Day #173 – Tucker & Spock

Long live Spock.

spock

The character played by Leonard Nimoy had an intense logical nature.  There are moments that I reminded of how Tucker’s brain works within the same intense logical environment. My heart has grown to appreciate the characteristics of Spock.

It can be quite irritating – because EVERYTHING has to have reason.

Last night he had on a stocking hat and pulled it over his face in a restaurant.

Mom:  ‘Tucker, please remove the hat from your face.  That is not appropriate in a restaurant.”
Tucker:  “It’s not my hat.  It’s my dad’s.”
Mom: “Tucker, please remove your dad’s hat from your face.  That is not appropriate in a restaurant.”

He removed the hat.

It can be quite frustrating – because EVERYTHING needs an explanation.

Mom: (as he is walking away) Tucker, please don’t suck on that Gatorade bottle.  (he was sucking it onto his lips so he didn’t have to hold it with his hands – even after it was empty).

He returns with a red circle around his lips.

Mom:  Tucker, what is on your face?
Tucker:  Nothing.
Mom:  Yes, there is.  Please come here.

I realize that he has sucked that bottle so hard he broke blood vessels from the suction of the bottle.

Mom:  Tucker, did you keep sucking on that bottle?
Tucker:  Yes.
Mom:  I told you not to.
Tucker:  Yes. Why?
Mom:  I told you not to because it would break tiny blood vessels in your face.
Tucker:  You didn’t tell me that would happen.
Mom:  You’re right.

It can be quite funny  – because EVERYTHING has a reason.

Estelle:  Mom,I can’t wait for a Tucker to start liking girls. Then, I think he’ll start caring about his smell. Whew….seriously puberty makes him very smelly.
Mom:  You think that will do it?
Estelle:  I do.
Tucker:  Not anytime soon. I can’t ever imagine kissing being worth the drama.

Not only is this last example logical – but it is also void of ‘over-emotion.’

These are my favorite stories to tell about Tucker because it gives others a glimpse.  For some children this could be their attempt at being funny and/or contrary.  Not him. This is his reality.  Everything must be based in fact and logic.  Even his reaction to emotional events – I must find some sort of logic, something that he can make sense of.

Regardless, I’m reminded of the 2009 Star Trek Movie scene with Amanda Grayson, the Human mother of Spock.  She was originally a schoolteacher (how ironic).

Amanda Grayson: There’s no need to be anxious. You’ll do fine. 
Spock: I am hardly anxious, Mother. And “fine” has variable definitions. “Fine” is unacceptable. 
Amanda Grayson: Okay. 
Spock: May I ask a personal query? 
Amanda Grayson: Anything. 
Spock: Should I choose to complete the Vulcan discipline of Kolinahr and purge all emotion, I trust you will not feel it reflects judgment on you. 
Amanda Grayson: Oh, Spock. As always, whatever you choose to be, you will have a proud mother. (From http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0040549/quotes)

No matter how logical, irritating, frustrating, or humorous the logical nature of Tucker becomes…I will always be proud of him.

Day #172 – I Got This

When my children were five and seven they had their first real ‘fight.’  I remember it quite clearly. It was the first time I had ever heard them be unkind towards each other (that doesn’t mean they hadn’t been…it’s just the first time they dared to in front of me).

People often ask me how I taught my children to get along so well. They don’t yell at each other.  They don’t fight.  They don’t put each other down.  They care for each other.  They are [usually] quite polite to each other.  They do favors for each other.  What did I do?

Maybe it’s because I use manners when conversing with them?
Maybe it is because I don’t fight?
Maybe it is because I don’t yell?

Let’s be honest – it was more likely luck of the draw.

I don’t know…but here is what I do know.

I stopped them, calmly, in the midst of their fight.  I asked them to go sit on my bed.  I sat with them in a triangle. I said to them…

Someday I will be gone.  I know you don’t want to think about that – but it’s true.  Someday I will be gone and the only thing you will have left of me are your own memories and each other.  I expect you to take care of each other, because there will come a day that I won’t be around to take care of you.  So you have that choice right now, don’t ruin your friendship – because one day all you will have left of me will be each other.

I know, sort of intense – but it worked.

Or…maybe it was just luck?

Nah…last night I was reminded of that day six years ago.

Tucker was having a particularly rough night.  So bad that he couldn’t form sentences.  He kept stopping mid thought to try to think of the next word and it just wouldn’t come to him.  He finally grew angry – this is progress…the anger used to come immediately.  He screamed at me – but I knew it was out of frustration.  He was rushing to his room.  I stopped him and hugged him tightly.  This process was MUCH easier when he was smaller than me….oofta…

I whispered to him, “Be calm.  It will come to you. We will wait for your words.” I hugged tighter.  I said it again.  I hugged tighter.  I said it again.

