Parenting a spectrum of girls

Posts tagged ‘school’

Countdown

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M & A dancing, posing, being silly

I can’t wait for the school year to be over!  I don’t think I have ever said that before.  While I am not a mom to look forward to my kids going off to school in the fall or dread them being home for the summer (on the contrary, I love the extra time with them, not to mention sleeping past 6am some days), K has always loved school so we didn’t count down the days.  Until this year.

M is really struggling.  I am pretty sure it is because she knows the end of the school year is coming up, and for a child who needs routine like air, that causes a lot of anxiety.  First of all, the routine changes a lot at the end of the year.  There is field day, a field trip, a day to visit her classroom for next year and a lot of other “specials” that just upset her.  Then there is knowing that school will be over which brings a ton of uncertainty and change.  She won’t see her teacher or para pro, and she loves them very much.  She won’t see the kids in her class, and a couple are actually kinda friends now.   She will have to go to work (daycare) with me, and the schedule and teachers are variable and it lacks the routine of a school day.  (Actually right now I have a very real fear that she will run away from daycare this summer…I am taking the rest of the week after her last day of school off to give her time to rest and adjust.). Then it starts all over in the fall with a new teacher, new aide, new classmates.

So right now every morning I have to dress her and drag her out the door and into the school, while the whole time she cries and threatens and melts down about not wanting to go to school.  She is not eating well anymore (she only wants junk food & is usually a great eater) and fights me on every little thing, asking me why I am so mean and why no one loves her or likes her.  She also has a long-term sub in computers which has really upset her (her teacher had a baby).  She used to like computers only, then computers & art, now just art.  She hates gym & especially music (sensory overload, anyone?)

I am ready to stop the daily fight to go to school.  Of course, getting her to stay with her group at daycare when I am right across the hall (I work with the infants & toddlers) will be even more difficult.  School has been good for her…I am glad I let her psychologist talk me out of my desire to home school (I.e. shelter) her…I didn’t want her to have to deal with all of the stress of a traditional school…but she has actually made a couple of friends (though not under her terms because she says you are only friends if you never disagree, which is why she only has one friend) and grown so much, learning to read, ride a bike & tie shoes all in the last month or so, as well as grow in so many other areas.

She seems to have found a new interest that helps calm her, though.  True to herself, like most of her obsessions this one is a song.  Last time it was Taylor Swift’s “Santa Baby” (in June!) Which grew to everything Taylor Swift.  Before that it was the Beatles, particularly the “Abbey Road” album.  This time, however, I am less pleased with her choice.  I really don’t want to hear it over & over because every time I hear it it takes forever to get it out of my head…and it isn’t even that good.  I provided a link so you can see for yourself, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.  It sure better help her calm down, or I’m going to pretend I can’t find it anymore!

The worst obsession yet…

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One of those days

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The end of a long, hard day

I totally had a better, more organized and educational post ready to write today.  It was all about why I am thankful for M’s stims and obsessions.  But that was at about 7:30am and the day definitely went down hill after that, so I don’t have the concentration to write that post right now.  So what you’re getting is the jumble of a confused mama after a rough day and strange week.

Monday we dropped K off at school to head to 6th grade camp for the week.  I was prepared for this to be a rough week because of that.  M had a very rough drop off Monday because of that.  But once she calmed down she had a good report from school.  At home…
Wow.

It was such an amazing day.  We haven’t had a day that good since at LEAST April.  A couple very short minor outbursts about school but no meltdowns, no name calling or aggression.  It was so peaceful.  Like life without Aspergers.  She and her little sister colored pictures, helped me make dinner and were wonderful for the babysitter after I left for school.  I haven’t felt that light and stress free in a long time.

The rest of the week had been, well, not Monday.  I finally ended up telling that mom at school that M has Aspergers, because I could tell she’d had it with M growling and hissing at her daughter.  She seems much more understanding. 

Then came today.  Again at drop off she was hissing and growling at everyone waiting for the school to open.  Yesterday she chilled out by listening to Taylor Swift (her latest obsession) through her comfy new headphones until the doors opened.  Today she would not do that.  I did get her to walk to the classroom on her own, though.

