Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Power of Death

On this day 85 years ago, my father was born. For the past 19.5 years, he has been gone.

Death has a double-sided power. It had the power to bring me to my knees with depression. It had the power to make me question why other people got their dads longer, why other kids besides mine had grandfathers, why other people with aneurysms lived, why my parents had to be separated when they finally were approaching the time in their lives where they could retire and take the trips he had planned.

Death's flipside is a touch more positive. I am more apt to savor moments. Realizing that no one's next breath is guaranteed allows me to seize the day a bit more than I used to. Granted, it's not all sunshine and roses. I forget. I get pissed over stupid things. I try to control things for reasons that would fill a book. Ultimately, the losses that both my husband and I have endured have strengthened us. We have the blessing of knowing that with God, we can endure what feels like our guts being ripped through our belly buttons. You can, indeed, live through losses. But you never get over them. I liken it to when your car gets in an accident. You get it fixed, and it looks fine, but there's always something a little off.

So, happy 85th Birthday, Daddy. You are missed today. You are missed every day. Thank God, it won't be forever. But twenty years sure feels like that.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

As I wrap up 2012

I am back on Celexa, with the occasional Xanax.  I am working myself into the ground--AGAIN--so it should be no surprise that the insidious cousin of workaholism, depression, is in my life again.  Once at bay, this school year of great stress has unleashed the bastard.  This time around, I know how to do the dance.  Meds and counseling.  

An interesting thing about the meds.  The last time I took them, I gained 60 pounds.  I have a hypothesis, as I am looking at a 10 pound gain so far.  When one part of your brain is suppressed, another is unleashed.  To get through what I have to get through in a day, much mindless eating occurs.  I know what is happening, and it continues to happen.  I work out 3-4 times a week, but that will not counterbalance the food that I consume.  The part of my brain that controls that, I believe, is being suppressed by my meds.  It's high on whatever...and could care less about me gaining weight.  But another part of my brain cares a LOT...I have worked hard to get the weight off, and I am not interested in gaining back.

Still another part of me wonders about the idea of chemical weight gain.  In addition to the eating, is Celexa a drug that will just pack pounds on me.  My doc has me staying on it for at least a year, as depression recurrence is noted in research for those who go off it before being on it at least that long.  So, now I have to look toward my counselor, with whom I start on Monday, to give me some type of plan for this.  It's all good.

My stress level is not going to lessen in the next few months, but my response to stress needs to.  So, that's the old journey made new.  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

12 again

So, OK, yes, I am a Rick Springfield groupie. Fell for him in my tween years, and it all just stayed there inside me. Since I was kind of young, I did not get to see him in concert or see his movie, Hard to Hold, but I did, indeed watch him fairly faithfully on General Hospital back in the day. Gorgeous dimples, beautiful eyes, and really great hair, even in his 60s. So when I heard he would be in Normal performing at ISU, there was no hesitation about whether or not I would be in the audience.

What I had not known is that he had written a book and talked fairly publicly about his battle with depression. I would not call my feeling when I heard that "pleasantly" surprised, because no one wishes depression on other people. However, my idol, the man that my twelve year old self was destined to marry, suffers with the same monster I do? There is one degree of separation, for sure.

I think of all the things I hear him discussing as of late, the one telling thing is that he very honestly relates that his success didn't save him. It was actually at the height of his success, when he thought he got what he wanted but realized that it was not what would make the depression go away, that he found his worst bout of it. I could 100% relate to that with my workaholism. If being "done" with something gave enough of a feeling of accomplishment, I would not be in this battle.

I didn't think I would like him any more than I already did, but that clinched it. Yeah, he has some other shady crap in his past. But I just watched him put on a 90-minute concert, ending it with his shirt off (and no one in the audience was anywhere near being repulsed) at age 63. He sounded terrific, looked like he was having a great time in little ol' Normal, and gave me the escape I needed. Hats off to you, Dr. Noah Drake! Thanks for making my weekend. I'm off to download your book.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Woman in the Mirror

The Woman in the Mirror
~can hold a plank
~can do full squats
~uses eight pound dumb bells for bicep curls
~completes ab work

The Woman in the Mirror
~remains unsure of the thoughts of those around her
~is a workaholic
~is driven
~takes "turn the other cheek" to an extreme
~cares passionately about many things

The Woman in the Mirror
~wants to be the change she wants to see
~works through injuries
~pulls patience all the way from her toes when needed
~hates hypocrisy
~strives for a heart at peace

Saturday, June 30, 2012

An Ode to My Shoes

Over the last three years, I have been consistently working out.  I am pretty proud of the fact that this seems to be a priority in my life.  It also helps that I enjoy the workouts I do and the company I keep while I do them.

Over the last year, these lovely Rykas have been my trusty companions.  They have seen rain, sleet, snow, hail.  They have been to countless Zumba classes (let's see, if I averaged three a week in 52 weeks, that would be at minimum 156, but I think I have had them longer than a year...), many RIPPED classes, and a few Strong classes.  They have carried my weight, plus some super hard orthotics.  They are worn down and need to be replaced for a shoe that can give me the support I need.  It's been a good ride.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Moment of Letting Go

Since his wee years, I have enveloped my fifteen year old in the wonderful world of literature.  Summertime was no exception.  He would participate in the library summer reading program, despite the fact that we rarely, if ever, used the physical rewards from it.  (We kind of always forgot.)

As he entered fourth and fifth grades, this became more of a struggle.  It was more forced, less of a partnership.  Yet I knew he had to read over the summer to keep that continuity flowing.

We started to have the conversation this summer about what he was going to read, and, in his inimitable way, he just glared at me.  

"Can't I just have the summer off?" he asked.  "I read a lot of things this year."

And I paused.

Can't he?  The kid raked in a 4.0.  Is it about him anymore, or about the need to feel like my motherly duties are fulfilled?

So, I'm officially backing off.  After 15 years.  After reading to this kid in the womb (oh, yes I did).  He got many things from me, one of which is the lack of fondness for recreational reading, yet the ability to still call myself "literate."  And so it goes.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Measure of an Admin

Pictured was my car clock when I left this morning to take my certification test: 186 - Principal in Illinois. It was quite early, indeed. For the next 5 hours, I was reminded of just how poor of an attention span I have. I was also reminded of how I felt 20-some years ago when I took my initial certification test.

