Thursday, May 30, 2013

Student of the Month

I think we've all seen those bumper stickers that read "My Child Is Student of the Month at __________" -- they are so prevalent that they've spawned snappy comeback bumper stickers like "My Child/Cat/Dog Can Beat Up Your Honor Student" and made their marks on American auto adornment.

I knew, going into this school year, that James' new school did the Honor Student thing. I cringed. I usually shy from the fads of the crowd, attended parochial school for 12 years, and was raised in a rather anti- "toot your own horn" family. It so went against the grain.

And then the school year started rough. It spiraled down toward disastrous. While part of me knew that eventually each child would be one of several Students of the Month at assemblies, I never expected James to get there any time soon. He was the trapezoidal peg that the school kept trying to pound into a round hole. There were so many things going wrong.

Then we pulled James out of school and did Independent Study at home for a few weeks, to keep matters from getting worse. I calmed down (a bit), pulled focus, and changed tactics. I asked the school for help.

What we got, was something of a freakin' miracle. A new classroom and teacher, with classmates James knew from the previous two years. Most importantly, an amazing aide who "got" him came into our lives. She went so above and beyond the proverbial call of duty that reading James' progress reports from his first and third semesters make him sound like two different boys.

School went from stressful, unhappy, and exclusionary to exciting, organic, encouraging, and positive. We feel so incredibly grateful and lucky.

And in the last month of school, this came home in James' backpack:

Yes, and I went to see him receive his awards.

This has been a wonderful conclusion to a challenging year. I am so happy James had a chance to participate, and that he was chosen at a time when being Student of the Month could truly be a proud experience for us all.

James, sitting with his teacher, aide, and classmates.
His good friend from First Grade has his hand on his shoulder, to make James feel better amidst all the noise.

James receiving his award from his principal, who helped make all the wonderful changes happen.

Student of the Month James -- bumper sticker in one hand, certificate and prizes in the other.

James' teacher, aide, and classmates, congratulating him.
Way to go, James! We're so proud of you and how far you've come. I'll even tape that bumper sticker to the back window of our car, if you want.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Special Exposure / Wordless Weds: Outdoors

First Summer Lounge at the Ranch in 2013, and it was so good to be outdoors in the sun for a lazy afternoon! James stayed on the trampoline, bouncing, whopping, and resting, for most of the time.

Oh. Yeah!

For more images from the heart and to share some of yours,
visit Special Exposure Wednesday at 5 Minutes for Special Needs.
5 Minutes for Special Needs

               and ... Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What A Party!

James' teacher invited all her kids, and any willing parents, over to her house for her end-of-school year party. Wow! That was incredibly generous and such a nice way to bring the second part of James' school year to a close on a happy note.

The party took place in the garden, an idea which caught my fancy. Once there, I was entranced -- bcause her yard is gorgeous (18 years in the making), with multi-level decks, lawns, many container plants, and blooming nooks/rooms for the kids to explore. The kids were enchanted by the kitchen parakeet before they even got outside. Many kids loved to throw the chew toys for her miniature schnauzers. We were entertained by a bold male jay and two dueling hummingbirds. The entire class helped her locate her 60 year-old tortoise, whose been with her for over 50 years, and helped pick dandelions from the lawn for a tortoise snack.

A steady core group of kids mobbed the outdoor ping pong table and the bean bag toss. Once the tortoise wandered away, the lawn was set up for sprinklers, making soap bubbles, and running around in general.

At first, James hung back, overwhelmed by all the noise and motion. His schedule had been chucked clear out of the neighbourhood. I could tell he was interested, though, and after an hour he began to venture out on his own, and offer food to his aide.

I took off for my yard duty shift, and when I returned, I heard all about the exciting rocket launches the kids did. James' aide said James was really hesitant at first, but after his first try he wanted to keep doing them. I am going to have to pin down all the ingredients and try this at home with him some time. He ate all his lunch and seemed to enjoy watching everything.

The last part of the party was devoted to dessert and a bubble gum blowing contest. It was fun to realize that the entire class had the time of their lives with potluck, a garden, and simple games for everyone. I feel so lucky James was able to be a part of this. Part of me worries that this is gone too soon. Part of me relaxed in the sun, and soaked it all in while it lasted.

