The gods of special needs kids and parents are capricious.
Yesterday, everything went as smoothly as anyone could expect for the first week of summer vacation. It got a bit rough at the end of the day, but Simon was tired and hungry, and who among us can cast the first stone for being in a bad mood in that situation?
This morning we went out shopping with a friend, and by the time it hit 11, he was getting upset, stamping his foot, whining, and doing everything else he does when he’s unhappy. Luckily, I got him to tell me that he was angry because he was hungry. Again, hangry is a legit thing for any of us. It totally would’ve broken Job, amiright?
We hit an early lunch at Whatburger. (Whataburger, if you read this, send me free coupons because Simon luuuuvs you!)
Simon showed he was hungry: he ate his food, stole fries from my friend, and drank two jugs of OJ. After that, he was calmer, said he was happy, and said he wasn’t hungry.
Things were okay after that.
We went home and chilled out. He watched TV and played with some of his birthday gifts.
Then it was time to go to HEB. For some reason, the grocery store is one of Simon’s favorite places to go. I don’t know if it’s because of the loaves and fishes. Oh wait, we don’t buy fish. Maybe it’s the cheese and bread to make grilled cheese sandwiches?
I don’t know why it is, but he loves it. He’ll wake me up in the morning by asking when we’re going to HEB. (HEB – if you’re reading this, give me some free coupons, too!)
We drove to HEB – he was happy.
We went into HEB – he was happy.
We shopped through most of the store – he was happy.
We walked into the produce area and ran into…his teacher from this past year.
The happy was gone.
Simon saw her, he touched her arm, she said hi to him.
It was all over.
He immediately began to talk about ESY (Extended School Year – like summer school for kids with disabilities) and school. His entire focus shifted to it. After fighting his obsession all weekend, he gave into it.
I tried to pay for out groceries and get us out of the store as quickly as possible, but he melted down at the register. I used all my tricks for calming him down, and none of them worked.
It was a very, very unsuccessful shopping trip.
So, I pray, dear capricious special needs gods, keep teachers and other school personnel away from us as we shop. (And don’t take it personally, but I think we’ll start driving out of town to a Kroger’s instead.)
At the thrift store, I spotted it.
One of those little statuettes from the 1970s. I remember having them in the house when I was a kid, up on the shelves with knickknacks and tchotchkes.
But this one. This one was for me:
World’s Best Mother.
I brought it up to the register to buy it, and the woman in line behind me saw it. Well, part of it.
“What does that say?” She asked.
“World’s Best Mother.” I picked it up off the counter and showed it to her.
And I bought it.
I don’t know about your house, but in our house, summer is rough. Simon *loves* school.
He loves the people. He loves the routine. He loves the activities.
Starting yesterday (Memorial Day), he began to focus on ESY (Extended School Year for y’all not in the know…it’s like summer school, but for kids with special needs who need extra help over the summer).
He spent the whole Monday talking about ESY, asking about it, telling us when it was.
Unfortunately, ESY is only four weeks long. Two weeks in June. Two weeks in July. Four days each of those weeks. Three hours each of those days.
4 x 4 x 3 = 36 hours.
Over nine weeks.
I’m going into the summer prepared and hopeful.
The World’s Best Mother award is part of those preparations.
Like most mothers – especially those of us mothers with special needs kids – there are more days when we feel like the worst mothers instead of the best mothers.
But we shouldn’t.
Even on those worst mother days, we’re still pretty good. As long as our kids are still alive, we’re still alive, and no one is going to jail, it’s a good day.
We’re the World’s Best Mothers.
Not too long ago, we decided to start getting regular babysitting, and we picked my father’s step-granddaughter.
She seemed nice and responsible when we met her, but I wanted to get some more info on her, so I called my father.
He talked about her and about her son. He went on and on about how awesome his step-great-grandson is. So smart! So clever! So talented! This little boy was the best little boy in the whole history of little boys!
I stopped my father.
“What do you brag about when you talk about Simon?”
Too long a pause.
“Simon’s very special.”
