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A New Experiment

As I’ve noted before, I often feel like I’m conducting experiments in  how I raise my child.  Connor is not typical, nor is there any clear way to treat autism.  Thus much of how I parent is based on trial and error, collecting data, and performing experiments.

The new experiment for this summer is trying out a typical preschool.

Observation: Connor has entered a stage in his development in which he is mimicking classmates and other children he comes into contact with.

Problem: Given that Connor spends the majority of his time with other special needs children, he has begun to mimic symptoms and problematic behaviors of these other children.  His language also stopped developing, keeping it on par with classmates.  Connor has displayed frustration and displeasure in attending his regular special day class.

Hypothesis: Being around neurotypical children will encourage Connor to use more language and develop typical social skills, while reducing problematic behaviors.

Proposed Method of Research: Connor will attend a typical preschool, with a developmental program, two days per week.  Connor will also engage in extra curricular activities with typical peers, such as swimming lessons, play dates, and unstructured social environments (ie playing with unknown children at parks, beaches, etc.).  Connor will continue to attend special day class two days per week, as well as participate in a reduced ABA schedule, regular speech therapy, therapeutic horseback riding, and physical therapy/gymnastics.

Findings: TBA

Obviously when I was mulling over the problems and possible solutions in my head, my reasoning was not so clear and scientific.  In fact, I distinctly remember telling Connor’s psychologist that a large part of why I wanted to conduct this experiment during the summer was that I had “a gut feeling” that this was the right thing to do for him.  I’m hoping the science will back me up!

For the most part, at least in the most current research, the benefits of inclusion seem to outweigh the possible problems, but there are still causes for concern, still reasons to worry.  The recent research encourages me that this is right move for Connor, who is on the high functioning end of the spectrum.  And so far, Connor seems to be loving his new school! In class he isn’t speaking to much, and he has had a few frustrations, but at home I can already see some positive effects.  Just in the week since he’s started, Connor is using full sentences and spontaneous language more often than before.

Now maybe this is just a conincidence, and maybe it’s not.  Only time will tell.

Here are some articles on the benefits of inclusion:

Why Inclusion Benefits all Kids:

http://www.parents.com/blogs/to-the-max/2012/11/06/uncategorized/why-inclusion-in-classrooms-benefits-all-kids/

Benefits of Inclusion:

http://www.ehow.com/info_8656410_benefits-inclusion-preschool-children.html

Maryland Department of Education list of Inclusion Benefits:

http://olms.cte.jhu.edu/olms2/3841

 

Chores and Procrastination

Well my wedding is less than two weeks away now and there is a list a mile long of things that still need to be done.  I am, of course, not doing them.

The thing about getting married for the second time is that it is a lot more difficult to plan, prepare, complete the millions of tasks when you have a child.  Though there are many supposed moral reasons why people should wait to have kids until after marriage, I think the real reason is that it’s damn hard to get anything done when you have kids!

Seriously!  I can barely get the dishes done on daily basis because of Connor!

So when Connor was sick for three weeks straight and missed 10 days of school, my wedding planning got derailed.  Thankfully I have my faithful minions (aka my family and friends) who are kindly helping in whatever capacity they can.  Or that I will let them.  (I do feel strangely reluctant to burden anyone with work when I know how impossible it is to get things done with little ones clinging to you as you try to move the wet clothes from the washing machine to the dryer…or maybe that’s just my house?)

Now that Connor is back at school I should be tackling the dozen or so items left to get done in the next 10 days.

Instead, I’ve spent my morning researching and creating a picture chore chart for Connor.  Yay!…?

The other thing about getting married for the second time is that you don’t get to stop being a parent, your child still needs all of your attention (and your special needs child needs all of your attention and then some).  Since I’ve set the tentative goal of mainstreaming Connor one or two days per week for next fall, we are really focusing on doing whatever we can to prepare him for a mainstream preschool classroom.  That means he’s socializing more with typical developing peers, we’re making him use more and more of his language at home, and we’re trying to create an environment of responsibility.  Part of that means Connor has to complete certain tasks each day (mostly without complaining).