M initially had problems getting in trouble especially at rest time, until the new aide suggested she be allowed to use her fidgets during that time and we took in her weighted blanket, then she was fine.

Today at pick up she said she had a good day.  Turns out she was getting in trouble again at rest, worse than before.  I also got a long note from the teacher that pretty much boils down to the fact that recess has been a mess for M all year.  She spends most of the time crying and will not play with the other kids.  M does have social and imaginative play delays.  She can parallel play and sometimes play with one other person if she can script.  She can not play or socialize with groups of 2 or more kids.  When I ask M about her day none of this comes up.  And she tells me bizarre things that I know are not true.  I obviously can’t rely on her for information about her day.

And then the day got worse.  She wouldn’t leave daycare later when I finished work, it took half an hour to catch her & carry her kicking and spitting to the car.  She kept getting out of her seat belt and crawling around the car on the way home.  When we got home she hit her sister twice, the cat once, and threw her sister’s oranges on the floor then ate them off the floor. 
But oh no, that’s not the worst.
At all.
She grabbed a pair of scissors when we walked in the door.  I’m not sure what she was going to do with them but I know it wasn’t good.  I chased her to her top bunk bed and wrestled them away from her.  Then spent 15 minutes keeping her from jumping off the top bunk.
And then she had counseling, where among other things she hit & kicked her counselor.
Thankfully the counselor now agrees she needs medication.
Good thing we have an appointment in a week and a half.

We talked about balancing understanding she has special needs and can’t control herself with having expectations, not letting her terrorize us and teaching her to control herself.

I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.
So I feel like a failure as a parent
And like I’ve failed at special education before I’ve begun.
If I can’t control my own kid, how can I help others?

I’m sure it’s just the bad day talking.  I took away her ability to watch a Taylor Swift DVD tonight.  When she realized she wasn’t getting to get her way no matter what she went in the basement with her blanket and body pillow, curled up in the old glider rocker and fell asleep.  Our sweet kitty curled up on her.  Now she is in bed but keeps babbling in her sleep.  My husband said all he could make out was “Taylor Swift”.

Tomorrow will be better!  Parenting a child on the Autism Spectrum is certainly the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  But I love her and am so proud of her.  And I won’t stop working to help her be happy and able to function successfully in society.

In the mean time, I keep praying for more days like Monday!

Defining “Need to Know”

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M at her first soccer game of the Fall 2012 season

This post has been rumbling in my head since Saturday, but today something else happened and I decided it had to be written today. (Plus, it’s that or clean the house…which really needs to be cleaned but, you know, I’d way rather write for you guys!)

When it comes to M’s diagnosis, I decided that I would tell people about it on a “need to know” basis.  Teachers & administrators at school know, of course her health team (physical & mental), and friends and family that are with her regularly.  But when it comes to dance teachers, soccer coaches, etc… I decided only to tell them if her behavior or area of delay became an issue.  This isn’t always as easy to define as you would think, or as I assumed.

Dance: last year’s teacher knew, because M had a rough start and refused to attend class if there was a sub, and also because she became a good friend and had some experience to offer advice.  This year her new teacher does not know, at least not yet.

Sunday School:  all of her current teachers know, because transitioning to this class over the summer was very difficult for her and she still often has a hard time.  Last year they did not know, because her behavior was relatively age appropriate, though she did take her sensory bag.

Soccer:  last season’s coach did not know, but honestly he was a jerk and I’m not sure I would have told him.  He did yell at us for being a few minutes late to practice a couple times until I told him she had occupational therapy right before every practice…he kind of left her alone after that.  This season hasn’t gone quite as well and I’m on the fence about telling the coach.

