The rocky road of school

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Rocky Road – When I hear those words I think of dark chocolate, creamy marshmallows, crunchy walnuts, and hot fudge drizzled over the scoops of decadence heaped in my bowl, as I slide onto the couch for a cozy Saturday night. That is the way I like to think of Rocky Road, but I also have another image that comes to mind. It is an image of pain, tears, heartache, mistakes, grace, love and acceptance. It is what we go through at the start of every home school year.

Autism Boy loves home schooling and 99 % of the time so do I, that is until we start a another year. At the start of every year is the pain of the curriculum change, teacher change, new ways that we have to do everything and it is a living nightmare. The last two weeks for us have been filled with tears, long talks, revamping the system and tons of prayers to God for peace.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise each year as we walk this road, but it does. Somehow the bliss of the 99 % of awesome makes me forget the horror of the first few weeks. So as we are smoothing out our road of homeschooling this week, I think I will settle into my chair with a giant bowl of rocky road ice cream.

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All By Himself

61H3NZ5BQ8L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Autism boy has always loved the Mercer Mayer books of “Little Critters”. If you are familiar, Little Critter books are about a little boy critter who has common adventures, trials and tribulations that other kids experience. These books were a staple in our when when I was growing up and the amazing Nana made sure that Autism Boy had a full set of these books. Well, one book is especially important to us. The book, “All By Myself” was a motto for Autism Boy. Too often in school and people in the community try to take away the accomplishments that our kids can do. They think that they are helping by doing things for them. Yes, our kids may be slower, take longer to learn, or complete it in a way different from what you expected, but they can do it. So I taught Autism Boy to say that he could do things all by himself. He can! Challenge your kids. Don’t let your fear hold them back. Today he vacuumed the house “All By Himself”!

Big boys do cry

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Autism boy started swim lessons this year. He is a polliwog who loves water. He has learned all the basic strokes. It has been a huge accomplishment for him. Well today he struggled. Today he tried diving. As he stood at the edge of the pool, he slipped. His legs smacked against the dock as he fell in. My heart leaped out of my chest. His instructor was in the water and caught him, but the damage was done. Biting his lip, he asked to go see Mommy. He walked slowly through the shallow end and climbed the stairs to my waiting arms and then lost it. He eyes told me everything. I’m hurt. I’m scared. I need you. And then he cried. And the tears kept coming. As he sobbed he said he didn’t wanna cry in from of his instructor cause big boys don’t cry. But they do cry and it’s ok. So tonight we cuddled and more tears flowed as the bruises and wounds swelled. But the safety of a Mommy’s arms helped to heal his heart.

I don’t ever want Autism boy to think he can’t cry. Things are going to hurt in life and there will be times where you cry. He will suffer loss, experience pain, grief, and tears are a healthy expression of what we experience. Tears are not a daily occurrence and they shouldn’t be. Tears help to cleanse our heart, soul and mind of what we can’t express into words. So the next time a child, young man, or adult cries, don’t stop them. You could be stopping their healing. Instead, embrace them and show them love, compassion, and sympathy. Hugs to all who hurt.

Hunting and Autism

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Many kids hate loud noises. Autism Boy is no exception. But his dislike of loud sounds is different. Sounds that are soft to you and I are deafening, painful and out right crushing to his ability to function.

As a little kid, I can remember an ambulance passing on the street and Autism Boy stuck his arms straight up in the air. Not to wave hello and show excitement, but to press his arms tightly against his ears and block the sound. More and more I saw him uncomfortable in everyday situations. This just wasn’t ok with me. I was determined to find a solution. But what was I to do.

Exhausted Daddy and I tossed Autism Boy into the car and made a trip to our local hunting store. No, it wasn’t time to buy him a rifle. Exhausted Daddy and I decided to try out noise canceling headphones. Having been an avid hunter, Exhausted Daddy explained how the headphones would soften sounds and help to protect Autism Boy’s delicate ears. Do they work. YES!!!! At the age of 6, Autism Boy got his first pair and it changed his life. Our world opened up again. Things that were impossible due to sound, were now something we could try. Are they perfect, no. But they are better than nothing.

