Behind starburst eyes

Some things you just can’t Google

There are times when I get caught up in ensuring that Mr.C is “on-track” or “at grade level” with his peers. I get fixated from time to time on the lists lit up upon my computer screen of all the things our local school board says he should know at this time. Lists of facts and figures, books they have chosen, grammatical rules and scientific theories. But no where in their reams of pages does it speak of morals, attitude, creative thinking, leadership skills, ingenuity or honour.

When I get caught up on what he does or does not know academically, I remind myself of the following:

I am not here to create a robot that can spout facts or scientific theories verbatim, but lacks the ingenuity to put them to productive use when he needs or even wants to do so.

I am not here to force him to memorize plots and dialogues, but lacks the critical thinking skills to grasp the significance of some of the literary works of art we currently have access to as a society in general.

I am not here to ensure he conforms to someone else’s standards, but lacks the honour and strength of character to stand up for what is right when what is wrong is being accepted as the status quo.

What I AM here to do is to teach him to (eventually) be a good man. To be the type of person others will be proud to call their friend, their ally. To be someone with enough courage to stand up for what is right, even when he’s forced to stand alone to do so. To be a man of honour, of integrity, to be a man of  ingenious leadership abilities, even when he’s only leading himself along his own path.

Don’t get me wrong, I DO teach him academics, but if it takes him a bit longer than some piece of paper says to learn about the periodic table of elements or the correct placements of commas I’m okay with that. Why, because he’s learning SO much more right now, he’s learning how to become the man he will be for the rest of his life.

Plus if he forgets the standard conversion rate of ATP to ADP he can Google it, but when it comes to things like strength of character well there are some things you just can’t Google 😉

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And so a hero is born…

At the YMCA today Mr. C went to his homeschool group while Mr. N and Miss. G played in the gym. After it was over I stayed in the gym with them while my mom went to the program area to get Mr. C. He came into the gym and both siblings rushed to hug him as if he’d been gone for years instead of the hour it had been. Miss. G was trying her best to throw the basketball into the net. It didn’t really work, in fact it didn’t work even a little for her, she’d hold the ball above her head and try with all her might to throw it high, but it’d only go an inch or two above her head and then come bouncing down. Mr. C watched her and cheered her attempts on for a couple of minutes, but then he walked towards her and scooped her up. I watched Miss. G’s face light up with glee as Mr. C carried her on top of his shoulders towards the net so she could try and get the ball in the basketball net. Written upon her face was the sure and deep truth that he was her hero as clearly as if she’d said the words aloud, and my heart sang from being blessed to see this moment between them.

We hadn’t gone to Monday’s homeschool group in awhile, see it ends at 2:30 p.m, which is exactly when Joy would be picked up from the Y’s daycare. While my heart lurched and tears sprung to my eyes as the hands showed it was indeed that time, I’m glad I went. I would have missed out on the giggles as Miss. G raced across the gym to get the ball over and over, I would have missed out on Mr. N’s proud exclamations of “look at me, look what I doing!” as he tried to balance on his stomach on a basketball. I would have missed watching Mr. C and Miss. G bonding, and I would have missed the moment he stopped being just her brother and became her hero too.

 

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Working with his neurostructure for academic success

I have homeschooled Mr. C since removing him from pre-school after his negative experiences there. I have always tried to modify his academics towards his personal interests, such as learning to count using construction machines and fire trucks, and reading was done with books on cars, and transformers. I taught him about charts, compiling and comparing data with Lego Bionicle pieces.

However I will admit I never took his specific unique neurostructure into account when creating his homeschooling plan. What I mean by this is that I would have him do a certain amount of work for each subject each day, because I never thought of altering that. Slowly as more subjects have been added, I’ve watched as he’s tried harder and harder to just “get through” each of them. We’ve spoken about it, and it always comes backs to feeling overwhelmed by the number of subjects he’s to learn. He says that when he’s struggling to learn one thing, he worries about the time it’ll take because of still needing to complete other subjects, and that when he’s enjoying a lesson he can’t just keep going and learning more about it.

