Thursday, January 29, 2009

Oh, You're One of THOSE?!

Over the years, I have witnessed an exodus of sorts when it comes to the education of friends' children. More and more parents of children with autism and Asperger's Syndrome are choosing to homeschool. We are the well-kept dirty little secret that your school district doesn't want you to know: often our children can be better served at home than in the school system.

I would have never said such six years ago. I was a died-in-the-wool PTA, room mom, get into the system and change it, agent. But one horrific year with my son's classroom (through no fault of the teacher) and I became a true believer. I figured I couldn't do a worse job than the school, and I might even be an improvement. Besides, my son hated school, to the point I was literally dragging him there. Something had to give.

And now? I homeschool all three of my children, and this is our 5th year. Two have been diagnosed with high functioning autism, they are 7 and 10 respectively. My oldest is going on 15, and though she has never been diagnosed, she has many of the deficits of Asperger's, and is also academically gifted. Her father is a computer engineer, and is most likely also on the Spectrum. (he was never tested, but off the record, our psychologist said so) So, you do the math...

In any case, bringing my children home has worked out wonderfully for us. Homeschooling has allowed me to tailor each program according to what works for each child. My 14 yr old, who went to school for 6 years benefits from a very academic program. She enjoys the structure and it works. My middle guy, at 10, is the one I walk the line with. He isn't unschooled, but his academic structure would, at first glance, seem more relaxed. It is still very scheduled, however. But we benefit from frequent breaks, sensory diet and multisensory approaches. I can choose activities that he enjoys, and we keep work periods short and focused. He can take a break for pogo stick or OT work, as needed. My littlest one, at 7, is the one that learns best through games and Mom Time. She needs one-on-one (as does my son) that she wouldn't get in a classroom. She often has to be taught a concept repeatedly before she gets it.

My middle guy is also dyslexic, which makes it interesting, and I am thinking my littlest may be, as well.

As for socialization...which is a joke anyway... but still. We have found with regular play dates, activities and park outings, my children do just fine. There is more time for preferred subjects (my 14 year old taught herself to both play the piano and knit, because she had more time than if she was traditionally schooled.) We have more time (and funds) for field trips and activities. While other kids are sitting in a classroom, mine are out learning in the world.

There is a park day we attend and have for years. The attendance is large, with many different ages and multiple abilities. There are several kids from all ages that are on the spectrum in varying degrees. It is a very welcoming group. Truly, it was the best decision we ever made for our family.

When my son ended 1st grade, he barely read, was behind in math, his writing was still reversals (though he is left handed, so that made it worse). I would literally dress him like a doll and drag him, kicking, to the public school. He would sit under the teacher's desk, or make games. His aide was useless, only serving to keep him from eloping from the classroom. His work was all sent home. I was already homeschooling, and my son was in the school system!

He is now in the 5th grade, and reads at grade level. His math is also at grade level, or just below. He is above in Science, History, Geography. His writing and penmanship has improved 10 fold. and most importantly, he loves to learn. I have found that learning is a broad term for what we do every day. Mythbusters is learning and exploring Science. Going to the Arboretum is a chance to discuss the environment and botany, as well as the food chain. In fact, every activity has inherent learning in just have to find it.

The most important thing to remember about homeschooling? It isn't something you do. It's something you live. And there really is no wrong way to do it. You can, and your child can... and if it doesn't work, keep tweaking. Also, what your state standards may find important, you may find doesn't mesh with your family. That's ok. I have found that as we go, my kids pick up information I didn't formally teach. And the one thing I want to equip my children with? The ability to find information.

The freedom I have found, as well as the free time away from IEPs, discipline meetings and just general headache is now energy I can pour into helping my son love learning. Less time is spent arguing over what the schools think he needs and more time is given to what he actually needs. We have personalized his goals, and we make sure he reaches them. There is no fighting with autism experts who insist my son is meeting goals that are either too broad, too easy or just plain wrong. I am in control. And my children are the better for it.

That, to me, is success.

