Teacher Professor

October 28, 2010

Grinning, Pumpkins, and Eddie Haskell

Filed under: Exceptionality issues,Home Things — Teacher Professor @ 10:07 am

Yesterday, Raw was fixated on carving his pumpkin.  Fixated.  Did I mention fixated?  He progressed from “When are we going to carve our pumpkin, Mommy?”, to “I want to carve the pumpkins TODAY!” to “MOMMY!  I WANT TO CARVE THE PUMPKIN!”.  I desperately needed to nap for half an hour, James was out of town and we had a lot to do- homework, Elizabeth’s soccer practice, dinner, clean….All typical things, but made harder when I’m the sole focus of the intensity that is our typical evening.  However, he was fixated on the pumpkin.  I tried to deflect him by promising that we could carve it on Saturday, right before the Georgia/ Florida football game- and with James’ help (which would mean that James would do all the yucky parts.  Elizabeth has inherited her “ewww” gene from me.) 

Ray would not be deflected.  He couldn’t do his homework, he just kept repeating over and over again “I want to carve the pumpkin, I want to carve the pumpkin.”  There are times that Ray is in charge, and there are times that his anxiety is in charge.  His anxiety had decided that carving the pumpkin was going to cure things.  I reconsidered, shifted tactics and said that we could carve the pumpkin when he finished homework, ate dinner and helped me clean up and it could be done during Elizabeth’s soccer practice.  “I want Daddy to help me with MY pumpkin,” Elizabeth informed him.  I knew that the pumpkin was tied to Ray’s anxiety when he wasn’t shifted by this- normally, he would never allow Elizabeth to have an experience with Daddy without him along.  When sibling rivalry doesn’t shift his focus, it’s serious. 

So, we were going to carve the pumpkin.  We were going to drop Elizabeth off at soccer practice and come home and carve.  I wasn’t even sure if you could carve a pumpkin in 45 minutes.  And we couldn’t find the special little pumpkin knives that help design patterns- all I had was the big carving knife. 

As we pulled into the driveway, his friend Lucas was on his bike waiting for him there with his big brother Bryce.  “Oh no,” whispered Ray. 

“You can still wait until Saturday to carve it with Daddy,” I offered. Yay- perhaps I could get that nap after all!  Quick emphatic head shake from Ray.  No.  And he went silent.  And I knew- if he was turning down bike riding with friends, he really had fixated on pumpkin carving as the solution to… something. 

As we got out of the car, I waited for him to say something, but he got out of the car as if they weren’t even there.  As though if he ignored them completely, they wouldn’t be there.  There was an awkward silence that seemed to stretch…

“Hey, guys!” I started.

“We came over to see if someone could play,” offered Lucas. 

“Oh, guys, that’s awfully nice, but Ray has a project he’s got to finish.  Maybe this weekend?” I offered.

Here it is… the Eddie Haskell moment… “We weren’t talking about Ray- we were hoping that maybe YOU could play with us!” he said with a flirtatious glint in his eye and a mischievious grin on his face.  The kid is 8 years old and is savvy enough to flirt with his friends’s mother.

I felt myself simpering.  I watched myself laughing with him.  I saw myself charming him back- “Well, maybe next time, I’ll take you up on that!”  I felt very middle-aged.

Ray and I went inside and we carved his pumpkin.  He relaxed as he dug out the seeds (not well- he also has a touch of the “ewww” gene).  He started talking about other things when I pulled out the triangles of pumpkin shell for the eyes.  He got a smile when he pulled out the chunks between the teeth.  He put a candle in it to welcome James when he got home and his face shone with joy when the clumsy gap-toothed smile of his jack-o-lantern shone brightly on our porch. 

As I tucked him into bed last night, I asked him why it was so important to him.  He just shrugged and couldn’t tell me, but I saw another gap-toothed grin, his this time, as he snuggled down and closed his eyes.  Daddy was home, his jack-o-lantern was carved, and all was well in his world.

