Thursday, June 23, 2011

making a friend with her own fair hand

Yesterday G and I went to a "special kids" day at the Red River Ex, a free two-hour trip to the petting zoo, kiddie rides, and free hot dog lunch for kids who can't handle the noise and line-ups (or who would get lost - literally - in the crowds) of a regular day at the fair. She was looking forward to skipping school (and meeting an alpaca); I was looking forward to a little bonding time with my girl.

While feeding the goats (enjoying a few minute's respite from the pouring rain), we ran into someone I'd met a year ago at my moms of autism support group, there with her eight-year-old son. We'd been wanting to schedule a date to get our families to connect for almost the whole year. We were just discussing how to convince the kids we wanted to stick together, when they announced they were going on the rides (in the rain).

Between moments of catching up, I snapped photos of our kids screaming and laughing on the swings and coasters (I'm sure they were hamming it up for the camera). I learned that her son has some of the same challenges as G, and some strengths that G does not. As we walked from one ride to the other, G entertained him by sticking her hand through every recycling bin.

I wanna hold your hand...

"She's being goofy, and he's laughing: that's a good sign," the other mom whispered.

We stayed together for the rest of the morning. "I'm lucky I get to do this because of my autism," Mr. Nice-guy said as we walked into the lunch area. Sitting on the picnic table with their hotdogs and chips, G bent down and planted a kiss on Mr. N's sleeve. He didn't flinch, even when she got embarrassed and washed the kiss off with her freshly licked fingers.

At supper, my husband asked G about her day at the Ex. When she mentioned her new friend, her eyes sparkled.

One of the hardest things for me as I look into the future is wondering if G will be able to live independently, make healthy relationships, be happy, or raise a family. Meeting Mr. Nice-guy was a boost in my discouraging, assessment report-burdened week. Even if his parents someday reject my proposal of an arranged marriage, knowing there are sweet boys like him on the spectrum gives me hope.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

This heap o skills is a pain in the assessment

I wonder: does every parent struggle to teach their children basic life skills? Do you go over the safety checklist everytime you walk into a grocery store or the hygiene rules every time you step into a restaurant? Did you have to teach them the steps involved in asking a friend to hang out or explain the necessity of utensils? Or do most children pick up these things themselves?

I remember K's developmental testing in Grade one. I learned that at his age, he should be able to dial a friend's phone number and recite his favourite TV program's channel number and showtime. I'd never thought to teach him. Isn't every parents reticent to show their six-year-old how to use a phone because they'll be prank calling NASA? Doesn't every parent use TV as a one-hour break from hyper-vigilance when they need it, and to heck with when the kid's favourite show is on?

I was upset that K's scores were low because of what seemed like random, unimportant skills - skills that reflected more on his mother's priorities than on his abilities. If we practiced phone dialing, I knew he'd learn it. I immediately made a list of all the tasks he couldn't do and set to teaching him, so he'd be ready the next time a WISC-IV or BASC or [insert acronym here] came along.

(The D-TORF was particularly infuriating: when you get to the third thing that the child can't do in that category, you stop, and that's their developmental age. If they can ride a bike with no hands and explain T-cell counts, but they've never made toast, they're developmental infants.)

Same thing on G's recent testing. She didn't give the psychologist complete enough answers for questions like "Why do we wear seat belts?", "How do you respond when a smaller child bullies you?", "What should you do if there's smoke coming from a neighbour's window?", and "What do you do if you find a wallet at the mall?" When I asked her the same questions, she gave me the answers I've given her in the past: "So we don't fly out the window." "Say 'Stop' and walk away." "Call 911." And what 9-year-old walks the malls by themselves and needs to know what to do with a lost wallet?

(She loved our Q and A, and begged me to ask her more so she could memorize the rules. I taught her my cell number, which based on how many times she called me from the kitchen last night, I may soon live to regret.)

Am I not teaching her enough detail? Am I not anticipating all the important questions? Or is the point that other kids just know this stuff without their parents drilling them, and she should too?

