When Grizzlies Matter

 

There are moments in this life when we all need to take a step back, take a deep breath and be the calm in the room.  There are moments when we all need to stop being offended and taking our frustrations out on others.  There are moments when we need to stand down and realize not every moment is a grizzly moment.  I get all of this and I have spent my adult years reminding myself of this more than I’d care to admit.

That said, there are also those very pivotal moments when we, as parents, need to stand up, to grizzly up, and to step forward in order to effectively advocate for our children.

My best Conversation to date with a school administrator:

Following a two hour melt down where my son was under the desk screaming and the class had to be evacuated. After two hours of the school floundering as they attempted to resolve the situation, I was called and asked to step in.  It took me all of three minutes to do the resolving.  After the situation was resolved, the principal asked me back to his office for a chat.  It went like this….

School Admin:
“I am concerned that your son’s behaviors are impacting the instructional minutes of our other students in his class and I will not stand for instructional minutes to be sacrificed.”

Me:
“I am equally concerned that every time his teacher fails to stand up and manage his behaviors you and she, as a team, sacrifice his ability to be viewed as just another kid in his classroom.  Every single time you allow a frustrating moment to deteriorate into a melt down, HIS instructional minutes are not only impacted, but HIS social opportunities with HIS peers are LOST.

You are allowing a teacher’s inability to STEP UP to compromise his ability to simply be seen as a kid, a regular kid, and you are, instead, allowing him to be seen as chaotic and frightening every time she misses the cues because, for some entitled reason, she doesn’t think kids LIKE HIM are HER job.

Every single time she fails to do her job she takes a little piece of his childhood away from him.”

School Admin:
*insert both pin and jaw dropping*

 

Sparkle On, my friends.

When In Doubt…remember the SPANISH paper.

Wyatt-3

There are so many things you won’t know when your kiddo is first diagnosed with autism.

There are so many things that will soon come right along to turn your world upside down.

There are so many things that will do their best to confuse you and crush you and end the dreams you held for your kiddos before they were diagnosed.

There are so many things that will turn your life into a gray zone that seems to hardly ever make sense.

There are so many things and people and words that will make you break into a puddle of tears for no-reason-at-all.

There are just so-many-things.

I felt that way when my boy was diagnosed in 2001.  Oh how I felt that way and oh how that puddle of tears seemed to follow me wherever I went.  I didn’t know how to do autism.  I didn’t know if I was doing everything I could to help my boy.  I didn’t even know IF I could help my boy. I mean…AUTISM.  I thought it was bigger than me.  I thought it was bigger than my little boy.  I thought back then, it was bigger than both of us.  In those days of our early diagnosis, my boy was the classical case of autism lacking words and eye contact and interaction. He was sweet.  He was cute.  He was even cuddly but he was also all of those classic signs that screamed autism loudly into our lives.  He was a Thomas the Tank Engine genius in a world dominated by Thomas, Percy, James, Diesel, Sir Topham Hat, Annie and Clarabel.

There were so many things.  So many things they said he could not do and so many things he would not be because…A-U-T-I-S-M.  And, let’s be honest, it was the experts who were making predictions about my boy so who was I to question them?  I was nothing more than a tired mom….so I crumbled and I cried and I fell apart at every turn because that’s how I rolled in those early, post-diagnosis years.  Until that one day when the person my boy was becoming ran counter to who they said he could be and, on that one day, I decided I’d never again put all my eggs/hopes/beliefs/dreams into any single basket the experts gave me.  I decided right then to let my boy decide who he was going to be.

And that is the one day I stood up straight, strengthen my back bone  and watched as our spectrum journey really began one day at a time, one step at a time, sometimes rolling fast and sometimes at a snail’s pace, and always supporting my boy’s progress.

So you wonderful Wonder Souls might be wondering what any of this has to do with the Spanish paper that’s sitting at the top of this page.  Today my boy is fifteen and I found this in the Spectrum Kiddo’s room on Friday.  It was folded up with the words on the inside sitting on his floor and, on a lark and thinking it was trash, I opened it up.  And then my jaw fell open because…GOBSMACKED.

There are just so many things that I did not expect.

There are just so many ways autism has opened my eyes.

