Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Good Week So Far

Wednesday again! The week has flown by again, but what a productive week it's been!

Monday was Martin Luther King Day, so SportsBoy did not have school. SuperKid saw that on the calendar Sunday night and immediately insisted that he should have the day off, too! Truthfully, we need the routine and the discipline more than we need the vacation day right now so that suggestion was filed for another time. SuperKid began Monday with a two-hour session with his tutor, followed by a martial arts lesson, study time with me (including acing his History test and researching and writing his entire speech about Norway for Classical Conversations), some play time, piano practice, a tennis lesson and then a group martial arts fitness class. A big day and he had a grin on his face the entire time! He told me he was proud of everything he got accomplished, especially finishing his speech. He did it in a few blocks of time so he didn't get frustrated, and I could see he was happy not to have it hanging over his head until Tuesday.

Tuesday SK's tutor and I met with the advisor assigned to our family by the company that provides the tutoring (he is on the Autism Scholarship Program, which pays for his tutor four hours a week). She was impressed with his progress. I do think she tends to be impressed fairly easily, but I have to say that it is nice to sit down and really acknowledge the progress that SK has made in the past 3 months. It's also good to see where the progress is a bit stagnant so we can plan to revisit a topic or think about approaching it another way.

Today we had Classical Conversations followed by a 2-hour field trip about stars and planets at the area metroparks with the homeschool cub scout pack. It was a great class! The best part was the temporary planetarium. We all squeezed in and looked at various depictions of some of the more famous constellations while listening to an interesting mix of science interixed with mythology. Very fun!

The only downside to this week has been that I have not gotten in much exercise. I did go to a body sculpting class on Monday, but yesterday all I did was run two  miles (I haven't run in almost a year because it was hurting my knees and hips - so I wanted to start off small just to see how I felt). Today - nothing. Ugh - my body doesn't like it when I don't get exercise - I feel tired and sluggish in a bad way and I will soon start to get cranky - uh oh! :-) Tomorrow - back on track!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Smells Like . . .

Well, I know there aren't a ton of readers here, yet - and I'm actually surprised there have been as many as my little stats tab says (I just figured out that was there, by the way - very cool!). Just wondering if any of you readers happen to have a child on the spectrum. 'Cause I have a question:

Can your child smell?

Maybe this is crazy, but I don't think SuperKid can smell. I have never in his entire life heard him say, "That smells good," "That smells bad," "What is that smell?", "Are you baking cookies/making dinner/burning something?" Nothing.

Last night, since Mr. Wonderful was with SportsBoy at the tennis tournament in a land far away :-) SuperKid snuggled with me in bed. He likes to get under the covers, and when I stuck my head under there to see if he was still breathing (yes, I'm a paranoid mom), well . . .  let's just say the smell was not good under there. But SuperKid didn't seem to mind.

I've thought about this before, but haven't really pursued it.  Actually, I'm not really sure what to do in order to pursue it. I first thought of this years ago as we were filling out the paperwork before taking SK to see Judith Bluestone (who, by the way, truly was the Autism Whisperer), and one of the questions was something like "Does your child seem to have a sense of smell?" I know I checked no, but let's be honest here, there were way bigger issues to address at that point. And while we're being honest, there are still bigger issues to address. Still, every now and then, it hits me like a ton of bricks. "Darn it! I forgot - SuperKid can't smell. Now what am I supposed to do?"

So I figured I'd ask while I had an audience. Can your child smell? And whether he or she can or can't, do you have any thoughts on this? I could really use some help on this one. Thanks!

Tennis, Anyone?

So far, a very relaxing and rewarding weekend! It's been pretty quiet here since SportsBoy is away at a tennis tournament this weekend. Miss him! But he's having a great time and these tournaments have been great - he is really excited to play tennis now!

Mr. Wonderful and I are very keen on the sport. We both grew up playing tennis with our families, played in college (we actually met on the college tennis courts) and still play several times a week. While SportsBoy has always been involved in various sports, tennis was never a draw for him. He took his group lessons but grumbled about going and never wanted to get on a court to hit some balls when he didn't have a lesson.