I love this cute summer cupcake idea!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Rough Night

James and I had a rough night last night. Both kiddos got me up with bad dream trauma. The first time, around 3am, they both woke up at the same time. There were huggings and calmings. James asked me to sing the lullabye from Tarzan to him. I could hear his innards churning, but he calmed down enough to ask to go back down to sleep.

Half an hour later, the moaning began. Oh no. Not again.

I sat up with him and told him stories. He got louder. I got out the towels. The inevitable happened, but it was short-lived.

James asked me to leave the light on in his room, which I did. About 4:50, I thought the worst was over and went back to bed, one ear as open as possible. James got me up again around 7, with a happy "It's morning! Is it morning, Mommy?"

Yes, yes it was. By the time I made it into his room, he was on the floor, playing with his Leapster. One look at the bed showed me how he'd spent the rest of his night:

Math cards, alphabet puzzle, and Leapster.
iPad served with breakfast, which he ate.
That's my resourceful guy.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Happy Towel Day ... And What It Takes

Getting kids to dress when they'd rather be doing something else is rarely straight forward. Eight year-old boys are famous for finding just about anything more interesting than getting dressed. Add autism, and figure at least another 10 minutes of shepherding to get him changed and out the door.

Step 1: Heads-up announcement that current activity will be ending (this morning, it was playing an Incredibles video game) in X number of minutes (usually 2 to 10), and getting dressed would be the next activity of the day.

Step 2: Announcement that it is now time to stop activity. This involves prompting as needed to wrap up and stop/put away items.

Step 3: Accompany James to room to change. This cuts down on whining, detours, and attempts at negotiations to go back and keep on doing prior activity.

Step 4: Make sure he starts and is not likely to hide under the covers or get distracted by toys or math flash cards.

Step 5: Hang around for inevitable trips to the bathroom and cries for "new underwear!" Make sure he takes care of business properly in the bathroom (includes proper hand washing). This step can take a while, because James has started to be extremely fussy as to which underwear is worthy of wearing.

Step 6: Socks. The dreaded socks. Lately, I put out 2 pairs and let him choose.

Step 7: Shoes. James can be pretty good about this, but he does tend to choose his mock Crocks over tennis shoes (not allowed on school days or for baseball) and likes to put his shoes on the wrong feet on purpose. Gah!

Meanwhile, it's Towel Day! The kids have heard some of the BBC radio shows and have enjoyed the BBC series on You Tube. And on days that frustrate me with struggles with bureaucracy and feelings of isolation from mainstream life, it's rather soothing to read about the adventures of Arthur Dent, Dirk Gently, and Susan Way. And smile.
“Don't you understand that we need to be childish in order to understand? Only a child sees things with perfect clarity, because it hasn't developed all those filters which prevent us from seeing things that we don't expect to see.”
Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Yes, we know where our towels are!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Magic Marker Monday: Final Class Report

Remember the report James did on ostriches? It turned out to be not only a very nice piece to display for Open House, it also tied in with his field trip to Safari West.

This week, final class projects started coming back home in backpacks. Here is the prinout of the PowerPoint slide that James made.

Way to go! And I like that hat.

For more great masterpieces or to share some of your own, visit
5 Minutes for Special Needs for more Magic Marker Monday.

                Special Needs Blog                  Photobucket

Special Exposure Weds: That Sinking Sock Feeling

Well, it's been a Morning. Nothing horrific, just one of those struggles with daily things that rears it's head suddenly and messes with Schedules and Plans. Gah!

First, there's the wind. It's been kicking up huge gusts for over two days now. Makes things chilly (after a heatwave) and riles up the kiddos. It's making all our allergies exponentially worse.

Second, James threw (for him) a fit over putting on his socks. Everything stops and cannot go forward, in schooltime, if the socks are not going on the feet. I still have mental scars from trying to get his sister to school (years ago), sobbing because "the strings in the socks are cutting my feet!" I have spent a small fortune on "stringless" socks, almost haunting our local Kohl's for sock sales.
Socks: The Horror.
James' issue is different. For reasons unknown, he's taken to sneaking clean socks out of his drawer and wiping himself after a #2 session in the bathroom, and then putting them back into the drawer. Yeah, that was a happy day when I finally figured out what that smell was. Not.

Nefarious sock drawer, topmost.
I have asked for help from behaviourists for over 4 years and we've spent over $300 in copays for intake sessions and reports that, while helpful, did not address this issue at all. His huge supply of socks has dwindled to maybe 5 pairs. I'm not sure I even want to know where the rest are.