There are just so many ways he leaves me gobsmacked more times than I’d like to admit.

For a boy who was not supposed to make it out of Special Ed classes, for a boy who had a severe speech delay and who still is working on mastering conversational English, for a boy who one teacher recommended this year should have a one on one aide…well, just look at THIS.  SPANISH. My boy, just like any other kiddo in his class, doing his homework in Spanish.

Simple, right?  It’s just Spanish homework, silly girl.

To the rest of the world..sure.

For us..it’s simple and complex and mystical and gobsmacking because he is so much more than the plethora of “theys” said he could or would or should be when their abysmal evaluation listed all the pieces that would never be part of my boy’s life and yet, despite the experts and their in-stone predictions, here we are.

He is already so much more than that limited view of life they predicted would be his goal.  He is so just so much more…on every level.

My boy is so much more than anyone could have ever expected him or projected him to be. And while I understand that evaluations are important in their own right to gauge where a child’s growth currently stands…don’t let anyone hamper your vision of your child.  Don’t ever stop seeing your kiddo as the whole and brilliant child that they are because different is not less.

Always dream.

Always hope.

Always raise those expectations and goals.

And just when you may be falling into that puddle of tears, remember….SPANISH…because Spanish homework papers don’t lie. It’s right there…in brown and white.

Sparkle On, my friends.

 

 

 

Bullies Stand Down.

no bullies

Last week was hard.

The hardest kind of hard.  Not the kind of hard that wipes you out and makes you feel tired and worn out.  It wasn’t that kind of hard.  No, my friends, it was the other kind of hard.  The kind of hard that presses your soul down and, in the process, crushes your heart open wide.  I’d say it breaks your heart but it’s messier than that with lots more tiny shards scattered about.  The kind of foundation-shattering-hard that rips open the gingerly pieced boundaries that normally keep the anxiety contained when you notice the display on your ringing phone spelling out the spectrum kiddo’s school name.

Lately it had been going smooth.

Super s-m-o-o-t-h.

The kind of smooth and quiet you work hard for, for many years, and you expect it to last because, well, smooth is nice.  Let’s face it….you want to believe smooth can last indefinitely because smooth is a good thing.  I’m here to tell you, smooth is often not destined to last.

When the phone rang and the school’s name screamed up at me as though the letters were in neon, it was my son’s dean from the middle school.  It was a dreaded phone call that no amount of kind voice from a kind man could change.  From what the Dean’s voice was telling me, my boy had been in a tussle before school started that morning.  Details were few but the yard aide informed the office my boy had gone after another boy with a stick.  A STICK.  Sounded like crazy talk to me but that’s what I was hearing the Dean say.

My boy.

Aggressive.

A stick.

Talked to.

Reprimanded.

Huh?

Absolute crazy talk.

I can hear his words.  He is a kind man.  I hear his words jumbling in my head but they are slow to settle.  Aggressive and my boy are not often mentioned in the same sentence.  So much so that when I put all three of my kiddos into karate classes, his siblings had no issues with sparring and tussling.  But, despite his yellow and near orange belt, my spectrum kiddo took it personally every time anyone laid a foot or glove on him.

“Hey!” He’d yell to his opponent, not trying to hide his surprise, “That hurt!”

It never changed.  His brother and sister excelled and easily attained their orange belts and sparred with belts two and three shades higher with vigor but not my spectrum kiddo.  He never got used to hitting anyone or getting hit.  It seemed ridiculous to him.

“Why would I want to hit anyone?” He would ask.

Listening to the dean speak, it just wouldn’t settle.  My younger boy?  Sure.  A tussle for him would not surprise me at all but my spectrum kiddo?  It’s just not him…unless he has been pushed VERY far.

“Are you sure?”  I asked the dean.  “It doesn’t sound right.”

“He had a coffee stirrer in his hand,” the dean explained, “and went after the other student.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.  We don’t even drink coffee.  Where would he get that?”

I obviously had more questions than he had answers.  He assured me he was still investigating and that it happened right as school was starting and my boy did not know the two boys involved.  He assured me he would get to the bottom of it all and if there were questions, he would get them answered.  I like that there seemed to be very little ego involved in the Dean and the administrative offices.

