Nervous Much?

Posted by on Sep 19, 2016 in Anxiety, Autism, Awkward! | 0 comments

Image of two people falling from a tightrope, one of them grabbing the rope with one hand and the second person with the other, thus saving them both.I didn’t get much sleep this week. I had three meetings and the nerves really got to me. Two of the meetings were for school and the other was just for me.

To recap the plan from last week’s post, we needed

  • FBA/BIP and accommodations to be in place – √ (Yes, I know that’s a square root sign, but I couldn’t find a checkmark. Refer to first sentence of this post.)
  • Officially change Zookeeper’s name and submit it to school – √
  • Meet teacher and special education teacher before school starts – √ and meetings to be described in this post
  • Mom talk to class about autism – much sweating, hemming, and hawing has commenced regarding this step
  • Mom/Dad check in with Zookeeper every day/week and make changes as needed – √ and I’ll tell you about it next week

The first order of business was to find out who Zookeeper’s teachers would be. Because it’s written into his IEP, we were able to find out which teachers Zookeeper would have a week before anyone else. There was a service day, where volunteers sign up to come get the school/teachers ready for the year, on Saturday, August 27th. I signed the four of us up in the hope that we would know who the teachers were by then and meet them ahead of the swarming crowds that gather at the official Meet and Greet.

We did. So, while BamBam and I went to his teacher’s classroom to help, Sparky and Zookeeper went to his teacher’s classroom. I didn’t tell the boys that these were their teachers until after because I didn’t want them to go tell their friends, but it also turned out to be a good idea because there was no pressure on them. BamBam was hoping for the teacher every second grader in the school was hoping for, the equivalent of my friend Lora, but he didn’t get her. I was really worried about that, but meeting his teacher helped me see that this teacher might be even better for him. Which is also the equivalent of Lora because she would absolutely be the best teacher ever for my boys. Meeting her first helped to soften the blow when I told him he would be in her class instead.

I didn’t spend much time with Zookeeper’s teacher that day, but he and Sparky really liked her a lot. I didn’t make the split on purpose, but I now realize it was better for me to go to BamBam’s class because I think the room would have been emotionally charged had I been the one with Zookeeper.

So, Zookeeper meeting his teacher DONE!

Next was my meeting with Zookeeper’s teacher, special education teacher, and principal. We set that meeting for Wednesday, August 31st. The principal told me in advance that his former special ed teacher, the one we loved, will be his special ed teacher again. I told Zookeeper and his response was, “Good.” Sounds anticlimactic, but it was said with enthusiasm.

I got an assortment of pastries to bring in to show how much I appreciated them taking the time to meet with me. We had a very productive meeting, going over all the accommodations and how they will work. The principal even mentioned that Zookeeper had trouble with kids while waiting in line to go into class first thing in the morning. There’s no supervision at that time, except for the safety patrol walking around the building, and some of the kids are out there a long time before the bell rings. They get restless.

The special education teacher suggested that Zookeeper go through the office in the mornings, show them a pass she made for him, and go straight up to his classroom. There he will pick up a schedule for the day, compare it to the regular schedule to see if there’s anything different, then either help teachers with tasks or read quietly until it’s time to bring the class in.

They even suggested he start this the first day of school. Because once Zookeeper starts a routine, even if it’s one he doesn’t like, there is no getting him to change it. He is definitely a stick-with-the-devil-you-know kind of kid.

So, meeting with teacher and special ed teacher DONE!

Earlier in the week, I got an email from the choir I’m in about the start of the new season on September 3rd. The choir is in its seventh year, so the email listed the goals and accomplishments for the previous years and for the one ahead. The new goal is to establish a small, auditioned sub-choir.

That’s right in my wheelhouse! Given, that wheelhouse has 30 years of cobwebs on it, but still.

I signed up for the 7:40pm audition on September 1st, thinking that it would be soon enough that I wouldn’t chicken out, but after the school meetings so I would be relieved and able to relax.

Turns out, not so much with the relaxed. Because, once I’d finished the meetings and was satisfied we had done everything we could until school starts, I realized how totally freaked out I was about the audition. I had nightmares on Wednesday night and slept even less than I had the night before.

The email didn’t say anything about what the audition entailed. Neither did the sign-up sheet. I could have postponed my audition until after the first rehearsal, where I was sure there would be more information (there was), but I was afraid I would chicken out all together if I didn’t do it on September 1st. I had convinced myself that I could not ask anyone and, once I decide something like that, well, let’s just say Zookeeper’s rigidity apple didn’t have very far to fall.