To get him used to the idea of responsibility and having to do things he doesn’t necessarily enjoy, we instituted a chore chart.  I made a worksheet of chores with bubbles next to it to be checked off.  And while Connor enjoyed getting check marks, it didn’t really appear to be making an impact.  So I’m taking another approach.

Choice boards worked really well for us in the past when we were developing Connor’s language skills.  He was able to look at the pictures and either point or pick them up to communicate his needs, while still focusing on developing the words these pictures represented.  I’m hoping that using a pictorial chore chart will have a similar effect.

With a little research I was able to find these from Over the Big Moon:

Picture Chore Charts for Preschoolers

The author provides blank versions so you can add your own clipart/images and text.  Obviously I’m not going to have Connor read 15 minutes every day (since he can’t sit still for 15 minutes) but I am going to have him brush his teeth!

To customize your own charts visit here: http://www.overthebigmoon.com/pre-k-chore-charts-free-printable/

I’ll post an update once I get the charts on the wall and we can see how Connor is progressing!

Until then, I guess I’ll get to some wedding chores before my actual wedding is here…maybe.

 

Warmth

When I was awoken today by a warm stream of pee in my face, I tried not to take it as an omen.  I really, really tried to rationally accept that these things happen and not view it as the cherry on top of an incredibly challenging week.

As a mother I have been peed on in the past, of course, as all parents have been at some point.  There was the infant pee that decorated my clothing, the toddler pee that sprang out when diapers were pulled off, and of course preschooler potty training pee.  All of these I accepted as part of my training as a parent.  They were stories I shared with millions of other parents.  There were badges of honor…almost.

But this morning, when I was awoken from a deep disturbing dream about Connor’s therapist confessing he wasn’t sure about the choices he’d made in his life (my subconscious is confusing), I just couldn’t accept this pee with the same nonchalance.

Some time around 3 am, Connor crawled into bed with me and began taking his pajamas off.  I sleepily (and wrongly) assumed this was because he had perhaps wet himself or just finished using the bathroom.  I didn’t really care, honestly, I just wanted to go back to sleep.  Connor’s nudity doesn’t phase me as it’s his prefered state of being.  He wanted to be naked in bed?  Fine.  Just let me go back to sleep.

In the three hours between then and 6 am Connor managed to work his way up the bed so that his body was wedged between the pillows and his head was pressed against the headboard.  At just after 6 this morning, Connor’s little penis was aimed perfectly at my face just in time for him to pee on my left eye, cheek, and nose.

Thankfully my subconscious didn’t translate this peeing into something in my dream like a warm shower or a squirt gun fight, but alerted me right away and allowed me raise my hand to block that warm steady stream after just a few seconds.  However, in my opinion, that was a few seconds too many.

Considering how I’d awoken, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the morning that followed.  After I got out of bed to wash my face, I decided it was safer to go sleep in the guest room where, although the sheets were cold, the bed was dry.  I wanted to catch just a few more minutes of sleep before wrestling Connor into the school routine after a two-week absence.  But Connor sensed my absence and came looking for me.  Apparently walking naked around the cold house was enough to wake him up, since he proceeded to climb in bed with me and snap the straps of my camisole while I tried to sleep.  Awesome.

But you know what, I got him out of the house and on the bus.  I’ve walked the dogs already.  Now I get to spend my day doing laundry in silence and watching reruns of Law and Order, while Connor struggles through his first day of school in 2013.

It may not be very nice or parent-like to say this, but neener neener neener!

Conducting the Home Orchestra

On days like today I always feel like being a stay-at-home mom is something like conducting an orchestra.

When I was a full-time working single mom (which according to Romney might drive Connor to engage in gun violence–sorry for the politics, but come on! that’s funny!) at the library and Connor was at day care I didn’t so much conduct as scramble.  Every day was a challenge to get things done.  And many days things just didn’t get finished.  Laundry piled up, dinner was composed of various take out orders, the household disarray grew larger daily, to-do lists grew longer instead of shorter.

