"Normal" Is A Dryer Setting

Parenting A Child On The Autism Spectrum


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The Big Push

I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air
So there
We’re on each other’s team
~ Lorde, Team

Screws in shoes

Screws in shoes

Spring is coming very slowly to Minnesota, in drips and drags, which means that soon I can begin running outdoors again. In anticipation of still snowy paths and icy patches, I modified an old pair of shoes to prevent me from slipping. To make your own, predrill holes in the soles and then insert small screws until they are about ¼” from being completely screwed into the shoe. I have found that this modification works better than boots or Yaktrax for gripping slippery places of the trail.

Last fall I promised my boyfriend that I would stop running half marathons. When I returned to his house in ice cube form after my late October one, he took me in with one glance and said, “You don’t look good.”  I told him, “I tore the bottoms of my feet on the big hill after Mile 11,” to which he grimaced and replied, “I don’t think you should run any more long races.” Upstairs in the shower, sitting with my head between my knees while the hot water warmed me up, I told myself that he was right. Why do I do things like this? Why race? Why compete? What am I trying to prove?

The point is not to compete or prove anything. I run because I love the combined mental and physical challenge. I knew the hill was coming after Mile 11, and, having run it in previous races, I knew what I was in for. The elevation increases by 100 feet within half a mile, and most of us choose to run it. I pushed myself because I knew after the hill I had less than two miles to the finish. At that point it was simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other until the end. So close, and so tired, but nothing compares to crossing the finish line and knowing that I had accomplished my goal despite the voices in my head and the physical ache. Now spring is coming, fall is far behind me, and I am once again ready and eager to begin training.

“I’ve never had anyone do this that quickly.”

Our clinical study site.

Our clinical study site.

That statement was not made in response to my running. I’m a middle-of-the-pack kind of girl, each and every race. My son Tim recently participated in a clinical study on memory. This study is part of an ongoing research program by a psychologist at the University of Minnesota who studies the relationship between attention and autism. For an hour of Tim’s time once or twice a year, he earns $10 each session and enjoys being the center of attention. He does computer simulations, looks through diagrams, adds and subtracts, and recalls images and patterns. Everything is timed which helps provide statistical information. In his most recent clinical study, I overheard the doctor make the above comment when Tim was doing a number puzzle.

The clinical studies are usually done at our home or at the University. We tend to flip flop depending on our schedules. The first time our doctor came to our home for a study was approximately three years ago when Tim was in seventh grade. At the end of the study, she took a few minutes to talk to me with her recommendations. Her advice was that Tim should be taking college courses, not withering away in a middle school classroom. She stressed that intellectually he was ready for college and keeping him where he was would not be beneficial to him. I agreed but didn’t know how to start the conversation with the staff at the public school he attended.

This is an example of one of the patterns Tim had to copy using blocks.

An example of a pattern Tim copied during his clinical study using blocks. You can purchase this and other puzzles at Marbles located at the Mall of America.

Now Tim is in tenth grade and will begin taking college courses next fall in Animal Science as part of his regular school day. At our most recent IEP meeting, his teacher, staff, father, and I discussed him starting college early. We were all in agreement, and this would not be happening if we were not all on the same team. Tim’s teacher commented that she is reaching the point where she has nothing left to teach him, and it is time for him to begin transitioning to college. Tim will be taking one college course each semester, and by the time he graduates from high school he will already have four college courses in Animal Science on his transcript.

I wasn’t sure any of this would ever happen. When Tim started middle school three years ago, I participated in some workshops for parents of special needs children that his school generously set up. One moderator made this remark to our group that has since tumbled around in my head:

“Your child is not entitled to the best education possible. Rather, he or she is entitled to an education that is appropriate for his or her needs.”

As difficult as this is to hear, it is true. Reading it in writing makes me cringe. Not every person is meant to go to college, just as not every person is meant to get married, have children, travel the world, be an athlete, raise chickens, you get the point. I started to hold the thought in my heart that Tim may not go to college. Mentally I was Mile 7-8 of 13 miles, where you’ve come a long way, but you’re starting to feel tired, your feet are starting to ache, and you are well aware you still have a long way to go toward your goal.