I started trying to remember what was involved in high school and, for some reason, all I could think of was harmonic and melodic minor scales. Turns out the audition involved most of the all-state choir audition parts except for the scales.

Image of a large woman belting out a song.The director had me warm up a little, then she told me what the four parts of the audition would be: more warm up to check out my range, call and response (what I’m calling it because she plays notes on the piano and I sing them back to her),sight singing, and a PREPARED PIECE. Why couldn’t the prepared piece be what I remembered from high school?

I crapped out on the range. My voice just stopped coming out. I used to be a mezzo soprano, but now I’m close to a contralto. Very strange. She said it’s because I haven’t sung for a while and it’ll take more time for it to come back.

The call and response went well. I think she said I got all five.

The sight singing was disastrous. I started off okay, but then missed a couple of intervals and it went downhill from there. I commented on how flat I was and she said yes, but that I’d ended on the right note in reference to the piece. Meaning I was in the general vicinity of the right note, I guess.

Then there was the prepared piece and the fact that I didn’t have one. She said I could sing something from our last show or Amazing Grace or Happy Birthday or Do Re Mi…

I still have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about Do Re Me from our last concert, so I picked that one without pausing to give it thought. I should have picked Happy Birthday. She asked what general key I wanted, but I didn’t know, so she just chose one and I took off singing. By about Mi I realized it was too high for me. I kept going, but it felt like a disaster.

I was so nervous that I babbled about god knows what all the way through the audition. It was an embarrassment to the memory of the singer I used to be. The director was very kind and patient and said I did a great job. I guess we’ll see. The last of the auditions are on September 20th and the first rehearsal is the 26th, so I’ll know soon.

Either way, I’m hoping I can relax now and get some sleep.

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Climbing Out

Posted by on Sep 12, 2016 in Autism | 1 comment

As I said in my last post, I wrote a letter to Zookeeper’s pediatrician to explain the difficulty of third grade. One of the things I wrote was:

We ran into his teacher from the previous year at one point and she commented that she hadn’t seen him smile at all this year, which is out of character for him.

Illustration of a growling turtle with sharp claws

Illustration of a growling turtle with sharp claws

I didn’t realize it until she pointed it out, but she was right. Our happy, smiley, silly boy had turned sulky, scowling, and snappish. And angry. His anger was always just below the surface, ready to pounce. His OTs, psychologist, and I all talked to him about figuring out what his body feels like while he’s getting angry so he can learn to do some self soothing before he starts screaming. Or growling. He maintains that it happens too fast to do anything about it, which I think means it’s still too close to the surface all the time.

My mom and stepfather visited at the end of the school year for my middle niece’s graduation. They got to see Zookeeper just before school ended and after. My mother was struck by the magnitude of change they noticed once he was free. He started laughing again. He was crawling out of the hole third grade had put him in.

While his mood had improved immensely, the anger was still there and would raise its head at seemingly random times, surprising all of us, including Zookeeper. One day, Sparky and I were trying to talk to the kids about something, I don’t remember what. Zookeeper was so nasty in his tone and demeanor that I took away his outside privileges for the rest of the day, which only escalated the situation. Honestly, I know better than to pull a punishment out of thin air like that, but sometimes I get so fed up and angry that I spit the vitriol right back at him.

Once we had let BamBam go, Sparky began to talk Zookeeper down. After a while, I joined the conversation as well. Turns out he was upset about going back to school (in two months, as it was the last week of June). He said he didn’t want to set foot in that place again. I told him he’d have to do fourth grade somewhere. That’s the law. He conceded that he would go back to his school, but he was terrified that nothing would change.

That’s when I realized I hadn’t talked to him about the plan moving forward. You know, the once we spent four months creating.

So I told him that his principal, teachers, therapists, and I had come up with a plan to make sure it is different for him next year. I told him that he would have a teacher that ran a more structured and respectful classroom or I would sit on top of the principal’s desk until she moved him to a class like that. But that I was sure I wouldn’t need to do that because his principal has been really involved and she is also determined to make it a better year.

He’s had several similar incidents since, though they’ve diminished in both intensity and frequency.

A few weeks later, Sparky asked me what the plan was.