At first I am sorry. Sorry my boy went after another kiddo. But then, just as quickly as it all sinks into me, the hard and the hurt that were crushing me just minutes before are replaced by my hackles rising up.  Suddenly I am hackled up as bad as my Labrador gets whenever she sees something she feels could be a threat.  I am suddenly pretty darn sure that everything is not what it seems despite the yard aide’s account.

When I pick up my boy, I ask him for an explanation.

“For Heaven’s sake,” I ask him, “why would you go after another child?”

My boy then begins to speak in his choppy speech that is often hard to understand but Mom always understands because Mom asks LOTS of questions.  In his version of the event, the other boy who my child did not know was telling my boy they were best friends.  Teasing him.  My boy asked him to stop.  He continued to tell my boy they were friends.  My boy again asked him to stop.  My boy takes his friends seriously, real friends are black and white.  You are either friends or you are not.  The other boy claimed my boy and he were “best friends” which my boy knew was wrong since my boy did not know him at all and told him so.  The boy continued and even put his arm around my son’s shoulder.  Another boy then handed my son a stick.

Ugghh.  I think to myself…this is so much deeper than the yard aide can even fathom.

My boy did not know who either of the boys were.  His brilliant sister, when we got home and repeated the story, asked if he had looked through his yearbook to see if he could identify the boys.  Yes, she is brilliant in ways I am not.  I never once thought of that.

Within two minutes, my boy has picked two boys out.  They are a year younger than he is.  They are seventh graders.  He then informs me, “Mom, it had been going on for five days.”

Of course I called the principal and the dean to give them the names as well as the extended time frame.  They let me know they will continue the investigation.  I remark as to whether they have spoken further to the yard aide as to how she only took note of my boy in the situation and apparently let the more socially savvy boys scatter.

He says he is still investigating.

Later I get a call.  One boy has been identified from the names my boy gave but the other one has not.  The coffee-stirrer/stick-giver boy has been found but he was apparently just a timid boy who was trying to “help” my boy and witnessed how the other boy, still yet to be identified, kept on harassing my son.  He was too scared to stand with my boy but wanted to offer “support”?  Misguided perhaps but not mean spirited.

The dean and the principal, when I walk into the office that Friday afternoon for an update, assured me that even though they have not identified the harasser/bully, they will in time.  They have even taken to shadowing my boy during the day to see if they can uncover the identity.

On Monday morning, when I drop my boy off, I give him the same speech as the previous Friday.  If he sees the bully, he needs to go to the office to let them know.  I remind him he does not have to fix this alone.  The principal, the dean, the counselor, the secretary and all the teachers are there to help and support and all he has to do is let them know.  I’m uncomfortable and nervous but he is 13, nearly 14, and does not want mom to walk into school or sit with him all day so I go to my classroom in another district and my boy goes to his school.

That morning my boy walked into the library, his favorite place on campus, before school started.  He saw the boy, the boy who had been harassing him.  Despite enduring five days of bullying from this boy, my boy was focused and undeterred.  He still did not know the bully’s name so my boy, with his very black and white way of looking at life, walked right up to his bully and said, “What’s your name?”

The boy, becoming nervous, asks my son, “Why do you want to know?”

My boy then walks away but the bully follows him and repeats, “Why do you want to know?”  The bully then turns it up a notch by saying to my son, “You better tell me why you want to know or I’m going to tell the principal on you.”

And, my boy, like only he can because his brain is wired more brilliantly than mine ever was, tells the boy who has been bullying him for five long days, “Oh, you’ll know why I want to know when you meet the principal.”

My boy then walks out of the library to go tell the school secretary who then verifies the identity of the bully.   The investigation then revs up a notch as the bully is confronted.  And, of course, like bullies do, he denies everything.  Fortunately, the second boy my son identified has already corroborated the story which means there is no way out for the bully…despite his socially savvy attempt to lie through his teeth and shirk responsibility for his actions.

And that, despite my boy’s choppy speech and less than savvy social graces, is how you not only take on a bully but force the bully to stand down.  It takes a village, it takes compassion and a lot of commitment to keeping a safe school environment.  Have  I mentioned how much I love a campus who steps up to create an environment where all students are equal, where there is a zero tolerance for bullying and where investigations are open until they are solved?  The kind of place where sometimes the boy who is bullied can be the key to the whole investigation.