His tears came, he released the anger, and came back to me…by hugging back and saying, “I love you, Mom.  I just need to go to bed.”

I nodded.

Off he went…

As he went down the stairs I walked into the kitchen (where Estelle was), took a great big breath in, and looked towards the heavens as the tears began to form.  These are the tough moments – staying calm and holding it from your other child.  She interrupted my moment of ‘getting it together.’

Mom, I need you to know that when you are gone I will take care of Tucker.  I watch you.  I know how to help him.  When he needs me I’ll be there.  I need you to know that.  I learned it from you.  No worries, I got this.”

That’s all for tonight…because if she is not a gift sent from heaven, I don’t know what is.

photo-8

Day #171 – Catching Flies

One of the realizations that has surprised me the most from writing this blog is how many parents have challenges…dare I say problems with their school districts.  The teachers, the aides, the administrators, pretty much everyone under the roof.  I began to wonder why so many people experience these challenges.

At first I thought – it must just be other parts of our country.  Then I heard from people in Iowa…so I knew that wasn’t the case.

Then I thought – it must just be other parts of Iowa.  Then I heard from people in our ‘quadrant’ of Iowa…so I knew that wasn’t the case.

Then I thought – it must just be larger schools.  Then I heard from people in smaller schools…so I knew that wasn’t the case.

Then I thought – it must just be smaller schools.  Then I heard from people in larger schools…so I knew that wasn’t the case.

Finally, I thought – it must just be in other districts. How lucky we are!!!  Then…I heard from other people in our district.

So, how is it that our experiences have been 90% positive?

I’m going with sugar.

When I was in 4th grade there was a girl in my class who was..well.. um…just not being very nice to me. After church one Sunday my mom and dad said I could go home with Grandma and Grandpa (these were some of THE BEST moments of life).

As I sat with Grandma at the kitchen table watching her prepare Sunday’s dinner (yes – dinner, as in the noon meal) I told her about what was happening at school.  She stopped what she was doing and sat down.  She asked me what I was going to do about the problem.  I shrugged my shoulders and I can remember the tears welling up in my eyes.  She said to me, “Always remember you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”

It stuck with me all these years and upon meeting my husband I repeated that phrase in conversation. He just looked at me.

I have since repeated it to my children.

It’s my mantra…and maybe that is why we have such good ‘luck’ at school.  I work at catching the flies with honey…

Now, let me say – yes, everyone should just WANT to care.  Everyone should just WANT to do their best  Everyone should just WANT to love students.  However, let’s be real…we all have our days at work.  All of us.  So…I deliver plenty of sugar to keep on catching those flies.

Notice I wrote, “I deliver.”  That’s right – the school folks don’t only see me for IEP meetings.  They don’t only see me when I’m fired up about something.  They don’t only see me when I have bone to pick.

They see me volunteering time to help other children.  They see me volunteering time to help other teachers.  The faculty at that school?  They know Tucker.  This morning I was volunteering and the Study Hall Supervisor asked me my name.  Then asked about my children.  I said I’m Tucker and Estelle’s mom.  She said, ‘Oh!!  Big Tuck?’  Yep – Big Tuck.  She said, ‘Oh I just love him.  I keep an eye out for him you know.’

That is affirmation.  So, you know what I’m doing today?  Baking cupcakes and lots of ’em for the 7th grade team. Lemon blueberry with homemade lemon cream cheese frosting.  Tucker’s favorite fruit?

Blueberries, by the pint.  No kidding.

photo-7

Here he is…trying to talk to me…while stuffing blueberries in his mouth as quickly as possible.

The blog is a bit late today because I’ve been grading and baking….grading and frosting. The results?

photo-6

I don’t only take treats to school on days I’m assigned.  I take treats to school on random days.

AND – I ALWAYS leave a note that says something like this, “Thank you so much for all you do for our school and community. Love, Tucker & Estelle”  Yes – I make them sign their names.

I don’t only take candy bars to school on days I’m assigned.  I take candy bars to school on random days.

AND – I ALWAYS leave a note on the candy bars.  What do they say?  Well…I’m about to give up one of my favorite things – so please steal.  Steal these ideas to ‘catch’ yourself some flies.

I print out these quips on a mailing label (including ‘From Tucker and Estelle’), stick them to miniature candy bars, and deliver a basket of goodies to the office – for ALL staff.

