Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I’m Not a Teacher, but I Play One on TV

The checker at Staples said to me, "Teacher, right?" Well, no, but I could see why he might be confused. In my cart I had three dry erase boards with the handwriting lines preprinted on them, dry erase markers and an eraser, flashcards and alphabet markers. My Mom and my sister both taught kindergarten, but I knew from a very young age that I did not want to be a teacher—especially of young children. I do not have the patience. I do not feel like I would ever be qualified. I didn't even really like babysitting. And then there is the fact that teaching Sunday school nearly paralyzes me.

David started Kindergarten this year in an ACP classroom (I know—another acronym which stands for Alternate Curriculum Program, formerly known as Special Education). It didn't take me long to realize how far behind he is. He has many skills—he recognizes his shapes and colors, numbers and letters. He can count past twenty if you can understand what he is saying. But, because his language developed so late (or is still developing), he has a great deal of trouble with many skills like answering 'wh' questions. He can tell you that you are holding a pencil, but would have trouble if you ask him what you write with. He has a very short attention span and is absolutely terrible at writing, tracing, drawing and cutting. Did I mention he has a short attention span?

Couple these issues with the fact that they now expect kindergarteners to know how to read by about the second day of school and we are in trouble. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I can do this. I know how to do research and I can learn how to teach David—in my spare time. I will help his teacher get him caught up.

I can do this. I can do this. I can do this, right? Right? Hellooooo? Anybody out there?

I just need to rely on my strengths. So, what did I do first? I bought school supplies, one of my very favorite things to do. I am actually quite good at the buying school supplies part. I moved a Little Tykes work table into my kitchen and David and I got to work. Or, more accurately, I got to work and David munched on marshmallows from Lucky Charms cereal—his treat for sitting down to work. At this point, I am just pleased if he sits for any length of time and has any type of writing instrument in his hand.

I also try to sneak work into the day at other times. When I know that there is something David really wants to do, I try to make him work for it. We were going to my sister's house for dinner on Sunday and everyone in my house had to sign out. I had written everyone's name on a dry erase board and before we could leave, each person had to copy their name—something David hates to do. We had all made a big production out of signing our names, but when it came to David's turn, he was not at all pleased. I explained that he could not leave until he had signed out, so he grabbed the marker and wrote very deliberately, D……a……D. I had told him he needed to sign out, but I had not told him he had to sign his own name, so he had signed just as Michael had "Dad." I guess I still have some learning to do, too.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Call It Therapy

I recently wrote about the fact that David has given up watching the garage door close. While it may seem like a remarkable achievement, he has certainly not abandoned his fascination with doors altogether. In fact, on a recent trip to the zoo, he managed to find every retractable gate, elevator and automatic door. Who, besides David and possibly every other kid on the spectrum, knew that there were so many doors at the zoo of all places?

And while on the subject of quirky behavior, David is still walking backward to the bus. He has not missed a day of walking backward since the first day he rode the bus. I really don't know why he does it. Is he making a statement or is he just teasing me? I do know that he has gotten very proficient at it and can walk very quickly. I read recently that walking backward is actually quite good for you. You expend more energy walking backward and it reduces strain on the knees. There is also evidence that backward walking, also called retropedaling for short (yes, it is two characters shorter, I counted), is really good for the brain. I won't bore you with the details because, frankly, I don't remember any more of the details, so you will have to take my word for it. Just know that David has developed his own backward-walking therapy. I have not seen it on any list of recommended therapies for autism, but anything that exercises the brain is worth a shot—especially something that David devised all by himself.