October 27, 2010

Excusing Tourette’s

Filed under: Tourette's Syndrome — Teacher Professor @ 1:03 pm

I read last night where the lawyer for the “Hiccup Girl“, who is accused of murder, is considering using Tourette’s as her “excuse”.  I’m absolutely livid.  I can see Tourette’s as a reason for:

  • Spitting in public
  • Rolling eyes
  • Body twitches
  • Impulsive calling out
  • Cursing
  • General crankiness
  • Funny accents

But as an excuse for murder?  I think the lawyer is doing the field of disability a tremendous disservice- and he clearly doesn’t understand the difference between Excuse and Reason- a difference I have made very clear to my own children.

A Reason,  as we define it in our family, and as I teach my teacher education students, is the psychological or biological need that someone is trying to fulfill- the need for attention, the need for food, the need to feel in control of your life.  These are needs, and Maslow does a much better job than I do of describing them.  Reasons are essentially the need to seek something, or escape something. 

We all have reasons for behavior:

  • I am anxious and so I twirl my hair to escape the anxiety
  • I am not feeling connected, and so I reach for a hug from my husband
  • The noise level of the store is too high and so I scream.
  • I had a bad day at work and so I eat ice cream to make it better
  • A friend of mine never had a good relationship with his mother and so he drinks.  A lot.

There are always reasons…

But EXCUSES– excuses are when when you’re truly not in control of your response and haven’t learned how to be in control of your response. 

  • My child has autism and fixates on Legos during socially inappropriate times- that’s an excuse. 
  • My child has Tourettes and spits when he’s tired- that’s an excuse
  • Someone has diabetes and faints- that’s definitely an excuse. 

The line becomes blurry when others make the judgment about whether something is a reason or an excuse.  Recently, Brian King noted that his son with Aspergers had been bullied and was called a “retard” by a neighborhood kid.  He sent out a letter to the neighborhood parents explaining why his son Zach was so intense and stubborn.  He wasn’t just providing a reason; he was providing an excuse.  Zach, his son with Aspergers, could not control his social issues.  The mother of the boy who did the namecalling apologized for her son and stated that her son had been bullied himself and he was taking it out on Zach.  She was making the distinction between the reason the boy was a bully, but took responsibility for the choices he could make in his words, and so there was no excuse for his behavior.  When choices are possible, there are no excuses, despite there being reasons. 

We are judged all the time by others who assume that our children have control over things that they cannot control.  That little girl screaming in a toy store?  Autism.  That other little girl lashing out at other children?  Autism.  My son lapsing into an Australian accent?  Tourettes.  And even my daughter’s fixation on getting things perfect and exactly lined up?  Autism combined with Giftedness.  In all of these cases, the “thing”, the neurological difference, the chemical imbalance, the NEED was far bigger than the will.  There are no possible choices available to the child.  As I remind my children when they make judgements “Do you think that the child WANTED to behave this way?” These are excuses.

But reasons are just that- reasons.  Our will, our mind, our choices can often control them and change the outcome.  Freud called it the battle of the ego “I” to balance between the ID of the “want” and the superego of the moral “should”.  And that balance is a constant teaching moment and at times a battle.  The size of the battle can be enormous and people going through that battle need sympathy and understanding and support.  The reasons might be ENORMOUS, but if there are other possibilities available to them, they are not complete excuses. 

  • When I eat that ice cream at the end of the rotten day, I have a reason for eating it, but not a real excuse.
  • When my friend drinks to excess and ruins his relationship with his wife, he certainly has a good reason, and it is a significant battle, but ultimately, it is not an excuse.
  • When my son with Tourettes calls another child a name, he has several reasons for doing so, but it is not an excuse.

And that line between reason and excuse is one that is so highly dependent on the developmental level of the child, the context, the level of control and the level of need.  When my daughter whines because she doesn’t like the food, I have to make the call “Is this autism or is this just whining 4th grader?”   On any given day, she might have control of the whining, and she might not. 