Last Saturday she refused to play at the beginning of the game insisting she didn’t want to play anymore (after I just dropped off the check to pay for the season, of course!)  She was losing control a little because big sister was going to spend the night with a friend that night, so she was anxious about the upcoming separation & routine change.  I could tell he was frustrated with her, and I was too!  After she started playing she did great as always.  She is extremely fast and scored 7 goals that game.  But if a teammate scored a goal, she cried & wanted to quit.  When she was goalie she stopped 8 goals, but 1 got by her…so she cried & ran off the field!  (K kept score of M’s accomplishments for her).  She is just not good at being part of a team…which it would be appropriate to be frustrated about, except the fact that she has Asperger’s.  Not only does she lack social skills and awareness, but she is social/emotionally on the level of a young 2 year old.  A few parents (from the other team) commented about her getting upset in a way that let me know they thought there was something wrong with it.  I just let it slide…it’s still hard not to care what people think but I don’t know them, and they don’t need a label for my child.  But her coach?  We will see.  If she continues to display behavior that is not developmentally appropriate for a neurotypical 5 year old, I may give him a heads up since the way she is responded to can help diffuse or aggravate the situation.

In school, a parent who is a friend and also has a child with special needs knows about M’s diagnosis, but none of the other parents do.  I never even thought about telling them.  This morning a girl from her class ran up to her before drop off and M grunted, growled and hid behind me (which she also did yesterday).  I tried to put it off with a playful “oh, looks like another Monday!” (Though of course I was embarrassed!)  Then I made the mistake of asking M what was wrong.

I hate her!

Oh, great.  The bluntness and lack of desire to socialize of her Asperger’s together with the anxiety of school drop off made for a great mess today.  What I wanted to say was:
“I’m sorry.  M has Aspergers.”
What I really said was:
“She’s having a rough morning.”
The meltdown began and she tried to run away back to the car, twice.  When we got to the school she did let one close friend give her a quick hug (even if she didn’t reciprocate…yay for hugs!)  But anyone else who even looked at her got the evil eye and a growl, and she hid behind me.  She only agreed not to run away because I told her she could go for a walk with the dean when she went to class (which is what she does when she has a meltdown or is too overwhelmed in class).

Do these parents need to know?  I’m not sure.  On one hand I don’t want them thinking my child is a jerk.  She isolates herself enough as it is, I don’t want the parents to treat her coldly, or tell their children to avoid her, or for her to be the one who doesn’t get invited to parties.  (She does not do well with parties, but sometimes it’s just the being invited (or not) that counts.)  On the other hand, if they know she is autistic, will that help things?  Or make them worse?

Deciding what really does make a need to know is not only subjective, it is just down right hard to decide…especially when the subject is something as precious as your child and as looming as a label.
I am open to any thoughts, advice, or stories of similar situations.  Although I have done a lot of studying on Autism and can tell you all about ABA or what to do during a meltdown, it is still pretty new to me and the things that are hard personal decisions that have little to do with facts or figures, like who to tell and how, are still pretty uncharted territory for me.  Surely nothing about having a child with autism, or any special need, is easy.  But, it is certainly worth it!

The “other” dirty word

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K on her first day of 6th grade

Shhhhhhh.  Don’t say it.

At least, if you have to say it, don’t use it to actually refer to anyone.

Or, at least not anyone you know.

Certainly don’t say it in public.

You know, the “g” word.

No, not the “G” word, that’s ok, just don’t talk about the “g” word. 

It’s offensive.  You might make someone feel bad.

But, it needs to be talked about, so here goes…

My oldest daughter, K, is gifted.  Actually, I’m going to get really outrageous.  She’s profoundly gifted.

We can talk about special needs all day long, and despite the fact that there is still a lot more ignorance than we would like, most people at least kinda get it, are accepting and agree that students with disabilities deserve an education that meets there needs.

But when you start talking about the other side of special education, that children who are not just smart but truly gifted, who need and deserve a different type of education and programs to meet their needs, you hit a lot of resistance.  People think children who are gifted are already at some sort of advantage.  Or they misunderstand what gifted means and think all that’s needed is an extra assignment, like an honor’s course or something.

And when you tell people that your child is gifted, the response is not usually helpful.  I usually hear things like:
“You’re so lucky”
Or
“Well my kid’s smart too”
Or
“There’s no way she’s actually THAT smart, right?”
Or
“What did you do to make her so smart?”