I am glad that David has not given up all of his behaviors—not all at once, at least. For now, they are part of what make David, David. And I must say that I cannot suppress my smile as I walk with him to the bus, although I choose to walk the old fashioned way. I have noticed that the surly bus driver refuses to crack a smile and pretends not to notice. Just give him time.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Learning the Language

With all of the reading we have been doing, can you guess the word that has taken David's fancy? The word that he practices when we read his books while waiting for the bus? The one word that David has mastered? Of course you cannot guess, so I will tell you. It is "cock-a-doodle-doo." I am sure that will be helpful someday in cocktail party conversation.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cold Turkey

About ten days ago, David stopped watching the garage door close. He did not push the button on the way into the house and wait in the doorway until it closed completely. He did not come screaming through the kitchen when Michael came home from work, pushing him out of the way to get to the button, which if you have seen my husband, is quite an impressive feat. He just came home from school one day last week and marched straight into the house without even a backward glance. It was amazing to me because we have not been working to "extinguish" this behavior (really we have bigger things to worry about.) He just quit on his own—cold turkey.

Now, David has been the sole operator of the garage door for more than half of his little life. For three plus years, I have patiently (or not so patiently) waited at the door for David and now—no more waiting. So, how did I react to this development? I just stood at the door. It was like my garage-door-button-pushing muscle had atrophied. Like I had let my operator's license expire. Like I had some vague recollection that there used to be a way to get the door to come down, but I couldn't quite remember. I stood there until Andrew came to the door to see what was taking me so long, slapped the button with his open hand and asked me to make him some popcorn.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Fan is Born

I mentioned earlier that we had some relatives from Boston visiting over the weekend. Apparently, they must be in the group of approximately ten avid readers that I have, because when they arrived they presented David with a shirt--not just any shirt, but a red Boston Red Sox shirt, having read about how David, if given the choice and most of the time even when not given the choice, wears a red shirt.

I have written several times about our summer trip to Chicago to see a Cubs game and how Andrew became a Cubs fan in part because of the Cubs gear that we were given by a friend. Now, David has his first Red Sox shirt and I cannot but wonder if a fan has been born. It would make sense that David will have to cheer for teams that have red as one of their colors so that he is able to wear the apparel. We live in Nebraska, so for college football the Nebraska Cornhuskers are the obvious choice. Because we lack professional sports teams in Omaha, many people in our area root for the Kansas City Chiefs, who have red jerseys—check. And now for baseball, we have the Boston Red Sox.

So, when David is 10 years old and we take him on a pilgrimage to see his team, the Boston Red Sox, in their home stadium at least we will have a place to stay.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lost Tooth

David lost his second tooth today. When I say he "lost" the tooth, I do not mean that it came out and is now safely tucked under his pillow waiting for the tooth fairy to bring him a special surprise. I mean that it is lost—literally. Apparently, it came out much like his first tooth did, with no crying, no fanfare and I have absolutely no idea where it is. How is that for taking the expression "lose a tooth" literally?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Book Basket

Last year, David's school participated in the Pizza Hut Book It reading incentive program. I was an English Literature major in college and I obviously understand the importance of reading, so I reluctantly signed David up for this program. I did it grudgingly because David really did not enjoy sitting and listening to books and would voice his displeasure almost every time I would try to read with him, but what kind of Mom would I be if I didn't at least sign him up? Plus how could I possibly deny myself that guilty feeling as I tossed the log book in the garbage each month after realizing that we had not met the goal?

This year, it is a different story (pardon the pun). David will sit with me for 20 minutes or more while I read to him, he will bring me books to read, and spends time 'reading' books to himself. Each morning while we wait for the bus, we sit on the front porch with our basket of books and read. He has developed several favorites and, needless to say, we read them over and over. And over and over and over.

So, here are the books in David's book basket—a book review of sorts. I can assure you that this will not be the first in a series of installments, because unless you are no longer in charge of your faculties or suffering from amnesia, you will quickly lose interest as our selection of books probably will not change for several weeks or even months.

The first book on the list would be
Hey! Wake Up!
And if you read this book, then you cannot go on to another selection until you have read everything in that genre, namely every book in the basket by Sandra Boynton, which include all six of the selections pictured on the back cover of each of the books. As you finish them, you will need to line them up—in order—sometimes with the back page left open because, I don't know, we may have forgotten how they end?