Now that I’m stay at home I try to keep on top of everything.  The laundry is done when the bins are full.  The pantry is always well stocked.   Home-made food fills our fridge.  Being at home full-time with Connor in school full-time actually gives me time for projects of my own…sometimes.

After saying all that I want to clarify that things don’t always go so well.  Having an autistic preschooler means that there is a lot (A LOT) of chaos in my life.  Whether it’s getting no sleep from anxiety fueled nightmares or having to constantly rearrange our daily schedule to fit in all of the ABA therapy sessions, speech therapy, mandated parent education, etc.; life is still pretty hectic.  Plus I volunteered to be Connor’s room-mom and I spend way too much time on Pinterest late at night, meaning I think being room-mom=being Martha Stewart (if only!).  That’s all on top of trying to run the house like it’s my job, because well it is my job!

I’m a librarian who is currently a stay-at-home mom.  If I’m not making sure my house is being run darn near perfect, then I feel like I’m failing at my job.  I don’t earn a paycheck so I feel like I have to earn my keep by running this house like it’s going to be in Better Homes and Gardens next month.  Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  Mostly because my house is older than I am and has never been remodeled.  I don’t think Better Homes and Gardens is going to do a piece on my nearly counter-less kitchen and ancient oven!

But I digress….

In order to achieve my goal of having my home run like a well-oiled machine I need to do a lot of work.  Gardeners, housekeepers, handymen, all need to be directed to fix/clean/maintain various aspects of the house.  Errands and chores have to be coordinated to maximize efficiency.  Meals are planned way ahead of time, recipes researched, preschoolers duped into eating healthy things (sometimes).  Dogs are walked, fed, cared for.  Fiances are well fed, well dressed, well-loved.

So sometimes I feel like I’m conducting like this:

Good days

Like today! I coordinated a new housekeeper, discussed winter and spring plans with my gardener, met with a sprinkler inspection, dropped off 12 pumpkins, 12 trick or treat buckets, and 12 glow sticks for a preschool project, and managed to get some shopping done!  Boom baby!

Other days tend to go like this: they start out well but somehow slip out of control and you’re just happy to be at one piece at the end!

Here’s hoping we have more well conducted days than days like Merlin!

 

Bad Day Made Better

Last night was yet another night of nightmares, anxiety outpourings, and early morning wakeups.  Since returning from vacation Connor has been plagued by bad dreams.  Though he can’t communicate to me what these dreams are about, the fact that he clings to me, crying, whimpering my name clearly communicates that these dreams focus on my leaving him again.  It breaks my heart.

So this morning is not going well.  I’m exhausted.  I have a headache.  I’m downing enough caffeinated beverages to replace my blood stream.

But there is no amount of Tylenol and Diet Coke that can help me be the mommy I need to be.  I just have to muscle through and keep my unraveling patience in check.

To make this bad day better I’m taking a little me time, just a little.  In between doing the dishes, folding laundry, replacing burned out lightbulbs (which is oddly one of my least favorite chores, I don’t know why, but I really hate it), and various other household tasks, I’m taking a few minutes to sort myself out.

Here are my top three treats for today:

 

I ordered this dress on sale about a week ago and it came today.  Yay!  It’s a little dressy for running errands, picking up Connor from preschool, and sitting through therapy, but it makes me happy.

I bought the new Jason Aldean record.  It literally came out today.  It’s a little predictable, a little run-of the mill, but it’s familiar like slipping on an old sweatshirt.  I’ve been listening to it on repeat.  Country music makes me smile.

I booked a ticket to Chicago to see my little baby nephew, Baby N!  And because I had a voucher from American for screwing up my vacation, I could afford to book my return flight in first class.  FIRST CLASS!!  Oh yeah!

Well, my alone time is almost done now, so I’m off to get my baby boy and enter the whirlwind of preschool emotions.  But I already feel better.  And I know we’ll survive today.