Recently, my mother pointed out something to me that I’ve been pondering ever since.  My son has a Tourette’s tic where he spits.  Gross, to say the least.  But everything I’ve read said that kids with Tourette’s can’t control it and that to call attention to it makes it worse.  So, for months, we’ve ignored the wet spots on our carpet, the wet spots on our table and the wet spots on the couch.  My mother, recognizing that while he may not be able to control his act of spitting, he can perhaps control where it goes, asked him to carry Kleenex to spit into.  He hates it.  He hates holding it; he hates being reminded of his Tourette’s and he hates dealing with it.  So, he has decreased his spitting.  A lot.  The discomfort of the Kleenex is worse to him than the spitting.  It acts as a reminder to him, as a means of managing it.  I ask him to spit into a Kleenex, he growls at me, he picks it up, and he stops spitting-…during the day.  At night, when he’s tired, when his energy is low, when he’s trying to self-regulate everything, the need to spit is more than he can manage- and so he spits at night.  We are now shifting our focus to his managing his symptoms- not controlling them.  He can’t control his Tourette’s- but he can manage it.  Tourette’s is not an excuse for most of his behavior.  It might be a reason, but with self-management, it is not an excuse.  My mother taught me that even though he has Tourette’s, my son is capable of much more than even I thought. 

I understand that the lawyer is looking for an excuse for murder.  There are probably several “good” reasons for murder- whether they make it to “excuse” is somethat highly debatable.  They all involve a perception of choices and possibilities:

  • If someone has such a low intelligence or in such a deranged mental state that the understanding of someone else’s right to life is not there- that might be an excuse.
  • Beaten Person Syndrome where a person is consistently beaten over and over again and is so controlled by someone else that they only see murder as the way out of their own eventual death- that might be an excuse. 
  • Fear for your own life where you kill or be killed- that is an excuse.

In all of these “excuses”, there are no other possibilities, there are no other choices. Which is why this lawyer’s use of Tourettes as an excuse for murder is so offensive to me.  What he is trying to argue is that Tourette’s is so unmanagable, that there is no control, that children are so controlled by their Tourettes that they have no self-control choices at all.  Even to the point of committing murder.  I can understand that someone spits; I can understand that someone calls out; I can understand that someone can’t sit still- Tourette’s is clearly an excuse for these behaviors.  I can even understand that Tourette’s may be a excuse that she wants something from someone very badly and has a tantrum that she can’t have it. 

When I told my son about this news, he looked shocked and said “That’s… that’s.. that’s just WRONG!”

Tourette’s as an reason for murder?  That’s no excuse.

October 26, 2010

Recognition of the Bubble Prize

Filed under: Autism,Gifted — Teacher Professor @ 11:04 am

Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal. Albert Camus

So, there I am- prepping a lecture and an activity for my seniors- the ones taking Classroom Management- easily THE MOST IMPORTANT CLASS they’ll ever take.  If they can’t control, manage, deal with a classroom full of children with different levels of ability and impulse controls, they can’t teach.  Period.

And there it is- a paragraph describing how important recognition is for internal motivation.  That when we provide external motivators for effort, we are not, in fact, taking away internal motivation- we are adding to it- if we recognize in the right balance.

Balance…

***********

We’ve been expending a tremendous amount of effort in appearing to be “normal” this past week… I had a friend visiting this weekend who looked at our weekly calendar and chuckled at how “typical” our calendar was for people with kids our age- a list of soccer practices, soccer games, gymnastics, volunteering at the school’s “Fall Fest” carnival… nothing “scary”, nothing that reflects the years and years of doctor appointments, therapies and medication trials that we’ve done.  There is nothing on the schedule that reflects the weeks we did nothing, knowing that our kids were too stimulated, too tense, too… everything to do anything else other than get through a day.   For this week, we have arrived at “normal”.

And even I know that “normal” is a myth- a state of being that very few people achieve, a state that most families of even “typical” children rarely achieve.  But what this week does for us is provide a baseline, a rememberance of how things “should” be, a memory of how things “could” be.

What will get forgotten in the memory of “normal” is the cost of achieving it- the medication balances, the lack of sleep in finishing everything, the knowledge that there is a boundary that will end this.   One of those boundaries, beyond illness or any unplanned event,  is “Merry Turkoween” or the craziness that the holidays bring.  The holidays that are starting on Saturday with the Georgia/Florida football game, followed by Halloween, followed by my annual conference, followed by Thanksgiving, followed by Christmas and its iron-clad traditions, followed by New Year’s.  We may look like serene ducks, but underneath it all, we’re paddling like hell.

