Friday, October 31, 2014

He Gets It!!!

Often people will ask me questions like, "Is Matthew excited about _________"?  Fill in the blank with anything such as Halloween, Christmas, his birthday, etc.  And I'm never really sure how to answer, because it's hard to know how much he understands about abstract concepts like that.  If I were to ask him, he might nod "yes", but a "yes" answer is not always reliable.  When he shakes his head "no", he usually really does mean "no", but I think sometimes he nods "yes" because he knows you are asking a question and therefore should reply, but doesn't really understand the question.  (Abby and I have done a few experiments, where we ask him goofy questions where the answer would most likely be "no".  For example, "Do you like to eat bugs?" and he nods, "yes".

This year though, something exciting happened!  The pumpkin basket that he uses to collect his trick or treat load has been floating around our house since last Halloween. Honestly, I'm pretty sure I put it in the basement, but things in the basement tend to find their way back upstairs.  Singing Easter bunnies sometimes make appearances in the summer.  The snowman pillow finally had to be hidden. I think you get the idea. The week leading up to trick or treating, he pointed to the pumpkin basket and then signed "walk".  I think between trying on pieces of his Halloween costume, Abby practicing putting a pirate beard on him and working on signing Trick or Treat during therapy he was really starting to understand about Halloween.

Fast forward to Saturday (Trick or Treat night in our neighborhood) and the boy could barely eat dinner because he was so excited.  Abby left a little early to go to a friend's house because the "big" kids were trick or treating together this year.  All his actions were saying, "Come on...let's go!"  We drove down to the blocks where all the action was happening.  With prompting, every house that we went to he signed, "Trick or Treat" and "Thank you".  It was fun to see that several people asked how to sign "you're welcome".

I'm proud to say that we didn't have any running incidents.   He did a little pulling when he saw our neighbor's van (it is an obsession of his), but he was able to be re-directed.  Last year, I remember we would sometimes get stuck at a house because he had to tap/pound on each pumpkin.  It got a little dicey when he tried to take the top off a lighted Jack o' Lantern.  He didn't do that this year.  The only thing that held us up was that he would hold out his hand to take the candy because he wanted to put it in the basket himself. Then he would just hold the candy for what seemed like forever and I would have to prompt..."Put it in your basket".  I was surprised that at one house, when he could choose between candy and a mini container of Playdoh, that he chose the candy, because he loves Playdoh.  Considering what a sensory seeker he is, I was also surprised that the only sensory seeking that he did was to tap the bowls that people were using to hand out the treats.  His favorite was the house that was using a big aluminum pan.  He had to spend a little while scratching the ridges on the side.  I was worried we might overstay our welcome at that house.

Matthew lasted 1 hour and 20 minutes.  Actually, he would have kept going, but WE were done!  I thought he might have fun helping hand out candy the next day during city-wide trick or treating, but he just kept signing "walk".  He totally would have gone Trick or Treating again!

I can't wait for Christmas - it'll be fun to see what ways he shows us that he "gets it" this year!


Friday, October 17, 2014

Just the Right Place

Last year (pre-blog stage) I wrote on my personal Facebook page about how I was a little worried about Abby going onto the middle school, because then they wouldn't be at the same school. Matthew would sometimes visit Abby if he needed a little calming down.  I shared how we were at Abby's orchestra concert and Matthew was enjoying the music, but starting to make a lot of noises.  Rob took him out into the hallway and a few minutes later came back into the concert without Matthew.  I looked at him in surprise and he said that Mr. Supa (the principal) was taking him for a walk.  At that time I commented that I was reassured that everything would be okay...Abby could move on and Matthew would be fine, because he was in the right place.  

Now that we are in the second month of the school year and have had his first parent-teacher conference, I thought I would share with you some of my current reasons for knowing that he is in "just the right place."   

1.  His classroom teacher said that sometimes she tells the rest of the class,  "Look at Matthew.  If you don't know what you are supposed to be doing, look at Matthew."  I have to admit my chin almost hit the floor on that one.  We have heard positive things about Matthew before, but I don't know that he's ever been referred to as a role model!  

