Monday, April 28, 2008

Muy Cool


Everyone knows that verbalizing and putting thoughts together is tough for a lot of kids people with Autism. This is probably why my Occupational Therapist sister tried to deter me from signing Casey up for a beginners Spanish Class!

And rightly so. Casey, at almost 10 years old, still has difficulty expressing his thoughts into words, still has outbursts because he can't express himself the way he would like, and often to this day refers to himself in third person.

However, Spanish became a huge interest for Casey just recently. It all started when he discovered that his dvd's had a Spanish language option. He must have watched the old Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in Spanish at least 100 times, with English sub captions. He began picking out words that he connected from the captions and hearing them, and began asking me things like "How do you say toys in Spanish?". Feigning ignorance, despite having had this same question asked of me several times, I would answer "I don't know, how?". "Juegetes" he would say proudly.

Senor Casey then began to ask me how you said all kinds of things in Spanish, that he didn't know the answer to, forcing us to consult the free translation websites on the Internet, or more conveniently, an English to Spanish dicitonary. Having taken French in high school (French I 2 years in a row as a matter of fact), I really wasn't much help but found that we were learning together.

Pretty soon, I was fielding reports from school that his teacher had to tell him to answer questions in English, and not the contrived Spanish he started using, which was Spanish sounding gibberish mixed with real words he knew. He was turning down the TV and and dubbing in whoever was on speaking with his own Spanish. The kid was obsessed!

It seemed only natural then that when I saw that our Community Ed Catalog offered a beginners Spanish class, we would join up! It was a bit risky since it wasn't really set up for kids with Autism, but I figured it was just for fun, and if he couldn't do it, then at least he would be out and about experiencing something.

The first class was met with great excitement on Casey's part. He was giddy all day about it and mentioned that we would be going several times throughout the day! His teacher, who I had discussed Casey with beforehand, greeted him warmly, and he answered back with an "Ola" (Sp?). The class went swimmingly despite the confused looks from the other kids, wondering why this kid's mom was sitting behind him helping him, and the kid himself was talking a little oddly, and didn't quite seem to know all the basics of being a student. But Casey participated a lot and even threw out a few words that the teacher hadn't even taught yet. She seemed quite impressed and amazed and asked me if he took Spanish at school. I being amazed myself, answered no, and smiled proudly.

All the classes have gone well since, despite a few fights about going (computer seperation anxiety), and he has caught on extremely well. For a kid who won't finish a task at school without extreme prompting and reminders, he certainly can do all the worksheets (ie crosswords, search a words, and matching items) in minutes and on his own, and correctly! He even got upset this last week because the class didn't play Spanish Bingo. This from the kid who you literally have to threaten no computer for a year to get him to play a game at home!

So, for once, my OT sister was wrong and I was right for signing him up. I love that he is learning Spanish, but more than that, I am just happy to see him behaving in such a "typical" kid manner. Even if he can't speak it fluently, or more than likely will lose interest, at least I have the knowledge that he can learn, and can be appropriate, even if it is when it works for him.

*I am adding this a few days after I posted the original, but my wonderful friend reminded me that I forgot to share a cute story. At Casey's Spanish class last week they were doing a "quiz" where the teacher was holding up index cards with the words they had learned in the past weeks and had the kids put up their hands to say what each was. At one point, she held up one that read "lampara". No hands went up because was not a word that had been taught. The instructor had accidentally put it in the pile. Suddenly Casey's hand went up, and to his teacher's surprise he blurted out "lamp". She looked over her glasses at me and said "Mom, did you know he knew this?". "Uh, no!" I said amazed. I don't know if the look of the word itself gave the English translation to him, or something he'd heard but doggonit everyone was impressed!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What's in the News?


If your are the parent of a child with Autism, then you are all well too aware of the unusual and unpopular (usually) fixations your child might have. For us, there have been many. It started young with license plates and abc's (popular I've later discovered among the Autistic set), moved on to a USA map puzzle at 3, then a talking globe, and on and on, and on.