Now we’re at Mile 11 with Tim regarding his childhood. The final part is one last push toward college, and then he enters the next phase of his life as an adult. The hill I had been fearing for years is no longer insurmountable. We just have to dig deep and run up it. Tim has come so far, and both his teacher and I have seen enormous mental and emotional maturity in him this past year. Even though Tim is nearly good to go, this is no time to rest. We have SATs and ACTs to prepare for, colleges to visit, applications to write, and choices to make. And what an exciting and delightful time it will be.

Here are some websites that may be helpful in researching colleges for students who fall on the autism spectrum:

  • AHEADD – Achieving In Higher Education (http://www.aheadd.org/): Provides coaching, mentoring, and self-advocacy for students with special needs.)
  • USCAP – US College Autism Project (http://www.usautism.org/uscap/): Provides support for students on the autism spectrum to help ensure they have both a successful college experience and a successful transition to the working world after graduation.
  • ISER – Internet Special Education Resources (www.iser.com): List of college programs to help students with the transition to college, independent living, college planning, and much more.
  • College Lists (http://collegelists.pbworks.com/): Nationwide list of colleges that have support programs for students with a former diagnosis of Asperger’s. Augsburg College (http://www.augsburg.edu/) is one of them if you live in the Twin Cities.


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First Flight

Run my dear
From anything
That may not strengthen
Your precious budding wings.
~ Hafiz

Last week Tim had an early morning doctor’s appointment, after which he had his blood drawn. Everything was first thing that day because Tim had been fasting since the night before. Once a year we do a fasting check on his blood to make sure his levels of All Important Proteins, Chemicals, Molecules, And Anything Else is normal, and Tim dreads the overnight fasting more than the actual pinprick the next morning.

After taking Tim out to breakfast, as I drove him to school, my mind automatically checked for butterflies in my stomach. To my surprise, there was nothing but calm. Usually dropping Tim off at school makes me nervous because I am letting go of him. I am putting him in an environment where he does not thrive well, where he is targeted by his classmates, where his teachers lose patience with him, and where I have seen doors of opportunity close one by one over the years.

Not this time, however. Tim has been having an amazingly wonderful year at school this year. This part of life finally feels on track, and much to my delight my child’s needs do not consume my every waking thought. My little one is starting to leave my nest, and I am his most enthusiastic supporter.

I realized that the tide of my son’s challenges in life has permanently changed when he announced to me that he needed to bring a copy of his social security card to school. When I asked him why, Tim told me that he needs it so the school can pay him for working in the school store. Tim started working in the school store last September, and after a two month trial period, his supervisor has decided to hire him as a paid employee. I started jumping up and down and told Tim that he should be proud, very proud indeed, of his job. Tim replied that it’s just at the school, and it’s just for an hour each week.

My son missed the point, didn’t he?

I explained to Tim that not many 15 year olds have a paid job. It doesn’t matter where it is, what you’re doing, or how many hours you work. It’s still a paid job. The kicker is that Tim beat me to it age-wise. I started working my first paid job when I was 15 years, 4 months old. Tim started his when he was 15 years, 3 months old. He beat me by one month. When I put it that way, he puffed up with pride and informed me that he is now bringing money home earlier than I was. I said yes, my dear, now you understand why I am so proud of you.

After working his first paid day at the school store, Tim came home and informed me that he made $6.50. All for restocking shelves. He couldn’t believe it. I asked him if earning his own money makes him feel good, and he replied yes, it does. Then he told me how he is bargaining with his supervisor to pick up an extra shift. Tim is quickly making the connection between earning money and independence. It’s one thing to watch your parents or spouse go to work each day. It’s quite another to do it yourself.

The idea that my child, whom I have ferociously protected and defended for over 15 years, is going to have a successful, fulfilling, independent life as an adult is solidifying in my mind. I don’t need to be ferocious anymore, which isn’t part of my nature anyway and exhausted me. I can relax and think about other parts of life, such as where Tim and I should go for supper to celebrate his new job.

Sushi at Asia Bistro

Sushi at Asia Bistro

Tim chose Asia Bistro in Woodbury. Asia Bistro has a fantastic happy hour menu, parking is usually available directly in front of the entrance, and the ambiance is lovely with low lighting and benches containing silk pillows to lean against. Tim ordered sesame chicken and a Coke, I ordered sushi and a glass of red wine, and we had a wonderful celebratory supper.