I remember leaving that test thinking how ridiculous it was to think that giving a person a multiple choice test with options for situations could determine that she could actually be a teacher. Now, in 2012, I am asking the same thing about the Principal test. I thought of several persons whom I know who have passed the test and are not great principals. Luckily, I can think of more persons whom I know who passed the test who are quite good at what they do. This is undoubtedly true of every profession with a certification requirement.

So here's my test for those who wish to be principals from a gal who has worked for many and has some seriously high expectations of herself. Each of these is a yes or no item.

1. Do you genuinely like students at your level?
2. Do you genuinely wish to see students do their best academically?
3. Do you genuinely like teachers?
4. Are you capable of inspiring teachers to be the best professionals they can be?
5. Are you a parent or do you fulfill the role of parent in someone's life? (godparent included)
6. If you are not a parent, are you capable of putting yourself into the role of one in order to genuinely understand their perspectives?
7. Do you know what it feels like to struggle?
8. Do you know what it feels like to succeed?
9. Can you show up at school before most of your teachers?
10. Can you stay at school until
most of your teachers are gone for the day?
11. If there is a school-sponsored event, would it be a given with your staff that you are present?
12. Do you know how to lead without bullying?
13. Do your secretaries feel adored?
14. Would your custodians feel badly if they were transferred to another school?
15. Does each staff member feel like a valued member of the school?
16. Can you find money to make things happen for your school?
17. Do you have a PTO that feels in partnership with you?
18. Do you support fledgling teachers in their exciting new journeys?
19. Would there be more sadness than happiness if you had to leave your leadership position in your building?
20. Do you know how to take any group of students and teachers and inspire it to maximum achievement?

Teacher friends, what would you add to the measure of an admin?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hello, blog, it's been a while....

OK, the title of this blog made me think of this song...

This ADHD moment brought to you by Ritalin.

Anyway, school has been out for a week now, and what a glorious week it's been.  The weather has been unseasonably warm...July in May warm.  So, we have been spending some time at Fairview, at Tipton, and at Miss Ashley's, lubed up of course.  Max is beginning to get brave with his swimming attempts, Ignatius is growing "too old" to hang out with us at the pool, and I am sitting there with either my School Law or School Finance book in my hands attempting to enjoy the sun while pouring knowledge in to my head.

Max at Tipton Splash Pad

Miss Ashley's Inaugural Gathering (in May!)

I do not want to rush through this summer by any means.  I am halfway through my classes, thank goodness, and it's definitely been a stretch of my sanity.  But wanting to get them done means wanting June to go by quickly, and I really want to just take it slow.  Last summer felt so fast.  This one needs to tarry.  Please and thanks!

Thursday, May 17, 2012


I have been guilty of formulating a response while a person is talking.  It's something I work on.  It is not me being intentionally rude.  It is the way my brain deals with a barrage of thoughts all at once.  I work on it because I realize that when I do that I am not truly listening to the person.

One might think that this type of behavior is limited to verbal communication.  I actually find it happening in e-mail conversations as well.  I'll share a little career secret, knowing I might lose my "Universal Teacher's Lounge Membership:" sometimes we, as teachers, are not overly welcoming to communication with parents.  Before I respond via e-mail, I try to read, re-read, and place myself in the recipient's shoes.  Some e-mails have been more productive than others.  Before I speak with a parent that I might not wish to speak to, I try to think of the way I want to be addressed by my sons' teachers.  I breathe in, and then pick up the phone with a smile on my face, as that helps me to be a little happier in my tone.  Again, that's what I TRY to do.  Sometimes, I hit the target.  Other times, I miss.

Teaching is my career.  Twenty-one years of it, fifteen of which have involved being a working mother, have taught me great lessons.  The greatest one: stop being so damn defensive.  I used to think I had to protect and defend what I was doing.  I would hear a parent, but I was too busy formulating why I was right to truly listen.  I can be dismissive, and I can make judgments about the communication before it even begins.

What is unpleasant is when you are a parent and you feel as though your communication is being categorized.  No, we actually are NOT parents who call or e-mail to try to get our kid "out of being responsible" for his late assignments or missing deadline.  I was the parent who, in pre-school, asked, "What did he do?" when approached about the actions of my son.  If anything, I have not defended my son as much as some would say I should.  We absolutely believe that life comes with consequences for actions. We instill responsibility in our sons, and we are amazingly proud of both of them.  We know we are parenting in a world of people who think they can and should fight battles and smooth the way for their kids.  That's not us.  Please do not put on those colored glasses to formulate your response instead of really listening.  I know it is done because I navigate both sides of this table.

Several multi-grade-level conversations with both parents and teachers have given me pause to reflect: When in my career have I hidden behind what I espoused to be a "nobler" ideal than the educational target?  When have I given zeroes for late assignments, despite the fact that they were done, correctly, yet just a day late?  When have I taken off for spelling when the written communication was perfectly understandable?  When have I said that my policies were what they were to try to force a "responsible behavior" out of a student rather than remembering that I am a teacher of content and my grades should reflect CONTENT attainment over deadline meeting?

Tonight is not my first night of thinking this, this year not my first year of these reflections.  I have pondered assessment malpractice in education for years.  I wish I could go back and correct some of the decisions I made, because they missed the mark.  At the time, I would have taken a bullet for them.  Now, not so much.  My message is to those in education who have defended grading policies by saying that their goal is to make a child responsible.  Or that a grading scale is designed to hold children to higher standards.  Parents give us their children in hopes that they will learn.  And hoping we will not beat the love of learning clear out of them.  What has my scorecard been in that area?  Teacher friends, how about you?  Before you defend, breathe and reflect.  And, of course, listen.