Now I know one option would be to lower the amount of subjects he’s to learn, but I know he’s capable and I feel that each of those subjects are important. So while watching Mr.N sleep the other night and wondering what he was thinking of, I started to think about how he and his brother focus on specific subjects for extended periods of time. Then it hit me, what about making Mr. C’s homeschooling more in tune with how his brain naturally works. If I lower the amount of subjects per day to just two, but increase the amount of time we spend on each of them he’d be able to get really in depth about each subject and truly master each concept and lesson we learned. It would work with his natural tendency to dive right into a subject of interest as deep as he wanted, so that he really absorbed everything he could about it.

I spoke with him, and he loves the idea of changing our homeschooling schedule to this new concept. I think that by working with his natural tendency to really immerse himself in one subject at a time for long periods of time instead of against it by having him do a little of several subjects each day that he’ll not only enjoy the academic portions of his day more, but he’ll also retain and comprehend more of them. I feel this different method will actually allow for him to learn even more than he was with our previous method, and that is the core of what homeschooling is about to me: Tailoring it to ensure he learns as much as he can in ways that work with him.

 

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Blurry Pictures and Clear Signs

CAM01152  I read another’s blog post today. It can be found here. What I got from it was that it was about his fears for his Autistic daughter’s future after watching two girls from the same grade not even notice her during a morning walk. As well as his hopes for his daughter’s future after attending a dinner filled with Autistic young adults.

It struck a cord with me because there are moments when I worry for my boys. I worry sometimes as I watch other children surpass them socially, I worry as I see news reports of an 11 year old Autistic girl who didn’t respond being tasered by police when found walking nude along a free-way. (Full story found here) I worry when I think of the only time Mr. C was in school (preschool) and his teacher told him he wasn’t good, that he was lacking and so many other things that tore at his fragile self-esteem which lead me to taking him out of there and choosing homeschooling instead because I didn’t want to risk him having more teachers like that. I worry when I start to think of the world as it is right now in regards to acceptance and the lip service that is often given, but real efforts not.

I was still thinking of it when I was getting Mr. N out of the bath (juice, play-doh, and stickers make one huge mess lol) as I closed the bathroom door behind us, for the first time he noticed something I’d forgotten was there; a blue index card I’d written that says “You are perfect exactly as you are” Originally I’d written it and put it on the outside of the bathroom door for the 3 children quickly getting older and noticing the media’s messages about superficial images. But he pointed at it and asked what it said. I read it to him and he smiled and said “Awe” and I asked him who it was about, he told me me it was about him, that it was his… He was right. He IS perfect exactly as he is, all of my children are, and instead of being worried about their future I’m more determined than  ever to ensure I help to change the world’s perception of Autism so that people will be more open to truly seeing them. To talk and write and do whatever it takes to help create the world I want for them, one where they and others are valued as they are, one where diversity is embraced, one where others see the value they can bring to a friendship and try to cultivate them, one that sees my boys and all people as perfect exactly as they are.

 

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Come hell, high water or $5,000 fines the kids were having a lemonade stand for Sick Kids Hospital

For the last 3 years my wee ones have had a lemonade stand on Canada Day. They make lemonade, cookies, jam, and candles and sell them to raise money for Sick Kids Hospital. This year’s experience was NOT what I’d hoped for them.

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It started great, we put up signs, made strawberry lemonade with strawberries we’d picked as a family at a local farm (Pingles) made original lemonade, each child got to take a turn at squeezing lemons into the pitcher. We made gluten-free cookies the night before. They helped to make jam a few days ago from the strawberries we’d picked together on Summer Solstice. I guided them on making star-shaped candles which they did with great pride and excitement and used the broken bits from their little brother’s crayons to color each one. We ran around the neighborhood and they would watch the lights for me from the corners of various streets as I would dash across the cross walks writing with sidewalk chalk across the entire thing “Lemonade Stand 4 Sick Kids Hospital” and an arrow pointing towards our home. Each child would excitedly want to be the one to pour the lemonade when a customer came, or to offer the cookie that was free with each cup.
Starting at about 1pm my son was waving a sign 4 houses down the street at the cross walk of the highway and our street and yelling “Lemonade Stand, all the money goes to Sick Kids Hospital” as cars drove by. A woman who lived across the street from where he was standing came out and told him to stop. She was not nice about it, he came back almost in tears. My brother came by to help support the kids in their endeavour was NOT happy that C was yelled at for trying to raise money for charity. So he stood at the corner with hin while my son did his best to convince every person that went by that they should buy a glass of lemonade to help out a charity that is VERY near and dear to our family.