Anywho, he threw a fit this morning about the socks. He doesn't have a lot of choices. He kissed 3 hours of iPad time goodbye while he moaned, whined, and rolled about on the floor. I finally got a pair on his feet. Of course they were "the wrong ones!" I had to get my own shoes and socks on and I am pretty sure he took this opportunity to mismatch his socks to his satisfaction. Whatever. Socks on feet. Out the door. School on time. Yes!

But as I gave my quick verbal hand-off to his aide this morning, he started scratching the seat of his pants and asked for permission to go to the bathroom. Holy Martha Stewart, I think I'd better check his sock drawer. With tongs.

For more images and tales of offbeat life (and to share some of yours),
visit Special Exposure Wednesday at 5 Minutes for Special Needs.
5 Minutes for Special Needs

Wordless Wednesday: Cherries

We have a cherry tree in our back yard. Over the years, it has produced an astonishing amount of delicious fruit. Some years we can't keep up with picking them. The past few years the weather hasn't cooperated.

This year, however, was just about perfect. We were able to harvest the cherries before the birds could swoop them up. James liked that some friends from school came over to pick and and bring home containers full of ripe cherries.

I love cherry time. It's my unofficial start to summer.

The blossoms are beautiful and fragrant.
When the petals fall, it's like it's snowing.
Bumper Crop year
These cherries are BIG!

We picked 2 of these and that was maybe a third of the 2009 crop ...
Summer is here!

Come join the fun over at Wordless Wednesday on 5 Minutes for Mom!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Strong Love

Having James as my child has been an adventure. Our kids teach us new things and make us rediscover or see our world differently.

I've learned many lessons from both my kids - patience I never suspected I had, unconditional love I hoped I had, and how to be strong and not live in fear.

Especially so with James, who is autistic. Like many spectrum kids, he displays a complete disregard for personal awareness/safety that requires almost constant vigilance and nerves of steel. I can't tell you how many times I've seen (in my mind) his playful, laughing face looking backwards at me as he dashes out in front of a moving car and wham! seeing his light go out, and no more James. It's literally one of my worst nightmares, because we've had close calls. Every time we exit the car in a parking lot I have to remind him to wait by the car until we can walk together.

When he was younger, James would leave the house and go wandering off. Sometimes he'd stay in the yard, sometimes he'd wander down the sidewalk. I remember waking up one night and finding him standing in the darkened house right by the front door, tall and able enough to open the locks and wander outside. I've pretty much been sleeping on the sofa ever since that night.

Both my kids hated like poison to have water on their heads and having their hair washed. They freaked out in a pool or large body of water. They panicked if  anyone splashed water their way and did not like the unsteady buoyancy while in water. It's really difficult to describe the mental fortitude required to deal with these reactions to basic self care activities.

I was able to start my daughter's water safety early with Mommy and Me swim lessons. Her sensory sensitivity has not been as extreme as James'.  Still, it took over 3 years of swim lessons before she would put her head underwater.

James has been even more of a challenge to get used to water. Showers literally terrify him and he considers washing his hair as a form of water torture. I made it a point to take both kids into the pool with me during the summer. Countless afternoons we'd sit on the steps and I'd coax the down one more step, try a little splashing, and take them out into deeper water and get them used to floating with my hands supporting them. It's been a huge uphill climb and I come from a very swim-happy family. I am lucky to have had the opportunities to be persistent with water safety preparedness.

We live near a big river and like to visit the ocean, so I wanted to get them confident and learn how to be safe around water. I know that kids are attracted to water and wanted to help keep them safe. I did not know, when I started all my pool excursions, how dangerous an attraction water, wandering, and autism can be.

Sadly, I am learning (CDC report, in PDF format). Over the past week, I have read of 2 autistic children wandering off and being found later, drowned in water.

In particular, my heart goes out to a local family, the Lynches, who lost their daughter a little over a week ago. Seeing her pictures broke my heart a little. She was so obviously loved, and her quirky smile so beautiful and so like my son James'. 

It just kills me a little to realize she's gone so suddenly. Because that could so easily have been James. Because these special kiddos make a light in the world; they can be so difficult to manage and also so horribly missed when gone.

I know how strong my love has become for James and all his uniqueness, so I understand a little what the families are grieving and how much they have lost. This post in in support of the family of Mikaela Lynch.

