Posted in family life, sqt

{sqt} – school, summer, splash pads, and schedules

I’m joining This Ain’t the Lyceum today for the Seven Quick Takes link up! Head over and read some other interesting, humorous, and uplifting thoughts from the past week 🙂 The topic this week is supposed to be book-related but I didn’t know until too late – still, I’m looking forward to reading about other people’s recent reads!

  1. Almost every school in our area is back in session (some have been for several weeks already), but the highs are still over 100 most days, we’re still in the middle of monsoon season, and it just generally feels like summer. Kids are walking past our house every morning towards the elementary school in their put-together outfits with their backpacks full and my three are hanging out in their underwear eating popsicles and asking to watch a movie…
  2. The quite enjoyable side effect of school having started again is that all the fun places to cool off in the heat are mostly empty! The splash pads, for example, are no longer crowded! And we have some epic splash pads near us. This week we’ve been exploring the Cloud at Kiwanis since we’re in the area for swim lessons anyway:

    How cool is it to have a splash pad that thunders and pours like a rain storm at the end of each cycle? Rondel would get so excited every time the thunder started, just running around waving his hands, and Limerick would tell me, “the rain is starting, the rain is starting!”

  3. The other nice thing about this splash pad is the large non-sandy playground adjacent to it, ideal for my skinny kid who gets cold after five minutes in the water. Being a climber by nature as well, Limerick tends to spend most of his time on the playground, returning to the splash pad periodically to cool down again. He doesn’t always like me to take pictures of him (which is why I often have more of the other two), but he was quite proud of himself for climbing up to the top and hanging in all kinds of crazy positions!

    4. I’ve noticed that all my kids will try to copy each other if they notice one of them doing something new or different. They do so, however, in wildly different ways. When Rondel saw Limerick swinging off the metal pole, he wanted to do exactly that same thing, and tried to climb up the swirly metal ladder – but his anxiety and fear of heights kept him from going quite as high, and I had to coach him back down (which is actually something I’m super proud of him for – not too long ago he would have panicked so much I would have had to lift him down). Aubade, on the other hand, picked a nearby ladder so she wouldn’t have to wait for the boys to clear off theirs and headed up, making it to the top repeatedly and trying again even after falling from the top rung.

  4. Rondel and Aubade’s primary differences (sweet vs. fierce, cautious vs. fearless) show up in their pretend play at the park too (Rondel here is a baby inside an egg about to hatch. I am not sure what is going on inside Aubade’s mind!)
  5. Swim lessons (the reason we’ve been at Kiwanis) are also a lot less crowded once school starts. The boys are in a class together with only three other kids, and they love it! Aubade hangs out with me on the sidelines and we get some silly mommy-daughter time, and the boys learn new skills, play fun games, and get to be in the water. I think they would swim every day if they could, and they’re getting better all the time. I’ve been impressed also with how well the instructor is able to help five bouncy 3-5 year olds focus and practice during the lesson!

  6. As Rondel’s scheduled activities increased, and as the summer tended to be less predictable overall, I noticed that he was asking me very frequently when certain things would take place, and how many days away they were, and so on. So we made a visual schedule for him so he can see when things are going to happen each day of the week! We have regular events like church, speech therapy, and swim lessons, as well as more flexible events like grocery shopping, going to the library, and playing at the park. I still need to print out the names of the days of the week (I still can’t believe I forgot to do so in the first place), and then I’ll share the whole thing here. It has been so helpful for him, and he loves checking it to establish his place in the week and figure out when different things are going to happen.
  7. Speech therapy, which I so casually mentioned in point 6, could be a whole post of its own! For now I’ll just say that we’ve done three weeks of it, so there isn’t much noticeable improvement, but Rondel loves it and has acquired a passionate interest in board games as a result of it 😛 In lieu of any actual kid-friendly board games in the house he’s been racing animals across the couches by rolling dice – we should probably make a decent board of our own out of cardboard or buy a commercial game somewhere…

I hope you all had a great week! I’d love to hear anything that stood out or made you smile 🙂

Posted in sqt

{sqt} – seven quick thoughts from a quick week

I’m linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum today – head over and read some more!