He didn’t think to brag about Simon’s memory.
He didn’t think to brag about Simon’s smile.
He didn’t think to brag about how everyone who meets Simon loves him and remembers him for years afterward.
He didn’t think to brag about how much Simon likes to read (and how he taught himself to read).
He didn’t think to brag about how good Simon is at horseback riding, bowling, or baseball.
He didn’t think to brag about the how Simon taught himself to float and swim.
Clearly, there’s very little to brag about when it comes to his grandson.
Maybe I should make him a list.
I belong to many, many, many, many, many (keep going with that for a while) groups that talk about ASD and other disabilities. In one group, a mom posted something that I couldn’t help but disagree with, yet a lot of the other parents in the group chimed in on her side. So I just had to say this:
It might be a reason, but it’s not an excuse.
Let me tell you the story she shared.
The mom, her boyfriend, and her child went to a pool. The mom decided to chill out at the adult pool – who could blame her? – while boyfriend took the child to the kids’ pool.
The child is five years old, but she is at the level of a two or three year old.
With that in mind, the boyfriend is in the kiddie pool with her, and she throws in a toy. He turns to get the toy, and before he can turn back, he hears another splash.
The child had reached outside the pool, grabbed someone’s video camera, and tossed it into the pool.
The woman whose camera it was freaked out. She got upset and told the boyfriend that they had to make it right because she just bought the camera, and it was $500.
The boyfriend directed her to the mom.
The mom was outraged. “My daughter didn’t understand what she did,” the mom argued.
The woman argued that the mom’s daughter had destroyed it, and the mom should make it right.
The mom said that she would not, and if the woman was going to “be like that,” she better call the cops.
The woman did call the cops. The cops took a report, but they said that it was a civil matter, and it would have to be settled in small claims court.
The mom took to the forum to report this travesty, and a lot of the responses were in favor of the mom, saying that she did the right thing and hoping that the small claims court would rule in her favor.
Me? I didn’t say anything there because I knew I was outnumbered and wouldn’t be paid attention to anyway. But I still wanted to say something, so here it is.
Your child’s disability is a reason, but not an excuse.
Simon is autistic and intellectually disabled. Could he do something like that? Yes. What would I do about it? Be a proper parent and take the responsibility for my child’s action because, well, I’m responsible for him! Just because the child doesn’t know better doesn’t mean the adult doesn’t. If she had been there with a neurotypical two year old, would she have taken the responsibility?
Now, I understand. Having Simon home all day every day over the summer is rough, on him and on me. There were plenty of days when I wouldn’t mind taking a little break and having someone else be on duty. (And, to be fair, I did get days with someone else on duty.) I understand why she wanted some alone time at the adult pool. And I understand that the boyfriend couldn’t be on top of the child at all times. It’s just not possible. That’s how kids manage to do so many awesome and dangerous and messy things.
But that doesn’t mean you’re not responsible for them.
ESY has started back up, but in the two weeks Simon had off, we did lots of fun things. One of those was to hit the Galleria up in Houston.
Now, before anyone thinks I’m a cruel mom who forces her poor child to go shopping, please realize that he ASKED for the Galleria. I tried to talk him out of it. I offered all sorts of other options. No dice. He wanted to go shopping.
Not that he actually shops, mind you. Nope, he much prefers wandering around, staring at things, stopping to eat a cookie, and, in the case of the Galleria, checking out their awesome two-story fountain.
We were wandering around because I am one of those people that always gets lost in a mall. And there it was! Simon was super excited, and I told him to go ahead and sit on the edge because the ledge is pretty wide, and if you’re right there, you can feel the spray of the water as it hits down, and you get a cool breeze from it rushing past you. It feels awesome in the dog days of July.
What you don’t see in the picture below is that the fountain had stopped. It goes through its cycle, and then it pauses. I guess that’s when the water is all feeding back for it to run again.
Simon was waiting patiently on the edge, when – SLAM – it started back up!
He jumped. Almost fell over backwards jumped. Then he got a huge smile and settled back to watch it.