If you would like to read more, please visit the FaceBook page An Outpouring of Love for the Mikaela Lynch Family, and show your support.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Special Exposure / Wordless Weds: Hatastic

James' Dad bought him this hat at a thrift store, saying he thought James might be a hat guy.

I think Dad is on to something!

For more images from the heart and to share some of yours,
visit Special Exposure Wednesday at 5 Minutes for Special Needs.
5 Minutes for Special Needs

               and ... Wordless Wednesday

Monday, May 13, 2013

Magic Marker Monday: O'Keeffe Interpretation

I received a beautiful painting from James for Mothers' Day. I love all the work he is doing now.

I know the class was shown examples of Georgia O'Keeffe's flower paintings as an inspiration for their own paintings (which, BTW, I think is a brilliant creative exercise).

Here is my new masterpiece:

After some thought, I think he might have been looking at one of her apple blossom paintings:
Apple Blossoms, 1930
Georgia O'Keeffe

What do you think?

For more great masterpieces or to share some of your own, visit
5 Minutes for Special Needs for more Magic Marker Monday.

          Special Needs Blog                     Photobucket

Sunday, May 12, 2013

My Funny Valentines

Oh my stars - I remember when. I love coming across old photos like these. This used to be how I shopped each week:

She used to tweak his toes gently, all through the store.
He often fell asleep while shopping.

Breakfast became amusing ...

Tea time has never been the same.

Mothers' Day: Priceless

I am typing this from the backyard, listening to the birds twitter and call, smelling the approach of summer and retreat of this morning's fog, savouring my coffee (French roast from Trader Joe's and Peets' Anniversary Blend). I've just picked the first cherries off our tree and popped them in my mouth; they are delicious. Sometimes moments happen and some you just need to make yourself.
I am not a food bowl!!

The cat woke me shortly before 7, prowling for food and a playmate. I was so tired, I poured his kibbles on the nearest flat surface, a MagnaDoodle. My reprieve was short-lived. I heard James stirring, which was my signal to use the bathroom before he announced his waking state to the house and started a loud search for me.

I had been promised breakfast in bed. Unfortunately, my kitchen crew was still sleeping in and catching up on some much-needed rest (curse you, allergies!). I was hungry, so James and I hopped in the car and drove through the low-lying fog to Trader Joe's, where the flowers are gorgeous, the blueberry muffins plentiful, and prices are extraordinarily reasonable. First, though, I had to shut the cat in the garage, as he can't be trusted to not raid the garbage can.

We returned triumphant to a still-sleeping house. James graciously shared his muffins with me and I made coffee. Mmmmmm, liquid ambrosia!

I called my mom to wish her a happy Mothers' Day. We did our usual cell-phone shuffle and my cheek hung up on her once, but we connected. She is such an awesome mom. Every year I appreciate her more, and feel the least I can do is hand her some "Ah-HA!" moments of maternal payback when I talk about how my kids are doing. Kidding! Sometimes.

Meanwhile, coffee in one hand, cell phone in another, I am being presented with a DVD disc (dripping with hand cleaner) by James, who is urging me to clean it, because "it's dirty, Mommy." I finish my call and coffee prep, turn and find he has already inserted the dripping object into the DVD player and started to howl because "it's not woooorkinggggg!"

I whisk out the DVD, wipe it, and shut down the player and TV before telling James to NEVER put something wet into a machine. I explained we needed to let the DVD player dry out now and he had to find something else to do. He picked up the MagnaDoodle and dumped the kibble off it, while telling the cat he was bad, using his angry Dinosaur Voice.

Hello, chickens, so nice of you to return home. Like that roost, eh?

I took several deep breaths and directed James in the cleanup of said kibble. We then got to a more peaceful state by taking turns at playing Angry Birds Star Wars and "getting the piggies."

The Girl Child awoke somewhere around 9:15, disappointed that breakfast was behind me. She presented me with a slightly whacky plant and container from school, a Mothers' Day greeting sign taped to her back, a pink poodle & child diorama (complete with the note that "every mom [instead of 'dog'] has its day"), heart magnet, and a coupon for a free makeover (courtesy of Girl Child -- her manicures are divine).

She also presented me with a delightful concoction of her own design: apple cinnamon toast. It was so good with my coffee! Our daughter has a strong sense of whimsy -- she cut and arranged the apple slices into a smiley face on the toast. When I bit into it, we got the giggles, because now it resembled zombie toast.

My day is looking up.