Preachy?  Nah.  Today, I sent a kid home thinking he was disqualified from a field trip.  After I reflected and de-stressed from the crazy afternoon I had, I realized that I was wrong, and I called a mom who was probably expecting me to lower the boom and gripe about her kid.  Instead, I apologized, said I had reconsidered, and that I wanted him to join us on the trip.  I also had a parent come in who wanted to talk to me about her son's assignment that was due.  Yes, I immediately fell back on that reflex of wanting to give a million reasons why he SHOULD have been done.  But she also needed me to listen.  Somehow, I found the humility to do so.  She returned later in the day, and it threw me a bit, but now, hours later, I realize that she was needing me to understand what was going on with her son.  The craziness of the end of the year was thrusting me in to the paradigm of just having "another" parent try to excuse the actions of their child.  While I did not accept the excuse of why the assignment was not complete on the due date, I DID listen and I DID have him repeat options that were available to save his grade (and I DID have options for him to save his grade by showing me HE UNDERSTOOD THE CONTENT).  I have come a LONG way from the gal who would have stuck to her guns and given him a failing grade.  By golly, he was not ready on time!  But that's just not the point, now is it?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Autism Awareness Tidbit #17

Stimming is a characteristic of some persons on the spectrum.  This wiki does a nice job of defining and describing stimming.  Many times, stimming will be linked only with the hand and finger motions that sometimes accompany the behaviors of the spectrum.  I like the chart provided on the wiki:

SenseStimming Actions
VisualFlapping hands, blinking and / or moving fingers in front of eyes; staring repetitively at a light
AuditoryMaking vocal sounds; snapping fingers
TactileScratching; rubbing the skin with one's hands or with an external object
VestibularMoving body in rhythmic motion; rocking front and back or side-to-side
TasteLicking body parts; licking an object
SmellSmelling objects or hands; other people

Persons with autism are looking to experience the world in ways a bit different from what is society's norms.  I look at it like this: we all have ways of soothing ourselves.  If the sun bothers my eyes, I wear sunglasses.  If I am scared in a movie, I can grab the arm of the persons accompanying me, or look away until the scariness is over.  When I am in a hammock or rocking chair, I get sleepy because I am relaxed.  The list above are ways that needs are met for perons with ASD.  Both of my boys have had some forms of stimming.  Max's most recent stim reminds me of Mary Katherine Gallagher on SNL.  He smells his hands, especially after touching metal.  This became a little challenge when zipping coats during the winter, opening doors, and wearing jeans.  I have to say, it cracks me up, as I literally have a visual of Molly Shannon flash before my eyes every time he does it.  His brother's issues tended to be more visual and auditory.  Before we new Ignatius was on the spectrum, he would move his fingers in front of his eyes and make noises.  At that point, my best response was, "Dude, you are in public," as he would do it walking in the supermarket.  I was amazingly smooth, eh?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Autism Awareness Tidbit #16

The days before our wedding were a little stressful, as is true for anyone.  Genius that I am, I got married the day after my last day of school during my first year of teaching.  Epic.

During this time, my hubby and I were going to have his birthday dinner with his out of town relatives.  He parked the car, and we exited.  A woman got out of her car and the following conversation ensued:

WOMAN: I can't back out.

SCOTT and JOLYNN [look at each other, puzzled]: Excuse me?

WOMAN [seemingly more annoyed]: I can't get out!  You parked your car there, and I can't get out.

[Important note: We were in a parking space, as was she.  Our space was perpendicular to hers.  There was LOTS of room.]

SCOTT: Would you like me to back it out for you?

[SCOTT, seeing that this conversation would continue and realizing the peril OUR car was in, moves our car so WOMAN can get out.]

We went to dinner and shared our odd little escapade.  One of Scott's aunts then chimes in with "Oh honey, she might be sick."  Seriously? She was going to side with the woman who clearly should no longer have a licence (or maybe should not have had one ever)?  She's going to add to my wedding stress with a guilt trip? 

Now that I am a little older, I understand her need to be a buzzkill, as it was a funny story to share.  What she was saying was that in situations such as these, you might always be dealing with a person who is "all there."  There could be reasons for their actions or words.

That has stuck with me, particularly when it comes to kids and parents.  Case in point, the young man who just rode his bike ever so slowly in front of my moving automobile on the way out of Arby's drive through.  This was followed closely by the young man who rode his bike slowly across GE at Veteran's (one of the worst intersections in Bloomington-Normal) to go into the Walgreen's lot on a Saturday afternoon.  Both of these gentlemen made some seriously bad choices, but they were seemingly oblivious.  At one point in my life, yelling, sarcasm, and interesting facial expressions would have ensued.  But now, all I could think was, "Does he have something wrong with him?" or "Oh honey, he might be sick," to put it in southern Illinois terms.  Today's tidbit: please consider, when rushing to judgment over the actions some people make, there could be a backstory, like autism, that you may not be considering.  We need to treat everyone like they "might be sick."  The world would be a kinder place.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Autism Awareness Tidbit #15

Take a minute to watch this.  Can you imagine how hard these parents and teachers worked to see this day?  And the pride in that room at this moment?  Eyes on the prize.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Autism Awareness Tidbit #14

Persons with autism can do amazing things because they look at like through a completely different sets of eyes.  For today's tidbit, I would like to refer to a previous post of mine from when I first watched Temple Grandin's movie produced through HBO.  It inspired me so much, my license plate (DNL 2) pays tribute.  If you have not seen it, you must.

My previous blog can be found here.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Autism Awareness Tidbit #13

Inclusion, mainstreaming, whatever you wish to call it. IDEA is Federal legislation that allows students to be instructed in the "least restrictive environment" for learning to occur.  The law was created in the 1980s, with very little thought put in to good professional development for teachers on how this new frontier would work.  It's the idea that, which some modifications and appropriate accommodations, students who traditionally had to be in a separate special education classroom for instruction could be instructed in a general education classroom.    

Educators have a host of opinions on this topic.  What I can say is that I was IN NO WAY ready to teach students with special needs after my undergrad.  All of the training I have has been on-the-job training.  I was told that we would study about "exceptional children," but I probably would only have to deal with gifted students, and not the other end of the spectrum.  