So as the Daily Show always said at the end…here it is…your moment of Zen…
So there’s been a lot of chatter online about having your kids do chores – “age appropriate chore” charts are popping up all over. At 8, your child can…and at 10, your child can… Except that isn’t always true. Age appropriate isn’t always appropriate. Instead, it really needs to be child appropriate.
In our case, it’s Simon-appropriate.
Yes, Simon has chores. He may only be three or four mentally, but even at three or four, kids can do a whole lot of stuff, especially if you ask them to. He can carry the laundry from the dryer into the bedroom to be folded (although he isn’t good at folding it…yet). He can put his laundry away. He can let the dog back in when she’s in the backyard. He can put his dishes in the sink. He can get out silverware and plates, with some direction.
And recently, we’ve added two new chores to the list. They are animal related. First, he now has to bring the dog’s food dish to the laundry room so that she can get food. Second, he has to refill the animals’ water dish, although we give him the water in a cup so he can just pour it in.
When we started with the water, I was a bit nervous. I wanted him to do it – I prefer to try to push him instead of just keep things at a status quo – but I could just see the water hitting the ground and making the kitchen a slippery mess pretty easily. But imagining it doesn’t make it so any more than not imagining it keeps it from happening. So I filled up the cup, showed him how to kneel down and pour the water, and then stood back and let it go.
He did great. He filled up the water dish, and now if I spot that the bowl had gotten empty, or close to empty, I can fill up the dish and call him over. He comes over, generally happy about it, and fills it up.
Honestly, I think he enjoys having chores to do. For the most part, we let him do his own thing. He watches tv, plays with toys, colors, draws, and does whatever he wants to do. He only ever really gets cranky and tries to refuse when we tell him to put his laundry away, but if we tell him that he has to do it, he may stamp his foot or make noise, but he does it. When it comes to the pets, though, he really likes them, and I think that he likes taking care of them. He pets the cats and the dog, calls them by name, and even named the newest addition (Sammy).
I don’t know if any of this is a sign of how he’ll do when he’s older and ready to transition to the “real world,” but it does make me feel better to see that he can learn to do simple tasks. Who knows? Maybe he’ll wind up cleaning up at a kennel or helping out at a vet’s office. We’ll just have to wait and see…and give him more Simon-appropriate chores to do.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that I’m going to find insensitive people just about everywhere. But I didn’t expect to find them in out-patient therapy. (If you want to know why I’m currently in out-patient therapy, you can check out my other blog about my mental issues…)
Anyway, so the other day in therapy, while she was talking, one of the other women – let’s call her Zelda – said that her brother was Autistic, and he was around her age. She’s about 60, ready to retire, and he’s living at home with their parents still. She pointed out that, at the time, they didn’t have much they could do to help him, but she felt like it was better now. She commented that he was the family’s project. I thought about talking to her then, but I decided against it.
So the topic was put to bed, and no one else talked about it…until…
Something came up, and she asked me, before therapy started, about whether or not I had any children. Of course, I said, yes, I have a son, he’s 13, and he’s Autistic. Zelda asked a few questions, and when I explained that he was fairly moderate to severe on the spectrum, she said, “Oh, that’s bad.”
“No, it’s not,” I corrected her. “It’s not bad at all. It’s just what he is.”
She back-pedaled. She didn’t mean it *that* way, you know. She was only trying to say that she knew it was hard. Okay, I’ll take that. It’s hard on him. It’s hard on us. It’s hard on his teachers. It is hard. But it’s not bad.
Which might be why I was already in the fight-or-flight mode when another woman, let’s call her Aileen, said that she was there because of anxiety and her family. Her family drove her crazy, she said. They wouldn’t leave her alone. Even when she tried to take a walk by herself, they wanted to come with her.
“It’s so retarded.”
Yup. She said that. About the fact that her family wanted to be around her all the time.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that they’re stupid for wanting to be around her all the time. But I do think she’s pretty uninformed to use the r-word in a psych setting.
But no one said anything. Not even the therapist leading the session.
