Saturday, April 27, 2013

For Your Entertainment!

Have you ever seen a Christopher Guest movie? A Might Wind, Best in Show, This is Spinal Tap? They call those mockumentaries. They're set up as documentary films with just an outline and not much of a script.

In the spirit of that same theme two long time friends and funny gals are creating a similar web show. 

Ya know what, watch this clip. Me babbling is boring and this clip is, in my opinion, funny. 

The idea of the teaser is a sneak peek of what you'll see if the funds can be raised to produce it. Check it out and if you love it, donate to the project. Last season 82 South St created very funny sketches. Go peruse those on YouTube! My personal favorites are Scrabble Bitches and Black Scrapbook.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Our Journey with Asperger Syndrome: Second Grade set up success

First grade was tremendously challenging for Mancub as his teacher was determined to teach him in the  cookie cutter manner she'd always used. What I mean by that is her belief was that children would bend to her will and fall in line. I am quite certain my son wasn't the first child she encountered that required accommodations yet she behaved as if he was the first child to enter her class with an Individualized Education Program.

Mancub's second grade teacher fell from the heavens. She seemed to truly understand his mind and his moods. She was the kind of teacher who remained flexible in teaching lessons. Her methods were not rigorous yet her style was structured. By the end of the first quarter she shared that all the kids seemed to benefit from Mancub's accommodations from time to time.

 My son really blossomed in second grade and found that he could achieve academically. He joined the Science Club. His socialization skills improved. The club had many field trips which I was able to chaperone. We had a true spirit of camaraderie. Teacher/parent/student all working together. By the end of that year Mancub was awarded the Science Club MVP Award, as well as, the more prestigious Principal's Most Improved Student Award. The school housed K-4, I believe. So, receiving that award was truly remarkable.

In addition to Science Club, Mancub participated in a course that taught him proper manners from how to introduce himself to etiquette when ordering in a restaurant. Much of the focus when working with Mrs. Barton, the resource teacher, was behavior modification and self soothing that was less disruptive to those around him. Coping skills were shared with me so we could have the same momentum at home.

Having many breakthroughs in second grade set up Mancub for success for the remaining years of school. Sure, we had set backs. Every student does.

It was very difficult to bid farewell to second grade. I had such anxiety that third grade would be too much disruption because the teacher may not have the same style as in second grade. However, I was assured that communication between the two teachers would be consistent. Mancub would not be left to flounder. I had to let go of my fears and trust that all would be well ... and by that following school year my angst would be put to rest.

 This is a tad off course, but within the subject matter. My sister hosts a web radio show and invited me to be a special guest to discuss my perspective of raising a child with Asperger Syndrome. There's a bit of babbling on my part as I didn't know what to expect nor did I realize just how much I had to say. Bear with my rambling thoughts and listen to this special dedication for Autism Awareness Month.

Listen to internet radio with ArtSeesDiner on Blog Talk Radio

Monday, April 8, 2013

Our Journey with Asperger Syndrome: 1st Grade Stumbling Blocks

I have covered that the special education resource teacher, Rose Barton, would prove to be a godsend to Mancub's life. The actual diagnosis for Asperger Syndrome wasn't instantaneous. It took great research and testing. Developing a proper IEP was hit upon swiftly as accommodations were necessary for Mancub to set upon a successful path.

However ...

There was a teacher who, in spite of a specific IEP (Individualized Education Program), wanted to challenge or continue to teach every student within her comfort zone rather than that of the student. I'm not saying this is not a difficult task for the teacher to make accommodations.

The following is shared as an example of how challenging first grade was for us. Accommodations were met with argument and frustration:

Mancub's first grade teacher was the most resistent to his IEP. This would be the inaugural stepping stones for executing it. The day before school started parents are invited to visit the classroom with their child. Upon viewing Mancub's desk, books, supplies, I observed they had misspelled his name. Mancub recognized it was incorrect. I requested that new name tags be made as this may upset him.

Accompanying him to the classroom on the first day, I checked to see if the changes had been made. They were not. The teacher assured me she would fix it.