Two weeks later, there have been no further incidences.  Four weeks later, I get a call from the dean saying my boy was “accidentally” hit on campus.  It was the same boy.  The difference this time?  My boy chased down the bully.  When he caught him, he put him in a head lock and neutralized the bullying.  And, when you are in the right school, the administration applauds the head lock and resolve.  Bullies, indeed, stand down.

Sparkle On, my friends, and be the kind of village where no bully can thrive 🙂

Melting More Than Butter in the Popcorn Line

popcorn

Today, my friends, I innocently went to the movies and wound up gobsmacked by life and happenstance.  This really sweet moment snuck right up on me in the popcorn line and it left my mouth hanging wide open and my heart melting.

My spectrum kiddo and I had us a little date.  Something we have actually never done before.  He could have cared less but mom thought it was pretty sweet and the boy made no bones about cringing when I told him so.  His little brother had already watched the movie with a friend and his big sister wanted nothing to do with Man of Steel.

Anyway, we walked into the theater and my boy, as usual, went off to look at the movie posters while I bought popcorn and icees.  I walked up to the counter and the young boy in front of me turns right around and immediately begins to speak to me. I have no idea who he is and it’s even more surprising since we are not in the area of town where we live.  We go to a movie theater that is downtown and off the beaten path because it is independently owned and I really like the popcorn :).  The boy is as tall as me so I assume he is anywhere from seventh grade to ninth?  Anyway, sweet kid.  He asks me what we are seeing.  Tells me he is seeing Monsters U and that he missed the movie on Friday with his friends because it was sold out.  We have this very lovely conversation and I’m wondering what’s up with this sweet and cute kid who is being oh so well mannered and kind and is not even with an adult.  And then the gobsmack hits hard when, during our conversation, he asks me about my boy but the crazy thing is, he calls my son by name.

HUH? I think to myself but do not say out loud.  What I do say is, “You know my son?”

“Yeah,” he tells me, “I was an eighth grader this year and we have P.E. together.”  My boy was only in seventh.  This was on of the “upper classmen.” as we used to call them.

“You’re in P.E. with him?”

“Yeah.” He is polite but must be thinking…didn’t I just tell her that?  But in my heart I repeat it so I can hear it again because it is slowly settling in to my memory that this is one of those kiddos.  As I  look as this handsome boy in front of me in the popcorn line, I realize this is one of the boys who had my spectrum kiddo’s back.  This is on of the boys who helped him to make his time when he ran that “ONE UNSTOPPABLE MILE.” (If you have not read about that miracle of a day, here is the link http://autismsparkles.com/one-simple-and-unstoppable-mile/)
I try not to let the tears well up while he is speaking to me because I do not want to scare a young child but it is hard because I was only told the story of the kids who stepped up to help my boy that day but I did not meet them.  My boy is independent now so I don’t spend my days on campus anymore watching out for him, supporting him, anticipating trouble.  But, this year, the kids in his P.E. class did just that and THIS BOY is one of them. Right before my very eyes.

I gather myself and say, “So you are one of the students that helped him run his mile?”
He simply says, “Yes.”

I want to say more, I am gathering my thoughts, but the cashier interrupts and asks who is next so we part.  I quickly ask, “What high school will you be at next year?” because I want him to be at ours because he likes my boy and he is a kind soul.  I won’t say the name of the school he answers with but it IS ours so, while my heart is jumping inside of me, I smile some more on the outside and calmly tell him we’ll see him in two years.

And I walk away utterly gobsmacked because autism is like that.  Autism, in our life, was never supposed to be like this.  We were not supposed to be here, in this good place.  Middle school was supposed to be full of horribly awful stuff, kids were supposed to be mean and the reports were clear that mainstream would not be for us.  And I am barely containing my tears because I realize that so much of my worrying was utterly wasteful.  Here is MY BOY, my spectrum kiddo and he is okie dokie and even though he is quirky and his speech is still choppy and his words sometimes off subject, he is liked by his peers. AND, he is more than tolerated because they even look out for him.  If you have yet to read, One Unstoppable Mile and you need a smile, stop on over and see what kids can do when a champion of a teacher walks the talk and sets a worthy example.