Even the teachers and administrators at her elementary school didn’t really get it. They tried their best to dissuade me from advancing her a grade (she did 1st semester of 1st grade and 2nd semester in 2nd grade to complete 2 grades in 1 year) but the fact that they told me it was ultimately my choice proved they knew she could handle it. They told me it would mess her up socially and she wouldn’t make new friends, and that of course I didn’t want to rush middle school where she would clearly be a target for all kinds of problems because of her younger age.

For one thing, I knew my kid and they were so wrong, and I couldn’t have lived with myself if I didn’t advance her a grade. She is profoundly gifted academically, but also advanced socially, emotionally, creatively and in leadership skills. She is tall for her age and talks with adults, like an adult. Her friends always were older, anyway.

But having (or being) a gifted child is not easy. And the more gifted you are, the harder it can be. Sure, we’re not worried about her getting accepted into college, or paying for it for that matter (she already has 2 scholarships at age 10). Right now she is in a program for academically talented youth that I have a lot of confidence in and hope for. But it was very painful for all of us to get to this point. So much work at home to keep her learning and interested, trying to educate teachers who insisted she must have ADHD that she was, in fact, simply bored out of her skull. And there is a hyperactivity and a lot of things that do honestly look like ADHD until you study it…these are also symptoms of giftedness. Gifted kids are not easy kids. Smart kids, yes. Gifted kids, no. They are…different.

Then of course the dreaded kindergarten (Michigan has ridiculous laws like it is illegal for kids to enter kindergarten for any reason if they will not be 5 by 12/1 of that year), and pulling teeth to get her advanced a grade. A year after that advancement she was extremely bored again and we though about moving to a large southern city near other family where an appropriate program could be found for her. Fortunately we found the REACH program here, at Battle Creek Public Schools. Even then, last year she struggled with not being challenged in some subjects. She is a perfectionist and has a hard time working in groups. Most people do not think the way she does and she has a hard time explaining her work. It is difficult to find reading material on her level that is appropriate for a 10 year old to read.

It also takes a while for new people, even the gifted teachers, to see and believe what she can do at times. I laughed so hard at her middle school open house. Her principal from 5th grade was there and told me “they’re really going to have to challenge her, even in this program. But I guess they’ll figure that out pretty quick!” 😉

And don’t dismiss being bored. Yeah, it’s boring to review material. But when you’re gifted and being held back, it’s like being bound at the starting line of a race you have been dreaming about running. It is painful. And it’s not right. Maybe someone would have already found the cure for cancer, but instead of having their curiosity nurtured and been asked to perform their best they had to do “age appropriate, grade level work like everyone else, no ‘special’ treatment”, they got bored, dropped out of school and ended up doing nothing but goofing off. Sound extreme? It happens a lot more often than you would think. Gifted education is an important part of special education that needs to be talked about. Dare we dream that one day it become mandated and at least *partially* funded?

Oh, and while I’m using “the word”, I may as well break it all out for you…

I’m gifted too. I pretty much never say it, it’s embarrassing …like you think too highly of yourself. But if you take the false stigma off it, it’s a clinical diagnosis just like autism. And I was diagnosed gifted and given special pull out classes as a kid. So I guess I can say it. I’m no K, but my mind works fast and I get bored easily. I love to learn and I am gifted in language arts and sciences…but I have a lot of difficulty with math.

So, there it is. I have more to say about giftedness and the skewered way Americans view it and treat it, but I need to get to sleep. Maybe next time. 😉

Who’s job is it, anyway?

So much has been running through my mind this week, the first week of school.  M has done pretty well during school, but the meltdowns before and after have been pretty bad.  A had a hard time at drop off her first week of preschool but she seemed to enjoy herself, despite the fact that it is a grimly small class.  K had a rough start to middle school with being the victim of bullying and not doing so well on a test due to first week jitters.  But the one thing that I have been turning over most of all is…

Whose job is it?

