Wednesday, June 27, 2012

And a hoppy awards day to us!

At K's middle school awards ceremony today, his homeroom teacher Mrs S called each student to the front and told the assembled parents and teachers something about him or her, using the child's favourite colour or animal as a guide.

K's had a great year. In his old school, they'd had to focus on managing his stress by downplaying academics, particularly the areas that gave him the most frustration: math, spelling, handwriting, and composition. At his new school, he's been in the classroom, participating with the other students from week one, in every area except math. (He started the year in math in a separate classroom working one-on-one with his EA on Grade 5 material. A couple months in, he began attending math with the rest of the class.)

I expected Mrs S to talk about how K has grown in his spelling skills, in his confidence in completing writing projects and using his beautiful handwriting, and in his ability to manage frustration and distractions and work with a group. I didn't expect this:

Up next we have a little rabbit. They may seem quiet and timid at times, but don't be fooled, they are also alert and ready for anything. Until Social Fair, for example, we never knew that under K's unassuming exterior, lies a talent and powerful actor! 

They say rabbits are social beings, willing to seek companionship with any variety or creatures, be it humans, birds, cats or dogs. K is much the same, as he is kind, accepting and friendly towards everyone. 

Rabbits are also known for their intelligence and curiosity. Well K, your inquisitive and questioning mind certainly kept your teachers on their toes in every subject, especially mathematics. Although math is admittedly not your favorite subject, Mrs D was very impressed with the growth you have shown this year. As the school year progressed so did your successes. Not only was she impressed with your developing academic skills, but your increased independence and confidence as well. 

I'm so pleased to be presenting K with the award for Commendable Achievement in Mathematics.  

I think he was as surprised as I was. Way to go, K!

Monday, June 11, 2012

How do you love me? Let me show you a way.

T and I met with Miss Congeniality again today, aka G's school psychologist (and the inspiration behind my "No-I'm-not-on-crack parenting advice" blog series). We actually spend just as much time with her talking about our marriage and careers as we do G's behaviour. (I have to take time off work to be a free EA for field trips and events, and the school pays for my marriage therapy and career counselling; I'll call it even.)

The fact is that the divorce rate for autism families is exponentially higher than the average, and it's generally agreed that children on the spectrum need consistency at home, so working on our marriage is something we do for G.

Here are some of the crazy "Wow that works!" marriage suggestions Miss Congeniality has given us:

1. Fight in the dark. It's easier to focus on the words if you can't see each other. Don't worry about whether he's frowning or she's got her arms crossed. Just listen. Men find it hard to make eye contact in intense situations and women notoriously (and often subconsciously) misread that as a sign of disinterest; things escalate from there. Keep the lights out and just listen.

2. Fight naked. It's hard to take yourself or each other too seriously when your fat jiggles every time you gesticulate. The intimacy of having no clothes between you can also increase the emotional vulnerability and remind you of why working things out is worth the effort.

3. Let yourself be silly. When you feel like dropping the sarcasm or criticism, make a joke of the issue instead. You'll both feel better. When the goal is to see who can be the best comedian instead of the more responsible/attentive/tidy/helpful spouse, everyone wins.

4. Talk about important stuff with your foreheads glued together. I haven't tried this one yet. I can imagine it feels weird but keeps the focus on each other (and prevents any nasty shouting and arm swinging).

5. Create a "help!" signal. It could be necktie on the door handle, a special fridge magnet, a gesture (keep it clean in front of the kiddos), or a cue phrase like "The turtle is molting" (the goofier the better) that when one person puts it out there, the other parent knows to take over. Fast.

6. And my favourite: Write each other the script. Before I show T a poem, at Miss Congeniality's recommendation, I pass him a multiple-choice list of acceptable responses: a) Those are some lovely half-rhymes and alliterative phrases, b) You've combined some delightfully surprising metaphors, c) That ending was devastating in a heart-wrenching but tender way, d) You have a gift for crafting beautiful imagery.

When I'm upset, I tell him ahead of time how I need him to respond; eg, look me in the eye for at least 10 seconds, wait till I'm done speaking, and then say "I'm sorry you've had such a rough day. It hurts to be misunderstood but I think you handled it very well. How can I take make your load easier this evening?" (This is harder over the phone; her solution: text him the script and then call on the landline.)

As women, we think it doesn't mean as much if he doesn't just do it without being asked. However, Miss Congeniality notes that most men care and want to help, but clam up/run when they fear anything they say or do will be the "wrong thing." Knowing ahead of time exactly what a woman needs is freeing and prevents misunderstandings.

Be creative and playful. If having him unbutton his shirt, fall at your feet, and clutch your knees like the guy on the Harlequin cover turns your crank, go for it! Marriage takes work, but it needs laughter to survive.