You are such a SWEETART  (SweeTarts)
We would be in a CRUNCH without our teachers! (Nestle Crunch)
Your help is better than GOLD! (Hershey’s Nuggets)
You are terrific!  You were MINT to be our teacher! (Andes Mints)
You compli-MINT our children’s educational team!  (York Mint Patties)
Your help is better than a grand slam! (Baby Ruth)
Thanks for keeping your PROMISE to be here for our children. (Dove Promises)
You add such JOY to our children’s educational team. (Almond Joy)
Here is a HUG!  Thank you! (Hershey’s Hugs)
A chance to say thanks, we wouldn’t miss!  Just for you, a Hershey Kiss! (Hershey’s Kiss)
Please accept our MINI thanks for your maximum effort. (Hershey’s Miniatures)
You have our MOUNDS of appreciation. (Mounds Bar)
You are a STAR teacher! (Starburst)
Our CUP runneth over with great teachers like you!  (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups)
Our teachers STIX out in a crowd! (Pixy Stix)
Teachers are LIFESAVERS. (Lifesavers Candy)
We’re JOLLY glad to have you as our child’s teacher. (Jolly Rancher)
I can thank you NOW and LATER.  (Now and Later)
There are no DUDS on our educational team. (Milk Duds)
You’re worth more than 100 GRAND to us! (100 Grand Bars)
You are a WHOPPING good part of our team. (Whoppers)
Thanks for making our child SNICKER with learning fun! (Snickers)
you Mean so Much to our children.  Thanks! (M & M’s)
Double, double, blow a bubble!  Without you we’d be in trouble. (Bubble Gum)
We’re UDDERLY glad you are on out team!  (Cow Tail’s)
TWIX me and you, you are a fantastic teacher! (Twix bars)
Thanks for helping!  You are the KAT’s meow! (Kit-Kat)
Help like yours in out of this world.  Thank you! (Milky Way Bars)
You are an EGG-ceptional teacher!  (Reese’s or Twix Eggs)
Who is a great teacher?  All FINGERS are pointing at you. (Butterfinger)
Parents and teachers, together we’re RAISIN great kids. (Raisinettes)
We are EXTRA glad you are our child’s teacher. (Extra Bubblegum)

Now – get out there and catch some of your own flies!!

Day #170 – My Student Is Not An Honor Student

I was born to teach. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do.

Why?

Not because of the pay…or the summers ‘off’…or snow days.

I wanted to teach because I wanted to inspire, to change lives, to ignite a passion.

To my fellow teachers,

“Do you remember why you wanted to teach?”

I would bet the answer is somewhat like mine.

To inspire
To change lives
To ignite a passion
To make a difference
To continue learning
To change the future

If your answers match those then I would pose the next question, “Why don’t you like challenging students?”

Students with an IEP
Students who need to learn in a different way
Students with difficulty in understanding
Students who challenge
Students who need differentiated instruction
Students who don’t care

It would seem to me that the MOST growth (thus satisfaction) could come from these very special students.  The students who are not Honor Students.  Tucker could be one of your ‘greatest’ stories…but it will take some work.

I despise giving grades. Really, it is the absolute worst part of teaching. I honestly wish that we lived in an environment that would reward students for learning, because they want to learn. I wish I could spend my time being a curriculum coach. Coaching each student through a self-discovery of ideas. Supporting their creative thought and exploration. I would guess that many of my teaching-colleagues feel the same.

A test tells me nothing of the student.  A test tells me that a student can memorize some stuff and recall it at the correct time.  A test doesn’t tell me what they are able to actually do with that information. An October, 2013 Forbes article lists the top ten skills that employers are looking for.

1. Ability to work in a team
2. Ability to make decisions and solve problems
3. Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work
4. Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization
5. Ability to obtain and process information
6. Ability to analyze quantitative data
7. Technical knowledge related to the job
8. Proficiency with computer software programs
9. Ability to create and/or edit written reports
10. Ability to sell and influence others

It seems to me that skills one through four, nine, and ten cannot be evaluated by a test. So, 60% of the skills that employers are looking for are ‘non-testable.’ These are often the same skills in which more ‘difficult’ students excel.  Yet, many of my students feel their intellectual worth is designated by that bold, black line on a standardized test. This identification of intellectual worth begins early as evidenced by my writing yesterday (Day #169 – My Child Is Not An Honor Student)

How do we talk to our students about these ideas? I do it, I do it directly. I constantly remind them that their worth is not their grade – their worth is their journey. Their worth is how much they tried, did they do their best? Learning is not about the destination, it is about the journey. I always have a heart to heart with my class before turing in a ‘big assignment.’

I give them a handout with the famous John Wooden quote, “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” Did you do your best? Did you take the feedback you’ve received and do something with it? Did you reach out? Did you revise? Did you participate? If so, then you have done the best you can do – and that’s all you can do.

Your final grade is a piece of what you learned…but it is not the be all and end all.