I, the eternal optimist, cannot think anything other than that life will continue to become better. To think any other way is destructive not only to myself but to all others who cross my path. Tim’s job is the start of great things for him. This tells me that the adults in his life away from me trust him, enjoy his company, and believe that he is a responsible person. I could not agree more because as his mother I see these parts of him every day. The time has come for him to spread his wings and show himself to the rest of the world.

Do you enjoy sushi as much as I do? While I’m not sure that’s possible, here are some sushi suggestions around the Twin Cities:

  • East Suburbs: Asia Bistro (http://www.asiabistrowoodbury.com/) – Excellent daily happy hour specials, including $3 sakes and glasses of wine.
  • Warehouse District and Uptown Minneapolis: Origami (http://www.origamirestaurant.com/sushi/) – Great martinis too…the Chocolate one is my favorite.
  • Grand Avenue, St. Paul: Saji-Ya (http://www.sajiya.com/) – Also has Teppanyaki (reservations required). Saji-Ya is where I take my boyfriend for his birthday, and we always have a nice time.
  • South Minneapolis: United Noodles & Deli (https://www.unitednoodles.com/store/) – Largest Asian grocery store in the Twin Cities and worth a trip Just To Gaze because it’s so big.
  • Mall of America and Uptown Minneapolis: Tiger Sushi (http://www.tigersushiusa.com/) – The MOA location is a quick, convenient break during a shopping extravaganza.

Cooking schools around the Twin Cities also offer classes on how to make sushi. After taking a few classes, with delicious results, I decided that sushi is worth the investment of going to a restaurant as opposed to making it at home. However, some of my friends and I get together a couple of times a year for a sushi making party, where we all help with the prep work and then devour our masterpieces.

I keep asking Tim to report on adventures at his job so far, and other than one day where someone tried to grab a bunch of candy and run, there is nothing too exciting. I’m sure he will soon have more stories to tell as he gains work experience.


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The Wash

I felt as if I had washed a tub full of sheets but not got them clean. ~ Girl With A Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier

This describes how I feel raising a child with special needs. You do everything properly, based on a combination of experience, instinct, and advice, only to discover that nothing is as it should be. Then you do everything again, expecting a different result, only to find the same challenges waiting for you. Ultimately, you exhaust yourself with the effort of trying to produce the wanted result in an environment where what you want to do is not possible. Adjustments on your part as the parent become necessary.

While autism doesn’t wash off, as Tim grows older, life becomes more manageable for him (and me). The key is to leverage his strengths instead of trying to change his nature. We had a meeting with his teacher and special education support staff at his school last week, and for once I had nothing to say. This is a good thing because if I go into one of these meetings with questions and concerns, and those go unanswered or pushed aside, the ugly, harsh, protective momma bird side of me that is tucked well away 99.9% of the time flares out in a split second, scorching everyone in its path. However, our most recent meeting was entirely unlike that. Tim has made so much progress this school year that I sat, flabbergasted, as his school staff had nothing but positive remarks to make.

Tim’s teacher mentioned that Tim becomes short when some of his classmates don’t understand or follow her directions. She said that sometimes she will be in a huddle with Tim’s classmates, explaining something to them over and over again, and finally Tim will have had enough, stick his head into the huddle, and tell his classmates what to do, how to do it, and how ignorant they are behaving. His teacher was laughing as she told us this incident. Working full-time with special needs teenagers requires the ability to emotionally bounce, and this often means good-naturedly keeping the day-to-day classroom situations as light as possible.

*Deep breath on my part because I know that Tim knows better than to speak to other people this way.*

Here’s what we decided to do. I knew that we needed to leverage rather than force Tim to change, because he ain’t changing. He is who he is. I suggested that what I see is a feature of Tim that can be used as a strength. He definitely had leadership abilities, and his classmates listen to him. What we, as the adults in his life, need to do is help him develop these abilities as positive parts of his personality. Not everyone is meant to lead. You need followers, too, but Tim has never been a follower. He, like a lot of people with Asperger’s, takes in an entire situation instantanously, which means that he is ready to go in the blink of an eye. He doesn’t need time to digest instructions or decide what to do. He knows it immediately. As a team we decided that next school year Tim will be ready for one of the many jobs his school offers. For example, he could work in the cafeteria, help with janitorial tasks, or assist in the school store. Starting him out on small tasks will help boost his self-confidence and hopefully start to develop his leadership traits positively.

