Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Big Changes on the Horizon

It's official. Next year, Blink will be attending a new school. We're moving out of the charter school system and into the public schools. He will attend our newly-designated neighborhood school with his little sister, who is entering kindergarten. As the fates would have it, this school has an autism program.

Big changes. Blink will move from a school of 75-80 kids, my guesstimate is 90% of whom receive special education services, to a school of 300+, including the ~16 or so children in the autism program.

Although technically Blink is currently in a "mainstream" classroom for part of the day, it doesn't feel that way to me, given the population his current school serves.  The truth is, he's not doing so well in this setting, behaviorally speaking. Academically, he's doing fantastic — which is all the more impressive given the limited extent to which he's been "present" for learning lately.

It's been a rough school year, rife with bullying and challenging social conflicts, boredom, and a classroom full of volatile personalities. Blink is stressed out and anxious and stuck in a rut. I think the lack of positive role models for behavior is a real problem for him. He has trouble participating in a lot of group activities -- he'll get angry and run out of the room, for instance.

At his new school, Blink will have the opportunity to mainstream in a classroom of 25-odd typically developing peers with support from the autism team.  He'll be integrated into the mainstream classroom to the extent that he's able to be successful.

Conventional wisdom would say that if the kid can't hang in the uber-staffed special education classroom, he's never going to cut it in a mainstream room.

I hope that's wrong.  I think it is wrong, in Blink's case.

Here's our thinking:

1. Blink is bored.  He needs to be challenged and stimulated academically. I've been beating this drum for years, suggesting that if his mind is occupied, his behaviors will improve. Sadly, it remains untested. The new school seems like it has a lot more academic rigor, tons of enrichment opportunities, etc.

2.  Blink needs positive role models. When he's around high functioning kids, he models more of their behavior. He is getting more and more awareness of other kids' perceptions of his behavior and he understands that the standards will be different (much higher!) at the new school.

The potential is huge. Now, to do whatever I can to get him ready....

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Thank God for Email

This morning, I have:
  • Written the county social worker
  • Written a consultant who will hopefully be able to join an evaluation meeting by phone
  • Engaged in email correspondence with private OT
  • Written teacher to ask for IEP progress report and FBA data
  • Written school OT about trying something new
  • Answered email from Blink's therapist
Phew. Now let's hope I can actually follow-up on all of these threads....oh, and actually get some work done, too!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bits of Miscellany

I think I've hit upon something big: the key to resolving problems is to blog about them!

Case-in-point #1:  I suggested that it might—gasp—make sense to wear sneakers (aka Tie Shoe Implements of Torture) to school rather than his usual rain boots....and Blink reluctantly agreed!  Interestingly, he had those shoes on before I even had a chance to nag, err, remind him.  (Did he leave them tied and slip them on?  It seems so....but what happened to the just-right-tightness problem?)

Relatedly, Case-in-point #2:  We had the most delightful morning laughing and enjoying each other. Blink was the first person ready to go out the door. I think this has happened ONCE before and it was also in the past two weeks. Such a dramatic change...and nothing to explain it, really.  Yes, I did make a morning routine picture schedule but we haven't been using it that much. We haven't needed to.

It's a strange business, this.  I can't help but feel sometimes like there's this secret code that will Explain Everything, if only I could find it.... Which brings me to the low point of the weekend:  watching Blink slam his fists against his head to convey his anger and disappointment that not one, but two planned destinations were unexpectedly closed yesterday afternoon. (Fort Snelling Park, closed due to flooding.  Our plan B, Chutes and Ladders?  Also closed.  Arrrgh!)  Self-injury has never been much of a concern before, so this is a fresh and new agony. Blink told me he hits himself when he wants to hit someone else. Yep, add that to the anguish list.

While I'm on the subject of tangled-up-heartstrings, I've been reading Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin—a young adult novel told from the perspective of a 12-year-old boy with autism. The descriptions of the boy's relationship with his mother make my heart ache. When I read the main character's inner thoughts, I wonder if this is what life is like inside for Blink. I read him the first chapter and tried to talk about it, but he wasn't that into it. No matter. I'm forcing myself to hold back and let him come to it on his own. He's young, yet, for the story line.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Persistent Agony of Shoes

Spring is upon us!  But with the fresh air and the birds singing comes a familiar old challenge for Blink:  shoes.  Even in the face of the myriad winter-weather gear challenges, winter affords us a break from this perennial source of agony for Blink and everyone around him by giving him a convenient reason to wearing boots every day, inside and out.

As I write this, it is 60 degrees and sunny.  And Blink is out playing in....rain boots.  You see, he couldn't tie his shoes to his liking and he refused to try it a second time. He just learned how to tie shoes this past fall after a concerted effort by his occupational therapist, who ordered us to get him tie shoes. After a winter of avoidance, his skills have regressed a bit.  I suspect he may never enjoy tie shoes, but hope after a few weeks of acute agony he will again gain a basic proficiency.