He would explain that he likes team sports, and having watched him for years in the team sport setting, I knew what he meant. He is the kid who dies for his team - but mostly from the sidelines. SB is not very aggressive, not very loud, not an extroverted leader and not the coach's kid. So his playing time over the seasons and years has ranged from almost none to about 75%. Anyway, lots of playing time or not, he looks forward to every practice and every game. He cheers his teams and analyzes every play after the games (he has a great head for sports analysis, I must admit). He just loves being on a team, and will happily and eagerly play whatever role is needed - even if it's sideline cheerleader. (Mind you, this is recreational sports - not travel, so there's really no excuse for a kid to get ZERO playing time - but that has happened!)

So this year, our tennis club got a couple of new pros for the junior program. SB had been on a break from tennis for six months or so and reluctantly, when school began, agreed to take some group lessons again. Amazingly, after the first session, the pros invited him to move up to the next group. Yowza! Two hours of tennis and SB could barely get any of the other kids' balls back. They hit so hard and were so fast. But the pros said he had the potential to be in this group and SB stuck with it. Now - about three months later, he's squarely in the middle of the pack. Progress!

So the pros have begun taking a group of kids to tournaments in different cities. None of the kids are superstars - they're all pretty much like SportsBoy. They travel together in vans, room together, and cheer each other on during their matches. SportsBoy is hooked! Tennis has become a team sport for him! He's improved markedly during each match, and has found some friends to play tennis with at the club. We are so happy! Well, right now I'm happier than Mr. Wonderful. He has chaperoned these trips, so today he's more tired than happy. But the happiness will resurface after a good nap! :-)

So why have we pushed tennis onto our kid who loves other sports? A few reasons. We live in a city where team sports are very competitive, and we know there is no way SB will be able to continue playing after he ages out of the recreational programs (which will be soon). SB is creative and cerebral and contained. He could easily amuse himself all day without any exercise or outdoor playtime. He also loves sweets and other treats. With Mr. Wonderful's family history in mind, we think it's important to make sure SB has the option to do something athletic for the rest of his life. Tennis will do that for him.

Also, SB is the kind of kid who takes a while to bloom. He is very thoughtful, calculating and cautious - he doesn't just "go for it." In tennis, he can choose his playing time - he can practice as much as he wants, go to as many tournament as we can afford (time and money), and hopefully have some time to get confidence in his maturing, developing athletic self. He is not used to being seen as a team star. Just this year his basketball coach told SB he was one of the team's go-to guys, and SB didn't really know how to process that responsibility. We think tennis will allow him to work through all that on his own time.

And even if we're wrong about all that, we enjoy sharing this activity with SB and seeing him get excited about it. Mr. Wonderful and I have made many friends over the years on a tennis court, and hope SB will do the same.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Where Did the Week Go?

Well, not too many posts this week! It was a good, but hectic week! SuperKid had a great birthday - lots of gifts, a fun party with family, and dinner at his favorite restaurant. By the time we got to my birthday (the day after his), we were all pretty birthdayed out.

On Wednesday we had Classical Conversations and homeschool Webelos. While those are both nice activities for SK, I find Wednesdays to be stressful days. Parents must attend CC, so that's four hours of sitting there doing nothing for me each week. We have to be close to the children so we really can't sit at the back of the room and read or something like that. Also, while the curriculum for CC is very good, it doesn't match the rest of my curriculum or any of the goals on SK's IEP (other than a couple of the social goals), so I fight the feeling that we're not making any "progress." I really have improved in this respect since we began homeschooling, but I admit I sometimes panic at the thought that we may not achieve our academic IEP goals - or more accurately, that we may not achieve them in the way I envisioned we would. I think SK's goals are very important this year as they address several of the core deficits typically caused by autism. So they are super-tough for him. They require more reinforcement and practice than they ever have in the past, and I get nervous that we spend four hours every Wednesday doing work that does not directly tie into those goals. Still, SK seems proud of what he's accomplishing there so that is a really good thing. And he is doing better at fitting in with the kids and interacting with them - and that is very important. Also, the families are very good and kind; I enjoy knowing there are so many wonderful homeschool families in our area.