Because I’m not one to shy away from confrontation when it’s appropriate, I went ahead and raised my hand.
“Hey,” I said, “I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way, but, see, I’m part of this movement. Spread the word to end the word. The word is retarded. I know you just said it, but that’s kind of the problem. It’s pretty insulting to use it as an insult. My son has intellectual disabilities, and so I’m kind of sensitive to hearing it…”
I know I said more than that, and she looked a bit surprised.
I brought up the need to be respectful of all people, and I pointed out how if she was had said something that insulted another group of people, I still would have brought it up because it is disrespectful to insult anyone, especially if they’re not there to defend themselves.
She was cool with it. She apologized, said she hadn’t meant it that way, and said that she normally tries to be careful because she had a cousin with…and she stumbled over it (because I guessed she hadn’t heard it before)…intellectual disabilities.
And then the therapist got involved and made sure that she was okay with me calling her out and asked if I often did that, and I said that, yes, yes, I did. All the time. Because it was important to realize that insulting people because of their disabilities was not okay, and like none of us would like it if we were turned into negative slang, we shouldn’t do it to other people.
I hadn’t expected to have to defend myself, or my correction of someone who used a word as an insult, but there you go. You never know when – or if – you’re going to have to speak up. So don’t be shy. If someone says it, tell them.
I got two different emails in the same week, and it made me sad to read them together. One was a link to an article titled “Tips for Teachers: How To Deal with Upset Parents.” The other email was from a group I belong to, a parent support group. While it sometimes is a good place to exchange information, but sometimes…not so much.
Now, first off, let me say that I will not name any names, and the person who wrote this legitimately believes it, and, as such, I don’t want to mock her or make fun or her in any way. Instead, I want to sympathize with her, and I wonder what it took to make her believe this.
Here’s a quick quote from the post:
“They [the school districts] think we should be grateful they even allow SE kids in school and parents should just be happy for a ‘break.’
“Advocacy of SE kids can be draining. You win one battle and they will hate you. You think if you win one battle the school will change, but they never will until some powerful force forces them to do so. I’d put the Office of Civil rights on speed dial. Don’t look to the state education board to be in your corner. The first thing they do is ask you what district you are talking about, and then they give the district a heads up.
“Each year, they have teachers and several school personnel go to a seminar put on by district lawyers who teach them how to get around the law.”
Now, I can understand her feelings, to some extent. Many years ago, we had a problem with my son’s school district. And we found out, after the “fight,” that the whole reason it was even a fight at all was because of one person – one person who was probably too scared to admit that she had made a mistake. People below her were willing to work with us. She, however, seemed unable to let them because it would undermine her perceived authority. It was a bad experience, and if we had continued to have bad experiences like that, we probably would feel like the person who posted the above message.
But…I have to say, I don’t believe that school districts are bad and evil. I don’t believe that schools seriously send their teachers to a session to learn “how to get around the law.”
What I believe is that there are bad people everywhere. You can have a bad director of special education. You can have a bad teacher. You can have a bad lawyer. You can have a bad police officer. You can have a bad barista. (Sorry, coffee is an important part of almost every SE parent’s life, amIright?)
As someone who “won a battle” against a district, I have to say that I have not felt hated. I have not felt like the school refuses to change. I have not felt like I need to constantly be in touch with the Office of Civil Rights. Maybe it’s because I’m lucky. But I don’t think that’s it. I think there’s something else there.
I think most people who are in special education are there because they care. Because they want to make a difference. They share things like the article written by Dave Wilson where he advises teachers to reflect on what parents say and what they mean, be open to ideas, ask for help, and communicate the positives. Does that sound like something that would be out there if these teachers and other professionals didn’t care? If they really went to training to learn how to avoid the law, why would they care about connecting with parents?
If you, as a parent, honestly feel that the school, the teachers, the district, even the state education agency is out to get you, you may need to stop. You may need to read that article and see if you can apply it to yourself. Do you need to learn how to deal with the school and its reps? Are you actually the problem?