For many years in my career, this was true.  I taught in a Catholic school and we had no students with IEPs.  When I moved to the public sector in 1999, I was in a building where students with IEPs went down to the resource teacher's room throughout the day.  Over the last 10 years, I have changed my practices, I hope for the better, and I do have many students with learning disabilities in my classroom.  I try to differentiate my curriculum to meet the needs of all of my students, but I am BY NO MEANS perfect at this.  It's a huge job, and I am grateful for the people I work with who are willing to team with me to help students.  Still, it's not full inclusion, and some students are not in the gen. ed classroom.

As a mom, navigating the world of gen ed/spec ed for Max has been interesting to say the least.  I adore his first grade teacher and her inclusion efforts.  He has an aide who is shared with a couple other students, and he considers himself to be in her room.  This did not happen in K.  In fact, it was almost the complete opposite.  He was "associated" with his K room, but this year, he is a true member of his gen ed room.  This was my hope for him, but we had to be sure to push for this.  If we had not, I am uncertain whether or not this would be his reality.  This is not a criticism of his teachers or his school by any means.  It is the reality of each special education student needing informed parent advocates.  

A fantastic resource for inclusion and making it work is Paula Kluth.  I was fortunate enough to hear her speak recently as a workshop of hers was hosted by our Regional Office of Education.  She has an abundance of great information and strategies for how students can be successful in the gen ed classroom.  If this is the dream you have for your student, it is achievable, but you must have a gen ed teacher who shares that belief.  My own opinion: if you don't have a flexible gen ed teacher who is willing to learn how to meet the needs of your student in her classroom, I am not so certain your child would be better off in that room.  Some would argue that the child is at least exposed to grade-level material being in there.  However, is that the place where his learning is best served?  Look at the program, the teachers, the aides, and, most centrally, the child himself.  Don't be afraid to buy the teacher a book or two for her summer reading, or sponsor some workshop money for her to get better at meeting the needs of your student.  And have patience that we are so very far from perfect, but most of us teachers are trying pretty hard to meet the needs of every student.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Autism Awareness Tidbit #12

It has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with us.

We have had the blessing of many, many people offering us support on our parenting walk.  Our families are not in the immediate area, so I am grateful for the amazing network of people who are there for us.  One thing that I think is true of not just parents of children on the spectrum, but parents of children with any sort of special need: Superman/Superwoman complex.

More people than I can count have offered to watch my children over the years when neither Scott nor I could.  Good people.  A select few have watched them.  Why?  Because we are neurotic.  We go through our day navigating this condition our kids have, and, from our perspective, we could not possibly ask someone else to take that on.  And, when we get even an idea that we might want to leave them with someone, the list of 10,000,000 things that they need to know is the first thing that comes to our minds.  So, we juggle.  And we do not date, DESPITE the fact that we KNOW we need to cultivate alone time.  Why?  Well, when everything else takes a bite out of your day, you are too pooped to party.  Heck, you barely even remember each other's names.

It is important to remember, however, that in marriages with even the most stressful situations, your spouse needs the "couple time" that was there BC (before children).  I stink at remembering this, and I am damn lucky I have a husband who puts up with everything else and everyone else seemingly taking priority.  But I need to get better at offering him the time he needs.

My tidbit for tonight: Hearts are warmed by offers to stay with kids with special needs so their parents can get out on occasion.  Keep them coming, but don't be sad if you are not taken up on them.  It's not you.  It's us.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Autism Tidbit #11

Remember Rain Man?  Dustin Hoffman's portrayal of Raymond Babbitt remains one of the best performances on record.  Now that I deal with perseveration as part of my everyday life, I am convinced that his acting was severely underappreciated at the time.  His repetition of phrases as he played Tom Cruise's brother with autism made many a viewer chuckle.  I still make, "5 minutes to Wapner" comments.  Classic.    There is perseverative behavior in both of our boys.  With Ignatius, it's more his thoughts.  He builds himself up to an anxious state because of the perseveration of thoughts that will not leave him alone.  With Max, it's actions as well as words.  This month, his perseveration is the fire alarm that went off after school one day.  Last month.  And we still hear about it like it was today.  Over and over again.  And while it's cute for a while, it makes us a little nutty sometimes.  Because, if you do not respond, his repetition becomes more urgent.  And if you disagree with what he's repeating (The moon is made of cheese, right Mom?), you open yourself up for a screaming meltdown.  
My brain has responded to this by putting me in almost a stupor.  People can say things to me, and I am completely glazed...I am lost in my happy place.  It's just too much verbal information, over and over.  So, if you know me, and you have to repeat something for me, please know that it is because I am in survival mode and I'll return if given a moment or two. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Autism Awareness Tidbit #10

Persons on the spectrum must manage their sensory needs.  This is easier said than done.  What, exactly, does this mean?  I can describe our perspective on that.

With my older son, sensory input initially took the form of oral needs.  Everything went in to his mouth and was chewed on.  Everything.  He sucked his two middle finders until he was about 4.  He chews on pencaps until they are unrecognizable.  He also had what one might call a "stim" phase: he would flick and manipulate his hands and fingers on a regular basis.  This was usually accompanied by some sort of vocal noises, sometimes reenacting a video game he had played, sometimes just an outreach of a vivid imagination.  Most of the time, he must fidget with something in his hands.  Shoe string, his ear, whatever is sitting around.  He was also VERY sensitive to loud abrupt noises.  He would run away screaming if an ambulance or something like that drove by, just as much as if a book suddenly dropped to the floor.  He has learned to cope with this.

With my younger son, the sensory input comes in the form of pressure.  When he was a toddler, he banged his head on the floor to the point of bruising and lumps.  He would also head butt us, which could cause a nosebleed or two if we were not on the lookout.  He also liked (likes?) to heavily jump on the sidewalk from a step without shoes on.  He also enjoys jumping from a bed to the floor for the same sensory input.  He likes to apply pressure with his hand on a person's head as a symbol of endearment.  (It's often the way he says good bye to me in the morning.)  Like his brother, he likes repetitive movements and noises, often reenacting something he's seen.  There is a sensory room in his school where he can go if the regular classroom becomes overstimulating (sensory overload).  This can happen at events like school parties, when structure is at a low.  The sensory room has a variety of items: a swing, a mini trampoline, and, quite frankly, just a place to get away from the crowd.