My children don't even ask for snacks when they're hungry or play dates when they're lonely; I have to set their nutritional calendar and social diet. Every thing my children learn, I have to teach explicitly with demonstration, repetition, and visual reminders. They arrived on our planet with their own language and culture, and they don't just assimilate through osmosis.

They "learn" how to do new tasks quickly, but actually doing them regularly without reminders or frustration comes painfully slowly. Since it takes three to twenty-four months for any new skill to stick, I have to pick my lessons carefully and patiently: do we introduce bed making or teeth brushing into the morning schedule first? Do we want to work on chewing with our mouths closed or holding our forks properly? Which should be the first to go: the nail biting or the nose picking?

(And, as an aside, if you see my kids doing something inappropriate/unusual/icky, you can safely assume that it's either: a) further down the list of lesson priorities, say, after "Don't hide under parked cars" and "Don't asperate rocks," or b) We've been working on it steady for 23 months, and any day now, they'll start doing it. In other words, rest up your judgment muscle for who should win the next Canadian Idol or Idiot or whatever reality show you like that I don't have time to watch.)

It's upsetting that the records of my children's potential are based on questions they could answer the week after the testing. Since the psychologists all use the same tests, and therefore there must be some consensus on what a child should know at a certain age, they really should release the list to parents. Send it to me every year on their birthday! Then I'd know for the next assessment whether it's the tidy bed or the worn toothbrush that will make them go down in the school division annuls as successes.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Funding granted!

G's funding appeal was accepted! For the next three years, she'll have an educational assistant for half of every day. I expect that means Grades 4-6 will be happier than Grade 3 has been, and there will be fewer days when she says "Everybody hates me" or "I had to work in the office" because the principal was the only one available to help her with her math. 

We're meeting this morning with her teachers to debrief on this year and plan the next. (And they've only scheduled half an hour?) My wish list? An angel who will sit by her shoulder and whisper in her ear everything she needs to hear:

Take a deep breath.
We have music next.
Don't forget to carry the one.
Your lunch bag is in the hallway.
Your group is starting on the climbing wall.
If you tell me what you did on the weekend, I can write it down for you.
You can do it!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

the biggest loser

I lost my keys.

On Sunday, I drove home from church, unlocked the door, and that was the last I saw of them. I didn't think much about them on Sunday because I knew they had to be in the house. But on Monday, after my husband left for work with his set of car keys, I knew I'd better start looking if we were going to drive to G's after school swimming lesson.

So I cleaned the house. I looked everywhere: under beds, in drawers, on shelves, even in the sugar bowl. I found our pet rabbit's leash that's been lost since fall (It was under the Santa hat in the antique flour barrel - of course), but no keys. My husband T drove home on his scooter in the middle of his shift to bring me his set of car keys, so I could drive to the pool.

The evening routine kicked in: supper, spelling practice, home reading, plant watering, bath, taking out the garbage, snack, stories, and my tea in bed. Somewhere in there, I realized that I'd also lost an envelope of prizes I'd won on the radio, coupons for free mini-golf, bowling, and portraits. Dang.

I woke at 5:30 this morning to noisy birds because hubby left the window open all night, and my first thought was Garbage. I ran out in my bathrobe and grabbed the bin from the curb. I carried it behind the house and began pulling smelly bags out onto the lawn. I didn't expect to find anything, but I had to make sure. I pulled out T's Frappuccino cup that I'd cleaned out of the car on Sunday, and there they were underneath.

(After unlocking the door on Sunday, I must have still had my keys hanging off one of my fingers when I threw in a bag of garbage someone had left outside the backdoor, and not noticed they were no longer hanging off my finger when I went in the house.)

I felt lightheaded: sick thinking I'd been an hour away from sent my keys to landfill, and free knowing I'd actually found them.

I returned the garbage to the curb in time for the garbage truck, went back into the house, walked straight to the filing cabinet, grabbed the folder labelled "Taxes," and pulled out my radio prize pack.

In some parallel universe, I'm sure my life makes sense, but down here, I'm just glad when it all works out.