  1. You have learned to work in a team by participating in group feedback sessions – along with that, you have learned humility in accepting feedback. You have learned how to use kind, yet constructive language in telling your peers your reactions to their work.
  2. You have made decisions and solved problems while writing. Maybe your topic was too big? Too small? Maybe you had to choose between sources, whatever it was – you were constantly decision-making and problem solving.
  3. You worked at planning your paper throughout the semester. This strengthened your time-management abilities. You learned to organize your paper in logical form and prioritize the writing and revising of your drafts.
  4. You communicated verbally with people inside and outside of the classroom about the topic and your paper. You asked your parents, friends, coaches, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, Pastors, and ‘old’ teachers for feedback. You put yourself out there – you allowed yourself to be criticized.
  5. You obtained and processes information. You found pieces of evidence. While your peers found ‘holes’ in your arguments, you searched to restore credibility.
  6. You analyzed quantitative data, as well as qualitative data. You made sense of information. You practiced incorporating this data into your own ideas and writing.
  7. You created and edited a piece of original writing.
  8. You sold your ideas to me. You influenced others to care. How? By clearly articulating your ideas and arguments.

These eight ideas support 80% of the skills that future employers are looking for. They are not looking to see that you received an A in this course, they will interview you for the skills mentioned above.

I treasure my average students.  I am humbled by the opportunity to really make a difference in a life.

The next time that you have a student in your class that causes difficulty – think of it as THE best opportunity that you will have to make a difference.

To truly make a difference.

To inspire.

To change a life.

To ignite a passion.

To learn more.

To change the future. 

Who’s with me?

200395417-001

Day #169 – My Child Is Not An Honor Student

And it’s okay.  Seriously, it’s okay.

Maybe your child is an honor student. That’s okay too…

Not that you needed me to tell you that.

The Iowa Test of Basic Skills are coming.  Let me tell you, these things cause me anxiety.

Last year when my children came home with their Iowa Assessments they were both concerned that their ‘bold, black lines’ didn’t go into the 90th percentile like many of their friends. Commence questioning, “I guess I’m not very smart.” “I’m sorry that I’m not good enough, mom.” “I wonder what questions I missed.” “See I told you I wasn’t very good at math, here is the proof.”

I wanted to scream. I wanted to rip those ridiculous pieces of paper into a million, zillion pieces. I wanted to yell “These bold lines DO NOT show your worth or value as a human.” Instead, I went to the storage cave in our basement. I found my own ITBS (Iowa Tests of Basic Skills) scores from the mid-1980’s (yes…my mom saved these along with my report cards and ‘Nikki can cut a straight line’ awards).

They were shocked. I felt like I was in a time warp. As I looked at my own bold, black lines the feelings came rushing back, the tears formed.  I was reminded of my own feelings of ‘unworth.’ Yuck. Turns out these tests showed that I wasn’t very smart. Not at all.

My children didn’t understand – how could their mother, now a College Professor have only scored in the 40th, 60th, and 80th percentile? This was the PERFECT time to really talk about the connection that exists between intelligence and ‘worth.’

I shared with them that I am not (nor ever was) good at taking tests. I overthink everything. I told them I flunked my Driver’s Test. Laugh, because it is funny. On the test was a picture of a stop sign. The question was, “What do you do when you see this sign?” My children said, “You stop.” I told them I got the question wrong – commence hysterical laughter. Then I said to them, “I didn’t answer stop. I answered slow down. Because I could be two blocks away from the stop sign. I could see it 1/2 mile away. I’m not going to stop when I see it. I’ll stop when I arrive to the foot of the sign.”

Now my children think I should take the ‘Driver’s Test’ people to court because their test was wrong and I was right.  I think they really just wanted another scoop of ice cream…which they received upon their compliments.

Let me underscore this posting with the fact that I don’t have a better answer and I know the purpose of testing. I get it, I really do. I’m a teacher – and tomorrow I’ll post from a teacher point of view.  We need standards. We must evaluate our students to understand what they do and do not know. For some occupations and curricular areas, testing makes perfect sense. This is really more of a call for balance, a call for recognizing fireflies as much as we recognize academic superstars.

What are fireflies? A blog post last year from HandsFreeMama moved me in several ways. The post is about children who shine from within, not children who shine on a piece of paper. I felt a strong connection to this post, because I was that child – and I am raising those children. My question is, is there a way that we can recognize ‘soft skills’ in the same way we recognize quantifiable skills?

069e6a1908face04ed4b199273f7230a

It’s imperative…and especially for children like Tucker.

So, what changed in me? How did I finally feel good enough? I went to college. When I went to college I realized that my ‘personal qualities’ excelled. I will be forever grateful to those Professors who taught me that I was ‘good enough.’

So, tell your fireflies to shine. Shine from within. Shine in the process.  Teach your children that their worth is not a bold, black line. It is not dictated by a bubble test.  The test that really matters? The one from Galatians, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” There may not be a test to measure these things…but they are the most important.