Sensory overstimulation is the main reason why people should be cautious about touching persons on the spectrum.  For some individuals, it is as painful as a thousand pinpricks, even if the intention is a hug or a pat on the back.  Auditory overstimulation is also a challenge.  If too many noises are going on in one place at one time, a person on the spectrum can have a difficult time processes all of these.  I liken it to an assault in the senses similar to if a neurotypical person would attend a rock concert.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Autism Awareness Tidbit #9

What's a social story?  And why is it important?

Here's the master, Carol Gray, herself, speaking of her creation:

I use the term "social stories" similar to the term "kleenex."  Not every tissue is a Kleenex brand tissue.  Not every predicting conversation with students is a Social Story as defined by Gray. I do my best as mom and general education teacher to navigate these waters.

My first experience with social stories came when I saw it mentioned on an IEP for a sixth grader with Asperger's Syndrome.  He needed a social story for how to appropriately behave in the lunchroom when eating. This was a highly sensory time for him (a tidbit for another day), and he had the tendency to wear his lunch all over his face.  He needed to know what was socially acceptable at lunch.  Skills like these--ones that neurotypical children just pick up from experiencing them or being told once or twice about them by adults or peers--must be explicitly taught to children on the spectrum, preferably before the child is in the situation.  However, as the video indicates, research beforehand is important.  I might think a social story is needed in a situation, when, in fact, it may not be.

Here's an example.  Let's say a school is planning a fire drill.  A student with autism disorder will need to successfully evacuate the building and return safely, following the school procedures.  An adult would go over a social story with the student, preferably one in writing with accompanying pictures that can then be sent home so parents can review it the night before.  It might go something like this (I am not an expert at these, so bear with me).

Tomorrow we will be having a fire drill.  The fire drill alarm will go off.  It will be a loud noise.  It is OK to put my hands over my ears if the noise hurts them.  It is not OK to scream.  I may talk only to an adult if I have an important question about safety.  When the alarm sounds, I will walk in line with my class to our place on the parking lot.  We will wait in line quietly.  When Mr. Belding says we should return, I will quietly walk in line and return to the building.

These steps are best accompanied with pictures, either using Boardmaker software or actual photos taken at the school, that help familiarize the student with appropriate steps.  The ultimate preparation would include an aide or teacher walking the student through the steps of the drill.

The student mentioned earlier benefited from pictures of him successfully eating in the lunchroom.  Each successful step was documented via digital camera and printed for him in sequence.  It is also important that the critical adults/peers involved in the social story practice with the child if at all possible.  At the very least, they need to know what is in place for the child.

When Max entered Kindergarten, his teachers sent us a bound social story of what to expect and important people's pictures and names.  He read that a lot before going to his new school in August.  Also, his LBS1 and speech pathologist set up a social story for him when he was giving his dad and me a hard time going to school in the morning.  It was very helpful, especially when the schedule changes for a "late start" day.  The McLean County Autism Society provided a social story to accompany their soccer practices.

This works well for children who have difficulty with transitions, regardless of the diagnosis.  For example, a child having a hard transition in to a new grade level would strongly benefit from a social story.  A child with severe anxiety about new places and things would benefit as well.  Kids with separation anxiety can benefit from knowing when, exactly, they will be reunited with their loved one.  It's a fairly useful tool for most parents/caregivers to have.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Autism Awareness Tidbit #8

My faith has been core to me as I journey the waters of autism spectrum disorders.  I truly do believe that God put my sons into my life for a reason, as any parent can probably attest to about their children.  So, why did he flavor our life with autism?  I'm not afraid to say that I don't have a solid answer to that.  I could sit around and ponder, "Why me?  Why us?  Why my kids?"  It really goes against my grain, as it seems to get me nowhere, and I like to be moving on from things that are difficult.  It's the journey we have the privilege to be on.  Sometimes it stinks, sometimes it doesn't.  But it is what it is and hardships and challenges have existed since the dawn of time.

So, today, on this Easter Sunday, the highest holy day of the Catholic Church, I am thankful to God.  As I am sacrificing my sons, albeit not-so-willingly, to this disorder, he sacrificed his son to save us all.  The light is bright at the end of this tunnel.  He only asks that we enjoy the ride.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Autism Awareness Tidbit #7

Today's tidbit: You just never know.

With a person on the spectrum, he can appear that he is not listening, when, in fact, he has heard your every word.

With a person on the spectrum, he can be not making eye contact, but is not trying to be disrespectful.

With a person on the spectrum, situations can seem like they will be "too much" for him, but with the right preparation and a little patience, he will do just fine.

With a person on the spectrum, he can appear to be rude, when in fact he is communicating in a way that makes sense to him.

With a person on the spectrum, everything has potential: a pencil, a pen, a crayon, a piece of paper, a tissue box, a shoe, a piece of floor mat--anything can be brought into his world and can be made into what he needs.

Thanks to persons on the spectrum for, among many things, lightbulbs, electricity, and this computer on which I am typing and the Internet that allows me to share it.  Thanks to people who can focus that intensely on one thing to bring it as close to perfection as possible.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Autism Tidbit #6

Today I would like to focus on the blessings that are associated with autism spectrum disorders.

Everyday celebration: There are so many very important things neurotypical kids do, things that my first son did, that I took for granted.  When they happen with Max, I truly celebrate it.  An example: when he finally started "using his words" because he could use his words.  A simple, "May I please have some milk?" still makes me more profoundly happy than a normal person should be.

Reading: Son #1 was reading at age 3.  No joke.  Son #2 struggles at age 7, still teetering between what you should sound out and what should be a sight word.  (I know some of you reading this who have a struggling reader are nodding your heads, even if your child is not on the spectrum.)  For a kid on the spectrum, a kid who needs, in general, an established set of consistent rules, the English language is a little bit torturous.  So, when he reads words or abbreviations of any kind, I am a pretty thrilled mama.