Autism Boy is processing sound much better now that he has aged. Things change with time and now we use the headphones only occasionally. Autism Boy carries them in his backpack with his other superhero supplies and he decides when he needs them. If the crowd is too big, sounds are too many, or he simply needs a break he can put them on and regroup.

I know for many in the beginning stages of autism your saying wow, my kid is no where near that. Well neither were we at 3, 4 or 5. This has been an ongoing process. It’s a journey and we are still on it. Hang in there. You can do this. Praying for each of you on your journey.

Thomas Edison, Autism Boy, and the Autism Question?

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It happened last night on the drive home from dinner. Autism Boy asked the dreaded question. So what is Autism?

I had all these thoughtfully prepared answers. As we drove along, I realized all those answers weren’t cutting it. He didn’t get it. Till I told him this great story about his idol, Thomas Edison.  You see Thomas Edison was very much like you, I started to say. Well one day his mother received a note from the school teacher.His mother’s eyes were tearful as she read the letter out loud to her child: Your son is a genius. This school is too small for him and doesn’t have enough good teachers for training him. Please teach him yourself. And that’s just what she did. She home schooled him.

After many, many years, after Edison’s mother died and he was now one of the greatest inventors of the century, one day he was looking through old family things. Suddenly he saw a folded paper in the corner of a drawer in a desk. He took it and opened it up. On the paper was written: Your son is addled [mentally ill]. We won’t let him come to school any more.

Edison cried for hours and then he wrote in his diary: “Thomas Alva Edison was an addled child that, by a hero mother, became the genius of the century.”

You see, Thomas Edison, was home schooled by his mother after performing poorly in the school. His mother refused to believe the teacher’s assessment that young Tom’s “brains were addled” (mentally slow). Clearly Tom was experiencing the world quite differently from his classmates. Just like those with Autism. Those with Autism experience the world differently. Thomas’ mother knew her son had the capability with great deal of nurturing and leadership, she gave him the basic tools to learn, both in the form of process and content; and empowered him to learn.

So what does that have to do with Autism?

Well you see you are like Thomas Edison. You experience the world in a different way. Noises, smells, textures are all felt computed differently in your brain. This sparked a tremendous conversation about how and why God made him the way he is and led us to why we home school. I told Autism Boy, that like Thomas Edison, he too needed the most special teacher God could provide with a custom education to unlock his hidden potential. Autism Boy loves home schooling and now he loves his Autism. Yes, he loves who he is. Sometimes it is challenging, but we all have challenges. Embrace them and don’t fear them.

 

 

The road of life

Life’s road is not paved. It is not simply a yellow brick road, that when you follow the end is magically revealed. Life is an off roading adventure. It is full of ups and downs. It messy, painful, exhilarating, confusing and many become lost along the way. Many will not keep a road map with them and wander aimlessly, without purpose, vision, lonely, lost, and confused. Do you have a road map? Do you take time to think about the road you are on or where you have been? My bible is my road map. It shows me my path. And like American Express….. I don’t leave home without it.

 

 

 

Home Schooling

I have hesitated to write this post for sometime now. I feel like I am standing in the front of a dark church basement confessing a sin. My name is Heavily Caffeinated Mommy and Exhausted Daddy and I home school our son and we love it.

The words home schooling are funny ones. To the outside world it usually conjures up images of a family who is exceptionally religious or a family with a multitude of children. Children locked in a house, that never go outside. Children working the family farm and never learning to read. And my all-time favorite, these children are not socialized because they do not attend public school.

Let me start by telling you a little about us. Yes, we do have religious beliefs that are important to our life, but consider ourselves well balanced individuals. We attend church on Sunday and believe in God. Our faith is important to us and we are not afraid of that.  Although I did not start home educating for religious reasons, I do feel called to this life now. Secondly, we are not in competition with the Duggars to see how many children we can have. The Lord blessed us with one. We have one. I would have had a dozen (not Exhausted Hubby, one is more than enough for him) and been happy but the Lord decided we needed one. I do not judge based on the size of one’s family. Socializing is a big question we get. Our son is not locked in the house. On outings our son interacts with doctors, pharmacists, checkers at the grocery store, clerks at the bank. He engages people in real life situations. He goes on field trips, has play dates, goes to the store. We interact with neighbors, volunteer and serve in our community. We have friends and enjoy fellowship with them often. And lastly, we don’t live on a farm, so Autism Boy has been forced to learn to read and he loves it.