The evening after our meeting at school I stopped by Daniel’s house for a few hours to help him set up for Peanut’s seventh birthday party. Yes, Peanut is seven years old. I came into his life when he was 2½, and how time does fly. This year Peanut wanted a Lego-themed birthday party, so we had Lego birthday decorations, Lego presents, and a Lego cake. If your little one wants a Lego birthday party like Peanut did, you can purchase a Lego party kit through Target’s website (www.target.com). The options include Lego Star Wars and Lego City. Anyway, the first task I tackled when I arrived at Daniel’s house was assembling Peanut’s Lego birthday cake.

Lego cake.

Lego cake.

After mixing up the frosting colors, I started smiling as I began icing the bricks. I knew the dark colors would temporarily stain all the children’s teeth, which always makes for a fun event. It made me of the quote I read in Tracy Chevalier’s book and how some things in life are easier to tackle than others. Since Tim and I had the weekend together, I wasn’t able to actually attend Peanut’s party the next day, which left Daniel in a tizzy because he wasn’t sure what he was going to do with six hyperactive first grade boys for two hours. Before I left, we put together a couple of Lego-themed games and I told him if all else fails wing it and let them do free play. When I saw him Sunday afternoon and asked him how Peanut’s party went, he told me that the cake frosting stained all the boys’ teeth, and they kept smiling at each other to show off their blue, green, and red grins. No one chose the brick frosted with white for some reason 🙂 . I told Daniel how happy I was that Peanut had a wonderful birthday party, and that the frosting colors would wash off the boys’ teeth.

As Autism Awareness Month is drawing to a close, I wish to give encouragement to all parents, siblings, friends, and caregivers of people with autism or an autism spectrum disorder. Sometimes there are no easy solutions for the challenges that our loved ones face. The situations that arise from having special needs don’t wash away, and I don’t think they should be expected to. People come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and functionalities, much like Lego bricks, so why would we want to change that? Tim likes himself just as he is, as do I, and I am excited about helping him develop his strengths as he is becomes a young adult.


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Convergence

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences. ~ Audre Lorde

Tim’s first week of school was last week, and it was blissfully uneventful. The only catch is with his commute, which is taking longer at least for the first few months due to road construction. Tim’s transportation to school is provided by the State of Minnesota. Each morning we have a minivan pull up in our driveway which drives him and a few other students in our neighborhood approximately 16 miles across town to school. When school ends in the afternoon, the van is waiting for Tim, and he hops back on and is dropped off in our driveway.

The van had been scheduled to pick Tim up at 7:20 am, assuming a 30 minute drive to school. However, that time changed to 7:00 am, which gives the van driver a full hour to get his students to school by the 8:00 am start time. Much of this morning commute entails sitting in rush hour traffic, and one of the other students on the bus spends his time in traffic loudly stating how much he dislikes sitting in traffic. When Tim told me this, my knee-jerk reaction was to immediately say, “YOU DO NOT REACT. You sit quietly and let the adults on your van handle the situation.” Tim says that yes, he knows not to say or do anything, but I know my child and I am aware that when he is stretched to the limits of his patience, he goes blind, deaf, and dumb with anger.

Step back for a minute and imagine yourself in Tim’s situation. How would you feel if you had to spend an hour each morning, before your day has even really begun, sitting in traffic with someone you don’t know and probably don’t even like sitting next to you talking the entire time? What kind of mood would you be in when you got to wherever you are going? And you have a full day of something or other ahead of you where you are expected to keep calm, carry on, and NOT LOSE YOUR TEMPER.

My child will surely set a world’s record for holding patience if he makes it through the van commute this year without snapping. Since there was no snappage last week, and so far this week everything seems to be going fine, we’ll worry about that when it happens. My goal for both myself and Tim, as much as I can control it, is to stay converged. I have a picture that explains what I mean, and it is incredibly ironic that I came across it. The image came from a book called The Facilitator’s Guide To Participatory Decision Making by Dr. Sam Kaner. A coworker who spends the bulk of her time facilitating interactive groupthink at my company recommended the book.

From “The Facilitator’s Guide To Participatory Decision-Making” by Dr. Sam Kaner.