Lately, Casey has been incredibly interested in television news programs. This fascination has lasted quite awhile now because I recall late last summer indulging him by driving here and there to look at the various local news stations per his request (He desperately wants to go in one). So yeah, he's been on this for awhile. He loves watching and listening, and noting which newcaster is on that day and when they aren't there and replaced by another anchor, watch out. I often worry about him seeing the bad news stories (we live in the suburbs surrounding Detroit, and there seems to be a lot of bad news stories, it's just fact). But honestly, I don't even think he picks up on any of it. He just loves the cadence of the anchors, the remote control that the weather men usually hold to change the weather screen they are describing, he loves it all. We found an old video tape that we accidentally taped a news cast on after the principle taping subject, and he has been really watching it for the last couple of days now.

This morning after requesting this tape for the upteenth time, I asked him "Why do you want to watch that tape again?", and he answered "Because they have a great news broadcast, good announcers, and a great logo that goes around and around!". Hhhm, couldn't argue with that. I wanted to add something else he might be subconsciously thinking "and I can rewind it over and over again, and it never changes, and that makes me happy!". I know all his secrets.

This love of all things television news, odd as it is, has really brought quite a bit of interaction potential along with it. By interaction, I mean interaction with his father, me, and whoever else will indulge in one his favorite past times "dubbing". "Dubbing" occurs when you put the mute on the news, and you fill in the words yourself! Sounds fun huh? It brings out great joy and happiness, especially when Dad "dubs". "Dubbing" began when he discovered voiced over tv shows and commercials on YouTube. He started small, having me film him talking over commercials and putting them on Youtube. Now, he enjoys huge blocks of time "dubbing" to the news.

If one is lucky enough to be invited to participate, the guest dubber might find that they become the most entertaining person on the planet for those few short minutes, especially if body humor is used in the "dub", and I won't go any farther than that (in other words, throw the word butt or fart in a couple of times, and you're golden).

I'm sure like all of Casey's other "loves", this too shall pass. Secretly though, I can't help but hope it could make him one of the best anchors in the business when he grows up!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Special Ed vs. Mainstreaming

Ever since Casey has been in the education system, he's been in what is considered "special ed". He began around 1 in a small
program geared specifically for toddlers with Autism. We loved it, it was a Godsend, and he thrived.

He then moved on to a preschool in our district that housed one of the largest programs for Autistic children around. He was there for 3 years, and he thrived in this program as well. That whole program too seemed like a Godsend, and I say "seemed" because, in a way, it set him up to be what he is today. Still in special ed.

We got brave and decided to move him into what is called a "cross-categorical" (a room with mixed disabilities, not Autism specific) classroom in a regular grade school for first grade. In hindsight, our first mistake here was that he was of age to go into first grade, but maturity wise, wasn't even close to going into first grade. We should have put him in half day kindergarten (cross-cat) and given him more time to adjust. As a result, even this special classroom (which by the way housed 1st and 2nd graders and was overstaffed, but also too student heavy, couldn't fulfill his needs and he couldn't keep up with the pace. We would get notes daily telling us he wasn't focused, couldn't attend, couldn't stay on task. It didn't help that his teacher was a relic and needed to retire. And so, long story long, we moved him into a totally Autistic program at another grade school.

It was really a relief at the time, he saw many friends that he knew from preschool, and the pace and size of the classrooms helped immensely. He's had a good run there, even being included in the regular ed classrooms for part of the day. He's had his rough spots, but we've seen him grow intelligence wise. Not so much socially, but that could still come.

Now, we are faced with changing schools next year, which will be a 5-6 grade building and it scares the bejeezus out of me. A dear, dear friend of mine has put her son, who is on Casey's level in regular ed full time with an aide for the last 3 years now, and often tries to get me to do the same with Casey. That whole concept scares me to death, there is so much work in doing it, for the kids and the parents. And you know how you get the gut feeling about something? Well, my gut is that it wouldn't work for my child.