That is what I told my children. Your worth is not in this bold, black line. Sure, your math shows 47%. You know what’s at 100%? Your generosity in your willingness to give to charities, your ‘want’ to give school supplies to children who need them, your ability to share how you are feeling, your kindness in helping a friend, your willingness to experience new things, your worth is in life…not a quantifiable mark on a piece of paper.

 They may not be honor students, but they are students who are full of honor.

Day #168 – #39 Is In Control

One of the consistent struggles that I have in life is how do I help Tucker find balance?

To not let autism hold him back – but, at the same time, to be realistic about the challenges that autism brings.

The best example I can provide is what happened when he was in 6th grade.

As you know by now, Tucker loves football.  He loves the Minnesota Vikings – but loves everything about the game.  He was drawing plays before he was writing his name.  He loved to play at recess.  He was in flag football, he was in touch football, in 4th and 5th grade he played in a youth football league – complete with pads, plays, and real tackling.  He loves every part of the game.

He also loves to read sports news and watch ESPN.  When it was time to sign up for football during his 6th grade year, he told me he didn’t want to play.  I was shocked.  Usually he was the first in line.  I waited and tried again. No deal.  I told him I would coach – the thought of that nearly made him say yes….but still no deal.  I tried one last time.

I couldn’t understand – why did this boy not want to participate in his very favorite thing?

Finally, he said, “Mom, you know I have autism – I know that my brain doesn’t quite work the right way.  I mean I know it’s fine and it’s just different.  But, Mom I’m worried about all of the news about concussions. Really.  If my brain sometimes struggles now – what if I got a concussion?  Would that make it worse?  I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Wow.  Really?  That’s quite an argument.  An argument to which I couldn’t argue.  At least not then. It’s not that I’m football crazy – but I need for him to understand that this thing that he has shouldn’t hold him back from participating, from doing the things he loves.

Why?  There is danger in everything we do.  He could get a concussion at recess, at lunch, walking across the street. I understand that the danger is heightened in the game.   I also understood that being on a team is what he needs most.  He needs the ‘forced’ peer interaction.  He needs to learn to take direction from another adult.  He needs to be a part of something.

I knew (and know) that immersing him in activities where he has opportunities to be social is incredibly important for his continued development and growth.

It’s one of the moments that a parent of a child on the spectrum struggles with.  Honestly – that every parent struggles with.  Trying to find that balance – don’t let it hold you back, but don’t take unnecessary risks.  It’s one of those times that I wish I had a book to walk me through the right thing to do, the right thing to say.

Between 6th and 7th grade we did a lot of reading and researching.  We read about helmet design, we read about tackling ‘form,’ we read about ways to avoid concussions, and we read about the rules in concussion recovery.

When 7th grade came he decided he would make a more informed decision.  He decided to take the ‘risk’ and play.  He had a great year.  He had fun.  He was part of the team.  He loved that – and they loved him right back. I have no idea what 8th grade will bring – but I know that I will continue to push him to not allow autism to make decisions for him.

10649108_10152268864876292_8472081086561375396_o

#39 is in control of autism – autism will never control #39

Day #167 – If I Had A Million Dollars

Today I was thinking about all the things I wish I could do for children and parents who live on and in the spectrum.  Then, one of my favorite songs came on the radio and I just HAD to change the words while I was driving…new lyrics to If I Had a Million Dollars by Barenaked Ladies.

Have fun!

If I had a million dollars
If I had a million dollars
Well, I’d buy you a bike
I would buy you a bike

And if I had a million dollars
If I had a million dollars
I’d buy you adaptives for your bike
Maybe a nice tricycle or a recumbent

And if I had a million dollars
If I had a million dollars
Well, I’d buy you an iPad
A nice piece of technology

And if I had a million dollars, I’d buy your calm

If I had a million dollars
I’d build an autism-fort in your yard
If I had a million dollars you could help
It wouldn’t be that hard

If I had a million dollars
Maybe we could put a little tiny fridge
In there somewhere
We could just go up there and hang out

Like open the fridge and stuff
And there’d all be foods laid out for us
Like crust free sandwiches and red apples

They have crust free sandwiches
But they don’t have no crunch bacon
Well, can you blame them?
Yeah!