The lady came out again and yelled again about them stopping, my brother told her that his nephew was allowed to try to help a charity and that he wasn’t harming anyone. She eventually came BACK out AGAIN and tried to give C $5 to go away. He told her “No thanks, I don’t want your money, I just want to keep doing my thing for Sick Kids” She was determined that he take it, and he was determined that he wasn’t going too. Finally, he told her “I’ll take it for Sick Kids, but I’m not going to stop, I want people to come to our lemonade stand so we can give lots of money to them”

My brother had to go so he walked C back to me, and I walked him back to the corner. This is where things got really crappy. A police car slowed down and stopped just past us. The lady had called the cops to force us to stop. As soon as I saw the police cruiser stop I told C to go back to the lemonade stand. The police officer asked a few questions and then told me he was sorry but that he had to ask us to stop as we were causing a disturbance and we didn’t have a vendors permit to run a lemonade stand. I walked back to our front yard to talk with my husband and saw that C was in tears. He was afraid that I was going to be arrested and that he’d lose his mom. I assured him that while the police officer was well within his rights to fine me but that he couldn’t take me to jail.

I then took the sign from my husband and started to walk back to the corner again. My husband asked me why I was doing it and I told him the truth “How can we teach our children to stand up for what is right and to stand strong in their convictions if we cow down instead of standing up for our own personal convictions. My conviction is that what the kids are doing is RIGHT and that they should be allowed to try to help out a charity. I will NOT back down, I will stand up for their right to be kids, to be good people, and to try their best to do good deeds. If they want to call the cops back again than so be it, I’ll pay the fines because standing behind my convictions is more important that being popular or the money it might cost us. They are worth it, the kids knowing no matter what that I support them is worth it!”

I then proceeded to yell at the very top of my momma lungs “Lemonade Stand for Sick Kids Hospital” while waving the sign at the corner for 45 more minutes, until it started to rain.
Stubborn? Yes! But wrong of me? NOPE If I don’t show them that their beliefs are important, that they are important, that I respect their efforts and that I WILL stand behind them come hell, high water or police officers with fines then how can I expect to raise adults that will be honorable, and strong enough to stand up for what they believe no matter what? How can I teach them to root themselves strong in Mother Earth and stand tall no matter the storm for whatever they believe in.

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Summer Solstice Strawberries & Our Virtues

Every year we pick strawberries on the first day of summer. We make various jams from them, and put some in bags in the freezer for delicious smoothies. We also talk while we’re on our way there, and during it about a few things. We talk about how it’s the first day of summer, which means it’s the longest day of the year. We talk about all that Mother Earth has grown since the first day of Spring. As well as all that we have grown in our lives. We discuss that which is ready for harvesting in our own lives as well as what we need to further nurture and grow more before it’s “ripened” in our lives. We talk about the unintentional “plants” we’ve sowed (such as being argumentative, or jumping to assumptions, or whatever it is that each of us has been “growing” in our lives.) The good and the not so positive all get reflected upon. Then we decide what we shall continue to nurture and what we shall “pull” or “weed out” of our lives and ourselves. I started doing this with the kids as well as myself when C was very young, because I feel that regular introspection and honest reflection about ourselves is one of the ways we can help ensure we are growing in the ways we want to be. Conversely, it means that the things we don’t want to be “growing” within ourselves can be “pulled out” faster, when it’s had less chance to grow unchecked. It’s easy to say we’re going to do _____ and ____. It’s a bit more challenging to really look at oneself and see where we’ve perhaps gone off the path we’d prefer to be on and admit ownership of our “flaws” or less than virtuous aspects. But with regular honest, open reflection on who we truly are at that point in time and how it fits with who we aim to be we can foster the traits we most admire like honesty, patience, selflessness, honor, etc with better results than if we leave ourselves “unchecked”.

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Dust bunnies versus sticky fingers

“Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.” by Jonathan Safran Foer

The above quote was found unexpectedly while I was looking at a sweet story about a dad that was going the extra mile to ensure his son had a wonderful Halloween. There right beside the heartwarming story was that quote, separate from the story.