Face time: Max loves to be right in my face.  And I mean RIGHT in my face.  He then places his little hand on my forehead, and applies pressure.  Or he looks straight into my eyes and smiles.  I do not care how it looks to anyone else.  I know that I am lucky to get affection, as one of the traits of ASD is that persons around them are not the objects of affection.  You take affection where you can get it.  Most of the "issue" is not that they do not love their families...there is so much love inside.  Many kids with ASD have so many sensory issues that the typical ways of showing affection, particularly hugs, do not feel pleasant to them.  Sometimes, Max does not want to be touched at all.  Most times, we allow him to initiate the touch that is OK at the time.

Simple pleasures: My kids have been so easy to please.  Both of them are content with paper and a pencil.  Drawing, cutting, using their imaginations.  Thank goodness, they do not need the next new thing, they are not hooked on certain brands of things or shows.  That is a relief.  The only time it is challenging is when someone wants to get them gifts for their birthdays or Christmas.  I truly draw a blank.  Um, paper?

Repetition: Is there Mac and Cheese in the cupboard?  Are there French toast sticks in the freezer?  OK.  We're in good shape.  It really is that easy.  And they are healthy enough...even if I am not holding them down and shoving broccoli down their throats.  It's all good...and predictable.

So very nice: Ignatius,son #1, is one of those genuinely nice souls.  I really mean that.  We spoke at dinner tonight about seeing one of his grade school bullies while at church today.  (Side note: Man, is that hard or what?  There you are, in church, wishing for someone's head to explode...)  Ignatius said, "You know, maybe it was not him.  Maybe it was me."  Really?  Dude.  He also misses the subtleties in social situations that those of us that are more savvy see.  Like when girls are being catty and mean.  Or when boys are being, well, I shall not say that here.  He misses it.  Almost entirely.  And isn't that actually a gift?

Perspective: I think the best part of being the mom of boys with ASD is that I can see things from that point of view.  I am a completely different teacher because of it.  I get to be a person who needs to find different ways to do different things so that a kid can "get" it.  I'm not at all perfect at it, but I am so much better--more conscious--than I used to be.

Support system: Lastly tonight, I have to say that my biggest blessing is my support system.  My family and my friends are an amazing, eclectic group of people.  If Scott and I were going this alone, I do not know what we would do.  And, as many people as wish to damn Facebook, I must say that I am REALLY grateful for social media.  I have realized how many of my friends, with whom I had lost contact, are raising kids with special needs just like I am.  I am learning so much from them.  Mainly that we are not alone, and somebody out there gets it.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Autism Awareness Tidbit #5

As parents, we have all dreamed our dreams of what our child's lives will be.  Most of us think back to our own childhood and life in school and presume that our child's life will follow in a similar fashion.  If you have a neurotypical child, that will probably be the case, with the exception of the explosion of technology that somewhat alters his/her experiences from our own.

If your child has special needs, you have landed in foreign territory.  What you need to know is, despite its sun-shiny cheeriness, despite the perfect bulletin boards and the smiley face posters, and despite the multitude of activities organized by a PTA, school is going to be somewhat hostile territory for you and your child.  I do not say this to scare or even to criticize.  It is what it is.  It does not mean people will be mean to you or your child.  It does not mean you have to be fearful.  What it means is, as a parent, you MUST be your child's advocate.  No one else has YOUR child's best interest at heart.  The law pretends to.  A law comes to life only in the hands of those who follow it.  Public districts have mountains of laws, especially in the field of children who struggle, under which they must not suffocate.  Bottom line: districts will set things up to do the minimum of what the law requires.  However, what every parent of children with special needs should know is that the law requires that they do EVERYTHING they can do for your child.  Here are a few sites that are helpful for parents to know their rights under the law.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Autism Awareness Tidbit #4

Today's tidbit: Every child with ASD is completely unique.  There are many similarities with the condition across its spectrum.  With each unique child come unique parental responses.  Two examples come to mind: TV shows and support groups.

Well-meaning folk will tell you every show they watched that had anything to to with autism.  I know some people who LOVE the series Parenthood.  I watched the first season.  Beautifully and realistically written.  In order to emotionally survive, however, I could not invest in it.  Other parents of children with ASD love the show.  The show hits different people different ways.  When you HAVE a son named Max and you get him diagnosed...when you have to admit to friends and family that there's something wrong with your kid...watching the reenactment of that is not always a good time.  I am grateful that the show is getting a perspective across that is not always known to the general public.  It also took me some time to warm up to The Big Bang Theory.  At least that is a comedy.  We watch Sheldon, and we find in that actor comedic genius.  Not everyone sees their own son.  I joke that I live with Sheldon.  So many levels of that are not a joke.  Sheldon demonstrates the caricature of Asperger's.  It took me a bit to warm up the fact that America was getting a good laugh out of it.

Parent responses to support groups are another thing that is as unique as the child itself.  I was thrilled that there were support groups in my community.  My local society is fantastic and very active.  I am just at a point in my life where I feel like I am wading in the waters... I don't want to talk about being happy as I drown, or lucky to be in such nice cool water.  Because I am not one bit happy about autism.  I love my children, but I do not love this disease.  I get to watch as other children without it merge into social situations without a problem.  I get to hear about people who never have to think 10 steps ahead to prepare their children for life's unexpected stuff.  Yeah, I know.  There are other things that could be worse.  Yup, I got it.  But I still get to say that I am not OK with my kids being on the spectrum, and I don't necessarily want to sit and talk about it or be reminded of it more than I must.  My attitude shocks me as much as anyone.  I figured out not too long ago that everyone must choose their survival path.  We all have the same 24 hours to live...we all have to accept a certain mindset in order to do it.  I don't have to embrace things as other parents of children with ASD do.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Autism Awareness Tidbit #3

How do you know?  All this talk about autism spectrum disorders.  How do you know if a child should go through the steps for diagnosis?