2.  The school asked me to write a little about his weekends in his communication notebook.  On Mondays they use that information to help him write a journal entry.  They write it in his journal and then he traces over the letters.  His aide will then type that sentence into his ipad. When it is journal sharing time, Matthew's journal is put under a projection device so the class can see his words/picture and hear his ipad saying the words.  They understand the importance of his ideas being heard.  

3.  Almost every week he gets to have cooking class.  Not only does he love to cook, but his speech and language teacher is in the room at the time.  She is able to facilitate communication in a real life situation.  He won't always eat what they make, but he has fun nonetheless.  

4.  If he requests a rest time or they feel that he is exhibiting behaviors that indicate that he is tired they offer quiet time in the special education room.  They understand that if he is too tired, it's counterproductive to force him to work through that.  Someone as active as Matthew needs to recharge every so often!  He goes through goofy sleeping phases at home too that can affect his energy level.  Sometimes he will go weeks and sleep through the night and sometimes (like this week) he is up at least once every night.  Sometimes he goes right back to sleep and sometimes it is a process...a process that involves one of us being awake too.  

5.  Thanks to both school and home therapy (and a program called Handwriting Without Tears) his handwriting is really taking off.  I can't tell you how delighted we were when he brought home a paper and he had written Matt independently from a model.  He now writes Matt on his papers.  He had another paper where he did such a good job on writing the words Mom and Dad.   

6.  He has a daily communication notebook.  This notebook is so important to a parent of a child who is nonverbal.  I can ask him if he had a good day at school and he will nod "yes", but that doesn't really tell me what was good about his day and it doesn't tell me if there were some not so good parts.  I confess when I pick him up from school, I read it in the car while he is getting buckled.  Sometimes at home, I will read parts of it to him or ask him a question about something that was written in there (i.e.  It says you had library today.  Did you get new books?")  We also try to talk about if there were bad choices made that day.  

7.  If you read Whatever It Takes you will know that Matthew has some interesting things that motivate him. The school utilizes some of these motivators to help him be productive.  One of his favorite things to work for is to spend time with the school custodian.  He likes to watch him vacuum of course, but also other cleaning and building projects are pretty exciting too.  

8.  They will sometimes take pictures on his ipad of things happening at school.  He was scribbling on his dry erase board and his teacher said, "Write your words."  They took a picture of the word Matt on his dry erase board.  In the past they have also taken pictures of him on field trips or special events at school.  

9.  When I drop him off at school, there is a girl who was in his class last year who likes to give him a big hug and hold his hand.  Another one of his friends will always say "Hi!" to him and one day announced, "I love Matthew."  The rest of his classmates love it when he talks with his ipad.  

10.  And this just might be my favorite...they are attempting to help us cut his pinky nails! He will not let us cut his pinky nails or his toenails.  I will not describe for you what kind of torture this is to even try.  Every night I try to sneak into his room when he is sleeping to cut them, but he always wakes up.  Today they made some progress as he let them file his right pinky nail.  

As some of you know, after teaching full time for 22 years, I am teaching part time in Special Education. Since I have been in a different teaching role for the last 14 years, I am taking note of all the positive things happening for Matthew at his school.  My goal is to have my students' and their parents feel that same way...that their kid is in "just the right place."  


Friday, October 3, 2014

The Dreaded Block Party

Our block LOVES block parties.  So much so, that we have one in June and one in September.  What's not to love about them?  The kids ride their bikes, skateboards, and scooters.  We eat yummy food and drink yummy drinks.  We shoot the breeze while our kids run and laugh and play.  We end the night with a bonfire. And it all happens IN THE STREET.  Which let's face it, makes it all the more fun because you're doing something that is normally off limits.