But for this week, we are in the bubble- the bubble of what we call “normal” but is really and truly so far from typical, the bubble that is set to burst upon us, but the bubble that defines who and what we are as a family.

I want to honor our bubble… and recognize the effort it took for us to get here- and the effort it will take to get back here.

October 19, 2010

Retreats: Stimming and Meditation

Filed under: Autism — Teacher Professor @ 12:42 pm

JoyMama raised the issue of stimming the other day- and it got me thinking… and after last night, it got me pondering.

Last night, for some reason, I had an anxiety attack.  Not for anything in particular- just a build up of things.  I didn’t even really realize that I was anxious.  I just knew that I was tired.  Until…. the third hour of  Bejeweled.   For those who are not addicts, Bejeweled is a game on Facebook where you manipulate shapes and colors to form groups of three and when they are formed, they vanish and new combinations become possible. 

  • During the first hour, I knew that I was shutting out the world.  I realized the power of the stim.   I also knew that I was breathing in concert with the jingling, jangling triangles and diamonds and that as they were falling, they were leaving visual trails of light.  I had reached out to the game and got mesmerized by the ability to get away, to release, to stop thinking.
  • During the second hour, I started realizing that it was late.  Very late.  The children had been in bed for two hours, my husband was asleep, and even the dog had given up on me and gone to bed.  But the lure of a state of mind where I could watch the movement, I could control the movement and I didn’t have to process words kept me there.  I could ignore the voice in my head that was watching the clock.  I was starting to see patterns in the movements of the pieces….I was, in all senses of the word, mesmerized.
  • The voice of “me” got really loud during the third hour, and the anxiety rose even higher- anxiety produced by my desire to drown my attention in the shifting lights of the game, and the voice of reason that was looking out for me.  The rational voice in my head was shrieking that it was 1:30 in the morning and I had a presentation today that I would not get through if I didn’t get some sleep.
  • The hypnotic state was cracked when my body slumped at one point and I truly felt the exhaustion I had been keeping at bay crash in on me.  I was now “back in my body”, where words and anxiety and reason were telling me what a horrendous choice I had just made and how I was going to have to pay for it, and… yet… those diamond lured.  I took a deep breath and got up from the computer.

I’m not diagnosed with autism, but I can feel the lure of stimming more often that I would perhaps like to admit.  Watching Amanda’s video “In My Language“, I can relate to her fascination with the things around her- particularly the spring.  Watching the light on the spring gets me every time.  I find myself staring down its length with intensity every time I show the video to my classes.  I feel the lure of “that” place- that place I was last night- where it’s quiet, there are no words that I’m paying attention to and no emotion and no stress and, well, everything, is muted. 

JoyMama raised the question of whether stimming is a form of prayer- a way of connecting to the beyond.  Is twirling  a leaf, watching a spring, or some other form of “stimming” just another way of using an aid to prayer or meditation- similar to lighting candles or clicking prayer beads?  It’s an interesting question…

And I tend to think “no”- there are differences. 

In the Orthodox faith, there is a moment in the liturgy where you kneel and for one minutes or so, you pray- quietly and with no guidance.  It’s my second favorite moment of going to church.  My favorite is lighting the candle as you enter.  You light a candle from the ones that are already lit and add your candle to the multitude already there.  The light grows with your small addition.  In both of these moments- and in so many other small, prayerful moments in this and other faiths, I am taken out of myself.  I am in a place where it is quiet.  I feel love and I feel peace and I feel connected.  It is with reluctance that I get up off my knees and I walk away from the candles.  The immediacy of this world, the stress and the thinking of it are hard to come back to.  There is no language during these moments, either. 

The two look very similar.  Twirling a leaf, lighting a candle and playing Bejeweled are all states of mind where there is no language- there is only sensation.  There is no stress; there is no “me”. 

And yet, I think they’re very different, and I come back from them in very different ways.  When I’m stimming- Bejeweled, staring at springs, etc, I’m shutting out.  I’m NOT interacting; I’m NOT thinking- and there is that voice of consciousness that is trying to get my attention.  Competing with the stim to get my attention, in fact.  It’s an escalating battle of internal will- Do I pay attention to that which does not require anything from me, or do I pay attention to those things that I “should” be paying attention to, but I don’t feel that I have the energy, the reserves, the power to handle?  Can I buy myself some time from those demands so that I can get that power? 