Homeschool Webelos has also been a bit rough this year. Communication and organization have been issues, and that has added to my (and the other moms') stress level. Things kind of came to a head at the meeting on Wednesday, so now it looks like the moms are banding together to plan the rest of the year and take turns running the meetings. That should help.

So Wednesday began with a bit of stress, but all in all it was a good birthday for me. Mr. Wonderful made a nice dinner and the boys gave me a gift and sang. SportsBoy's basketball game was cancelled due to the weather, so he spent that time with me, playing chess and doing Bananagrams. He hates Bananagrams, so that really was very generous of him! :-) Best of all, Mr. Wonderful and the boys did ALL the dishes and kitchen clean-up. LOVED THAT!!
Yesterday was SK's second piano lesson. His teacher was very pleased with his progress over his first week. Mr. Wonderful actually took SK to his lesson since I had to get SportsBoy to the pediatrician for his wellness check (we're a little late this year - long story), so I only got to hear about it second-hand. Still, SK loved the encouragement and he practiced a long time today.

This upcoming week will pose some challenges for our scheudule. SB is off of school on Monday for MLK Day. If SB has no school, SK will lobby for none. But SB doesn't have a birthday party on Friday afternoon, nor does he have a field trip on Wednesday afternoon. SK will work with his tutor will I work with SB on some academics that I reinforce at home with him (mostly writing, challenge writing and studying for tests). We will all play a few games I picked up recently that will reinforce some things that SK is working on, but it will be fun since we can all play them together. And then we'll do something nice as a family before tennis lessons, martial arts and Boy Scout activities kick in!

Friday afternoon will be SuperKid's friend (and final) birthday party. We'll be at the bowling alley whooping it up with about 15 of SK's homeschool friends from CC and Webelos. Should be a fun way to finish off the week!

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Happy Birthday Party!

This is a big week for us - we have two birthdays this week! SuperKid turns 10 tomorrow!! And I turn a number bigger than 10 on Wednesday. The festivities began early this week, with a family party in honor of SuperKid yesterday.

SuperKid got a lot of gifts, including a terrific LEGO set that has kept him busy during his free time today and some zhu zhu pet accessories that kept Mr. Wonderful busy yesterday as he figured out how to connect all the parts to each other! :-) Other nice gifts were enjoyed and appreciated as well!

SuperKid's party was really special this year. It was the kind of party I used to dream about, but hardly dared to hope for. When SuperKid was younger, his birthdays were sad days at our house. SK had no idea there was anything special about those days. He didn't care about balloons, or parties or even presents.  We had a few parties with other children during which he sat quietly holding a block while everyone else ran around and played and laughed. The presents would sit in a pile in front of him while he stimmed on the wrapping paper and bows, but he had no desire to see what was inside of them. When we did open a gift for him, he would not acknowledge it with a smile or attempt to play with it. It was heart-breaking to want him to feel happy and excited - but to see him withdraw from all of it. I wanted to celebrate him and his life, and I felt resentful and sad that our attempted celebrations merely magnified the challenges and disabilities our little boy (and our family) was living with.

I still vividly remember the day SuperKid turned 5. Mr. Wonderful and I were actually in Boston at an RDI workshop, hoping that this would help us with SK's remediation. We were so sad and conflicted to not be with SK on his birthday, but knew that it was more important in the long run that we go to the conference. Both sets of grandparents babysat while we were gone and when I asked them what they had done to celebrate SK's birthday, they admitted they did not know what to do - so they did nothing. Didn't make him a cake, didn't give him a gift, didn't blow up a balloon. Mind you, these are very loving grandparents, so you can only imagine how confused and frustrated they must have been to have chosen to ignore his birthday. I cried harder that night than I ever had - and back then I used to have some pretty big cries on a pretty frequent basis. We did have a party for SK when we got home, but SK fell asleep shortly after everyone arrived. He awoke at the end of the party but did not want to blow out his candles, eat any cake or open any gifts, so we did it all without him. It was the worst day of my life to date. I could see no way out., and things seemed to be getting worse.

