Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Stim-ey Stim-son

Our version of Autism is a funny little thing. It moves in fits and starts, like a jalopy sputtering down the road. It can stall out, go no-where for months on end, and then the engine turns over and we are on the move again.

In this analogy, stimming would be like the engine revving.

Let me back up a bit. O has been stimming like crazy since December. She is a dedicated stimmer, of course, much more so than her brother. He's a pacer, and still on occasion let's us know that he wants to be by himself and goes into the backyard to "think" (his word for it). He is very aware of this need, articulates to us what he is thinking about when he goes out (generally, what happened that day at school, or about his favorite game/cartoon). This happens a few times a week. O is far more regular - at least a few times a day, usually only for a few seconds or minutes. She is a bit of a hand flapper, but more of a noise-maker (a low, vibrating hum coming from the back of her throat). Books are her favorite object to stim with - and just try to take that book away from her. She is busy, thank you.

But for the last two months, oh man. She has been going for it. Harder. Longer (whoops! that sounds like a synopsis for a porn flick). O has had a few major stimming phases before, and it was alarming enough that first time for me to see the neurologist to make sure she wasn't having seizures (first clue she wasn't - she snaps out of it when you talk to her). They are harmless it seems. In fact, I will go a step further and say that I suspect that she has a major stimming phase right before something new emerges in Little Miss O. Are things connecting in her noggin? Is another part of the world opening up for her?

I think so.

Because the little girl I took into the Dev. Ped. in November is a bit different from the one who went in last Friday. Dr. G took notice. "Wow. I don't remember her being this...engaged in our last visit". She was all over the place, talking and laughing, playing games and even trying to tell a few jokes. Ok, she was a teeny bit out of control at times, but still very different than the shy little munchkin from a few months before. This joker has been showing up at school too, actually playing with her classmates rather than clinging to her teachers. She even made a poop joke. Yes. This is a source of pride in my house.

And finally, the biggest joy of the year so far. O attended a birthday party for a friend we have known for years. And this year, she actually ATTENDED IT. Not dragged by mommy out to play party games, she did not once hide in my lap or ask to leave. She went on the scavenger hunt, played red light green light, and even joined a three legged race. Not once did she grab for my hand or shy away from the 10 mostly new kids that attended the party with her.

So are we doing anything different? Any new diet feature? Therapy? Vitamins?

Nope. She was just ready to go play.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Saturday night D and I came upstairs to find two little ones and a dog in our bed, snuggled up together. Child 1 was reading a book to Child 2. Child 2 was laughing at Child 1's interpretation of Big Nate's latest adventures. Then C1 folded the corner of the page (bad habit from mom - house is full of book marks) and told C2 "that's all for tonight. I'll read more tomorrow". Someday I will tell C2 in depth about how important C1 was to her development.
When O was born, wondered about how their relationship would play out. Her birth and his diagnosis happened within a few months of each other. The first year or so of her life, he barely noticed her. She really didn't register all that much in his world, and I was actually relieved at the time. Then when he did, she was merely an annoyance. As she started to make her presence known more, there were constant reminders for him to be "nice" to his sister. Don't take toys away. Don't say mean things to her.
At some point in the last six months, Little Miss O started to assert herself, make her own demands. I waited for fireworks, that never came. Instead, they started to PLAY together. I even remember the day - it was May 6th, and we had just watched Toy Story for the first time. I had picked up a few of the action figures and presented them to the little monsters, and within a few minutes they were in the playroom, re-creating their favorite scenes from the movie. It has been chaotic at times, and there is bickering of course, but they are still playing together. And she is now taking these "skills" and playing with her friends. When they are together, they are as typical as two kids can get. And I am one happy momma.
I think all I did for my little brother was thump him in the head on occasion and tell him to go away a lot. Somehow, he survived. Isaac is a much better sibling than I ever was.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bike First! Registration Open for Summer Clinic

Heard about this last year too late to join, but we are attending the Bike First Clinic this summer (link to right under "What We Know About").

This is one of our parental failures friends: hubby and I were just not capable of teaching Isaac how to ride the bike with anything resembling confidence. He is still on training wheels, and seems unable to get over his anxiety. He also does not seem to understand how hard he needs to push the pedals to move forward, and can't steer very well.

But yet, at the end of last "Summer-that-never-was", we saw Isaac pedaling and steering like a pro on an adult sized trike during a company picnic. So we know he CAN do it, but his anxiety and our sad-parenting skills are likely getting in the way.

I have heard stellar things about this program, and signed us as soon as the registration opened (which was today). Will report back to let you know how it goes this summer.

Basically, what this is telling me is that my new Mommy-approach is going to be "if there's a problem, let's throw money at it!" Can't be any worse than some of my other approaches, such as "ignore it and it will go away", "they are the experts so let's let them handle it", and the infamous "that's not my kid - I don't know WHERE his/her mother is"!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

ACB, You and Me

Tara's momma (note link to her blog to the right under 'Things We Know About') emailed me some damned good questions last night, and I wanted to share those answers with everyone.

Here are the questions (almost)in full:

"Could you tell me about the ACB classroom at Alameda? Do they teach the STAR Curriculum? How is the classroom set up? How functional are the kids? What do you think about the teachers and aides? How many kids? How many girls? Do they have supported play times? Do you like it? Does Isaac like it? Is this the potential setting for Olivia next year?"

So for those of you who don't know, an ACB classroom is an Academic Communication and Behavior classroom. What that means is academically, the children are able to perform at grade level, but they need additional supports to function on a social and behavior level. Alameda has two such classes (although at Alameda they are referred to as SLC classes). One for the K-2 set, one for the 3-5 set (Alameda is only a K-5 school). Isaac is in the latter, although only in the second grade. Academically and size wise, they decided he was a better fit for the older class.