T, who hopes that clears that up

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I Used to Have All the Answers. Then I Had Children

It started over tea. She wanted to have a tea party. But she didn't want to use water. That's for babies! She wanted me to make tea. Which I couldn't do, I was helping her older sister with her Algebra. Part of homeschooling is taking turns. Littles, at 7, isn't always good with that. Well, let's face it, she is really bad at it. When it is her turn, she expects everyone else to wait. But make her wait? And it is Meltdown-City. She will extract her pound of flesh, one way or another. Of course, it passed. It always does. But the aftermath for me is the hardest part. The way I am left feeling: drained, defeated, ready to cry.

I suppose I shouldn't be too upset. She hasn't had a tantrum all week long. Her dad was gone for ten days and in that time, she has been fine. We have had a few missteps here and there, but no full blown I HATE YOU I HATE YOU I HATE YOU episodes. Maybe that means she is getting older. Maybe that means the developmental delay that is Autism Spectrum Disorder is righting itself. Maybe that means the naked chanting that I did by melting green crayon and throwing sheets to the wind has paid off. (I am just kidding about that last part.) Maybe it's just that the tide is high and the moon is low. Hell, I don't know.

And that's part of the problem. I don't know. If you ask me a question about grammar or algebra or llama breeding, I can probably tell you. Or, barring that, I can find out. But as far as the exact reason my daughter is tantrumming, or the tried and true foolproof method of stopping said fit, that seems to be missing on Google. Certainly there are suggestions, but what if they don't work? What then? With children, you don't add A to B and necessarily get C.

If I was a carpenter, I would be sure that I have the latest tools, the best ones to get the job done. A hammer will always work as a hammer. A level, well, that's designed for leveling. With just a few simple tools, a carpenter can build many things. With a few more, he becomes a master craftsman. It can take a lifetime to wield the tools correctly. But even if his skill is only passable, he will be able to create a chair.

As a parent, I work hard to develop my parenting skills. I think if had neurotypical children I would be a pretty good parent. I add tools to my toolbox often. They say if you only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. I am guilty of this at times. But a soft word or patience? Those don't always work. In truth, there are times that I run out of tools in my toolbox. I keep thinking if I just gain more gadgets, if I just learn more schematics, I will, eventually, build the Taj Mahal. But with autism? All bets are off. Sometimes, a level ends up as a fulcrum. Or a hammer ends up as a paper weight. Sometimes, I end up dancing around like a monkey because I have to think outside the box. Down is up, and and Left is Right and OhMyGod is it 5 o' clock yet??

I am not a drinker. I have a bit of Irish Cream or Kahlua in my hot cocoa or coffee about twice a month. A glass of wine about as often. And though I talk about it, I just don't do it. There are times I wish I did drink more. Then I wouldn't care so damn much when I reach the end of the toolbox and find nothing but sandpaper and a ball ping hammer. But I do care, and it kills me and I always wonder, why can't I be a better parent? Why can't I help her calm down before she gets to that place where she is completely unreasonable? Why must I be left feeling like a hollow shell with every nerve exposed? What am I doing wrong?

T, who will be fine later, just right now it's hard

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

And Now a Word (or several)

From President Obama's inaugural speech...

cloud by Jem Stone from Wordle

T, who thinks this speech will be remembered

I Didn't Think This Day Would Ever Come

Today is the beginning of a new day. I am so happy, and full of hope. Truly, it sounds silly, and I know I am supposed to be cynical. In this situation, I just can't be. I like him. I trust him. And I believe in the future we will create together.

There's a lot of work to be done, and a lot of mess to clean up. Crimes were committed and those who perpetrated them need to be held accountable. But, not today. Today is a day of joy. So I will just say....God Bless the United States of America.

T, who says let freedom...REAL freedom, ring

Monday, January 19, 2009

How Faith Is Born

When I was 15, I knew God loved me. Sometimes, I would go out at night, but always made it home by curfew. I would come home and turn the tv on, watching movies until dawn. I am a night owl, by birth, I think, so I am at my best in the wee hours of the morning. I would watch as one movie melded into another, as I was swept away into new worlds. When the Movie Go Round would end, the first vestiges of light would be peeking out from around the moon, and soon after, the sun would rise. I would stand on my porch, in Central California, in the early morning fog, and I would feel alive.