Next comes one of my personal favorites
Bear Snores On
Now, here are the rules for this book. You can make the "achoo" sound when the bear sneezes, but please under no circumstances are you allowed to make a snoring sound. Maybe David has grown tired of hearing that sound after nearly six years of listening to his father, sorry Michael, but since the book is about the bear snoring his way through a party at his place, you will have to ignore several snoring opportunities.

The remaining books include several selections by Eric Carle—who knew that ladybugs, caterpillars, spiders, crickets and fireflies could be so grouchy, hungry, busy, quiet and lonely?
Very Hungry Caterpillar
Fortunately, I do manage to rotate three of four other selections through the basket or you would probably find me shoeless by the side of the road someday muttering something under my breath about a "neigh and a moo and a COCKADOODLEDOO, another little promenade two by two."

If given the opportunity to sign up for the Book It program this year I will sign my name with a flourish. I am confident that we can meet the reading goal and I certainly am anxious to earn that free mini pizza that Mr. Picky Eater will not even consider eating.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The time at the tone is…

The Menards home improvement store near U.S. R...Image via Wikipedia
Andrew, our typically developing 10-year old, has always been a very precise person. He chooses his words very carefully. He is very good at math and has been able to subtract easily for many years, so you don't tell him that the carpool will arrive in 15 minutes, when in actuality the time is 13 minutes. Sometimes I think that Andrew really believes that his parents are pretty daft and that his sole purpose in life is to act as our fact checker and our editor, making sure that we continually strive for accuracy.

I can remember a time when Andrew was young, either three or four years old and we were running errands when he suddenly asked me, "Mom, can I say shut up?" When I answered "no," he immediately responded, "Yes I can. Shut Up." Of course, he was right. He was physically able to say the phrase, but what I meant with my response was that he should not. Now I would just turn up the radio and mentally declare Andrew the winner of that round, but at the time I was a first time mother with what seemed like boundless energy so I naively looked at the conversation as an opportunity, a teaching moment. I explained to Andrew that, of course, he was able to say "shut up" but if he did say it, he would upset people and his friends might not want to play with him. He paused for only a moment and then responded by asking if instead of saying "shut up" he could say "Save big money at Menards," the tagline of a Midwestern chain of home improvement stores. How was I supposed to answer that? If you are keeping score it is now Andrew two, Mom zero.

We had some relatives visiting from Boston over the weekend and had a nice dinner at my parents' house last night. It got to be pretty late and David had declared that it was "time to go" so Michael took him home. As Michael was tucking him into bed, he told David "It is 9:30, so you need to go right to sleep." David looked at his digital clock and with perfect clarity said, "nine twenty-seven" and as the clock immediately changed he announced again, "nine twenty-eight." Michael just smiled and shook his head, but had I been there I may have been tempted to respond, "Save big money at Menards."

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Lesson Learned

Andrew started middle school a few weeks ago, and we have had several of his friends over to play—oops sorry, "hang out" after school. I always ask Andrew's friends if they know that David has autism and explain that he may not talk very much, or if he does, he may be difficult to understand. Without exception, Andrew has told them about David and it always seems to be no big deal. Telling one of Andrew's friends about David having autism is like telling them that he has blue eyes, or blond hair. And it certainly is not nearly as impressive as the fact that he is allowed to have a trampoline in the middle of our family room or that he can score the Super-Mega-Bonus combo on the SpongeBob Squarepants Battle for Bikini Bottom game for the Playstation2.

I guess I should not really be surprised by the fact that Andrew's friends do not see autism as something that defines David and seem to regard it with a certain nonchalance, as just one of his many traits, a single piece of a complicated puzzle. Who would have thought that we would all have something to learn from 10-year-old boys?

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Monday, September 6, 2010

To Pee or not to Pee, That is the Question

StallsImage by quinn.anya via Flickr
I have already told the tale about how choosey David is when it comes to using the bathroom. Our whole summer vacation, David selected two satisfactory places, our hotel room and the Chicago Children's Museum—both fine places, I assure you, but it made the 7½ hour drive to and from Chicago somewhat stressful.