Another day passed and I received word from the school that he'd had a minor meltdown. The name correction had been made, but not with a new tag. She'd simply crossed out the wrong letter and just below it wrote the correct letter.


It nearly took an act of congress to insist she completely replace his name badge on his desk. Her comment to me was that him being so wildly upset over something so simple was a sign he was just spoiled. She quoted something from the Bible and it took all I had in me to not go primeval on her. Rather than lose my cool entirely, I turned to Mrs. Barton and she went over the IEP with the reluctant teacher. That wasn't the end to the trials and tribulations and blatant disregard for accommodations. This  teacher believed that if you insisted upon a child the classroom rules he would eventually succumb and fall in line. My threats to take it to the school board during a parent teacher conference ruffled her feathers. In due time, and after a consultation with her principal, she became more flexible.

This experience was, fortunately, the worst of it in all of Mancub's years in school. The upsets far outweighed the successes, sadly. Something as simple as the classroom being rearranged without forewarning could create a horrendous day for my son. To him, it was as if a tornado ripped through and destroyed everything he had come to understand and expect. He just couldn't process it.

To explain or attempt to make someone understand how an Aspie processes can be a daunting task. Think of a time you were frazzled or confused. Now, magnify it by 100 while being in a massive crowd of people speaking a language you don't understand; crank up the volume to 11. Then, try to calm down and sooth yourself. Dare to find a happy place in all that din. You can't. That is how every day, often countless times an hour, can be for a person with autism spectrum disorders. Every moment they have to try to soothe themselves.

From a parental perspective it is caused me such frustration to not be able to comfort him and make it better. I wanted to be with him every second of the day to protect him from situations that may be upsetting. Yet, to do that he would never learn coping skills. The people around him would never learn to accept him and also learn how to soothe him. The compassion exhibited was not only from professionals at the school. His classmates recognized the signs Mancub was becoming agitated and they helped ease his discomfort. They asked questions of why he got special treatment.  Once explained, they took it in stride rather than fussing about it.

First grade was undoubtedly cause for daily stress on my behalf because notes and calls were almost daily, but I reminded myself that my parental angst was nothing in comparison to what my little boy faced. The exhaustive efforts would lead to great reward when second grade finally rolled around.

.... Coming soon! Second grade: The teacher who worked tirelessly to blaze a path for success

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Our Journey with Asperger Syndrome: Enter the God send

Mrs. Rose Barton was (she has retired) the Special Education resource teacher at Mt. Vernon Elementary when Mancub first met her. She swiftly consulted with me; arranged consult with the child psychologist at the school; set up observation of Mancub for herself and the child psychologist. It was determined that my darling son was certainly mis-categorized as EBD (emotional behavior disorder) by his former school. Both professionals determined that he was not acting out and perseverating to gain control. His surroundings were setting it off and he was clearly frustrated and upset. Not an expert in the field of autism, Mrs. Barton sought out help from her colleagues and researched Asperger Syndrome.

When she first approached me about the possibility my son was 'special needs' I'll admit to feeling defeated and devastated. No lying. Immediately, I pictured my child being harassed and bullied for being different. I made some phone calls to friends and family members who were educators. With their reassurance that it would be the best thing for Mancub to be tested and given an IEP, I signed on the dotted line. A course of tests, personality surveys etc.. were administered.

An interesting sidebar: As I filled out the survey, many of the traits stood out about myself as I was growing up. I'd been pegged as an overly emotional child with outbursts. I would quickly become frustrated and confused in crowds or situations where the din would overwhelm me.

Over the course of his second round of Kindergarten with the most lovely and understanding teacher, he made great progress. An IEP was developed and meetings with me were regular. We quickly learned that Mancub had to remain on schedule and be given plenty of forewarning if that schedule was going to be altered. Simple things as me taking a different route driving him to school could result in disastrous outcome. It took time for us to figure it out, but, in the carpool lane if we weren't permitted to drive all the way up and let him open his door, it was a recipe for a ruined day. It took the command of the principal to the aides and teachers running the carpool lane to leave our car alone. If there was a substitute, I would lock the doors, crack the passenger side window to tell them the agreement of prevention.