There are currently 5 aides and one teacher. And 13 kids (two were recently added). There are only two girls in this class. About half of the kids spend time outside of the classroom with their typical peers. A few actually spend MOST of their time with their typical peers, coming back only for supported lessons. One of the aides goes with them to those classes, and brings them back when needed. The other half do not attend classes outside of the SLC room. They have their own recess time when there are no other classes are out, so that it is a calmer environment for them. They eat lunch with the rest of the student body, at their own table. There is an adapted PE (APE) class twice a week.

Am gonna admit I am not so sure about the Star curriculum, and am embarrassed to say so. Finding out from Mr. Kroswek ASAP.

The class has a high level of structure. Each child has their own desk, facing the front and with an individual calendar on it, and a general schedule for the class on the main board. In the back is a "Calm corner", a little space to have down time if needed. There is a lesson area for group lessons, a small class library and a lot of games for social skills times. There are 5 macs for kids to either earn play time on, and for a variety of lessons (I don't know about your kids, but mine always learn better in a multi-media form. I don't mind a little AHA math time at school). There is free time every day to allow kids to interact more, and if a kid has a "hard day", it can be limited by the teacher.

There is a lot of structure. The rules are very clear, expectations are set out very clearly. It is not exactly warm and fuzzy sounding, but these are 3rd-5th graders and structure is important. One of the problems Isaac had at Roseway was a lack of structure and unclear expectations, and it cause a lot of anxiety. He knows that when he comes in, he needs to sit down, and start with his daily assignment (waiting in his folder on his desk). He knows that if he wants to earn his stars, he needs to behave nicely, do his school work with little prompting, and follow the general rules of the classroom. Stars mean rewards at the end of the week, and my kid digs that. The teacher and aides are eternally helpful and supportive, which was not my first impression when I met them. They have proven to be great advocates for Isaac. He likes his teacher, likes his classmates, and loves the aides.

Isaac has limited typical peer time, partially my request. I was concerned when we transferred from Pioneer, and wanted to slow down mainstreaming to make sure he was comfortable and ready. He does have Music and PE once a week with his typical peers, which he has enjoyed and been successful at. In March, we are adding math and reading, two topics that he is able to handle easily at grade level. I have requested that he receive a homework packet from the typical 2nd grade class for us to work on at home so he doesn't fall behind his peers. It also allows me to know where our weaknesses are. He is ahead of his peers in math and geometry. He needs to work on his creative writing and spelling. It is important to get a sense of the "playing field" in order to compete.

The functionality of his classmates fluctuates. It is considered an academic program, and they try to instruct at grade level, but obviously there are a variety of issues. Now, I get this info from Isaac, so how accurate it is might be subjective. Isaac tells me who he is "better" than in subjects, and how it surprises him because that classmate is older than him. Most of the kids are ASD (hey, it is a party), but there is also a mixture of other issues; Downs, oppositional disorder, etc. There are kids in his class who would not be able to be mainstreamed. Period. And then there are a couple of kids who have been fully mainstreamed, and are no longer in the SLC class.

Olivia will not be in Isaac's class, obviously. And I have not gone next door yet to talk with the K-2 teacher, since we are still not sure about Olivia's placement. I have some quick impressions of this class though:

It is less structured, softer, gentler. The kids seem happy and attached to their teacher and aides. The teacher has taught this class for years and has a great reputation. In fact, Alameda has a well regarded SLC program. Isaac's teacher, Mr. Kroswek, is new this year, but has experience both as a teacher and as an ASD specialist. He is still finding his feet in the classroom, but things have gotten smoother as the year has progressed. Overall, we are happy with him.

It is interesting to note that the K-2 class has far more girls then the 3-5 class. Are they easier to mainstream? Will have to ask that.

Will Olivia be there? We are assuming so. Our home school is Sabin, and I received a call from Sabin about having a meeting about Olivia's placement there. I emailed the specials coordinator back (he also works at Alameda, and I have met him before), to let him know we had concerns that she would be able to be mainstreamed (as Isaac was back in Kindie) at Sabin since there are few supports for her. Alameda has the nearest SLC class in our cluster. The assumption is that she will start in the SLC K-2 when the time comes, next door to where her brother is. Will find out for sure shortly.

Sorry folks. That went on far too long and I am sure there are more questions, but I have to make dinner and my mother is in town and already annoying the sh*t out of me. It is her job, just as someday it will be my job with Olivia. Circle of life.

Bedtime Conversation with Eight Year Old II

For years I have been watching the wheels spinning in Isaac's head as he contemplates how to phrase a question or get more information from the people around him. The excitement last fall was when he went from asking "what is your favorite color" to "WHY is that your favorite color?"

So these bedtime conversations have been no less then thrilling. So need to share. Especially in the light of reading his previous IEP's.

Last night it was a continuation of his fascination with Benjamin Franklin. "So what did he look like? Why was he so important? What did he invent? Can I invent things too? Do I need to go to college to invent? Can I invent a time machine? How does a time machine work? Mom, would you go into the past or the future? I would go into the past to when everyone was born to see that. How do you get to be on money? Will Obama be on money?".

Please note all of the "Who's what's when's how's". I even showed him how to research Ben on wikipedia to get more information. At times, I wonder what has changed in him to make this contemplative leap. But honestly, I believe his brain is maturing, just like the rest of him. And it is good times, friends. Good times.

His IEP is in a few short weeks. The next "Big Step" is on the horizon (back to more mainstream classes). Need to remember these bits for when I am sitting in the meeting surrounded by what he can't do.