He does ok in regular ed when he's there, he follows along somewhat, but is stiff not focused a lot of the time. He still hasn't picked up on cues such as getting his book out when the other kids do, things like that. And he does quite well when he is back in the AI (Autistically Impaired) room with smaller groups and one on one instruction. Too much is going on in a regular ed room. I truly believe it's overwhelming.

At the same time, I have mixed feelings moving him into the same situation again at another school. By all accounts, it doesn't seem like he'll be mainstreamed this year into regular ed..."Have you ever been in a typical 5 grade classroom Mrs. Davis? We don't know how Casey would manage!". Part of says, that's ok. 5th and 6th graders can be tough, and he doesn't need that. And there are so many issues that I could go into but won't now. But then, I don't like him being around kids with behavioural issues all day, who are also mostly not always verbal, and who have the same social level as he, if not lower.

I think my intentions for writing this blog is to get other peoples opinions about this and let me know what they have done and what works for them. This is definitely a subject that I am going to touch on again soon!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Staring


I just wanted to do a brief commentary on staring. I think of all the reprucussions of Casey's Autism, staring from the general public is my biggest pet peeve, and irritation. And I tell ya right now, I don't care if people are just "curious", I don't care if his actions warrant a stare or two, I don't care if children stare at everything, I don't care. This is my blog, and I am going to rant to the point of political incorrectness and disregard for general humaness if I want to!

The reason that prompted me to write this was because last night at the pool, Case was talking, to himself mind you, but talking non the less. The pool action kinda brings that out in him. He likes doing it, it's fun for him, and will be something we will try to stifle as he gets to be 6'4 and is trying to do the newscast to himself. Yes, I know it's weird to the outsider, I know. But ok, when one is 10 or 11 years old, and especially a girl, who is naturally socially ept, don't ya think that would trigger something in your brain that maybe this boy might be different? Maybe, just maybe, I shouldnt' stare? Did my parents teach me that it is RUDE to stare in general, and especially if someone is displaying an odd behaviour? And isn't it especially rude to stare and then look at one's friend and do a "that kid is a freak" expression? That's what happened last night. We get a lot of stares at the pool, probably because of the close quarters, excessive lighting, extreme goofiness that the swimming brings out in him.

Casey has a funny gait when he walks, he bounces a bit, usually holding out his arms oddly, sometimes not. And we get stares, and not just from children, but from adults who most certainly know better! Clearly, the kid has something going! Oh the stare stories I could tell...and I will!

One evening stands out clearly in my mind, speaking of a adults and their staring habits. A woman who was sitting on the sidelines of the pool (the pool again) was literally having a stare fest at the expense of Case. Ok, he was loping back and forth in the shallow end oddly, getting used to the water, holding his ears and talking in reaction to the overabundance of auditory stimuli in the place. He looked funny, I know he did, but it's his thing to get used to the pool, and this routine makes for a happier time. This woman knew he looked funny too, and thus, she was staring. But everytime I glanced over after I became aware of her glare, I found that she was still glaring, and staring, and glaring! She had surpassed her staring alottment. I give people about one or two good stares, but after that, I need to say something! And so, I approached her and said "Do you know us?". Stunned, she looked blankly and said in a rather offended voice "No!". I said in my most pleasant and condescending manner "Oh, because you keep staring at him as if you know him!"..ha ha....She got her back up (why seem pissed one when is not guilty?) and responded "I wasn't staring!". "Yeah, you were, alot, so I thought maybe you knew him or us."I says. Well, the staring stopped and she looked away without responding. Maybe I was out of line, but I felt so much better.

Anyway, I have no point or purpose to this post other to vent, and hope that someone can relate. I hate staring! I think it should be taught at school that it is inappropriate, especially if you even get the littlest inkling that the subject you are staring at might be a bit different.