Different has been a harder road, no doubt, and it has had it’s fair share of troubles, bumps and strains but, on days like this, I can say with a full heart, that it has been worth every stumble and every set back.  Autism is a journey.  Autism is littered with some set backs and tears too.  But autism is also full of gobsmacking moments when you realize your journey on the spectrum has lifted a rare curtain and allowed you to witness greatness like you could never have imagined.  Sweet greatness like few have ever have the privilege of being present for.  Those fleeting moments of sparkle.  That is why I love autism. Not because it’s easy and certainly not because it’s hard and frustrating but because it gives you glimpses of greatness that, prior to it’s entrance into your life, you never even imagined exist.  Right there in the popcorn line, of all places, sparkles just rise on up and gobsmack you in the face like only autism can and I am thankful that the 1 in 88 is mine.  How lucky am I?

Yep, it’s worth it….every. single. day. …and I will NEVER underestimate the popcorn line again..EVER.  Sparkle On, my friends!

Reasons To Love Autism: Hysterical Moment # 81

I make it through my day by writing notes down on scraps of paper and today was another clean-up-the-hoards-of-scraps day at my house.  Here’s what I came across today.  I’d like to say he was in preschool when this happened but he wasn’t.  He was in fourth when this little event occurred.  His honesty is priceless.

Sensing my boy was having trouble starting his math homework, I tried to help him along.

Mom: Go ahead and write the six to start.

My boy: I can’t.

Mom: Sure you can, buddy.  You can write a six.  You’re smart, my friend.

My boy: No, I can’t.

Mom: Oh, I am so sure you can.

My boy: I can’t, Mom.

And, at this point thoughts about regression and seizures begin to crowd my mind and I wonder if something grave has happened that has stopped this fourth grade child from writing his numbers.  Or, just as bad, has he gotten to the point of refusal because his fear of failure is so great?  I’m definitely beginning to round it off to the nearest disaster but, before I voiced these fears out loud, I decided to hold my breath and calmly ask him what might be causing his inability to write that six.

Mom: What is stopping you?

My boy:  My booger.  I don’t know where to put my booger and I can’t hold my pencil because that booger is in my hand.

Okay, I have to be honest.  At this point I was just trying to maintain my own composure so that I didn’t derail his homework any further.  I let out my breath and tried not to laugh out loud.

Mom: Perhaps in a tissue and then in the trash?

My boy: That’s a good idea, Mom.

And that is when the disaster calms, the boy finally picks up the pencil AND, sure enough, is still able to make a six.

Problem solved for both of us 🙂

One Simple and Unstoppable Mile

Blog 132

It started a few weeks ago. It was simple and yet as soon as I heard it for myself, I will tell you, it felt every bit of impossible.  That was when my spectrum kiddo’s P.E. teacher informed me that the mile test was coming up.  He asked if my boy normally participated in that kind of state testing.   I will admit his question was not a surprise.  It was a surprise to no one that my boy and physical activity try never to stand too close together for long.  My boy, with autism in his genes, avoids sweating at ALL cost and, in his defense, I will admit coordination has not always come easy to us.  In his ultra-honest-spectrum-view of life he sees no good reason for running.  It’s okay for other people but, for him, there’s just no reason to go there.  In his words, “Mom, running hurts.”  If he were his own boss, if the big decisions were all up to him, he would lay in his bed or sit on the couch and enjoy his Nintendo 3DS or Wii all-day-long every single day.  Nintendo coordination, on the other hand, he has no problem mastering.

Lucky for me, he is not the boss man just yet.  Thankfully, that is still my job and I am admittedly pretty darn good at being the bad guy.  My three kiddos have all agreed that if you look up “mean momma’ in the dictionary you will find my mug… front and center.  Let me also add…that is perhaps the only thing my three kiddos agree on.  I do try to make it positive and let them “earn” their electronics time by doing their chores, being respectful to their teachers, completing homework and making good choices.  We don’t always hit the mark but we set the bar high.

So, clearly, my boy is all about the electronics and NOT at all about P.E. but, nonetheless, the school has its standards and even though his teacher knows my boy is not a streak of light on the track, he kindly let me know they still had several weeks left to help prepare him to achieve the goal.