Luckily, every birthday since then has gotten better and better. By his sixth birthday, SK could speak in two-and three-word sentences, which was so heartening! I remember him being excited about the family walking into the house with presents, and I remember him eagerly wanting to open them and play with his new toys! We invited some children from his class to a party and he played and jumped and ran with them! It was a miracle. And it still is.

We used to pray the day would come when SK would ask us for a toy. A real toy - not a stick to hold or a piece of paper on which he could write hippopotamus (yes, at age 2) over and over and over and over . . .  This year, his Christmas list had about 15 items on it. Did we roll our eyes at our son's greed and lecture him about being grateful? Of course - a little bit. God is good!

We used to pray for a day when our son would speak. As Mr. Wonderful now tells people, "Now we pray for a day when he'll actually shut up." True? Well, not really - but it's a gut reaction we sometimes have to check. Our son can talk! And I no longer count words or use M&Ms as incentives! God gives hope!

We used to have a list of things we prayed that our son would one day be able to do and experience, and on his birthdays we would wish for them as the candles on his cake flickered. Do we still wish on his candles? Heck yeah! Our son still faces challenges and issues that impact his life on a day-to-day basis. But when we wake up tomorrow, it will be because SK will come into our room yelling, "Mommy, Daddy, wake up! It's my birthday!" When we asked SK how he wanted to spend his special day this year, he thoughtfully put together an agenda that includes visiting the museum, playing (of course!), opening presents and then eating dinner at his favorite sit-down restaurant. Those are all things that used to be on our lists. God answers prayers!

I'm not sure who is more excited about his 10th birthday tomorrow - SuperKid or me! But I am sure that we're both going to enjoy it!! :-)

Please give your child a hug in honor of SK's birthday today. Thank God for the things your child can do, and be thankful that you get to experience your child's accomplishments every day. Please do not take anything for granted.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Weekly Wrap-up

Ooh, something fun! A homeschool blogger I love to follow has a weekly wrap-up, and if I can figure out how to link up, I can participate now that I have a blog!

This was our first week back to "school" after a two-week Christmas vacation. It was a rough first day, with lots of tears and frustration (honestly, on both of our parts). But SuperKid powered through. He had two hours of tutoring and then we worked on his Saxon Math, Institute for Writing lesson, Easy Grammar and Abeka History. Our evening was busy with tennis lessons for both boys, followed by SuperKid's kenpo practice and SportsBoy's Boy Scout meeting. All in all, a busy day back - no wonder it took some adjustment!

By Tuesday, things were better. We rolled through all our subjects and began reading Little House on the Prairie. Before Christmas, SuperKid read Little House in the Big Woods and we did a notebooking study on it. He loved that story! SportsBoy had never read any of the Little House books either, so I got the audio version from our library and played it during our car rides. Both boys were so enthusiastic about this book! SK couldn't wait to dig in to Little House on the Prairie, and SB has already made us promise not to listen to the book without him. Love that!

Thursday was SK's first piano lesson! He loved it! What a smile on his face, and he has been practicing diligently. He can play a really good Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and boy, is he proud! (So's his mama!)

Next week we have a few more activities - including TWO birthdays - which will keep us busy, but I think we're off to a pretty good start! Much better than I would have expected given Monday's events, anyway!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

First Piano Lesson

Slowly, but surely, we are getting into our rhythms. No more complaining about "school," though there are a few comments here and there that let me know SuperKid has not yet forgotten about his precious time to himself. Questions about spring break, for example . . . :-)

Today SuperKid had his first piano lesson. Mr. Wonderful is quite musical and plays a bajillion instruments - all well. I played violin and piano in high school, but did not miss them too much when my lessons stopped. I was told I had some talent, but I'm not sure that was true. And I never really loved music. Even today I am not a person to turn on the radio or my iPod when there is quiet time (ahh, quiet time!).