We spent Labor Day weekend with my sister-in-law and her family, a 4½ hour drive from our house. This time, I was not at all worried about David's bathroom misgivings because I thought we would probably stop once for lunch and if the facilities did not meet David's very specific criteria—not too loud, not too bright, not too crowded, to name a few—it didn't matter because Goldilocks could certainly make it the rest of the way without a visit to the bathroom. Well, David went from picky to prolific in the pee department. It was as if he felt compelled to break that Guinness World Record for public restroom urination in a three state area.

The final tally was four times, four times in a 4½ hour drive adds about an hour to the trip. And, of course, each time you run into that fast food restaurant, you feel compelled to buy something "medium diet Coke, please." And did you know that a medium diet Coke must now be at least 96 ounces? And while you wouldn't guess it by looking at his 6'4" frame, my husband seems to have a bladder the size of a peanut. Do you see where I am going with this? It is a vicious cycle and I am only thankful we didn't have a longer drive. David seems to have mastered a new skill. He has made profound pee progress and although he may not have surpassed that world record, it still makes his Mama very proud.
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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hurry Up and Wait

It seems with our schedule that I am constantly struggling to get the boys out of the house on time because I hate being late. I spend a great deal of my day, hurrying from one place to the next, clutching my calendar to try to insure that I know where I am supposed to be and do not miss an appointment or, heaven forbid, forget to pick up a boy and leave him stranded someplace.

There are some things, however, I do not like to rush. A delicious meal with family or friends on a special occasion. A glass of vintage tawny port. A cup of coffee with real cream and sugar added. Please try not to notice that I have included only food and drink items and not some amazing athletic endeavor like crossing the finish line of the Boston marathon.

Sectional-type overhead garage doors in the st...
David's list, however, would be very different from mine. I am happy to report that it would not include the glass of port or even the cup of coffee, but it would most certainly include the opening and closing of the garage door. Don't make the mistake of trying to close the door to the house before David has had the opportunity to watch the garage door close completely every…single…time. If you press the button for David before he is ready for his observation, he will make the door go back up so that he can watch it descend in its entirety. It doesn't matter if it is 12 degrees outside, or 112 degrees. It doesn't matter if there is a swarm of mosquitoes charging toward the open door—or rabid dogs, for that matter. We are going to wait until the last ray of light has been blotted from view, and then we can close the door to the house.

Also, you cannot rush David when he is putting gas into the car. You don't need to make a quick call to DCFS. I don't really make David hop out of the car to purchase gas, which, by the way, is a confusing enough topic because when I tell David we are going to stop for gas, his reply is usually, "I passed gas; excuse me." For a period of time, however, he would pretend to put gas in the car every time we parked in the garage. Now, of course we want to encourage pretend play and it was really cute the first time he did it, and the seventh time, but by the 77th time with an armload of groceries, some of the novelty had worn off.

As soon as David could get out of the car, he would grab a bungee cord that hangs from a shelf in the garage. And, of course he never would choose the bungee cord with the plastic hook, he would invariably choose the one with the metal hook, partly because it had a black rubber cord that more closely resembled the gas hose and partly because of the extremely satisfying clicking sound that it made as it removed tiny flecks of paint--I mean as he tapped it repeatedly on the door leading to the gas tank. Then there would be two taps with his open hand on the side of the car, then came the whooshing noise of the gas going into the tank, "SHHHHHHHHHHH."

Now, we are almost done, but don't drive away from the pump yet. The improvised gas hose goes back on the pump and we must wait for the receipt to print. "Eeeee. Eeeee. Eeeeeeeeeee." Now it is safe to enter the house, but don't forget about the garage door.

I try to be patient, but there are times that I really have to call on my yoga breathing to calm myself. (No, I don't really practice yoga, but I needed something to counterbalance all of the earlier food comments.) I have learned with David that I cannot rush the process. It is like waiting for water to boil, repeatedly pressing the elevator button, or waiting for the "fasten seatbelts" sign to turn off on an airplane. "DING. You are now free to move about the cabin."

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