Meaning, the success of our children.  I am disappointed that this election year I have heard little said about education.  I am kind of sick of hearing about AYP and definitely sick of all the testing.  I do NOT want my kids taught the test.  It is ridiculous.  The education system gets worse and I do not blame the teachers or administrators of our schools…it is the government, and the rules made by people who clearly know little about child growth and development who want our country to “look good” on the testing numbers…but don’t want to look at what successful countries like the Netherlands are actually doing.  And the schools get money taken away when they already can’t afford all the teachers, aides and materials they need. Teaching tests is like throwing tylenol at cancer.  It makes no sense.

But I digress…my point is, teachers, wonderful, gifted teachers, are at risk of losing their jobs because of these tests.  They don’t get any credit for having a room full of children with different special needs, or homeless children who are exhausted and hungry.  They spend their own money on materials and aren’t given access to the resources they need. Yet some parents want to blame teachers for not being everything THEY want them to be.  At one parent meeting this week, some parents were up in arms that recess was being cancelled for middle schoolers due to bullying issues.  (Forget that at the local public middle schools there is no recess…)  But there are some things a school can not do.  They have to choose between more important responsibilities.  Yes, children need physical exercise, much more than they are getting.  But being safe (physically and mentally) is a more basic and important need. 

So when it comes to some of these things…getting enough exercise, eating right, learning social skills or music or whatever the schools have had to cut due to a lack of funding…whose job is it?

First, parents.

Sure, our kids spend a lot of time at school.  And sure, teachers get paid (but not much) to teach them.  But they are OUR children and ultimately our responsibility.  We are their parents, primary care givers, and the ones ultimately responsible for every aspect of their lives.  This may mean advocating for them (sometimes they school really isn’t providing what they should).  It could also mean helping with homework, signing them up for sports or just making sure the TV is off and they are playing outside.  It means taking them to the library and exposing them to the arts.  And if you don’t like that the school cut your child’s favorite program, write your senator or support a local organization that provides these experiences for children outside of school.  Help out in the classroom or provide materials for the classroom if at all possible.

I realize some parents have to work several jobs and do not have a lot of support.  And here’s the thing…while any aspect of a child’s development is ultimately the responsibility of the parent or parents, it takes a village.  I hate to be clichè, but it really does.  And I’m not sure where the villages are anymore.  I know I have found solace in the special needs community, though it has been mostly people scattered and connected online.  I also know there are a number of programs to help, but they can be difficult to find or understand if you are not extremely organized.  And any government program has miles of red tape!  And for every person trying to build up villages to help others, there are many more tearing people down and placing judgement instead of helping.  We need to set aside our differences: religion, politics, race, gender, whatever they may be, and just see each other as people who need others to help.  Our kids deserve this.  Don’t judge a parent if you aren’t willing to step in and help.  And don’t judge that teacher if you’re not willing to volunteer in the classroom. 

So, whose job is it?

All of ours.  Parents, and others to support them.  Our children need and deserve everything we can give them, and it’s time for all of us to step up to the plate.

One more note, parents and teachers should be partners in their child’s education. As parents we need to build a positive relationship with our kids’ teachers and keep in contact with them. Go to conferences and open houses, but more than that, back your teachers up. Be willing to listen not only to the positives about your child but the things they need to work on, and help them by providing consistency at home. Parents, educators and community working together = the best possible outcomes for our children and the future.

September…aka torture for special needs parents

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Our family this weekend in South Haven, MI

                                    

Ah, September.  Apples, Leaves turning colors, crisp fall air and my favorite…Pumpkin Spice Lattes.  And, of course, school.

I have always loved back to school time.  It comes during my favorite time of the year, and just the smell of new pencils and wearing new school clothes is exciting.  I loved school growing up…not the social part (I didn’t have a lot of friends and got bullied a lot), but learning, after school activities and talking to teachers were always things I loved.