When I “come back” from a stimming moment, I am drained.  Resolved, but tired.  I am ready to engage in battle again, but with the knowledge that I can duck out again if I need to.

In moments of prayer, lighting candles, twirling a leaf, etc., I’m not shutting out, I’m opening up.  I’m listening to that which is more than right now.  I’m paying attention to what’s around me and so much, much more than that.  The voice of consciousness is quiet.  There is no battle of internal will, other than reluctance to leave, but there is no reluctance to rejoin where I am.

When I come back from prayer/meditation, I am coherent.  I am ready to engage, not in battle, but in dialogue.  I feel love and I feel grounded and I feel more prepared to face that which is in front of me.  Everything isn’t muted- everything is clearer. 

The tools may be the same- twirling a leaf, watching the light play on a spring.  But, at least for me, stimming produces anxiety while providing me a place to hide from it.  Meditation/prayer takes away anxiety, but forces me to acknowledge my hold on the anxiety itself. I think there are some folks “stimming” who are achieving a meditative state, and I know for certain that there are some people who use “prayer” as a means of escaping and stimming.  I don’t think the difference lies in the tool, but in the purpose- and the outcome. 

And that’s probably what drove me to Bejeweled last night- not wanting to deal with my own anxiety.  Stimming is an easy escape.  Tonight, you’ll find me walking the beach.  Or back to the labyrinth

October 18, 2010

All About Me (Version Ray)

Filed under: Schools — Teacher Professor @ 11:12 am

A snapshot of Ray from a school paper he brought home…

Name: Ray

Grade: 3rd

My Favorites

Food: Steak Yum- I agree!  My children are both voracious meat-eaters…

Music: Rap sigh…

Sport: Soccer James is happy

Color: Black Not sure what to make of this… allegiance to Georgia or something darker?

Movie: Clash of the Titans The Greek Gods at war- we’re living a year of Greek Gods this year…

Book: Hairy Potter Just a misspelling- as far as I know.

Place: Chicago One of our favorite trips ever!

Subject: Math Which is interesting to me because he’s SO verbal and SO good at reading

My hobbies are: Watch TV, soccer Note to self- must reduce TV time…

If you could choose an animal that best represents your character, which would it be and why?: It would be a cat because I like to sleep. Then how come it’s so hard for him to GET to sleep?

Write about what you would like to do or become in the future: I would really be a infester- I THINK he means “investor” since that was we were talking about at the time… but then again, maybe he really does mean “one who infests”?

All About Me (Version Elizabeth)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 11:11 am

From a school activity sheet:

I am special because: I am special because I am a gynast.  I can also be special because I like fashion, clothes and nail polish.  I am lucky because I have friends, a dog, and I can travel.  When I am biking, I feel special.  My besty friends also make me feel special.  My parents can make me special.  I can also be special because I have a house near the beach, the pool and the pier.  When I eat candy, I make myself special.  I am also sweet, nice, and lovable.  So I am special!

This just amuses me on so many levels… not the least is how her answers are so framed along what is socially acceptable for fourth grade.  Example- the candy remark.  She HATES candy…  And living by the beach- that is pretty special! 

October 17, 2010

Magic in the Field

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 10:43 am

Last Friday, I had a rather upsetting day- events that have no bearing to this blog, but still… I was upset.  Very upset.  I dropped Ray off at soccer practice and I took Bailey for a walk around the field.  I was walking to burn off steam; I was walking to process, and I was walking so that I would not sink into a morass of depression and anxiety.

Ray’s soccer field is a new one, and it’s a bit in the middle of nowhere.  Surrounded by scrub palms and live oaks, it’s a reclaimed bit of marsh land that while environmentally I’m sorry to see it built, as a soccer mom, it makes for a really lovely field.  I hadn’t really gone off the pitch before, and I realized as I headed out into the underbrush, I really didn’t know where I was going.  But that was all right- I really didn’t know where I was going in all senses of the word.