If I had a million dollars
If I had a million dollars
Well, I’d buy you a crash pad
But only a real crash pad, that’s cool

And if I had a million dollars
If I had a million dollars
Well, I’d buy you a weighted vest
Yep, for your chest or neck

And if I had a million dollars
If I had a million dollars
Well, I’d buy you some fidget toys
All them crazy liquid timers

And if I had a million dollars I’d buy your calm

If I had a million dollars
We wouldn’t ever have to go to the store
If I had a million dollars
We’d have food delivered, ’cause it costs more

If I had a million dollars
We wouldn’t have to go to school
But we would go to school
Of course we would, we’d just learn more
And buy really ‘mazing teachers and aides
That’s right, all the fanciest supplies and tech

If I had a million dollars
If I had a million dollars
Well, I’d buy you a gym ball
But only the right size, that’s cool

And if I had a million dollars
If I had a million dollars
Well, I’d buy you some charts
Visual or token or choice

If I had a million dollars
If I had a million dollars
Well, I’d buy you a chew tube
Haven’t you always wanted a chew tube?

If I had a million dollars I’d buy your calm

If I had a million dollars
If I had a million dollars
If I had a million dollars
If I had a million dollars
If I had a million dollars
We’d be rich!

Day #166 – I’m Not Supermom

Okay…I have to get something off my chest.

After I posted my ‘plan’ to help Tucker write (See Day #164 – IEP Results, Day 1) I had several moms write me and express their amazement in my mothering skills.

Thank you, thank you so very much.  I really do appreciate your kind words and genuine compliments.  Honestly, it does make me feel good and I appreciate your added input in ways to help Tucker.

There are days when I feel like this…

943288_520724044652805_941699318_n

I am not Supermom.  Let me repeat, I am not Supermom.

More days I actually feel like this…

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

For instance…

  • Last week I brought the groceries in and set them on the counter.  A jar of salsa rolled and broke into a ZILLION pieces on the floor.
  • The dog’s outside chain has needed repaired for two weeks and I just keep forgetting.
  • Today, I took care of garbage…for the first time in three weeks (granted it was all in the garage).
  • The can ‘bin’ is overflowing – nickels are just waiting for me.
  • I forgot Estelle’s lunch on lunch day – and had to replace it with a Lunchable (gross).
  • I have 67 work emails that need tending to.
  • I drink 44 oz. of fountain Diet Pepsi EVERY morning.  In fact, last week I braved a ‘blizzard’ to get my liquid addiction.
  • I ate a whole sleeve of Thin Mints…in one day.
  • I bite my nails.
  • I pick my cuticles until they bleed.
  • I itch my feet and it makes a disgusting noise.
  • Sometimes I work out and don’t shower before bed.
  • Last night I planned on having ‘beers’ – I had one, and was done.
  • I’ve been known to pull Tucker’s shorts out of the dirty clothes basket because he couldn’t find any that were clean.
  • I get irritated when people don’t understand the sock basket.  The socks are ALREADY matched.  How difficult is it to keep them match?  GAH!?!?!
  • The kids had grilled cheese twice this week – with no fruits of veggies of any kind.
  • If we’re out of milk for cereal needs I stop and get them donuts on the way to school.
  • I shaved my legs yesterday…for the first time since I don’t know when.  I’m blonde, you know.
  • I don’t want to go places I can’t wear yoga pants…unless it’s to work.
  • This morning I told my kids it’s a no iPad weekend, but am allowing them to watch television and play video games (yeah…that makes a lot of sense).
  • I’ve been known to eat an entire bag of Kettle Cooked Salt & Vinegar chips.
  • I haven’t had my hair cut since…I can’t even remember when.
  • Today, while running I blew my nose on my t-shirt.  Four times.
  • When I make Rice Crispie treats I have a tendency to eat half of them, while still warm – with a spoon – out of the bowl.

I would argue that many of you ‘mom’ better than me.

Yes, being the mom of a child on the spectrum is inherently more difficult.  Raising Estelle is SIGNIFICANTLY easier than raising Tucker.

Regardless, if you had a child on the spectrum, you would do what I do.

You would do it because you felt them move in your womb.
You would do it because you remember their first cry.
You would do it because the type of love you felt when you first saw your child is unlike any other.
You would do it because you consoled them as they cried.
You would do it because you heard their first laugh.
You would do it because you woke with them in the middle of the night.
You would do it because of their first steps.
You would do it because of their first words.
You would do it because your remember their first day of school.

You would do it because of all the firsts that you have experienced and all of the lasts you have yet to experience.
You would do it because the sparkle and twinkle in their eye still takes your breath away.
You would do it because you have an unwavering love for your child.

You would do it because in the words of Jackie Kennedy (and one of my VERY favorite quotes), “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”

That’s why I do it – that’s where my strength comes from; his firsts and lasts, his sparkle and twinkle. My unwavering love – and the idea that nothing else really does matter very much because when I leave this world, I will leave it to my children.

May I have taught them in the very best way- by modeling love and joy, peace and tolerance, kindness and goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

Day #165 – IEP Results, Day 2

The writing went well.  In 90 minutes we composed a five-paragraph essay about ice cream.  We’ll keep working through those ideas though (see Day #164 – IEP Results, Day 1) and I’ll keep you updated!