That’s when I realized I had told Zookeeper that we had a plan, but not given him – or Sparky – any details on what we would do. The lack of passing on information is a recurring theme for me. *sigh*

So, I wrote up a document telling him the six parts of the plan. It was four pages long. A few weeks later, I realized that was way too much information for him and cut it down to one page:

  1. FBA/BIP
  1. IEP Accommodations
    • Ready to learn checklist
    • Graphic organizers
    • Neo or scribe
    • Small group or individual plus extra time for testing
    • Scheduled desk clean-up time with checklist and visual model
    • Sensory items –
      • Fidgets
      • Wiggle seat
      • Weighted lap blanket
      • Rocks (this is Mom’s addition)
    • Timers to structure check-ins
    • Home/school communication system
    • Break big tasks down into manageable chunks
    • Advance notice for changes in routine
    • Regulated breaks/physical movement
    • Allow verbal responses
    • Extra processing time for complex/difficult tasks
  1. Change legal name to [nickname]
  1. Meet teacher and special education teacher before school starts
  1. Mom talk to class about autism
  1. Mom/Dad check in with Zookeeper every day/week and make changes as needed

The initial version I gave him had a lot of information on the recommendations from the FBA (functional behavior analysis)/BIP (positive behavioral intervention plan).  That was a really important part of the plan because it’s the autism specialist observing and talking to everyone involved and then figuring out what the child needs to create an appropriate learning environment.

We changed his name a couple of weeks ago. I’ll talk about my meeting with the teacher and special education teacher in the next post. I’m already starting to chicken out of my plan to talk to his class about autism (I’ll do it, I just don’t want to).

We’ve talked to him a lot about the need for him to talk to us about what goes on in school; that the plan will fall apart without his input. Here’s hoping he takes that to heart.

Illustration of a man climbing a steep cliff with a boulder chained to his leg.

Illustration of a man climbing a steep cliff with a boulder chained to his leg.

So, Zookeeper spent the summer climbing out of the hole of stress and anger and despair he had sunk into. We tried various things to help him. The talks, the plan, giving him space, not discussing his regression. And we sent him to a fantastic summer day camp for kids with autism, ADHD, and/or learning disabilities with similar traits.  So. Very. Expensive. But totally worth every penny. They had many activities there, including rock climbing.

He’s come a long way, but it’s going to time. Time and results.

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Rock Bottom

Posted by on Sep 5, 2016 in Anxiety, Autism, Autism in Children, Executive Functioning, Hearing, Mental Illness, Sensory | 1 comment

Image of a stone found on a beach that looks like a human bottom. I know the phrase “rock bottom” is generally reserved for the fall-out in addiction when you’ve lost everything and are finally ready to start making the climb out of the hole you’ read more

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Free Parent Coaching!

Posted by on Aug 22, 2016 in Autism | 0 comments

Picture of a hand writing on a slate used for marking a scene in a film or television production.

They used a real slate and everything. CLAP!

Seriously busy week here! Among other chaos, I filmed an interview with the instructor for an online course about family-centered occupational therapy for autism on Friday. I played the parent, which really stretched my acting skill, and the instructor demonstrated the kinds of questions that should be asked in an initial interview. It was fun and the instructor was awesome. She demonstrated sharp listening skills and was friendly and personable to boot. She even offered to send me resources on techniques we might consider trying.

This morning I’m doing another one, with a different instructor, this time about feeding issues. As you know, we have lots of those. I’m looking forward to the interview and any resources this instructor has to offer.

They’re both for OT training purposes, so I doubt anyone I know will ever see them, but it’s cool to know they’re out there.

Speaking of OTs, one of ours sent me an email today about a new study regarding parent coaching on daily living skills. For those unfamiliar with ADLs,

Parent coaching sessions will discuss how you support your child during daily living skills activities which may include, but not be limited to, self-care (dressing, bathing, toileting, oral care), home participation (such as age-appropriate chores), and community expectations (such as joining the parent for grocery shopping, community events, or family outings).

Illustration of a man with a whistle pointing to arrows, exes, and ohs on a flip chart.

Illustration of a man with a whistle pointing to arrows, Xs, and Os on a flip chart.

The study is local to the Puget Sound area, so in case any local people want to participate, here’s the email:

Dear Parent, 

You are receiving this letter because your family meets criteria required to participate in free parent coaching, provided by me, Teresa Fair-Field, OTR/L, as part of a study completing the requirements of my Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) degree in coordination with OT Clubhouse (Sandbox Therapy Group) and Chatham University’s Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy Program.  The project aims to determine if parents/guardians of children (ages 3-12) on the autism spectrum are benefited by a parent coaching program targeting the parent who is supporting the child’s daily living skills.

Please read the attached letter when you are deciding if you would like to participate.  A hard copy of this letter will also be sent to your home.

If you’d like to find out more information, please call the dedicated voice mailbox (*) and leave your name, phone number, and email address.

Thank you in advance for your time.

If you’re interested, PM me and I’ll give you the phone number for the voice mailbox.

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