel things he could have said but chose not to.  A1 is confused for a girl a lot.  Though we talk about it, he tells me he is not transgender nor does it bother him when people think he is a girl. He says he knows it goes with the territory of having long hair.  My Aspie tells me he is lonely, he tells me he knows people think he is weird…but he lives his life being true to himself, doing his own thing, wearing what he wants…and unapologetically giving zero f’s. And one day…when adolescence has passed him by I am certain he will come out the other side being a better person for it.

So North Carolina…in light of your clamoring last week to pass the adult equivalent bill of bus bullying LGBT people…my 12 year old with developmental issues gets it…why don’t you?  While we are at it…here are 12 other ways he is cooler than you:

  1.  He has mad Etch-a-Sketch skillz

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2.  The element of surprise

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3.  He also sets his own agenda.  But way better than you. 

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4.  Visual cues for piano practice?  He scoffs at those….

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5.  He tells it like it is.  And obviously is learning something in language arts on occasion.

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6.  He expects quality.  And he will wear it wherever he wants.

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7.  Oh.  He’ll do his homework alright…

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8.  This

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9.  Sure, he’ll write your silly story….

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10.  years and years of fashion….(not to mention his real dad is Tommy Lee)

 

11. Upper hand.

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12.  Discussed. 

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Random Acts of Dignity

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Dear Donna, Cashier at Wendy’s,

My 10 year old and I stopped in for lunch today on your shift. I could see after you asked him how he was doing today that his jumbled answer might have caught you off guard. You shifted your eyes to me and then back to him as he continued…something that happens all the time in our world. So I looked down at him and as his 24/7 speech and language coach I said “You can say, ‘I’m good!'”.

But then you caught me off guard. Instead of looking to me for his order, you asked him. He answered you. You leaned in and said “I think you said you want a cup of water…is that right?”. He nodded. “Aren’t you getting anything to eat?! What else?”. After he excitedly spit out a string of jargon you asked him to slow down and try again. So he did. “Fuhweyes” he said. “What size?” you asked. “Mee-yum”. “Great….anything else?”, looking in my direction. I shook my head as my son clearly said “Nope!”.

What you didn’t know as we held up the line is that my son has Childhood Apraxia of Speech, but the name of his disorder didn’t matter to you…what mattered to you was making sure you got his order right. You didn’t “let” him be an equal patron at your restaurant…he just was. You let him be his own expert. You presumed competence. Not your version of competence, his. You allowed him the dignity of time. You asked him his name to put on the screen for his order just like everyone else and checked out to see if you said it right and even asked him if he knew how to spell it for you. So he did. Through this act I am certain you are not expecting a newspaper article or local talk show segment….you weren’t trying to be noticed or given kudos or wanting to be called a hero because you took a moment and tried a little harder. You wanted a 10 year old at your counter to order lunch just like any other 10-year-old might on a Friday afternoon.

Advocacy and inclusion are tricky things. When it comes from a place of equality, empathy and understanding it is a wonderful thing…when it lacks authenticity it can still have its place but can also be humiliating and damaging to an already fledgling movement. By “letting” my child be prom king, or shoot the last basket in the last 10 minutes in the last game of the season, by being so kind as to “be his friend” well meaning people are inadvertently continuing to marginalize him.  No one has assumed that he was worthy of the crown on his own, able to make that basket without help or that maybe he makes one heck of an awesome friend and that perhaps HE is the kind one.

So you, Donna your authentic advocacy is the kind that will change the way we as a society deal with disability. Thank you for lunch with a side of hope.

Sincerely,
A2’s Mom

To the Regular Ed Teachers: Top 5 Ways to Keep Special Needs Parents Off Your Back

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My home phone rang the other day right before my kids got home from school. For those of you who do not know what I mean by “home phone”, its that thing that plugs into a wall and has the # symbol that cannot hashtag anything. When the home phone rings, I typically keep doing whatever I am doing unless I am feeling a bit of whimsy to torment the telemarketer likely on the other end. The only other time it rings is when someone at the school does not know to call my cell…which often then strikes fear in my heart. So I picked up.

“Mrs. ATeam?” Gulp.  It was A1’s new science teacher calling to say “First of all….let me tell you I think he is hilarious. He made this cartoon strip ….” He then went on to disclose all the other things drenched in awesomeness while I was waiting for the “Second of all….” part. That part never came. He called me to tell me I had a cool kid. And that was it.

I am already too experienced with the school system to be naive. That same morning I had to send an email to kindly remind another teacher to carefully review A1’s IEP and Health Plan as there were some important things not being followed. Coincidence to hear from the science teacher the same day? Probably not. I am guessing he may have just been reminded that he had a kid in his 4th period class who has an IEP and a Health Plan. Maybe not…but as I said, doe eyed ingenue does not work as well with crows feet.