But I have to be honest.  Ever since Matthew could walk/run, block parties have become a lot more complicated and while I still look forward to them, I also feel a sense of dread. First of all, anytime we are even remotely near a street or parking lot we hold Matthew's hand.  He doesn't have an instinct for danger. But you can't really hold hands during the whole block party.  Granted, there are no cars in the street because it's blocked off, but our experience from previous block parties is that he will run down driveways to get to neighbors' cars or garages. A year ago, I remember thinking, "Gee...this is fun" as Matthew and I went in the house for the first time-out of the evening and the block party had only started five minutes prior. He has to take automatic timeouts if he runs and doesn't stop when we yell, "Stop!"  In June, I realized it was progress that we made it half an hour before we needed to take a time-out.   Secondly, when you have a "runner" you work so hard to teach them about safety and not going in the street.  And lots of kids will understand that this is a special party and that we can only do it on this special day.  I don't believe that Matthew understands that distinction.  Will I have undone what I have been trying to teach him? Thirdly (and maybe selfishly), it is exhausting and not relaxing to watch someone that closely for hours. I won't be shooting the breeze while my kid runs back and forth between someone's backyard and the street.  (Parents of toddlers can relate, I'm sure!)  You really can't hold a decent conversation with someone when you know at any moment you are going to have to abruptly leave. And there's always that bonus danger factor of having a bunch of hot grills around.

Last Friday was our fall block party.  It started around 4:00 pm and I felt a little bad that he had therapy until 5:45 pm, but a part of me thought, "Well, that's a little less time that we will have to be outside."  His therapist should have been paid double that night because she had to convince him that he still wanted to do therapy even though it was becoming more and more evident that he wanted to be outside.  That's where all the action was.  At the beginning of the block party Matthew and I did spend some time in a neighbor boy's backyard...just the two of us.  We spent some time visiting the garbage cans that were being used to hold the block party sign to block off the street.  And we did make a few attempts to lead adults by the hand to their garages.  BUT...besides that we rode our scooter in the street (okay...we were attempting to ride it on the curb, but go with me here.), went up to the table and ate taco dip (with some prompts not to double dip), and rode a neighbor girl's tricycle up and down the street.  We didn't run down driveways. We didn't get in cars.  We didn't go in garages.  We were staying at the block party! After dinner, when the sun started going down, he was content to do what he often does in our house...he walked around in big circles on his tiptoes, verbally stimming (repeated vocalizations) and flapping his face with the end of his toy microphone. And you might not believe this part, but I actually sat down!  (Now you need to know that Matthew signed for me to sit down and you might know from Mr. Bossypants that he likes to tell people what to do.)  I can't explain how I know this (mother's intuition?) but I believe that he wasn't just being bossy this time.  I think he was telling me two things:  1.  He was asserting his independence  2.  He was reassuring me that he wasn't going to run.

Another confession...usually on block party nights we take him in right at his bedtime or even before (even though most kids are staying up way past their bedtime), because as I mentioned it's exhausting.  But at this block party we let him stay up past his bedtime, because he was doing such a good job.  One of the funniest parts of the night came after Rob took him inside to put him to bed.  Someone points to one of our upper level windows.  "Hey, look it's Matthew."  The thing is if we can see him in the window, that means he is kneeling on his dresser.  Before we knew it, he had gotten up off his knees and was standing on his dresser. All you could see was a black silhouette perfectly framed in the window...a boy, wishing he was still at the block party.  I called Rob on his cellphone and said, "Did you know your son is on top of his dresser."  The whole block erupted in laughter as we could tell the moment that Rob opened Matthew's bedroom door...the silhouette jumped hastily and guiltily.

Now that you have read this I think you'll understand and hopefully not think I'm too crazy if I decide to suggest to our neighbors that we try something new... a winter block party! Just think, there could be snow forts, snowmen, snowball fights, a fire pit and hot chocolate.

Note:  Prior to this block party, we did build into his therapy sessions a social story about block parties.  A social story is a way to teach him about a social situation and expected behavior.  His therapists read it to him every session for about three weeks leading up to the party.  I don't know if that was what helped this block party be a success, but I have to believe that it definitely didn't hurt.