I read it, and I felt like I had been punched in my solar plexus, it resonated SO deeply within me. I am often bothered by all that I haven’t accomplished, by all that I have not yet done. I try every day, but there’s never enough time, and there’s always something that needs doing that I hadn’t expected. I’m in my 30’s and I feel like all of those 3 decades have passed in a blur. Each year fluttering past in wisps of color and opportunity too fleeting to catch or hold on to. I try to make every day count, but I find that the mundane things often get in the way, like cleaning. It does not seem to matter what I try it always takes me ages to get the house cleaned every single day. No matter how spotless it is one day the next it’s a mess again and again I’m forced to choose between cleaning or adventure. I know I have to be the responsible adult and clean, but I want to just experience each short moment I have with my kids, I want to play with abandon with them, and laugh with joy at their discoveries, I want to go on “treasure hunts” and nature walks, and trips to the library and read under a tree from books about anything and everything to them. I want to be able to be present in the moment with them and not always “in a minute” “after I’m done the dishes we’ll ______” etc. A great deal of the time I do say “piss on it” to the housework and the time that gives me to just experience little hands fluttering across my triceps as I walk for 2 hours with N in the hiker as I walk to get him a donut and back home is priceless. Just sitting here, I can still feel the warm sun on my face, his icing covered fingers lightly touching my triceps as he yells his excitement at an orange jeep that drives past us. I treasure those moments more than I can say, they ARE what make me “me” each of those memories.

So among other things that I have to do cleaning is for sure one of the most time-consuming, so any tips dear readers? Please keep in mind I have a house with 3 adults (my mother is NOT able to help due to her health, and I’m just happy to have her company) 3-5 children, 2 of which are on the spectrum, of those two one that needs constant attention and assistance, and the other one is homeschooled by me and therefore needs time every day for that. As well as one that is not yet walking, but does love crawling everywhere she can.

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Pick me up

When I’m in a bad mood I’ve long been of the practice to do something for someone else to help lift my own spirits. Years ago before they had to start refusing such offers I’d bake for homeless shelters and soup kitchens as a way of creating beauty or good energy when I was upset about things I could not control. (They now have to refuse them due to health code regulations, unless you are an actual business that has been okayed by the health department)

Tonight I was not in a great mood. Nothing really wrong per say, just feeling blah and a bit down, a touch of restlessness had settled in and I felt a bit constrained. SO I thought I’d take the boys for a walk, and on our walk we brought sidewalk chalk. We had an amazing time! C and I wrote inspiring messages at random spots, things like “You are special”, “Life can be GREAT” “You are loved exactly as you are” and so on. N “helped” us to write the messages and was fully loving being completely included, so a few of the messages may not be super clear lol but it was a lovely experience for them and for me.

By the time we came home I was in much better spirits, and both boys were in lovely moods. It’s funny the messages were supposed to be for other people, random strangers to see, to take in and to perhaps offer them a spark of positivity. While they just still might, those messages definitely gave the 3 of us writing them a whole slew of positivity too. 😀 

I’d like to think that they did, and that the ones C and I wrote together will do the same for someone seeing them come morning. 😀 Have any of you dear readers seen sidewalk affirmations at one time or another? If so, did they indeed offer you a spark of positivity that day?

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Favorite Children’s Books for Children with ASD

help me be good seriesI LOVE author Joy Berry’s series “Help me be good”. It’s a fairly large series, there are 29 books in all. It originally was published in 1988 and I read every single one of them as a child myself. Fast forward an undisclosed amount of years to when my eldest son was 3 years old and we were at our local library. Every time we’d go I’d check out the books they had for sale as each was only $0.25. One cold morning I spied the entire collection all in pristine condition on their sale shelf. Excited doesn’t even begin to describe my reaction. I scooped up every single one of them! Why do I love this series so much? Because each book deals with a common behavior, discusses how others feel when a child is choosing that behavior, what a child choosing those behaviors might be feeling, and other positive ways of dealing with those emotions, or situations, all in easy to read, direct language that doesn’t use metaphors or confusing sub-text that a child on the spectrum might not pick up on. From the day we brought them home I read one every day to my son for the better part of a 2 years. Each day he would pick a book for me to read and I would pick one of Joy Berry’s books to read to him. He loved them. They helped him to understand social concepts easily and without feeling bad at not getting them without the books as it was never “about him” it was always about “another child” one from her books.

Interupting Joy Berry BookThe book about Interrupting says “You are interrupting when you talk when other people are talking… Try not to interrupt people who are talking to you. Allow them to finish talking before you speak. Say “excuse me” if you must interrupt them. When someone interrupts you, you might feel angry or frustrated. You might think that person is not fun to be with.”