Unfortunately, what struck me most about this amazing phone call is that in the 3 years that my younger A2 has been in public school…my very speech impaired child…I have never ONCE received a phone call from a regular ed teacher just to tell me about his day in their class. And let me be clear about 2 things. Real clear since this won’t apply to everyone.

1.   A2 tries to tell me about his day. Every day. And we CANNOT understand him.

2.   I have ASKED  for communication. Over and over. Every year. In front of other people. To almost no avail.

So teachers…this advice is completely free of charge. The key to keeping us special ed parents at bay.
1. CONTACT US FIRST: Before school even starts, call to introduce yourself and ask about our kid. Give us your contact information. Assure us you are the extra eyes and ears for a kid who has no voice.
2. DON’T ASSUME THE INTERVENTION SPECIALIST IS JUST TELLING US EVERYTHING. My kid has a whole 30-60 minutes a day of direct IS time required in his IEP in our high-end-award-winning-district. My severely learning disabled child. The paraprofessionals who are with him most of the day are not permitted to communicate with me directly due to their classified employee status. We often get second hand info from our IS that sounds something like “had a great time in music class learning new songs”. The small tidbits we do get…well…that’s all…that’s ALL we get to know. The nuances are never there for us…if they are making a new friend, if someone hurt their feelings if they thoughts something was cool or interesting. And those things are definitely happening in my child’s world and no matter how hard he may try to share those things with me, if I have no context, I will not know at all what he is telling me let alone what questions to ask. The paras also are not allowed to attend IEP meetings even at my request. Were you aware of any of that? A2’s Intervention Specialist has 10 kids who can’t tell their parents anything about their day. She is ALL of their voices….and she is trying very hard to be all knowing by being the 3rd party communicator. But why? This is a team approach. While you do have 25 kids in your room, if they are lucky and have parents who actually ask them about their day, their kids can tell them. You have so much you can tell us and I guarantee all of us want to know.
3. INVITE US IN: To volunteer, to be a fly on the wall, to talk about our kids to your class. Did you know that neither you nor any of his other caregivers during the day are allowed to divulge any information regarding our child’s diagnoses to the other children due to HIPAA**?  And there are SO many questions from children aren’t there? If you have an inclusive classroom, the information a parent can provide the children can be invaluable to the inclusive environment. Offer to include the IS to help that parent if they express interest but are uncomfortable. **IMPORTANT DISTINCTION:  FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) any information that is directory information is ok to give out.  So If a parent is asking for another child’s last name or to get in touch with another family, that is not confidential information if the family did not opt out of directory information.  You just can’t tell us the child is on an IEP or anything regarding diagnosis.
4. RECOGNIZE WE UNDERSTAND YOU ARE BUSY: We are not out to get you or have a “gotcha” moment. I cannot imagine being a teacher right now. Huge classloads, jobs dependent upon test scores that are dependent on more than just your ability, differentiated instruction, outliers flying under the radar, helicopter parents, uninvolved parents. A 10 minute phone call once a month to tell us something we wouldn’t know without your call. If you do that once a month without fail you will likely never hear from us. But your principal will almost definitely hear from us. To hear how awesome you are.
5. INCLUSION AND INTEGRATION ARE DIFFERENT: This doesn’t mean let them also have a desk and have peers help them hang up their backpacks (though we recognize the value in that too). I mean if you take a picture of our kids to put on a bulletin board make sure it is a good one like everyone else. If you are in reading to the class and you ask a question the other kids can answer, figure out a way to ask a question that could include our kids’ ability to answer. While you have kids who can fall through the cracks, ours have absolutely no way to mountain climb out of those crevices without you. I am sure like us you don’t want them just to be a warm body at another desk. Ask their IS for strategies…that is why they are there.

BONUS #6 also at no charge: THE MOST DIFFICULT PARENTS ARE LIKELY YOUR BIGGEST ALLIES: Yep. We are the wave makers, the getter-doners. We figure out what you want and need and we try to get it for you especially if it will benefit our kids. Sometimes you don’t even need to tell us what that is. We figure it out. Assume nothing regarding our motivations.

For those of you who went into regular education vs. special education–those days are long gone. Inclusion is not just the responsibility of your Intervention Specialists. Much like us parents of kids with special needs…we started out in the exact same place as all the other parents in your room. Maybe even as you did too as a parent. Our journey veered off years ago but the desire to get to know the same thing we would have if everything turned out as expected has not.