Then?  He received an ice cream reward.

Just to be clear I am not a fan of ‘rewards’ – I believe people should just want to learn, want to be better.  I believe that providing extrinsic rewards doesn’t create ‘real’ learning.  It only creates learning for the purpose of getting something.  You’ll find out later that it’s just another way that autism has changed me.

The next issues?  Motivation and effort.

As a teacher-mom – this is seriously the WORST battle to battle.  Why wouldn’t he just want to learn?  Why wouldn’t he just want to do his best?

Search autism and motivation…you will get 9.9 million hits.
Search Asperger’s and motivation…you will get 242,000 hits.

This issue hits home for all parents, I’m VERY well aware of that.  However, there is a unique challenge for students on the spectrum.  The first ‘hit’ under Asperger’s and motivation cracks me up…”You cannot get anyone with Asperger’s to do anything they don’t want to do. Read that again.”  (From:  http://www.aspergerexperts.com/behavior/getting-someone-with-aspergers-to-do-something/#sthash.9hBiW97H.dpuf)

His motivation and effort are closely connected.  Most of his teachers agree that he is ‘able.’  When he is backed up against a wall and will lose study hall time or have to stay after school he will accomplish his work.  The real question?  How do we get him to care before this point?

I have a pretty good feeling about what’s happened here.

We’ve been so concerned with leveling his emotional responses and sensory intake that we haven’t been ‘tough’ teachers.  Which is the ‘right’ way (at least in my opinion).  A child has to be okay in their heart before they can really learn – their learning represents the iceberg above the water.  What is above the water must be supported by what’s below the water.

10262129_10204706155466848_6661381629744362601_n

We’ve had to make him ‘ready to learn.’  Now we’re dangerously close to that iceberg sinking into the ocean.

So, the question is…how do we keep his emotional/sensory self in check while challenging his brain?

The question of all questions…

Here are some preliminary ideas.

  • We need to begin by building on what he already knows and likes…’entering’ his world (See Day #92 – Square Peg, Round Hole).  Slowly, but surely bringing him further into our world.
  • We need to help him see the forest through the trees.  He needs to understand the connections between what he is learning now and what he will be learning in a year.
  • We need to help him see the relevance in his learning.  When will he need to know about proportions?  When will he need to know about genetics?  The learning HAS to be real.
  • We need to be sure his physical environment is comfortable.  Most of his teachers reported that he sometimes struggles because of his size (fitting the 6’2″ 7th grader in 7th grade desks is a challenge).
  • We need to be sure to be concrete in demands and expectations – providing written copies that explain ‘this is what you need to do.’
  • We need to provide written instructions as often as possible – and in checklist form.  We know that he will develop coping strategies upon the repetition of behaviors.
  • We also need to ask him to repeat directions back to us.
  • We need to make sure he is in ‘sections’ where other students are displaying appropriate behavior. He SO much wants to fit in that he will simply take on behaviors of whomever is receiving attention.  Attention is seen as ‘appropriate and likable.’

These behaviors are for ALL of us.  I truly believe that it is just one of the reasons that Tucker has been able to overcome so much.  The lessons in school are reinforced at home. T he lessons at home are reinforced at school.  We use the same concepts and the same language knowing that the more often he hears the same message the better chance we all have at it ‘sticking.’

What about those rewards that I am not a fan of? Well…there’s where the honesty comes..

He’ll work for more iPad time.
He’ll work for treats (ice cream, Doritos).
He’ll work to get to go out to eat.
He’ll work to get a new video game.
He’ll work for iTunes gift cards.
He’ll work for candy.

Looks like I better start saving my pennies…

Day #164 – IEP Day Results, Day 1

Yes…two weeks ago I wrote a series of posts about today.

Day #149 – The IEP, Part 1
Day #150 – The IEP:  Dear IEP Team,
Day #151 – The IEP: Dear Parents,
Day #152 – The IEP:  Dear General Education Teachers, 
Day #153 – The IEP:  Dear Grown-Ups,

But today was the real day…I’m actually writing this part yesterday…in preparation for tomorrow…which is today.  Confusing?  Well…that’s sort of how your brain feels working up to the IEP day.  On overload.

Thoughts that come to mind….

10603791_10205858595684907_4690892852510064393_n

 

The thing about IEP meetings…they provide direction.  They provide new life.

Here’s how I can best explain it…

To help Estelle with her academics, I brainstorm with her.  When she requests help, I assist. If she asks me to look it over, I look it over.

That’s about the extent of it.

Before I get into the happenings…let me first say that we are blessed beyond belief with teachers that want Tucker to succeed.  They love him like their own child.  I wish I could say that is the way it is with all teachers…but I know better.