This is a model proposed by  Dr. Kaner on the dynamics of how groups make decisions. When you first form your group, you are feeling each other out. You all have different backgrounds, experiences, opinions, and ideas to draw from. As you discuss your new topic, you begin to realize that, while you may have something in common with the other members of your group, more likely than not you have a wide array of diverse perspectives. As you brainstorm your new ideas, you enter into a divergent process which can feel frustrating and chaotic. The key to making a decision point is to enter a process of consolidated thought, where you and your team members converge to a unified set of ideas.

In addition to managing groups of people in the workplace, this diagram also applies to raising a child with special needs, such as Tim. As a parent, I go through this process every school year. Tim never has the same teacher twice, and the support staff change as well depending on what Tim’s needs are at the time, his age, and how he is performing both academically and socially. We have had school years that have gone extremely well, but this only happens when both the parents and the educators make a concerted effort to cooperate and communicate effectively. When communication begins to break down, so does everything else.

The most divergent part, where absolute chaos threatens to break out, is usually the most stressful for me as a parent. Some years I feel like I am barely keeping the school situation under control. I have learned to manage the stress by exercising, eating a balanced diet, and spending time with friends. Finally, nothing helps more than a good night’s rest. Life becomes more manageable when I do these things for myself. It’s similar to the emergency instructions we receive before an airplane takes off, where you need to put your own oxygen mask on before assisting someone else.

Mmmm…need I say more?

Tim commented recently on how his entire life is one big ball of stress. He is at the age where he can identify what stresses him the most and how to avoid it, or at least de-escalate the situation. I try to spend time with him where we are in low stress environments, which can be as simple as hanging out at home. Tim enjoys cooking, so we’ve started making fun meals together. One of my coworkers dropped a big bag of tomatoes from his garden by my desk this morning, and I told him some of those will be going straight on the pizzas we are making tonight with homemade sourdough crusts. Tim enjoys spreading the sauce and cheese on his pizza and picking out his toppings. This simple task gives him a sense of control that he doesn’t seem to feel very often in his world.

This afternoon I received a message from Tim’s teacher indicating that he seems a little bored during maths and independent reading. I wrote back that Tim functions at a college level in both, and perhaps there may be a way to give him assignments that help him feel more challenged. His teacher also wrote that Tim mentioned he already knows all the science they are reviewing, so I mentioned that we’re able to do science experiments at home if Tim could spend class time doing data analysis or writing a report or presentation. These are the little things that Tim has no idea go on, the background communication between the adults in his life, that will hopefully assure him an appropriate education this year. I, as usual, remain optimistic for what the future holds, even if it is nothing more than loosely organized chaos.

Here is an excellent recipe for sourdough pizza crust from King Arthur Flour’s website. It is dairy-free and freezes well too. We split one batch into four rounds, and each round makes enough pizza to feed two hungry people. Bon appétit!

Sourdough Pizza Crust

  • 1 cup sourdough starter, unfed (straight from the fridge)
  • 1/2 cup hot tap water
  • 2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 4 teaspoons Pizza Dough Flavor, optional but delicious

Directions

1) Stir any liquid into the sourdough starter, and spoon 1 cup starter into a mixing bowl.
2) Add the hot water, flour, salt, yeast, and Pizza Dough Flavor. Mix to combine, then knead till smooth and slightly sticky, about 7 minutes at medium speed using a stand mixer with dough hook. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly greased container, and allow it to rise till it’s just about doubled in bulk. This might take 2 to 4 hours; it might take more. A lot depends on how vigorous your starter is. For a faster rise, place the dough somewhere warm (or increase the yeast). To slow it down, put it somewhere cool.
3) For two thinner-crust pizzas, divide the dough in half, shaping each half into a flattened disk. Drizzle two 12″ round pizza pans with olive oil, tilting the pans to coat the bottom. Place half the dough in each pan. Cover, and let rest for 15 minutes. Gently press the dough towards the edges of the pans; when it starts to shrink back, cover it, and let it rest again, for about 15 minutes. Finish pressing the dough to the edges of the pans.
4) For a thicker-crust pizza, drizzle olive oil into a jelly roll pan (10″ x 15″) or half-sheet pan (18″ x 13″), or similar sized pan; or a 14″ round pizza pan, tilting the pan to coat with the oil. Shape the dough into a flattened disk or oval. Place it in the pan, cover it, and let it rest for 15 minutes. Push the dough towards the edges of the pan; when it starts to fight back, cover it and let it rest for 15 minutes. Finish pushing it to the edges of the pan.
5) Cover the pan, and let the dough rise till it’s as thick as you like. For thin-crust pizza made from fairly fresh starter, this may only be an hour or so. For thick-crust, using an old, little-used starter, this may take most of the day. There are no hard-and-fast rules here; it all depends on the vigor of your starter, and how you like your crust. Once you make it a couple of times, you’ll figure out what time frame works for you.
6) Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450°F.
7) For a thicker crust, pre-bake the crust for about 8 minutes before topping. Top, then bake till toppings are hot and cheese is melted and bubbly, about 10 minutes. For thin crusts, bake for 4 to 5 minutes, then top and bake for an additional 8 to 10 minutes, or till toppings are as done as you like.
8) Remove from the oven, and loosen the edges of the pizza with a table knife or heatproof spatula. Carefully lift it onto a cooling rack; you can serve it right from the pan, if desired, but a cooling rack helps keep its bottom crisp. Serve hot.
Yield: one 14″ round, or rectangular thick-crust pizza; or two 12″ round thin-crust pizzas.