I was following a trail- and feeling the peace of the woods begin to sink into me.  A random blue jay would call, a woodpecker was hammering above me, and in the background I could hear the muffled shouts of the boys kicking the ball and the lower tones of the adults coaching them.  I was upset, but I was finding solace.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…” Thoreau

The woods are lovely, dark and deep…” Frost

And magic happened.  Magic that doesn’t often exist in Southeastern Georgia.  Magic that is old and deep and rooted. I came upon a labyrinth built into the woods.  A small labyrinth, to be sure, but … A labyrinth.  Just off the soccer fields.

As stated in Lessons4Living.com,

We are all on the path… exactly where we need to be. The labyrinth is a model of that path.

A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools.

A labyrinth is an archetype with which we can have a direct experience. We can walk it. It is a metaphor for life’s journey. It is a symbol that creates a sacred space and place and takes us out of our ego to “That Which Is Within”.

A labyrinth with a little sign that said that it was planted and maintained by the Sea Island Ladies Garden Club.  Thank you, ladies…

Bailey and I walked the labyrinth, and I was struck at how much I needed to remember that life may turn and that life may double back on itself, but that I will always come back to where I need to be.

And just as I finished, I heard the subtle distant noise shift made when the practice was over and the boys were breaking up into social language, rather than sports talk, and I headed back to my life.

As a friend of mine said “That was no accident”… and indeed, it wasn’t.  I hope that everyone finds a labyrinth in the woods just when they need one.

 

October 14, 2010

Spending Gathered Strength

Filed under: Home Things — Teacher Professor @ 9:18 pm

A few weeks ago, I drafted a blog that read, in part, this…

This past weekend was one of total and complete quiet- for all of us.  For some reason, we all slept- a lot- and did very little.  After the soccer games on Saturday, I slept for 3 hours, and then dozed while we watched a movie.  Sunday, more of the same as Elizabeth and I watched 3 movies in a row, I graded, and Ray played on the computer and with his airplanes.  We all read.  And we all slept for 9-10 hours each night.  We didn’t go anywhere, do anything.  No fighting, no squabbles, and actually, very little interaction between all of us.  It was a dozy, sleepy, do-nothing weekend, like nothing I’ve had in a very long time.

And although it’s Thursday, the week has continued- dozy, quiet… not a lot happening.  It feels like we’re gathering strength- For what, I’m not sure…

It never got posted, basically because I didn’t want to imagine what could be happening when we would need all of that strength…

************

But I now know what we were gathering strength for… and it was an awful lot of fun!

Don’t let em push you to the limit cause they like it a lot
And if they not witcha then tell them to just
Keep it moving (Keep It Moving)– Mary J. Blige

In our house, there are two ways we deal with meltdowns and issues- we either shut down and shut out the world, or we keep ’em busy and moving and so stimulated that there is no time for meltdowns.  There is very little in-between.  My grandmother says that we have two speeds as a family- Off and ON!  This past weekend was definitely an ON! weekend.

My mother-in-law lives in Boston in a nursing home.   James and an alternating child go and see her about once a month- two months if times are particularly busy or financially bad.  We’re too unstable in our jobs to move her here and honestly, it’s the best nursing home I’ve ever seen.  But… it’s been three months since she’s had company.  It was time- past time.  So we decided that all of us would go up to Boston over my fall break, and since we were already there- have a really good touristy time. We invited Emily to come with us, since she’s never seen Boston and Vicki, who also has family in Boston.  We were quite the caravan.

And so, over the course of 2.5 days, we (and they):

Visited with Yiayia every day

  • Walked the Freedom Train- with the Old South Meeting House, the Old North Church, Paul Revere’s house, Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market, the Old State House and some other brick buildings I lost track of
  • Ate cannoli in Little Italy, “chowda” at the Salty Dog at Quincy Market, and a “lobstah roll” at the Weathervane in Plymouth
  • Leaned against the railing surrounding Plymouth Rock