Maybe I'm giving folks too much credit! Perhaps, people are just stupid as a whole. Don't defend human kind in the comments section, it won't help my outlook, and it makes me feel better if I just think that. I suppose if I was a better person, I would offer people explanations for my son's behaviour that causes them to stare. But then, I shouldn't have to......

Sunday, April 13, 2008

There Truly is a Reason for Everything (and Every Situation)


I often find in everyday life with my lovely little boy, that I am put into situations that simply kick me in the ass, wake me up from a self-pitying stupor, or make me go "Gosh I'm lucky!".

Case in point was a birthday party we attended yesterday. It was for a boy who Casey attends school with in his Autistic class. I gotta be honest, I didn't want to take him. This in itself is a sin, because Case really isn't invited to too many birthday parties, so I should have been thanking God that he had the opportunity to do something that most kids get to do practically every weekend. I was being selfish, I didn't want to have to associate with a lot of parents who would inevitably be there because there would be kids with Autism there, and ya just don't leave one poor mother with such a group. I didn't want to make small talk, I didn't want to deal with other's kids (I admit it, I am not a big kid person, seriously), I didn't want to have to chase Casey out of bedrooms and away from computers. The whole thought of the event put me in a bad mood, not to mention I still had to go get the kid a gift, the party was at 4pm, and it was 3:30. But, after much angst and whining (from me), I decided we would go.

So, being in the mood I was in didn't help my reactions to Casey holding his ears through Target, saying he heard "babies" (that's another blog, and oh, it will be written soon). I forgot his headphones that eliminate noise, and he was being especially obnoxious. I was feeling irritated at him, irritated that we were going to this party, irritated that I couldn't find the 99 cent birthday cards. I yelled at him in the car about his acting so silly, aren't I a good mom? I started my woe is me state of mind, why my kid, why does he do this crap.

We got to the party, and it was cold, and damp, and everyone was out in the backyard. Luckily, I think getting there 1/2 hour late was a good thing! We hopped out and was greeted by the mom having the party, and Casey immediately recognized a friend from his class sitting on a porch swing, and he plopped down next to him. They began having a little conversation about what Casey wanted on his pretend pizza the other kid was ordering on a little playphone he had found. My heart swelled, social stuff doesn't come easy for him, duh. He proceeded to jump right on the tractor ride the dad was supplying, participating in a race with all the other boys, and seemingly enjoying himself.

We retreated to the basement for the rest of the festivities. The basement, being in the home of 3 boys, had a tremendous amount of toys. He had a blast playing with all the stuff he doesn't have (and if he did,he wouldn't play with). He was so well behaved especially compared to some of the other Autistic kids there ( and I'm not just saying that, I know my kid can be a brat). One of the children did this constant screech that could make a mummy jump, over and over. One kid was trying to pour his fruit punch into one of the Thomas the Tank Engine water tours on the little railroad track. My kid wanted to know when the birthday boy was going to open presents! And I yelled at him in the car.....

I say there is a reason for every situation because in this instance, Case got a great chance to socialize, as much as he could, and his insensitive, stupid mother got to see many examples of other kids behaviour that made her realize what a great little boy she has despite his foibles due to his Autism. I was glad we went, I know Case was glad we went, and I'm glad my selfish side didn't get the best of me.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Casey's Oddities


I think I am going to have a feature section in my blog called "Casey's Oddities" where I will feature a funny story about something that Casey feels strongly about and may seem a bit odd to the rest of the world, but non the less important, to him. I was telling my sister this story on the phone today and felt it was worthwhile to share.

During Casey's spring break, we received copies of the publication that had a story I had written about him in. The magazine is a good one, and it's geared towards supplying information to parents of 0 to 3 year olds. My story concentrated on the time that we were finding out about Casey having Autism and what we did Early intervention wise. It features 3 really cute pictures of him too. My mom was visiting at the time and of course demanded a copy, and even asked Casey to autograph one (not me the writer). He started glancing through it, and when he realized it was about babies and toddlers, that was it.