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The Worry Wart

Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow. ~ Swedish Proverb

And I had been worried about school starting soon.

Noon in Florida earlier this week.

Earlier this week my brother, who lives on the eastern side of Florida, posted a photo of his back yard. He and his wife, whom I tend to refer to as Bonus Sister, own a beautiful Spanish-style home in Port St. Lucie and live about five miles from the ocean. My brother was home the day he took this photo since his work had given him the day off. Hurricane Isaac was coming, and he documented the turmoil brewing over his backyard. You can tell by the body language of their new dog, Lady, that something is seriously amiss.

I hope that all is well along the Gulf Coast and southeastern seaboard of the United States, but the news reports that keep popping up on CNN state otherwise. I have noticed a lot of international readership on my blog lately, and, first, THANK YOU so much for your interest. I have hung out in general with internationals of all sorts for most of my life, starting when I was six and our school took in an immigrant family from Laos who escaped the Khmer Rouge. I remember playing on the swingsets of our school’s playground with one of their daughters who was in my class, and I watched her mother, who was probably no older than twenty years, out of the corner of my eye as she swung with us, with her eyes shut, and a small smile on her face, as if she was…decompressing from some traumatic event. As an adult, I now understand why this woman found northeastern Indiana so peaceful.

Back to the subject at hand, international readers. Second, thank you for reading because, if you are, you’re interested in events and experiences outside of your country, even if it’s only happenstance. Believe me that when you have wars, typhoons, government changes, brilliant successes, or really any major event occur in your home country, I am following everything eagerly. I love learning about new people, places, and things, and I love the feeling of community that modern media is able to provide. I love being connected.

When people ask me how I can STAND to live in Minnesota, how I can BEAR IT, why I don’t MOVE AWAY, my answer is usually weather-related. The worst weather we have in MInnesota are blizzards. What do you do during a blizzard? You sit inside your warm home, watch the snow fall while drinking a mug of tea, and then when the snow has fallen you go outside and play in it. Every time I venture outside while the snow is falling, I am amazed at the deafening silence of it all. My favorite time to do this is in the evening, when the windows in my neighbors’ homes are lit up a warm yellow and I am in the black night, surrounded by the gently falling flakes.

When people ask me, but don’t you get COLD? How can you stand the FREEZING temperatures? I respond that the one important investment in living in Minnesota is warm winter gear. We will cover this in another entry, especially since this season I need to purchase Tim new boots, but for now the take-home message is that spending money on a few good quality pieces of winter clothing is worth the price tag. When I am properly booted and bundled, I don’t get cold, not even standing still, and then the winter becomes that much more beautiful.

School is starting on Tuesday for Tim, and with the start of school comes dropping temperatures. I had been stressed, worried, losing sleep, unable to concentrate, because each school year for Tim is a new adventure. Some years school is great. Some years it is the opposite. This year Tim will again be attending Capitol View in District 916, and currently I have no real concerns. I had been starting to worry about whether I should be worrying more until I saw the photo my brother posted of the sky over his backyard, and then my worry about school vanished.