Those close to me have asked me, gently, why I'm torturing us all.  Can't he just wear velcro shoes?  And after listening to him scream his head off this afternoon, I'm beginning to wonder as well. At what point can I safely determine he knows the skill and allow him to choose the footwear?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

He Listens to His Mama?

Last night, I watched Blink dry his hands on the towel and let it fall to the ground rather than putting it back on the towel bar.

"Blink, the towel is on the floor."


"Well, pick it up!"

"But that's where I found it!  You're always telling me to put things back where I found them."

I don't know if it's better or worse that I don't think he was trying to be a smart-ass.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Doing it His Way

Last night, Blink was in a mood.  It was time for bed and he did not want to wear a shirt — a choice that made the mother in me really bristle.  It's too cold for that!  I spent some time trying to convince him of this fact.  We both got a little frustrated with each other.  And then I managed to take a deep breath and use the Cooperative Problem Solving model.

"You don't want to wear a shirt," I repeated.  "What's up?"

According to the model, the child is now supposed to share their concern with you. Once you hear what's really going on, you can find common ground. More often I hear things like "I dunno, I just don't wanna."

But last night, Blink said to me, "Mama, I just want to do one thing my way. All day I have had to do things other people's way. Can't I do just do this one thing my way?"

Well. That certainly reframed the discussion.

My exasperation was instantly replaced with empathy.  Does it really matter if he wears a shirt to bed?  No. Yes, he might get cold.  Yes, he might wake me up if he does.  But I was able to air those concerns with him and he was able to articulate a solution for us (wedge a t-shirt partway between his bed and the mattress so he could find it in the dark).

Who knows if it is related, but we had a fantastic morning today, too.  When I dropped him off at school, a para said good morning to him and added, "Are we going to have a better day today?" Hmmm.  No daily report came home yesterday so I have no idea what transpired. I hate it that an offhand crappy little comment like that can hang with me.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Blink and I (and by association, his little sister) have had some rough mornings lately.  Like the day I had to essentially drag him to his sister's school while he screamed, "Help!  Let me go!" That was bad news. 

So I've been doing a lot of thinking on how to make the morning go more smoothly. I have started waking him earlier so that he has more time to move slower than molasses.  I made a new morning schedule. And I am trying to make this my mantra:  It's ok if we're late.

Things have gone better since I instituted these changes, but I still find myself holding my breath each morning.  Is it going to be one of those mornings?

Today started out uneventfully. We walked his sister to school and then walked to his school, as always. I let him hold the umbrella.  He was fairly cheerful until we walked inside and I could feel his mood starting to teeter.  Just as I was about to say goodbye to him, he realized he did not have his half-finished comic book. Apparently he wanted to share it, which I did not know.  The truth is, it could have been anything that he suddenly decided he absolutely positively needed at this very moment.

Blink screamed.  He started breathing all funny — it sounds like he's hyperventilating, like he is terrified, completely out of proportion to the situation. He screamed some more.  I told him it was "toooooo big" of a reaction, which was completely ineffectual. I told him we could problem solve if he stayed calm. He wanted me to go back home to get it.  I could have.  But I said no. I feel a little guilty about this, even though I know that it's not really about the object he forgot. Rather, it's that he was anxious or otherwise disregulated and he went to his default regulation strategy:  angry outburst.

Oh, Blink. If only we could move past this response, all of our lives would be so much easier. I'm so tired. A month ago, you were doing so. well.  What happened?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

On Vision and Guilt

I got an email from the Occupational Therapist at Blink's school today. She's concerned about his vision.

Oh, yeah, that.  The ball that I dropped.

Blink was diagnosed in December of 2008 with amblyopia, also known as a lazy eye.  He was prescribed glasses.  He picked out the coolest, edgiest frame in the store, with bright blue frames. He looooved them. I wanted it to be his choice, to give him ownership.  Particularly since in addition to wearing glasses, we were told to patch his weak eye for two hours each day.  I remember thinking at the time, "How the hell am I going to do that!?"  Because patching involves, well, a patch, that is taped to the skin around the eye. Anyone with a tactile-defensive child knows exactly how nervous I was about this "simple" little endeavor...

But as it turns out, we didn't even get to that point.  Step 1 was simply to wear the glasses, which was completely derailed when a classmate of Blink's laughed at his glasses. He hated the attention he got while wearing them.  He adamantly refused to wear them again.  Period.  And, upon the advice of my own eye doctor who told me it wasn't make or break, I let it slide.

Since then, we've taken baby steps. Blink willingly wears them for screen time. Lately I've been handing them to him when he's reading. But none of this translates into wearing them in public.

Today's brought my guilt over this matter right up to the surface again. I know intellectually that one can only take on so many battles at once, but I can't help but feel just a little neglectful for taking such a hands-off approach.  Oh, guilt....