My childhood home was a 3 bedroom ranch house with a bit of property, a rural suburb of a larger city, which really wasn't large at all. My town didn't even have it's own post office, but I had horses so that more than made up for it. Over the years, my family had a small parade of animals: horses, a calf, pigs, ducks, chickens. We had rabbits for a very short time, until our neighbor's dog ripped open the cages and ate them. I remember the tears of both myself and my younger brother. I learned a lesson about the food chain that day. Also, lessons about cruelty, predatory behavior and that neglect and ignorance of your animals is abuse. The neighbor, a puffy swagger of a man was not bothered when he learned his dog had killed my rabbits in cold blood. I realized that day there are things more evil than an animal following its biological impulses. The dog couldn't be helped. The man loosely known as his keeper was another story.

But, this story is about God. On those mornings, with the fog blanketing everything in stillness, I could feel God. In Monterey County, the fog does not come in on little cat feet, contrary to what Carl Sandburg wrote. No, in Monterey County, the fog, which is ever-present, settles in with a thud. It doesn't so much float as paint the skies, the fences, the houses in a thick coating of black and white. Very like my beloved late night movies. Life becomes grainy and indistinct, and takes on an air of unreality.

Under the spell of the fog, ordinary spiders' web becomes coated with diamonds, the dew from the fog enveloping each strand the way Winston drips his jewels on movie stars. (The effect of course, pales in comparison to what the Master Jeweler creates). The fog muffles sounds, and though at five in the morning, there isn't much sound to speak of, what is there is muted, indistinct. Save for the sounds of the animals, who are talking to their Maker, there isn't much conversation.

I would stand on the front porch, and feel the enormity of Life...and, as teenagers are wont to do, believe it was all for me. It really felt that way. God was wooing me, with the day, the animals, the utter joy and peace that emanated from Him on those mornings. I fell in love with my Creator, the one who had woven and spun all that I could see, and so much more that I could not. I could feel the absolute sense of order, and the eye for beauty that one who was so busy with the world, would not seem to have time to find important. And yet, he did. And since I was the only one awake, it was all for me. I would pet my horse as my dog happily trotted at my heels and I would feel a kinship, a certain conspiracy since we knew the secret. God was alive and busy in the world. More importantly, he loved us.

I didn't grow up in a home where faith was the answer. In fact, my childhood taught me to believe mostly in myself. I still have no idea how I came to faith, except those mornings were instrumental in helping me to understand God. I hadn't read the Bible, though I had been to Sunday School some, with friends. But it was he who made himself known to me that pulled me to him. Though I had many years where I questioned, and a brief time in my youth where I followed, that time marked me indelibly as His. I didn't understand doctrine, but I understood Love. It was enough. It was a start.

T, who is waxing poetic tonight

Friday, January 09, 2009

Maybe We Should Only Eat the Ones Without Chocolate

Tonight we had a great time baking at a friend's house. JBug drizzled chocolate on cookies and noticed the patterns looked like chromosomes. (yeah, only she would notice that) She ate part of the chocolate and said:

"I just created a mutant!"

This explains much...why our genes are so crummy? Cosmic Baker is up there messing with the chocolate! Could he have drizzled just a bit more in certain places?

T, who likes cookies, especially the drizzled ones

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Good Thing I Didn't Tell Him to Jump Off a Bridge

Today I was making dinner and my son was goofing off, sort of getting on my nerves. Asking for a snack and whining about being hungry. Finally he said, "What CAN I have??" So I said to him

"You can have a poke in the eye with a sharp stick!" Thinking that was the end of that. He comes back with a bamboo skewer and points to his eye. "Right here." he says.

Talk about feeling like crap. I have to watch my sarcasm.

T, who really needs to think before I open my mouth

Monday, January 05, 2009

I Don't Make New Year's Resolutions. But, If I Did...

Lately I have been thinking about why I am not writing as much. I am not really burnt out, but just feeling a lot of pressure to perform or something. Then I read this, and now I get it. She said it more eloquently than I could. So, rather than try and reinvent the wheel,just go read Okay, Fine, Dammit. Now.

Have you found yourself writing less? Do you have a plan to deal with it?

T, who says why can't I just write and forget what people think?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

15 Hours and Two Missing Pieces Later

This is why I don't do puzzles. Yes, I wanted to pull my hair out. This puzzle was beautiful, but very hard to put together. Still, here it is, evidence. I could write the company for replacement pieces, but I am not altogether sure we didn't lose the pieces. (though I don't see how we could have)

T, who figures I should have just watched TV instead

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