For everyone affected by Hurricane Isaac, I hope you are somewhere safe and dry. I hope your homes have not sustained too much damage, and I hope that you are with your loved ones. My worries pale in comparison to yours, and I wish every one of you well.

xoxo


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Shades of Gray

It doesn’t matter how many times you tell your child that the cat’s tail is not a purse strap, they aren’t going to listen until they learn it directly from the cat. ~ Jenny Lawson

Last week was more eventful than it should have been. My cluster’s new manager is riding us at warp speed, which I never doubted for a minute she would do. On top of the work, however, the new, exciting, all-encompassing, brain-breaking work, I come home Wednesday afternoon to what should be Normal. But it isn’t. But I don’t realize that at first.

First thing I always do the minute I walk in the door is yell downstairs to Tim, “Honey, I’m home!!!” As if he didn’t hear the garage door opening and my Jetta Wagon barreling in. Tim, being a teenager, doesn’t come upstairs expressly to greet me but rather to find one of our two cats, usually Amber, and pick her up and carry her around against her gently begrudging will. So Tim came up, walked past me, located our dear Amber, walked past me AGAIN, A SECOND TIME, and went back downstairs. I asked him how school went, and he replied fine, and I left it at that. I was doing some sort of mom stuff in the kitchen, such as sorting through mail, putting away groceries, anything but looking at my child.

Oh my.

After starting supper in the oven I go downstairs to our living room to see how Tim’s day went. He had Amber with him on the couch, and when I was halfway down the stairs I almost tripped over the remainder because I could not for the life of me figure out what on earth had happened to his face. Tim looked like he had been attacked by a wild animal due to the long, bloody scratch marks around his right eye.

I froze for a moment out of shock but then ran up to him for a closer look. Here is how our conversation went:

Me: WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?!?!?!?!?

Tim: Someone scratched me.

Me: Well I can see that. Do you want to talk about it?

Tim: No.

Me: I think you need to talk to me about it because you know I will find out the real story from your teacher.

Tim: One of the other kids was saying mean things and I was telling him to stop.

Me: Were you yelling at him?

Tim: No.

Me: OK. Then what happened?

Tim: He attacked me.

Me: Did he attack anyone else?

Tim: Yes. I’m glad I’m not the other boy.

Me: What happened to the other boy?

Tim (gesturing by drawing his finger in a long arc down the side of his cheek): He was worse.

Me: Where was your teacher?

Tim: She was out on break.

Me: WAS THERE AN ADULT IN THE ROOM WITH YOU?

Tim: Yes. She was on the phone calling for help.

Goodnessgraciouslordhavemercy.

Here is what actually happened for reals when I talked to Tim’s principal on the phone the next morning:

The three boys were arguing and got into a fight. The whole thing happened in less than 10 seconds. After Tim got scratched up, he retaliated by picking up a chair and holding it between himself and his attacker. Tim was also the only one who voluntarily took himself to the office when everything was over. Even though Tim should have stayed out of the fight, he exhibited maturity and made the best decisions he could under the circumstances.

That evening, after hearing the unabridged, adult version of The Fight, I reminded Tim that he needs to let the adults take care of these types of situations. As I said this, a little voice in the back of my mind reminded me that my son himself will be an adult in a little over four short years. Tim told me that when he started arguing with the other two boys, he was defending one of them. The funny part is that the boy Tim was defending is currently classified as one of his Enemies, but Tim thought he was right in this particular situation. When I told Tim he should not have become involved in the fight, he told me that his options were A) to fight or B) to feel guilty. When I asked him why he would have felt guilty, he said that he couldn’t stand by and watch the other boy (Mr. Enemy) be attacked.

Tim’s thought process is complicated and drives me up the wall. As someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is supposed to be rule-bound and think in black and white. However, Tim’s thinking is rarely black or white, this or that, tit for tat, whatever cute little catch phrase you may have running through your mind. He thinks in shades of gray, and while sometimes it is the same shade, day in and day out, I have an extremely difficult time figuring out what goes through that mind of his. And when I ask him questions, all I receive are the Shortest Replies The World Has Ever Seen, and it’s not due to him having an attitude, it’s just due to him stating the facts, and answering my questions as they stand.