As mentioned yesterday, our son missed a major developmental milestone--putting words together to make meaning and assigning words to objects.  We honestly did not notice right away.  It was when I picked him up from day care and his peers were saying, "Max's mommy," and pointing at me that I realized we were at least dealing with a speech/language delay.  At that point, autism had not entered my thoughts.  Sparing you our own story for now, I will say that bits and pieces came together.  Our major awakening came via the video glossary we found on the Autism Speaks website that compare typical and atypical behaviors at certain developmental markers.  There are also many lists of behaviors that give an initial idea of whether or not to pursue further data gathering.  I avoid saying to "pursue a diagnosis," because, honestly, hearing , "Yes, I am seeing that he is on the spectrum," is similar to hitting a brick wall at 70 mph.  It's not what you want to hear, and you want someone to say, "Will you just chill out?  Your kid's going to be fine.  You are over worrying."

This site is extensive in discussing symptoms of ASD and the road to diagnosis.  There are countless others as well.  If you are really considering an evaluation, your local Easter Seals is also an excellent place to start.  Do NOT rely on your pediatrician.  Rely on your GUT as your child's parent.  Our pediatrician has sinced apologized for missing the diagnosis.  We, as his parents, pushed for a developmental pediatrician screening which led to the diagnosis.  For our son with Asperger's, we were told that kids who are "that smart" just sometimes are that way (having debilitating panic attacks, claiming to hear voices) because they understand things above their biological level and don't know what to do with it.  Our first son grew up in a school system and medical community that truly did not know to suggest Asperger's, and was in no way ready to assist a person with that disability. But that's a tidbit for a whole other day!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Autism Awareness Tidbit #2

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continually studies increases in incidences of certain conditions.  Recently, the CDC came out with the following statistic based on their recent research: 1 in 88 children  (1 in 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls)  has been diagnosed with some form of ASD.  More specifics, along with the study, can be found on this site.

Some meaningful persons have likened this increase to that of ADD/ADHD.  Granted, the ADD/ADHD diagnosis has exploded during the last two decades.  There are critical differences in the procedures for the  diagnosis of each of these.  I have had students go to their pediatrician in one afternoon and come out with an ADHD diagnosis and a prescription.  It took me almost a year for both of my sons to get their diagnoses.  We filled out HOURS of paperwork, and they underwent extensive observation and testing.  Sometimes, ASD diagnoses are missed because pediatricians will jump too quickly to ADHD.  

Unlike ADHD, there is not a drug that one can take to "control" ASD (although, parents of children with ADHD might admit that the medications--and their side effects-- are no miracle cure).  Typically, children undergo a variety of therapies for behavior modification.  

Because early intervention through therapy has shown a great deal of success in children "merging" into society a bit more successfully, it is best to determine the diagnosis as early as possible.  We realized something was wrong with Max when he was not speaking at around 15 months.  As heartbreaking as it was to realize there was something significantly wrong with my toddler, we put aside the sucker punch life handed us and got him the help he needed.  I stand firm that he would not be speaking or interacting as well as he is today as a first grader had we waited on our suspicions.  The pediatrician was looking for medical causes of his symptoms.  We researched and talked with others, and we realized this was much bigger that fluid in his ears.

So why such an increase in children with ASD?  My theories: 
  • the definition of autism became wider when it was expanded to be a spectrum of disorders, therefore, some autistic behaviors that existed in children were missed
  • a generation of parents went undiagnosed and now are having children on the spectrum
  • there is a genetic link to ASD and parents can carry the gene but not have autism themselves

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Autism Awareness Month Begins

So here we are on April Fools Day.  Day 1 of sharing my reflections on parenting and teaching children with autism spectrum disorders.  I decided to go a different route this year and use the blog to relay some things of which I have become more aware since my sons were diagnosed on the autism spectrum.  Previously, I have changed my profile picture on Facebook, made a hallway bulletin board, read a book with my students which had a character with autism, and used this month as a reminder of things I know about dealing with persons with ASD but may have gotten a little sloppy doing.  I will continue these, but I have added a little more on the blog.  So here we go!

Awareness Tid Bit, Day 1:

You might hear people shying away from calling a person "autistic."  Autism is just one characteristic that defines a person on the "spectrum."  Just as I would not like to be called "four-eyed JoLynn" or "broken-legged JoLynn," the idea of weaning the public off of calling a person "autistic" helps avoid a narrow perception of his/her challenges.  Therefore, try these on for size: "persons with autism," "child with ASD," "person on the spectrum."

The graphic above helps greatly in understanding that Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are like an umbrella.  It's not necessarily a hierarchy of diagnoses, although you might hear someone being considered "higher functioning" than someone else.  That means that person has skills that might allow better merging with societal norms.  My sons are diagnosed with autistic disorder (he's 7) and Asperger's Disorder (sometimes called Asperger's Syndrome...he's 15).  Just because someone is diagnosed as one section of the spectrum does not mean he cannot have traits from other places on the spectrum.  Each individual has a unique way of demonstrating ASD.  Hence, the acceptance of the puzzle piece as the symbol of Autism Awareness.  It is quite a puzzle!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Paprika App

Highly recommended by my Move More Eat Well leader, Cathy Zielske, this app sounds definitely worth pursuing.  Get it here.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Equal" Rights

For almost my entire life, abortion (with some restrictions) has been legal in my country. I have always been vocal about how I feel regarding this issue.  If you don't want to get into a knock-down, drag-out argument with me, it's best not to even start the discussion, as I will not let it go.

To those who argue that this is a "women's" issue, consider your hypocrisy.  You fight for equal rights, but for whom? Your argument allows that women are more important than vulnerable children.  Your very nature should be to PROTECT children, not destroy them.  However, your alleged needs (wants) are supposed to trump the rights and needs of a little human.

Oh, but "it's" not really a "human?"  Tell that to someone who has dealt with infertility issues.  Tell that to someone who has seen the human, the size of a piece of rice, ALIVE in a sonogram after trying like hell to conceive.  The argument is a lame one, and one that absolutely cannot be proven.  You may say it cannot be disproven, either.  So, if we can neither prove nor disprove the "life" aspect of conception, how irresponsible is it to allow the procedure?