Off And Away

Well last week was just awful. I managed to contract one of the worst flu viruses I’ve ever had. I literally couldn’t get out of bed for two days. The rest of the week I managed to pull myself around in order to do some bare bones mothering, but other than that I was in a serious, committed relationship with my bed.
And when I say one of the worst flus ever, I’m not exaggerating. I had fever hallucinations! For a short amount of time I came alive in the book I had been reading. It was horrifying! Thankfully that lasted only a few hours. I joyfully returned to my horrible state of illness to escape those terrible visions. The rest of the time I was simply miserable.
Neither Connor nor I would have survived without my mother and the fiance. Though Connor would have been happy enough to skip school all week, he would have been upset trying to feed himself for those days.
And then it was my birthday.
I was so sick all week that I forgot it was even my birthday a few times. I normally love my birthday and get very excited making plans. This year I barely mustered enough energy to go to dinner.  I appreciated everyone’s kind birthday wishes, as well as the gifts from family and friends. And then I happily slept for 12 hours. Best. gift. ever.
Now it’s the day after my birthday and I’m heading to Grenada in a few hours. So, yeah, I’m exhausted but excited. There is a ton of stuff to attend to that fell to the wayside this past week that will simply have to wait a little bit longer. I’m off to recuperate on a tropical island.
Maybe when I return it’ll actually feel like fall around here. I’ll rescue my super-mom cape from the bottom of the sewing pile and life will get back to normal, or at least as normal as we get.

Under Pressure

As many of you may know, I taught high school English for several years.  I enjoyed my students and the literature I was able to engage them in, but the overall teaching experience was not for me.

People are often shocked that I chose to leave teaching after just three years.  When I tell them that I spent nearly 30 hours a week working outside of the classroom, they were in disbelief.  Surely, that’s an exaggeration?  Sadly, it is not.  With department meetings, parent phone calls, lesson planning, essay grading, as well as chaperone duties, I easily worked from 7:30am-7:30pm each day of the week, as well as spending most of my Sundays on work.

Teaching is a pressure cooker.  Not only do you have the responsibility of teaching all these students, which means doing all the prep work and grading, you are under pressure to perform to a certain standard.  Every class is the equivalent of putting on a show.  You memorize your lines, you have your props, you sneak jokes in here and there, but you’re always mindful that you must incorporate standards, technology, multiculturalism, cross-curricular tie-ins….It’s enough to drive anyone crazy.

And it often does.  Several reports have come out in recent years citing the high turnover rates among teachers, particularly in their first five years of teaching.  These numbers have been quoted anywhere from 25-50%, while most agree that it’s about 30%.  Think about that!  1 in 3 teachers are leaving their jobs in the first five years for other careers!  What is really a shame is that many of these teachers are wonderful at their jobs.  They are talented, brave, creative, and engaging, and they are failing to get the job satisfaction they need to keep them in the industry.

A recent study highlight the problems of retention in teaching.  TNTP (The New Teacher Project) conducted a study focused on teacher retention in urban areas.  These areas are more likely to be dealing with issues of budget cuts, over-crowding, and little teacher support.  Their report found that retaining teachers who were highly effective at their jobs was more difficult that retaining teachers who were not.

In light of all this, it’s hard not to view the Chicago teachers’ strike with some sympathy. They are facing massive budget cuts, severe overcrowding (as many as 43 kindergarteners in one classroom), as well as a flawed teacher evaluation system.  Personally, I hate that there are hundreds of thousands of children out of school while these teachers strike.  Many of these children need school as a day care service for their working parents, as well as a source of meals and support.  However, those facts alone are enough to further support these teachers.  In today’s busy world, teachers often become surrogate parents to their students, spending more time with them than they do their own families.  School provides a structure and a support that many students are not getting at home.

In some cases this is understandable, but in many cases it is not.  Drawing from my own experiences and the teaching experiences of friends and colleagues, I’d like to make a plea:

Parents, please parent your child!  Please look over their homework.  Ask them when their reports are due.  Engage them in conversation at dinner that takes place over a table and not in front of a tv.  If they do something wrong, discipline them.  If they do something well, praise them.  Your child needs your attention.  Teachers cannot do it all.  They need your help!  They need you to parent so they can get back to the already stressful business of teaching.  If you don’t want to do it for the teachers, do it for your child.  They’re more likely to succeed in school (and in life) if you get involved.  Support your schools, your teachers, your child by being a parent.