For all of those that think the home schooling community is really small…NO, we do not know the home schooling family in another town (insert town name here). Although most parents choose public or private school there is a growing home school population. It is legal. I have been asked what qualifies me to teach Autism Boy. Well, first and foremost, I am his mother. I know everything about him. I know when he is struggling, sick, annoyed, confused, scared or happy by the raise of his eyebrow. No public school teacher knows that about my son. I am driven by a desire for my son to have the best education possible to ensure that he succeeds in life, not a paycheck. I have taught him to read, write, tie his shoes, answer a phone and caught him up on 2 years of education, raising his educational standards when the public school system was not adequate. I have a 100 % success rate when most public schools have at least 25% failure rate. I think I am exceptionally qualified to teach my son. I will be the first to say this is a huge commitment, but I would not trade it for anything. I am privileged to be there every day to help shepherd him along his path of learning.

So why am I writing this post. I do not hate public school educators. Many public schools have excellent programs, just as many don’t. Many teachers are motivated, passionate and believe in what they do. In fact I admire their passion for what they do.  Our family did try the public school option. We started out like many do in the public school system. Exhausted Daddy and I had both been educated through the local system and thought it was a great choice. So like all parents we trotted Autism Boy down and signed him up. Since Autism Boy needed special services we got a meeting prior to preK to draft up this epic long document called an IEP. This was my first moment where I understood what water boarding must be like. Exhausted Daddy having served in the military compared the meetings to torture.

Public school started out ok for Autism Boy. He sat well, colored and played well with the other Pre-K kids. But then he advanced to Kinder and the extreme difficulties started. We had monthly IEP meetings, letters home, phone calls. It was exhausting and so damaging to Autism Boy. We tried to stick it out but as the years grew on for Autism Boy we found that his superior superhero talents were just not appreciated in the school setting. After serious consideration we found that the educational model and accommodations to the learning center did not make for the best learning environment for Autism Boy and his special needs. So, around start second grade we decided to explore other options. I can’t say that the school was disappointed. I think they were a bit relieved.

Our first days of home schooling were stressful. I frequently wondered what on earth I was doing and how we were going to survive the hour, let alone the day. Fast forward several years and we are now feeling like home schooling rock stars. In the last few years we have tried building the curriculum ourselves, workbook style books, lapbooks, a comprehensive teaching package including videos and unschooling and developed a work study program that works best for Autism Boy. We have learned through trial and error what works best for him and for our family. What works for us may not work for other families. I am proud to say that Autism Boy has caught up on all of his studies and is now far above grade level in many of his subjects (he has 9 subjects, yes 9).

I wrote this post to encourage other families. If your family is drowning in a system that doesn’t appreciate you, maybe there is another option. Sometimes the path least taken is the road you were meant be on.

Two Stepping

CASD023Have you ever seen people square dance. They get dressed up in elaborate costumes and twirl around the dance floor as a caller yells out instructions. I realized yesterday, I am my son’s caller. No, I do not yell at him as he goes about his day. But I am the person giving the instructions leading him through the dance that is his life.

As children grow it is important that they learn the skill of following multiple step directions. It is a skill that Autism Boy’s teachers pressed upon us that if he could not master it, he would never succeed. Tough words for any parent to take in. Well for Autism Boy, this is a skill which comes and goes. Exhausted Hubby and I have known for a long time that on good days we can do more than bad days, but yesterday was a eye opener.

Back to multiple step instructions as it relates to square dancing:
A single step instruction is: Put the book on the table.
Two Step instruction: Put the book on the table and come back here.
Three Step Instruction: Put the book on the table, pick up the remote and bring it to the kitchen.

You get the gist. Well on our bad days we can go from mastering multiple step instructions to struggling with single step instructions.

If you see your little superhero becoming easily frustrated examine what you are saying. Are the words starting to sound like that of a square dancing caller. Although as a champion dancer you may get it, your amateur child may not. The words become a jumble, they may only hear the first part and then focus on that until it is complete, never hearing the second set of instructions. Choose your words carefully. Autism Boy has an invisible counter and can only handle a certain number of words per day. This number changes every day and when the threshold is met, chaos ensues.