A little background, short but sweet, the image of the Gerber baby scares the hell out of him, he can't stand the sound of baby dolls in the toy section if they talk, and the infant care department might as well be a haunted house. So, for some reason, babies and all that go with them are taboo. We don't know why, and we're not sure if we ever will, despite our attempts at remembering a situation that would have instilled this dislike/fear of all things baby.

So, to be part of a story in a "baby" magazine as he called it was out of the question. Luckily, he didn't see the other 9 copies and only took the one my mom had, took it out to the outdoor trash can, and commenced to take it down to the curb despite it not being trash day. He wanted NO part of that magazine.

We of course fished it out, hid it away, and wondered what the hell would lead him to make such an effort. Funny and strange at the same time, like the Autistic brain can often be!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Melatonin is Awesome


Well, here's my 2nd installment. I have been checking out many blogs on Autism Hub, and finding so much wonderful information and stories, that I feel a little silly even attempting a blog. But, I guess I find other's entries interesting because it's their life, and something that I haven't fully experienced so it's new. So, perhaps sharing my experiences will be the same for others. I find that I have a story in my head daily about Casey, or Bill and Casey, or Casey and me. I gotta use them I've decided, to fulfill my secret desire to be a writer. So, having said that, I am now going to commit to myself that I am going to write at least daily, or at least once a week. Who knows. But I'm going to write.

So, Melatonin. It's a supplement, it's an antioxidant according to some of the sites I've researched. But for us, it's sorta been a real cool thing! I really did research a lot about it, because Casey has never been a good sleeper, and in fact will tell you that he doesn't need to sleep (especially when he wants to watch the 11pm news, but that's another entry.). However, Bill and I do. So, after brushing and massaging and doing the whole hot bath, oooh oohh comfy, tuck in routine, and still not having any luck, I started looking into Melatonin. I had tried it once, 3 mg, thinking that wasn't much! It was almost frightening how quickly he fell asleep after taking it. So fast in fact that it spooked me and I announced to the world that it he wouldn't ever take that again! I felt terrible for some reason. I had been going through the whole biomed phase of his life, and tried supplements here and there, and non of them had any huge effect that I could see immediately. But this one did, and it scared the shit out of me.

Let's shoot up today, because that was about a year or so ago. I recently went back to the idea of Melatonin because the damn kid just won't sleep through the night. We can take him swimming and have him do 30 laps after a day of school. He will fall asleep and be up by 2am. I know, this could be something with his gut, or whatever. I think though, after doing my research, that he doesn't produce enough Melatonin, which has been proven in some kids with Autism. So, I found a site that suggested how much to give a kid his age and size, and I can tell ya it wasn't 3mgs. It was 1mg. Yes, dumbass! 1mg. Anyway, long story long, we've been giving it to him about 1/2 hour before we want him to go to sleep. And oh, does he go to sleep. It's nice, for him and us. I mean, I lay with him at night until he goes to sleep, watching tv usually, and I have found myself waking up at midnight, with him laying next to me wide awake still watching! So, to go in and do and few dishes and come in to lay with him, and find him asleep is well, marvelous! Melatonin apparantly is extremely safe, and we have had no side effects, at least non that we have seen.

The best part is, he is having great days at school. Getting more sleep certainly can do this for a person. But I read somewhere, and don't ask me to quote it, but apparantly, Melatonin has other effects, aside from the sleep, that causes better behavior and stuff in some kids. We're seeing it, and it's nice. It's nice to have good reports come home.

The worst part? He wakes up at 4am and starts watching tv. So, you know, he gets 6 or 7 hours, and he's completely refresehd apparantly. The good thing about this is, he never comes and wakes us anymore. The bad thing is if my super sensitive ears are sleeping as well as I am, then I don't know how long he's been watching, and that's bad. But he sometimes goes back to sleep, so it sorta works out. A friend suggested he might need a little more Melatonin, and this might be remedied. Maybe I need some so his tv won't wake me!.....