Every day wasn't filled with sunshine and lollipops after his initial diagnosis. I'd get phone calls that he'd had a meltdown because the wrong bread was on his plate or they'd run out of chocolate milk. P.E. class was horrendous as the noise inside the gym was pure torture. I'd cry in silence knowing that my son was suffering and I couldn't fix it with a hug. I couldn't get inside his mind to feel what he was feeling.

We both cried a lot. I couldn't keep him sheltered from real life despite my instincts to protect him from the big bad wolf. By the end of that school year we'd made strides with behavior modification (both his and ours). Many accommodations were made to maintain a quality of life and ease. Mancub's situation mandated people learn about Asperger Syndrome and autism spectrum ... something they knew little about. It was something I'd never heard of, but educated myself.

These first steps were very difficult. It wasn't as if diagnosis with Asperger Syndrome meant a magic wand had been waved and he was healed of everything that caused him woe. We had to face summer break which might take us back a few steps. Who would be his first grade teacher? Would it be the right fit? Just when I thought we were on the right track, it became apparent that our train would derail before the first day of school even started ...

... to be continued: First grade and the unyielding teacher

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Our Journey with Asperger Syndrome: The first steps

April is Autism Awareness Month. My son has autism spectrum disorder / Asperger Syndrome.

Giggling Mancub age 4. 

I truly dislike tagging a label on him. To me, he is perfection.

When someone pats me on the back for being a good mother I joke that God knew I'd be raising my son alone and provided me with a child who is easy to raise.

When Mancub was in pre-school it was obvious he had issues not adhering to some guidelines. Quick change of schedule or altering the food menu would cause a melt down. He never had such tantrums when we were one on one so it made little sense to me. Then again, I am a creature of habit. It was rare for us to deviate.

Once, he 'lost his mind' -- their words--  when they had to do self portraits and he colored his eyes green. His eyes are chocolate brown. The teacher argued with him that his eyes were not green. They had him look in a mirror to prove him wrong. He insisted that his eyes couldn't be brown because "Mommy has green eyes." Eventually, they caved to his insistence and let him keep the green eyes on his picture. I was impressed that my 3.5 year old son knew the color of my eyes.

OK, maybe that was just a cute story and not so much that of a sign he had spectrum disorder.

When Kindergarten rolled around his father and I were going through a divorce. Mancub had several uncontrollable outbursts which required my presence in the principal's office. The principal reminded me of Jackie Gleason in Smokey and the Bandit. He had a similar build and southern drawl. "Your chil' is hypah- kinetic and we feel he would benefit from medication."

Really? I searched his walls for documentation in psychology and or a medical degree. None existed. He didn't even have a PhD. I pointed it out that he wasn't a medical professional. He didn't look on that kindly. However, to appease him, an appointment was made with our physician who quickly assessed what Mancub needed was understanding and patience, but absolutely not medication. He suggested I keep a food diary and track his behavior. "Reduce the amount of tuna and red dye." Mancub loved... thrived on tuna salad in a bowl (he didn't need bread). He didn't want cereal for breakfast. He insisted on tuna salad. Lunch? You guessed it. Kids are often meal repeaters -- I know people who eat nothing but chicken fingers -- but tuna is chock full of mercury where it once wasn't on the list.

We struggled for a year in Kindergarten at that particular school. At the end of the year it was determined that Mancub hadn't progressed socially and it was strongly suggested that he repeat the grade. I was devastated. However, I had to let go of my ego. This wasn't about me, but my child's success. We re-enrolled for Kindergarten but only if he had a different teacher. He stayed at that school for only a portion of the semester. Circumstances pushed me to choose to remove him from that school and transfer him to a school located closer to me. His father and I were living separately. It seemed the logical thing to keep Mancub in the school he started in, but it became stressful transporting him. Plus, events perpetuated by his dad made it easy to make the decision. A decision that would prove to be the wisest thing I ever did in regards to Mancub's education and journey toward proper diagnosis.

Enter Rose Barton at Mount Vernon Elementary School in Gainesville, GA.

.... to be continued
...... Autism Awareness Month is 30 days long. Our story will take at least that long to share