At the end of each book it always says “It is important to treat people the way you want to be treated”

See, easy, clear explanations of what the behavior is, how people feel, and how to avoid doing it with simple blunt instructions on what is socially acceptable and what is not. I’ve already started to read them to my younger son, and while he’s not super keen on them yet (he won’t be 3 until Oct) with him already being diagnosed with ASD I think it just makes sense to start early.

After all a large part (not all but a big part) of ASD is a deficiency in social development and understanding. If my child had massive issues with math I’d do my best to focus on helping them improve their math skills to the best of THEIR abilities. No I wouldn’t expect them to get a PhD in mathematics but I’d help them to learn as much as they could to help them thrive to the best of their abilities. Teaching social skills from an early age in a more intensive or focused manner just makes sense to me for my boys with ASD. Their brains are hardwired differently, but different doesn’t mean they can’t learn, it just means they might need different ways of being taught and more time to learn the same things as a child without ASD.

For those that are interested, if your local library doesn’t have this fantastic series it is available on places like Amazon.com or Chapters.ca
Chapters also has her other series: “Let’s talk about” and “A fun and easy way” both of which I’ll be getting for the eldest to read and eventually reading with the youngest. 😀

If you’ve read her books, let me know what you thought. Were they a helpful book series for children with ASD? Or even helpful for children in general? (I personally read many of them with the kids I looked after in my daycare years ago that weren’t on the spectrum because I thought they were great for all children in general but especially ones that have social skill deficiencies.)

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Autism is NOT a death sentence

Just over a month ago C and I made cookies for his home school group at the YMCA to help promote Autism Acceptance. With how positive of a reaction we received from them I asked one of the people who helps to coordinate the Orientation for Parents of Children Recently Diagnosed with Autism at Grandview Children’s Center if they would be interested in having some at their next orientation. She spoke with the her colleagues and they said yes. So today I went and got more business cards for the packages I’ll be dropping off Saturday morning. I’m happy that they said yes to them as I feel they do have a positive message to them. So often I hear of parents being absolutely desolate about their child’s diagnosis, and I think our perception as a society needs to change about that.

Last year on C’s 8th birthday his father and I were not with him. The night before, I called everyone that was supposed to come and told them that we had to post-pone his birthday party. Why? He’d done NOTHING wrong. We had to cancel his party and leave him with his Nana because we had a funeral to attend. A close friend’s 23 month old daughter had passed away. Now that was something to be absolutely desolate about. Her’s is a place that will forever be empty at their table, the memories of that beautiful precious little girl are what her parents get to hold instead of her. That is a truly devastating loss. One that those two parents must bear.

But to perceive a diagnosis of Autism as the same level of tragedy as the loss those parents deal with every single day is in my mind an insult to both the little girl who will never have a second birthday, as well as to the child diagnosed! It is NOT a tragedy that one’s child has been diagnosed with Autism, it is not something they will die from. Will there be some areas of their lives that are more challenging because of how their neuro-pathways work? Yes. But that’s what parents are for, to help their children to thrive to the best of the child’s abilities. Now I understand that some people would argue that a child classified as “Classic Autism” or as “Low-Functioning” does not have the same level of abilities to function as a child that is classified as “High-Functioning” I’m not arguing levels of abilities, but I am arguing that Autism is not a death sentence and should not be approached as one.  Yes there will be times that are hard for both parent and child. There will be times when as a parent you might not be sure how best to help your child. There will be times when they are judged negatively by others, when your parenting choices will be called into question by others, but all of those statements are true for parenting of any child!!!

To mourn the loss of the child you thought you had, the one that won’t _______ because they have Autism is unfair to your child. They are still the same child as they were prior to a diagnosis. They still have feelings, thoughts, dreams, wishes, fears, hopes just like any other child. Will they need different kinds of help or parenting than you originally thought you’d have to provide when you learnt you were going to become a parent, perhaps yes. But our job as parents is NOT to dictate what they need, but to observe them and their ways of communication to understand what each unique child needs us to provide them with and help them with.

These children can and do go on to lead lives that are happy and fulfilling for them, perhaps it’s not your definition of happiness and that’s okay because it’s not your life, it’s theirs. As long as your child is alive, and happy what on earth do you have to mourn???

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