This was Tim’s first fight, the first time another person attacked him physically. He has been teased, bullied, and gone through some rough emotional tortures by his classmates, but never a physical attack. The good part that came out of this is that Tim knows now why you do not fight. Why sometimes, especially if there are higher forces that be in the area, such as a teacher, or a bouncer, or a police officer, you need to remove yourself from the situation. Unfortunately for Tim, this is a lesson that he has learned through experience, even though I have been telling him for years to LEAVE THE OTHER KIDS ALONE and IGNORE THE OTHER KIDS WHEN THEY SAY OR DO MEAN THINGS. Just walk away. But he can’t do that, and he has to be true to himself, even if it means defending someone he considers his mortal enemy.

The big question that I have been pondering in my own heart and don’t have answer for is:

If I were in Tim’s situation, would I defend someone I considered my enemy?

Definitely food for thought.


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The Question

My biggest parenting fear is: Do I have what it takes to help someone navigate life? ~ Jennifer Westfeldt

Tim’s teacher called me yesterday with a question about his IEP. An IEP (Individualized Education Program) is a living document, and Tim’s is revised from time to time depending on how he is doing in school. Tim’s IEP is the only one I have ever seen, and his has previously consisted of three goals that he needs to make progress on. Here is an example of one of Tim’s goals when he started school last fall:

This is a lot of official language which states that Tim needs to work on seeing other people’s points of view. I don’t know where the 70% percent comes from, and cognitive flexibility can be difficult for me to manage sometimes, but what the school needs is a way of quantitatively measuring an abstraction.

When Tim started school in the fall one point his autism specialist emphasized was that, from here on out, on his IEP we should make his overall goal progress toward college. In Minnesota children with special needs can stay in high school until they are 21, and if they do, what happens is they go through a transitional living program. A transition living program teaches young adults day to day life skills, such as balancing a checkbook, cooking simple meals, and holding a job. At Walmart. Or McDonald’s. Or as a janitor. If there is college, it may be at a trade school. I agreed with Tim’s school that he does not fall into this category. The goal that we decided on for Tim’s IEP was to help him learn social skills so that when he turns 18 he graduates from high school and starts college the next fall. Whether he succeeds in college or not is another story and not the high school’s responsibility. All they can do is prepare him in the best way possible.

Tim’s new teacher at Capitol View called me with a question. We played phone tag for a few days, and she said in her messages that it wasn’t urgent. She just needed clarification on something. When we talked yesterday, she asked me about one of the pages of the IEP that Tim’s old school sent when he transferred to Capitol View last February. Here is what was written in the most current version of the IEP:

Tim’s new teacher wanted to know why the transitional living program was on his IEP when that was not what we had discussed at his entrance interview back in February. She was confused and was asking me for an explanation.

That is when I started yelling. The words just tore out of me.

This goal was not something that I had seen before. It was not what his old school told us they were preparing him for. If you want to be a veterinarian, you don’t do a transitional living program and then think about taking courses at a community college. Now I don’t know if Tim is going to become a vet or not. That is not the point. The point is that people only perform to the level expected of them, and if expectations for Tim are drastically lowered from what they were before, he will perform only as needed. Whether he goes to college or not is not up to his secondary school. What is their responsibility, however, is to prepare him for it as best as possible. He is definitely intelligent enough to go. Whether he has the social skills to get through college is another story, but, as Daniel chides me when I become too philosophical, we won’t know until we try, will we?

How does Amber the Abyssinian stay so Zen?

Tim’s new teacher and I had a good conversation once I started breathing again. I told her that I had problems getting updated copies of Tim’s IEP where he was before, and she promised me that she would always send me Tim’s IEP when we revised it. She also said that she will work on revising his goals for his new IEP at Capitol View, which is why she called me in the first place. What we had discussed and what was in writing didn’t add up.

The school where Tim is enrolled now is the first school where I feel like people are on my side. On Team Tim. They are still evaluating what he is capable of, both academically and socially. His teacher is working on establishing a benchmark so we can see where his strengths lie and what he needs to work on to move forward. When I told Tim what had been written in his old IEP, he told me that didn’t make sense. It wasn’t what he wants. I said he needs to make sure that he is also putting an effort into his education so he can accomplish his goals. My 13-year-old replied to that with an eyeroll and an “Okaaaaaayyyy, Mom,” but I think he understood my point. What you put into life is what you receive from it.