Anyway, today SuperKid had his first music lesson, and as I said before, it happened to be on the piano. Let me just say that he did a great job. His teacher is aggressive - not in a behavioral way, but in a way that is meant to ensure the 10-year-old beginners catch up with the other 10-year-olds, and soon! Let me also say that, based on the 45 minutes I observed today, apparently playing the piano is a lot harder than I remember it being. But SuperKid had a smile on his face the whole time and when we got home he asked if he could practice. The answer was "No" because SportsBoy had to be taken to his tennis lesson - how's that for a sneak peek at our family's priorities?

We are, if lables must be applied, a "sports family." And for SuperKid, who keeps reminding us he doesn't like sports, that's a bit of a bummer. Mr. Wonderful would like us to be more of a "music family" so maybe SK will be able to help move that agenda along. But as long as Mr. W is travelling and not managing the homelife, sports will more likely be at the forefront since I share that love and understanding.

OK - I need to go. Time for my body sculpting class, during which we "pump (light) iron" to popular music which I've never heard before. How's that for a compromise? :-)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Much Better . . .

Okay, we're making some progress already! SuperKid felt much better about being back "to school"  today although there were a few tears while we read the Declaration of Independence. I'm not sure why that brought out his emotions; maybe he sensed the passion in the colonists' words. (I have to say, before this unit I had never read any part of the Declaration, and I am very impressed by the emotion and reasoning the colonists used. And the words are so powerful . . . ) Still, he put on a brave face and powered through it!

Overall, he did really well with his OAT practice session (got all the literal questions correct, and needed minimal help with the inferential! HUGE!!!). Also, he did that while reading silently! So, does anybody else have this problem? SK could not read silently! We have been working on that with this OAT practice booklet. When I would tell him to read silently, he would move his head back and forth like he was in a cartoon and then tell me he was done about 10 seconds later. Obviously, there was no comprehension since he clearly had not actually read the passage. We had to start with him reading one word silently, then I would cover it up and ask him what it was. When we had that mastered, we moved to two words, then a phrase . . . then a phrase with a question about comprehension. Based on recent reading exercises (including today's, which was his best!), I think we've got a silent reader on our hands!!

As an aside, he will not actually take the OAT. We just use the practice exams as comprehension and expression exercises. The school will test him in May, and this is the format they will use. I like it because we use short little readings and we answer them orally, which is more difficult for SuperKid!

He also scored a 90% on his History quiz, which was impressive since we did all but one reading for it before the Christmas break.

SportsBoy had a good day, too. He did really well on a Math exam he was concerned about (rightfully so, his study sessions leading up to it were a bit rough - so his good score was a great achievement that came with a lot of work). We began studying for his Science exam tonight (he studied by himself over break; tonight I joined in) and he seems to not only know the material but he also has some great thoughts and insights about the subject (renewable and non-renewable energy sources).

No Classical Conversations tomorrow - that starts next week. So we'll continue to get back into the swing of things slowly, which I think is just right

Happy New Year!

Well, the new year of homeschooling had a rough start! SuperKid was not excited about getting back to our schedule! Two weeks off (driven by SportsBoy's two week vacation from public school) was not the most productive way to end 2010. There was a lot of tv, a little wii (which is allowed only during school breaks, and that unfortunately makes it a big deal) and just too much lethargy intermingled with the excitement and uncertainty of the holidays. Plus everyone was sick during the break, so our rhythms are OFF!

Looking back, I can see that Mr. Wonderful and I contributed quite a bit, too. All of our schedules and routines went out the window. Mr. Wonderful was home for two straight weeks and there were no scheduled activities for SuperKid. We just made a mess in the house and hung out! Not a bad gig for a couple of days, but with two weeks of it - there are repercussions!

So the good news is that the situation has clarified some things that I can do to help our family (and especially SuperKid) out a bit. Not really resolutions, but things to be mindful of, to invite into our home and lives, to set the foundation for the productive growth of our family both as a unit and as individuals.