Recently, the Komen Foundation has pulled its funding for Planned Parenthood due to the fact that it is under investigation for using federal funding for abortions.  This has some people pretty angry.  I am angry, too.  I am angry that killing children seems to be OK, and that now some people think that Komen should lose its funding because of this move.  The arguments have been based on the money from Komen paying for cancer screenings gotten via Planned Parenthood. But, wait... with national health care, I thought that things like breast cancer screening were going to be "covered." I mean, that's what I was told when I listened to the rhetoric involved in that discussion.

People are lumping this into a purely political move.  As if no one in their right minds could possibly make this decision.  As if no one but lunatics would actually be anti-abortion...I mean, anti-woman...oh, wait... I AM a woman...And I am anti-abortion, not solely because my church tells me, or that it's a political move, but that I truly in my heart and gut believe it is WRONG and our society should be ashamed of itself in allowing it.  I am ashamed of the Democratic party...a party whom I joined because they were supposed to be for the underdog, for the marginal, for the minority.  Yet, they have grown into anything but that platform.

Hold an infant for an hour.  You'll understand what I mean.  Or talk to someone who can't get pregnant and deals with a desperate yearning to have a child.  Maybe you'll get it.  How about mandatory sonograms for those considering an abortion so that they can REALLY give informed consent?  Yeah, I didn't think so.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

On Grey's Anatomy and Reliving Traumatic Experiences

One of my general rules of life has been: Face it.  In life, there are shitty things that happen.  Avoidance does not make them go away.  Facing gives them less power.  But I think my theory has its holes.

When I was younger, and I was sure the Winter Warlock or Bigfoot was outside my window waiting to snatch me up (second story window in the about irrational), my way of "facing" that was to close my eyes tight until I fell asleep.  If my eyes were closed, whatever was out there could not touch me.  Or at least that was my logic.  And it worked.  Morning came.  I was safe.

However, there are bigger things in life that happen, and deeper wounds that I really think, rather than "facing" them to become calloused to the pain, I might need to start avoiding.

I think I should have turned this week's Grey's Anatomy off when I saw what was coming, but I figured "facing it" would be healthier.  For the last few seasons, Grey's has been fairly jolting and heavily sad.  There was an episode where a newly pregnant Meredith watched a gunman shoot her husband and then had a subsequent miscarriage.  This gunman had gone on a frightening rampage through the hospital.  I was pretty shaken by that episode.  Being in a profession that has "intruder plans," the idea of people going on shooting rampages is, alas, part of what could be any teacher's reality.  So, that episode was brutal on my emotions.

In this week's episode, a family was in an accident.  All of the adults in the car passed away.  One after the other.  First the grandmother, then the mother, then the dad, leaving the three children orphaned.  The oldest child was celebrating her 18th birthday.  She watched each of these persons in her life die.  Her father was on life support and his organs were slowly shutting down.  She had to decide to take him off life support.  It was at that point that I COMPLETELY lost it.  From the decision to her watching her father take his last breaths without a respirator, I was a mess.  It was not a "therapeutic" feeling.  It reopened a wound, and it felt awful.  So, my theory of facing things that are difficult really did not work out too well in this situation.

I know in life I cannot avoid stories that involve the ends of people's lives, and not every "death" scenario makes me have this type of reaction.  However, I am not sure intentionally exposing myself to storylines that take me down an emotional road that caused me decades to deal with is entirely necessary.  Live and learn.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Winter Break, Day 12

What a weird day, weather-wise.
  • Got up and worked on some Move More Eat Well printouts. Realized that my printer software and I need to come to terms.  Lots of wasted cardstock.  Ugh!  The good news is that I got in my 100 sit ups/push ups while the printer wasted my (Bazzill white orange peel) cardstock.
  • Did Zumba on the Wii with Kim.  
  • Went out into the elements.  We actually had snow showers today. Max looked outside and thought it was foggy.  Snow was blowing around, the temperature dropped, and everything got slick.
  • While out in the elements, I was in major pain.  My foot was a hot mess, and there was no stretching that could get me out of this one.  Finally, I came home, ate lunch, and lay on the bed with a heating pad wrapped around it for about an hour.  That actually was just what the doctor ordered.
  • I wrote out my Christmas thank you cards and dropped them off in the mail.
  • We had The Fresh Market chicken, twice baked potatoes, and (I had) corn souffle.  I started tracking my food intake on Lose It (online and app) just to get an idea of what I was shoveling in my mouth and to keep me accountable (or more than I was, which was not at all).  We shall see.  I did NOT like the scale's reading this morning.  I sure am physically active, so gaining a bit more control of my food intake will be good.  Also, mixing up my workouts will help.
  • We watched Pawn Stars and American Pickers.  Love those guys!
  • Now, I will be working a bit on my One Little Word project.  I took this photo, which I will be using for the first part of the scrapbook.  I need to put on the overlay (a slight frame that goes with the rest of the design) and then it shall be done.  I also took a photo of Max and I (posted below the one of me).  Love it.  Used my iPhone and Camera+ actions, hence the grain.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Winter Break, Day 11 - Welcome 2012!

  • The boys and I went to see The Muppets.  So glad we saw it before it was out of the theaters.  They really seemed to enjoy it. I enjoy that, with the exception of one bathroom visit, Max now sits through entire movies without much of an issue. We have come a long way since Up! :)
  • After a delightful Wendy's lunch (Ignatius' favorite), I took a bit of a nap.  Scott decided to play Mike Holmes and start ripping apart our basement.  What? you say?  But JoLynn, your basement was not completely finished.  Indeed, you are correct.  After almost 20 years of marriage, I realized that one of the golden rules of marital bliss is sometimes you ask questions, and sometimes questions will not help one understand any better.
  • I also watched my first video for my MMEW scrapbook journey.  Really good stuff.
  • Upon waking and inspecting the lack of walls in my basement, I did an hour of Wii Zumba, did my 100s (push ups and sit ups) that I re-committed to, and de-Christmased, to a degree.  The tree is still up, but that is the job of Destructo-Man.
Pondering the putting away of Christmas, I have to say that taking down the tree on New Year's Day is quite symbolic. I looked at the ornaments from the many years, thought about those years and events that occurred in them, and packed them away yet again.  Some of them were good memories, and some of them stunk.  But they all shaped our history and living through them shapes our future.  That's all I have to say about that.