The year my oldest daughter started school I was a little sad to see my baby growing up, but she shared my enthusiasm for school and learning.  Due to her high intelligence she really needed to be in school as soon as possible, and she was also very social so she couldn’t wait to be a “big kid” and make new friends.  This year that same “baby” is leaping to another milestone and starting middle school as a 6th grader.  😥  She is ready, though!  She is in the advanced program and they will work with her at whatever level they need to.  She was ready for something more.  I am nervous for her, though.  I still have nightmares of being late to class because I can’t open my locker or find something in there I need.  I also know she likes to joke around and it borders on disrespect or sassiness, and that she gets super excited and talks too much.  Hopefully none of these things become an issue, and I’m sure the teachers expect that the incoming 6th graders will take a little training on the new, higher expectations.  I am grateful that I can check up on all of her grades and assignments online, even though I am sure that will not be an issue.

My youngest is much like my oldest.  She is starting preschool this year and is super excited about it.  She is laid back, very intelligent and extremely social.  While I am sad that she is old enough to be starting preschool (especially since she is the BABY!!!)  I have no worries about her at all.  She could charm the rattle off a snake and has enough intelligence to make her dangerous 😉  She, like my oldest, needs to be in school and is going to the same wonderful preschool the other started out at.  My only regret is that I can not drop her off at the classroom tomorrow morning since I promised my middle daughter I would stay with her.

Yes, M.  The middle child and source of 90% of my back to school anxiety.  Poor M has had an awful summer as those of you following my blog or FB page know.  She has been extremely anxious about starting Young 5s Kindergarten.  Unlike her sisters, she attended preschool as part of her day at daycare at the same center she attended since she was 8 weeks old.  (And for the record, it was the perfect place for her.)  I am glad she felt so safe in her cocoon of daycare, it made our life (and hers) much easier for years.  But venturing to the world outside daycare was a terrifying idea for her.  Then we found out her Y5 teacher was leaving a few weeks before school started!  We followed all of the ideas for preparing your child with autism for school.  We made multiple visits to the school, played on the playground, met the office staff, did social stories…none of it helped.  She insisted she was not going to school.

Then we were notified that a new teacher was hired, and off we went to meet Mrs. H.  She was amazing!  A special needs child’s dream!  The previous teacher left the notes I had provided on M (bless her!) And Mrs. H read them and greeted M right off with knowledge of her home life and preferences like “this must be your sister A, I heard you guys are best friends!”  She asked me questions, asked if I had questions, showed M around the room and concentrated on things M is interested in (like fire trucks and Junie B Jones books) and let her choose where she wanted to sit.  When we left I said “M’s new teacher is wonderful and so nice!” And M shook her head yes.  I asked her if she was excited to start school and she said yes, except she’s still afraid to learn to read.  We can work with that!  She now goes back and forth saying she is or is not excited for school to start but it’s a big improvement and if asked she always agrees that she really likes her teacher.  At open house (where we were only able to stay about 15 minutes because we had to rush to K’s open house) she enjoyed finding things in the classroom, but her behavior was very typically autistic.  She did not acknowledge that there were (many) other children and adults there.  You would have thought there was no one else in the room!  She did, however, frequently run up to Mrs. H and interrupt someone to tell her things or shove something in her face for her to look at.  She is not scared of her teacher (yay!), but she is obsessed with her (uh oh!)

Tomorrow will be interesting for M.  She picked her outfit (within the uniform type dress code), packed her bag and lunch and we are even bringing snack for everyone, so the surprises should be kept to a minimum.  She has her headphones, chewys and fidgets packed and her sleeping bag for nap.  I am dropping little sister (whose class starts at the same time) off early to daycare so I can stay with M until she gets settled (or until the teacher shoos me away), and I have the day off just in case I get “that” call that all us special needs parents anticipate and dread.  Today has been very rough.  I think she just wants to get the first day over with.  I just hope she doesn’t run out of the class or threaten to break anyone’s bones (like she threatened A with yesterday).

And I too am starting back on Wednesday, after a month off between my summer and fall classes.  I usually look forward to school myself, but this semester I am taking 2 requirements that are going to be easy and boring, but I just have to get them over with.  The professor might be able to make Communications fun, but I don’t think there’s much they can do about Intro to Early Childhood (especially when I’m already half through with my ECE degree!)  And of course we are also starting Robotics for Kaity and Dance and Soccer for Margaret.  Welcome back, busy schedule!  😛

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