1. Set a routine, communicate it, and follow it. SuperKid really needs to know what the schedule will be. He likes to know how long he will have to "work" and when he will get to "play." Now, "work" for SK just means doing any activity that he doesn't choose. So even if I suggest we play a game during our school time, he calls that "work." "Play" is his free time. I do keep a large monthly calendar up-to-date in our office, but re-introduced SK's calendar yesterday. We started off the school year writing out a daily calendar, but got away from that. For 2011 I got him one of those weekly calendars that breaks the day into 15-minute increments. Yesterday we worked on filling it out for the week. He wrote everything in and shaded it. A good start, though we didn't clarify how long we would be "working" or "playing" in it - it just has our appointments and outside obligations for the week. I think if we get into a good rhythm around our calendar, that will go a long way to easing SK's concerns about our daily schedule. I may need to bite the bullet and get a little more concrete in how our day is structured, but I like the flexibility and would like him to grow to be comfortable with a little ambiguity, too. We'll see how this goes.

2. Plan some play time with other kids. This is a tricky one. SK really has no friends, per se. He goes to a lot of activities, but none have really resulted in any friendships. He is currently in cub scouts, Classical Conversations class, tennis lessons and a group martial arts class. Last semester he was also doing a few other homeschool classes, but I think we're going to cut down on those this semester and just invite some kids over to play a bit. We are not a family that entertains a lot - so this is definitely out of my comfort zone. Still, it would be good for all of us to open up a bit.

3. Focus on health. We used to be so diligent in giving SK his supplements, but we have really lost our focus on this one, too. This was always Mr. Wonderful's area - he was the impetus for going this route and took responsibility for keeping us on track. But, like the rest of us Mr. Wonderful has become tired and overwhelmed. Clearly I need to pick up here and just do it instead of hoping someone else will. Also, over the year, it would be helpful for me to do a better job of planning our meals. I just never know what we'll have for dinner, and that results in a lot of chicken nugget nights. It doesn't help that Mr. W is gone several nights each week, but still - I don't mind cooking, I just hate figuring out what to have and making sure we have all the components for a meal. Again, it's not a hard thing, I just need to do it.

4. Organize. We have too much stuff and it's all in the wrong place. There, I said it. Our basement is full of old toys, holiday decorations, momentos and even wedding presents we've never used (our 20 year anniversary was last November). Upstairs, we have papers, books, more toys and pet toys. But mostly we have paper! My kids draw, make spreadsheets, concoct lists, write a word on a full size sheet of paper - and it is everywhere! By the way, my husband and I go through quite a bit ourselves. Also, things never make it back to where they belong. The boys play with their toys and read their books and leave them on the floor. I stack things, put them in a bin and put it out of the way when I'm tired of looking at it - but then I don't remember where it is! We could not find our dictionary yesterday because SportsBoy used it over break and has no idea where it is now. Seriously - the three of us collectively spent several hours looking for our dictionary yesterday. And we still don't know where it is.

Having written all of this down, I can see that we have become tired, overwhelmed and maybe even a bit lazy. It's hard to raise a family and get everything right. We do a great job of spending time with our kids, really enjoying them and knowing them. We are a loving family and kind people. We help others and, despite my frustrations above, we do not live in a messy house (just unorganized) nor do we eat potato chips for every meal. But over our heads the ASD cloud has hung for many years.

We do see progress, we do see hope - but sometimes we have to make ourselves see those things through a thick fog. We started out, like most families do, trying every therapy and remediation theory we could find. We have gotten smarter and more focused over the years, but honestly, the constant uncertainty, pressure and fear takes a toll. I have aged in dog years since SK was born. Though healthy, I feel much older than my years. My body and mind want to be energetic and I am very active. But I have allowed myself to become distracted, hoping for a brief respite from thinking bad things about the future. And things have slipped a bit as a result.

This year I will try to update this blog so I can see if there is progress. So I can really make myself think about what we are doing and why. And so I have a bit of a record with some pictures and words of what we did this year. I don't want to lose 2011, the happy and even the frustrating things, in the blur that has become our lives. SK turns 10 in one week. All the time I thought we had when he was little, so many years ago, is drifting away. Part memory, part organizational tool (see #4 above!! :-)), part undefined at this point - this blog is about what it's like to be Kokoa's Mom.