Boarded the Mayflower

  • Played with gravity and dinosaurs and light effects at the Museum of Science
  • Admired Monet’s brushstrokes and Richard Avedon’s fashion photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts
  • Ran the hallways and gawked at the city lights on the 50th Floor of the Prudential Building
  • Got to say “Pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd” while standing IN Harvard Yard
  • Watched a Jamaican band, a Bronx hip-hop dance troupe and a “living statue” performance artist on sidewalks all over the city
  • Played in the park near Yiayia’s nursing home that they have played on since they were babies- and got to say “Oh, look how little it is… I remember when…”
  • Bought soap that smells like cranberries, a “tea shirt”, and a model of the State House for Ray’s fish tank
  • Rode the Green Line, the Red Line, a T bus, AND the Orange Line of the Boston T- and compared the car design of each of the lines

Sat on the statues of the Make Way for Ducklings ducklings

  • Ate doughnuts at four DIFFERENT Dunkin’ Donuts near our hotel
  • Did cartwheels in the perfect grass of the Boston Commons (well, they did- I didn’t)
  • Took pictures and discussed the possibilities of attending of MIT, Harvard, Northeastern, Berklee, Boston University, Boston College, Emerson, and UMass
  • Rated the bathrooms of four different planes
  • Played with the two-year old nephew of Vicki AND helped change his diaper
  • Walked for miles through Kenmore Square, Cambridge, downtown, the Charles River, Little Italy, Mass Ave., Comm Ave., and Plymouth

Signed copies of my book at the book store of James’ alma mater of BU

  • Fed swans and ducks at the Boston Public Gardens
  • Bought copies of the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, AND the Constitution for all of the teachers
  • Experienced perfect New England Fall weather with changing leaves, warm but crisp air, no humidity, and the last of the fall roses
  • and even bought Yiayia a pair of slippers at Kmart.

Yes, there were squabbles and fights.  Yes, there were tantrums and meltdowns.  And yes, that included grownups and children alike.  But with such a packed schedule and so many things to look at and do and experience, they never lasted long.  Distraction and refocusing was easy.  Laughter and interest were never far away.  We never had a prolonged challenge because we kept the focus on moving forward- what came next- what there was to do.  We had a schedule, but it was open to change and impulse and if the change was too much, we refocused on the next thing.  And there were so many of us that any volatile combination could be changed up, amended and shuffled.

We fell into bed every night exhausted- physically and sensorily- and slept in to awake, refreshed and ready for the next day’s adventure.  I’m not sure about tourism as a treatment for autism or Tourette’s, but it worked for us!

This weekend?  Nothing.  We’re doing nothing.   Gotta rebuild our strength for… whatever comes next.

October 9, 2010

#1 Sports Fan

Filed under: Tourette's Syndrome — Teacher Professor @ 8:55 pm

I’m finding it simultaneously amusing and tiring how fixated Ray has become about the Georgia Bulldogs.  He notices every license plate, every hat, and every headline- and let me tell you, down here in South Georgia, there are an awful lot of license plates, hats, headlines and “Uga” dogs at every turn.  In other words, Ray is finding plenty to obsess about. 

He’s not alone, of course, which is why I sat in the car the other day and listened to him expound on the merits of the head coach, the quarterback and the various arrests of most of the players with information he had gleaned from the various males around here.  He’s little and he’s smart and he’s anxious, so he’s overcoming a lot.  He really wants to find a way to relate to the boys down the street, and so he’s learning football lingo.  He’s particularly trying to bond with Emily’s dad and brother who are both big football fans- men who are well over 6′ tall, large in size and in spirit.

But it’s also clear that he’s using sports as a means of controlling anxiety.  When he starts ticcing, he looks around and comments- or starts talking about the upcoming Georgia/Florida game- THE rivalry game that attracts thousands of people to the Island to party.  It’s quite the holiday around these parts.  He wants to know stats, the history of the game, how many times Georgia’s won, and so many other pieces of trivia that I just do not know.  He spouts facts as he clicks, as he spits, as he grimaces.  It’s now getting to the Pavlovian point where my heart hurts just a little bit more every time I see a license plate, a hat or a white bulldog. 