To help Tucker with his academics?

I left the meeting at 10:30.  I ran five miles.  The run created a list of 14 ideas.  I’ve been sitting at my computer since I got off the treadmill.  In-between work emails I’ve slowly, but surely, been checking on and researching those ideas.

The first issue?

He’s having troubles in literacy (aka ‘English’ or ‘Language Arts’).  This is not new.  He loves to read (as long as it is nonfiction – see Day #144 – Divine Lies), but writing has always caused him difficulty. I understand why. Here are just eight reasons…

  1. Writing is difficult because his language acquisition itself was delayed.
  2. Writing is difficult because having conversations is difficult.  The reciprocal nature of how we converse is not natural to him.
  3. Writing is difficult because organizing words is still an emerging skill.  He is still honing the ability to create original sentences (see Day #43 – Tape Recorder).
  4. Writing is difficult because as his peers were learning to write letters he was still develop the fine-motor skills to hold a pencil.
  5. Writing is difficult because to write we have to block out our surroundings.  The sights, smells, sounds, and movement around him.
  6. Writing is difficult because the nature of writing is so subjective.
  7. Writing is difficult because the assessment of writing is so subjective.  What does this mean? One criteria from his writing rubric, “Produce clear and coherent writing.”  I understand that – but I teach communication.  What does that mean to him?  This is a significant issue – and one we MUST help him deal with.
  8. Writing is difficult because writing has always been difficult.

What to do?

Step 1:  Contact everyone I know in the writing world that could brainstorm ideas to help him.
Step 2:  Research, research, research.
STep 3:  Plan, plan, plan
Step 4:  Execute, execute, execute
Step 5:  Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate
Step 6:  Begin again…

So, tonight it begins.

When I pick him up from school we are going to the local coffee-house.  Why?

First, because home provides too many distractions.  It’s a place that he has ‘down’ time.  It’s his safe place.

Second, because I’m going to work side by side, with him.

Third, because I want him to see other adults and college students working, writing, talking.  Immersing him into the world of words – there is no better place than a coffee-house.

What are the ideas to help?

1.  Provide him with a more detailed outline.  He is failing to provide description and expand upon ideas.  His teacher asks for a topic sentence and three details to support.  He gives her four sentences.  A topic sentence and four detail sentences.

I have an outline ready to go.  We’re going to take one of his ‘finished’ essays and work on adding detail.  The logical, sequential nature of his brain *should* understand a more detailed outline, then it *should* be as easy as filling in the blanks.  It’s almost like trying to apply ‘rules’ to writing.

The catch?  The outline is in Google Docs…we are going to write together…online.  As he fills in the blank, I will question him – push him to think of more details to help describe.

Then…we’re going to try…

2.  Working with a visual timeline.

We will work to collect pictures that are ‘like’ this essay that he wrote.  Then, group those pictures into like topics.  Finally, draw a line to connect the pictures in the order that we write about them.  When we finish organizing pictures I’m going to have him ‘read’ the pictures to me as I type.

This will hopefully tell me two things.  One, is he able to take the visual and transcribe into thought?  Two, is the real issue the ‘typing?’  Is he struggling to find the words or is he struggling to type as fast as his brain wants to describe.

Then…we’re going to try…

3.  Working backwards.

We will take a five-paragraph essay and break it down.  I’m going to have him take out all of the ‘unnecessary detail.’  Then, we’ll talk about how the ‘unnecessary’ details actually help  the story – not only in meaning, but in readability.

This is about helping him to see the forest through the trees – this is beginning to be a larger issue.  He doesn’t understand/see the values in the details because he is unable to see the larger picture – the relevance.

Then…we’re going to try…

4.  Compare and contrast.

He likes to read – as long as it is nonfiction. I’m going to work at finding two short essays about the same topic.  We will ‘works backwards’ to get to the same meaning.  Then, we’ll put those two essays to the side and compare/contrast the supporting details.

What are we going to use?  His own writing rubric.  Maybe the idea of, “Produce clear and coherent writing” will make more sense if he has to use it to assess two pieces that he read.  Which one is better and why?

Of course we won’t get to all of these concepts tonight – but over the next week we’re going to hit them all.

Why?  Of all things we HAVE to get this writing issue under control.  Writing is a high-stakes skill.  To achieve standards in most other curricular areas we have got to get him writing, and writing well.  Experiencing frustration in writing will only lead to more refusal and negative behaviors in other content areas.

If he continues to struggle…school will become even more difficult.

ASD students often have motivation issues – difficulty in school will not help his existing motivation issues (which I’ll address tomorrow).

So far, so good – check in tomorrow for an update and for the second ‘lessons’ we need to work on reinforcing.

photo-5