The goal, he informed me, was a 13 minute mile. Ouch.  I wished him good luck.

I won’t even go into how impossible I thought that sounded for a boy who can swim like a fish for twenty laps but whose fish-ness does not translate well onto dry land.  The same boy who sweats like a iced drink sitting in the sunshine even when he is sitting in the snow.  I simply put my faith in the teacher and decided I would not stress my boy out by focusing too sharply on it.  It would be what it would be.  Pass or fail…we are who we are.  There are many things I can fix and change and help better but I wasn’t really sure this was one of them so I let it rest.

The next week I asked my boy how it was going.  He let me know he got close but he only made it three laps.  He said it was just too hard.  In contrast, his teacher said, “I know he can do this.  He is losing the battle in his head.  If I have to, I’ll run it with him.”

The next week I decided it was best not to ask about his progress.

Then, the week after, this thing happened.

I picked my boy up from school and when my boy got in the car, I asked him like I normally do, “How was your day?”

To which he gave me his normal reply, “It was good.”

To which I always ask, “What made it good?”

And then it kicks into his memory and his voice raises and he tells me, “Because I passed my mile today!”

“Really?” I ask, “How’d that happen.”

“I got a boost, ” He tells me.

It was an understatement to say I was elated.  I was also kind of gobsmacked and realized I wasn’t even sure what the word “boost” really meant.  It wasn’t until I emailed a thank you to his teacher that I found out the real story.  I always knew our P.E. teacher was a good guy but it wasn’t until I got his email that I realized what a champion and true educator this man is.

It turns out the day my boy ran the mile was a pretty outstanding day on our middle school campus.  While most of the world hears of bullying, fighting, and social awkwardness within the walls of a middle school, something entirely different was going on at my boy’s school.  The day my boy ran the mile, kids stepped up.  Thirteen and fourteen year olds, vilified in the media as compassionless, merciless and cruel, were anything but that.  That day an entire P.E. class of middle school kiddos and their spectacular teacher had this gold-medal-humanity moment.  The kind of moment that will live on in their hearts and will hopefully breathe in them every time they see another human being who is somehow different or weaker than they are.  It was the kind of lesson no textbook could teach or test for.  It was simply the kind of unintended lesson that springs unexpectedly from a great leader, a man who teaches with his heart and who values every child, and that only his life by example can bring forward.

That day my boy ran the mile, an entire class of P.E. students (seventh AND eighth graders) stood together for the greater good of a classmate.  That day a group of kids stopped seeing just a severe speech delay and quirky spectrum issues and instead they saw a friend in need.  An entire class came together so that one boy’s struggle could be strengthened and his confidence in his own ability could be bolstered.  On that day, when my boy attempted to run the mile again, kids stepped up, by choice and not force, in ways that even adults don’t always choose.

You see, during every lap of his mile run, his fellow classmates stood by his side and ran with him by choice.  They ran beside, in front of and beside my boy and they encouraged him and cheered him on like his teacher had never seen before.  My boy is an underclassman, a seventh grader, and even eighth grade classmates had his back that day when they gave him his “boost”.   All four laps, with friends by his side, were completed that day.  My boy had 13 minutes to run those four laps, something he had been unable to do all school year long, but that March day, with his classmates at his side every step of the way, my boy shattered that goal with a time of 12:03.

The words of his teacher said it better than I ever could:

“I don’t even know where to begin. I was so proud of him and the rest of my  class yesterday. I love my job, but yesterday is the moment you dream about and live for as a teacher.  The hearts, the effort, and the respect these individuals and myself  have for your young man is awesome.”

In the end, it genuinely was simple.  Different is not less, autism is just a wiring issue and kindness is simple if we let it be.  Kindness, friendship, love and equality are all simple if we let them be…just as these kids and one champion of a teacher and mentor demonstrated on one middle school campus.  There is nothing more unstoppable than the simplicity of a mile run when your peers and your champion stand beside you, run with you and cheer you on through the rough spots.  Something each of us can and should take with us into life each and every day.  Life’s challenges really are all simple and we are all unstoppable if we dare to be so bold.