How do you solve this. Practice, patience and the occasional glass of caffeine when it will just not going to happen that day. Do not be discouraged. On days when I see I am repeating myself over and over like a vintage record player I save myself a few breaths and go to a lower set of instructions.

Today we one step and we are doing it with grace, dignity and a really cool cape cause that’s our style and were sticking to it.  Do you one step?

Magic Beans and Snake Oil

snake-oilOver the years, Exhausted Hubby and I have tried everything we can find to help Autism Boy. We have joined support groups, read whatever literature we could find and sought alternative therapies when conventional medicine had no reasonable answer.

In our home we tried, GFCF diet, Sugarfree diet, Feingold diet, vitamin supplements, organic eating, clean eating, coconut oil, music therapy, ABA, speech therapy, physical therapy, melatonin and a few others that escape my sleep deprived mind. In desperation we would have tried magic beans or snake oil if a parent said it did something that we were trying to achieve. Lack of sleep will do that to you. Then a few years ago, Exhausted Hubby and I decided to try something revolutionary, Nothing. Yes, you read that right. We did nothing. We quit the groups, therapies, and diets. We brought take out back into the house. We stopped the madness and we smiled. The stress over what would help and what wouldn’t was driving us insane. The criticism of other parents and why we had not tried a product, therapy or treatment was just too much. So we quit. We got off the Autism train and decided that we needed a break. We were so worried about whether or not the snake oil we bought was going to work and if there was a better magic bean out there that we had stopped living. We took a vacation and reaccessed what we wanted out of life.

It has been a few years for us since we jumped off the Autism train and it turns out, we like our food made from scratch. Not because it will make Autism Boy fly, sing or dance any better, but because it tastes really good.  Now instead of social group, play therapy or floor time we just go to the park and let him play with the kids there. It is hard and some days he just runs, but he’s happy. I will get a lot of flack for this and many will say but you have not tried (insert name of trendy new therapy, supplement or diet here) and I will delete those comments. If something works for you great. Many of these items described work for many, they were just not for us. I have made a life choice and for us, we choose not to have the magic beans. Autism Boy is happy and so are we.

I encourage all parents of supers to do what you think is right.

Autism … The New Chihuahua

Heavily Caffeinated Mommy in case you can not tell, is not always current on pop culture. I don’t watch the celebrity shows, know who is dating who, heck I can’t even tell you the name of the actor in a movie. I am one who just likes to sit, watch and enjoy.  But the one thing I do know, the chihuahua phenomenon.

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A few years ago Paris Hilton and all the other celebrities started carrying around little dogs in their purses. I thought it was the goofiest thing when I saw a photo of it. Who wants to carry a dog in your purse. I keep praying it would pee in their purse and teach them a lesson. Well, this phenomenon spread like the plague and started affecting communities around us. PTA moms, soccer moms, little teeny boppers, they were all walking around with things little yappy dogs in their purses that cost more than my first car. It was a craze, a fad, something they had to be a part of. They were everywhere and you could not escape it.

Well we have now entered into the new fad. I call it the Autism Fad.

The other day I am in Target (yes, the only place I ever seem to get to) and I overhear two women talk really  loudly (no I was not eavesdropping) about how they now know someone with Autism.

What is this now the trendy thing. I thought it was a fluke until my friend got a call from her sister in law inviting (insert name of Autism Boy’s Friend here) to a party. The reason… she wants to show her friends she supports the cause, Autism that is. What is she kidding. She hasn’t attended one of that kids birthday parties, she doesn’t know what grade he is in,  and has never babysat for him and she wants to support the cause. Apparently Autism is the new Chihuahua. Everyone wants to be cool and know someone who has it. They want to show a personal connection to the cause. They claim to want to do something to support it. They love displaying the fun and colorful puzzle piece on their car to show how awesome they are.

Fads always fade away. The Autism in my life never will, and I am not asking it to. In 5 years when everyone is out exploiting with the new fad…maybe wooden shoes (picture shoes from Holland) I will still be fighting for Autism Boy.

No, you can not borrow our kids so you look cool. Big whop for you that you put a puzzle piece on your car.

You really want to help, come give us an hour of respite.  Till then, move on to your next fad. Our kids are not chihuahuas.