I’m particularly amused at James’ reaction.  James did not grow up in the U.S., much less the South, so the whole football mystique is incomprehensible to him.  He will watch the Super Bowl with me, but the whole game is something that he doesn’t really enjoy.  Soccer is his game- preferably European cup soccer.  He rolls his eyes when Ray starts spouting, but them checks his own soccer scores when he’s bored, stressed, or… anxious.  He withdraws into his Iphone FIFA site when things around him are stressful- like when his son is ticcing.  There I sit, with Georgia Bulldogs on one side, Paok Greek soccer on the other.  Like father, like son…

October 8, 2010

Key to My Heart

Filed under: Autism,Gifted,Home Things — Teacher Professor @ 3:24 pm

Elizabeth has her own house key now- a black shiny one with pink sparkle hearts on it.  I handed it to her last night- heavy with the gravitas of it, the importance of it- the acknowledgement that she has crossed a threshold.  I realize that this is the first key in a long line of keys for her.  And  I was very aware that I’ve just traded one set of worries for another.

Because of an understanding supervisor (and let me just say- wow!), my schedule is such that I can leave and be home at 2:45 when the children get out of school.  They walk or bike home with a huge group of children, and I can be at home to meet them.  I have grading and planning and emails and other “stuff” that I have to do- but I don’t have to be at the office to do it.  My classes are over, my office hours are done, and my afternoon is “free”.  Which means that, for the first time ever, I have been able to get home, help with homework, make dinner and just be there.  It means that we’re not paying a million dollars for afterschool care, that homework is getting done without fighting and that we’re eating healthier.  It’s made an amazing difference for all of us, and although I’m up late grading and planning and writing, it’s worth every minute.

But… it doesn’t always work that cleanly.  I have to leave my office at 2:10 at the latest to get home in time, and while my boss is accommodating, other factors are not as easy to navigate.  Today, for example, I had a meeting that was scheduled from 1:00-2:00.  Should have been no problem.  But… the meeting ran late.  I was caught up in a discussion that if I had left, would have gone a different direction from the way it ended up.  I love my job.  I want to be able to shape it.  And so I stayed.  Only 10 minutes, but 10 minutes that meant the difference between getting out at 2:10 and getting caught in the college traffic as the 12:45-2:15 classes let out.  I didn’t get home until 3:00. 

This has been an issue that happens about once a week.  It’s 10-15 minutes, that while not huge, means that my children would sit on my front door steps.  Sometimes, they went over to a friend’s house.  Sometimes, their friends sat with them.  I live in a neighborhood, that luckily, has children EVERYWHERE- that has stay-at-home parents EVERYWHERE- so sitting on our front steps for 15 minutes is a regular means of socializing.  But I don’t like it when it’s a necessity. 

And Elizabeth IS 9 1/2 years old (She tries to claim 9 and 3/4, but that’s not for another 2 months!).  She is VERY responsible.  She follows the rules- to the letter.  So, we made a schedule for her to follow.  It’s posted on her door.  It has visual cues.  We practiced it.  She is to come in the house, and call me IMMEDIATELY.  She is to let the dog out to the back yard.  She is to get a snack from where we keep snack.  She is NOT to cook.  She is NOT allowed to let Emily or any friend come in the house.  She is not allowed to leave Ray alone in the house.  She is to wait for me because I will only be about 10-15 minutes late. 

This is a runup to the day when she turns ten- an age that she knows is the magic age when she can be at home by herself; 10 is 1 year away from the age of babysitting.  She has often told me “When I’m 10, I don’t have to go to the grocery store with you… When I’m 10, I don’t have to go____ with you…. When I’m 10… when I’m 10.”   She’s testing those waters of independence- 10 to 15 minutes at a time. 

I was laughing with my mother that I’m so grateful at times that she is who she is.  That she IS limited in imagination.  That she is so rules-oriented.  That she has such a hard time lying.  It means that I can trust her to follow the plan.  It means that I believe that she can handle it. 

Which also means that she’s growing up.  Which also means that I can begin to let her go- but only for 10 minutes at a time.  She’s still my baby… and 10 minutes is all I can handle.

And I’m not even letting myself THINK about when Ray gets close to 10… Ray, who has imagination.  Ray, who does lie easily.  Ray, who figures out how rules can be bent.  Ray, who has already figured out that because he is not allowed to be alone in the house, Elizabeth cannot go back outside to play with her friends unless he also wants to go outside- and so has realized that he holds the power of where Elizabeth can be.  Ray… will never be allowed to be by himself until he’s off to college. 

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