Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Catch 22

Yep, that title is a good fit!

Girlie has been taking social skills classes at an autism learning center for a few years, now. Her progress has been amazing, and when I think of how she has matured, and how much her behavior has changed, it's easy to feel some confidence for her future success. However, it's important to keep in mind that when she takes a social skills class at an autism learning center with a group of her peers, she is with a group of her peers. That means the kids whose example she may follow are probably having similar behaviors and reactions.

It's important, albeit tricky sometimes, to ensure that children on the spectrum can join in supervised activities with neurotypical kids but away from school so they can observe typical kids doing what typical kids do. The reason I think it's important to do this away from a school setting is because most of the school day is pretty structured and the expectations are considerably different than they are in a less formal environment, where a kiddo with challenges in social behavior may be at loose ends, not knowing what is expected or which type of behavior to emulate. Those parents who have their kids involved in Scouts or church-affiliated youth groups are ahead of the game. In our rural area it can be hard to find options with which our family is a good fit.

Middle school is such a proving ground, and the stakes are very high; failures can be spectacular even for neurotypical kids. Of course this means siblings of kids on the spectrum can have more challenges, too, possibly creating further tension to an already strained relationship.

Now is a good time to spend more time talking, trying to imagine scenarios (which is a good exercise for our very literal kiddos, anyway), predicting what expected behaviors might look like, and problem-solving possible stumbling blocks.

Lyrics popped into my head when I began that last paragraph, from Funkytown by Lipps, Inc. It occurred to me how appropriate the whole song is from the standpoint of kids on the spectrum or with other challenges, and how they do have to find a place where they fit. If you've had enough coffee, you might even enjoy watching a blast-from-the-past video.  :-)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dark Days

Over half-way through spring, and the end of the school year is in sight - happy days, right? No, in fact, the end of the school year brings some difficult times (cue dramatic music)... state-mandated testing. Not only has it become the focus for the teachers, as they now have to teach to curricula aimed at the tests without allowance for variation in teaching styles or methods; there is such frequent mention to the kids about the importance of testing that it raises the stress ante out of proportion. How sad. It becomes especially difficult for the kiddos who struggle to maintain their academic level, and missing class time due to testing creates problems with finishing current assignments, so grades drop due to late assignments.

A word to the wise:  stay in contact with the teachers and counselors. Girlie is really sad about taking such a dramatic hit to her math grade after struggling all year to stay at grade level, and this is the first time she has really indicated caring about grades at all.

The recent eclipse brought some concern; at least, all the discussion about it did. Imagine hearing phrases such as, "ring of fire" and "moon obscuring the sun" if you are the kind of person who doesn't realize that questions can be asked of others when one is anxious. As it turned out, we saw very little evidence that it happened at all, since it was so rainy and overcast here.

Something with great potential has happened, but it's too soon to get my hopes up: since Girlie has shown some interest in cooking and food preparation, she has become willing to dish up her own dinner and agrees to have at least a few bites of what is prepared (without argument, because she is serving herself!) before fixing her own alternative meal. This could mean I can make anything for dinner, without regard to the potential for tantrums, and not have to prepare a completely separate meal for Girlie. In my wildest fantasies I can imagine never again witnessing a screaming, fist-pounding, hair-pulling, face-hitting meltdown at the dinner table. It's only been a week since the last one, though, so the visual is still pretty vivid. 

It's well documented that folks with chronic health issues, especially inflammatory and/or auto-immune conditions, are prone to occasional difficulties with depression, which can lead to a withdrawal from social activities and involvement. These problems can be exacerbated by stress, but that's all I'm going to say about that.

A final note: I think we're past the worst of the pollen that has been so tough on Girlie this year. We live in a pretty heavily-treed area so I don't know if it is the fir or the maple that affects her the most, and I think they run about the same time frame. Here is what two days of accumulation looks like on the car - no wonder Girlie could hardly breathe through the congestion! Bad timing, considering the testing at school, since she finds it much more difficult to sleep and concentrate, but I think we're over the hump in a lot of ways at our house.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

You Just Never Know!

It never fails; about the time I think nothing changes, something changes.

Girlie is starting to get interested in food preparation and cooking. I've wanted this to happen for a long time, albeit with a few reservations due to our propensity for dyspraxia-related mishaps. Still, there is no shortage of cleaning supplies in this house!

Last week while I was gone Girlie asked Dearest to help her make noodles (meaning, 'boil some pasta'), and the household was buzzing with excitement when I came home. Most recently, she turned down a chance to go swimming and asked if she could make brownies. That was much more involved because, not only was there a list of ingredients, Girlie had to figure out how to halve them because we only wanted a small pan rather than the huge quantity the recipe makes. She even managed to get the brownies out of the oven safely. How better to celebrate such a huge accomplishment than with warm brownies and milk?

Just as a reminder that Mother Nature makes her own rules, we had a hard frost last week and lost the tomato plants in spite of having them covered. I'm not sure, but one of my hardy fuchsias may have succumbed, as well. Today, Boyo offered to go to the nursery and get replacement tomatoes, so Dearest fixed him up with money, the plant markers (as we had four different varieties) and a way to carry the plants the half mile safely home. Girlie decided she wanted to go along, and took some of her own money to buy more pansies. It's a great feeling when the kids do something just a bit out of my comfort zone and we all celebrate their success!
A timely find!

I'm pretty excited about a book I recently found on the fundraiser cart at the learning center where Girlie takes her social skills classes. I knew from the first page that this book will be invaluable.

When the weather is mild I love to be outside, and lately I've had a few quiet opportunities to sit outside knitting and listening to audiobooks. I've wondered if there is a limit to what I'm willing to knit, but no - in fact - I haven't found it yet. To that end, I have to say that my mp3 player is an important part of my life, and I'm willing to put forth some effort into keeping it safe and the earbud cords untangled.

'Untangled' is a great free pattern available on Ravelry!
What's next? You just never know!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Nothing New Under the Sun?

Seriously, nothing noteworthy has happened in two weeks? No, in fact; plenty has happened: some was more of the same, but not all of it.

The adjustment period immediately after The Pup left was eased by the first guest-pup, and then a few days later, Girlie took charge of another guest-pup. I think after he leaves this evening, we'll take a break and give her time to really adjust without the distraction of another dog.

Recently we have had highs and lows with both kiddos: public recognition of a piece written for a state-wide competition and being chosen for a lead role in a fall production have been countered with the stress of end-of-year school testing, falling behind in homework, and new challenges in math. One of the signs of stress we see most often with Girlie is wakefulness in the evening, and we can hear her quietly puttering around in her room 'til long after she should be asleep. Boyo is the opposite: he can usually fall asleep just fine, but if he has something on his mind he'll be in the kitchen rummaging for breakfast an hour before it's time to get up.

Dearest and I find the best way to deal with stress, this time of year, is to get Girlie out in the garden and throw Boyo in the pool. Girlie wants to plant things - she doesn't even really care what she plants - and will pull up leftover or volunteer perrenials or tree seedlings and put them in pots all over the yard. Boyo needs something safe to keep him busy, and the more physical activity, the better. He wants to swim every chance he gets! Money talks with that boy, and he's pretty happy to be taking over Grandma's lawn chores this year.

Ready to plant (Girlie has some pansies this year)

Waiting to receive (see the pots of miscellany?)

The best part at this moment is not whether anything is new under the sun, but that there is sun. I think I'll take my coffee and knitting outside and see if that goldfinch comes by again this morning...