  1. I’ve been tapering off my antidepressants over the past month and a half (my doctor recommended trying it after a year, and I waited until warm sunny weather would give me some help), and I think it’s going well! I have noticed some old thought patterns re-emerging, but they aren’t strong and all-consuming, and I’m equipped to process them effectively thanks to therapy. I should be completely off by the end of August, and probably due to my long and slow journey away from them I’ve avoided the unpleasant symptoms one can experience when abruptly messing with one’s serotonin pathways 😉
  2. Aubade had yet another dermatology appointment this week and we finally had good news: it appears that her mysterious rash is gone for now (or at least controlled without continued daily use of heavy steroids), and her skin is healthy. We’ll keep an eye on it in case it was triggered by some allergen or environmental factor that might be an issue again next spring, but at least for now she should be comfortable and unmedicated except for moisturizing cream.
  3. In case anyone else needs allergen-free lotion, we’ve been using Vanicream and I like it a lot. It doesn’t have lanolin in it, which can apparently irritate or trigger some people, and it’s probably all completely artificial, but it has a good feel and has definitely helped Aubade’s rash of mysterious origin.
  4. In non-medical news, I got a new camera!! My old DSLR was 8.5 years old and still working great, but there have been some advances since then 🙂 and it is nice to have the added pixels in the sensor especially in low-light settings. The boys have even posed for a me a few times (or at least, smiled at the camera and then asked to see themselves).IMG_0174
  5. It has been hot here, and humid since we’re in between waves of the monsoon, but we have to get out of the house so we’ve been playing a lot out back with the hose. We’ve rigged things so the hose will spray on the slides and the large wading pool will tuck underneath the slides, so the boys can go up and down the slides endlessly to much splashing underneath the mist.
  6. I’m attempting to babysit two little girls from church a few days a week, Limerick and Aubade’s ages; we had our first afternoon together this week and it went so well (despite my bone-crushing anxiety the night before)! All five kids played together well, in kind of a parallel play sort of way, and there was only one instance of quarreling the entire time. I’m sure it won’t always be that smooth and easy, but it was a good start, and left the boys anticipating the next playdate rather than dreading it. From the other mom’s perspective, it’s a chance for her to work and pay off debt; from my perspective, it’s a chance for my boys to make friends and practice social skills in a low-stress environment, and an opportunity for me to contribute monetarily a bit more to the household. Maybe I wouldn’t care about that so much if I were an excellent homemaker… but I’m really not 😛 In fact it’s tempting to use some of the extra income to pay someone to clean the house every other week or so…
  7. We qualified for ESA funds for Rondel for the year! In Arizona, if a “special needs” student (one who would have an IEP) isn’t enrolled in a public school, they are eligible for a certain amount of money to use for curriculum and therapeutic services. Since we’re homeschooling, we can use some of it for some good books and manipulatives, and since health insurance can be finicky about approving therapy, we can also use it for his speech therapy. It’s not a huge sum of money, but it’s enough to be very helpful with things. The eligibility criteria are very specific, but if you meet them the application process is very simple and straightforward, so I would encourage any homeschooler in Arizona with a developmentally delayed child to look into it.

How has your week been? What do you do to cope with the summer heat? What resources have you found in your state/country to support the needs of differently wired students, especially outside the public education system?

Posted in family life

dance to the music no one else can hear

So now, having just explained in great detail why I think special ed preschool could be a great help for Rondel despite my misgivings about the public school system in general, I am going to argue the other side against myself. Hopefully writing this out will help me make a decision! And if not, hopefully it is helpful or interesting to someone else in a similar spot.

First, you should know this about Rondel.

When my son is in a highly stimulating, fun, chaotic environment, his energy ratchets up so high that he can’t always control it. Simultaneously, especially if he is hungry or tired (or if another kid is pushing his buttons), his anxiety often escalates as well. Either of these things could be a struggle independently, but when combined they can make situations very difficult for him. His body feels out of control, his emotions feel out of control, and his external environment feels out his control. In response to that, he will often take actions that on the surface appear irrational or bizarre: he may get overly aggressive in his play, wrestling after his friends have asked him to stop; he may try to run away to escape the chaos; or he may break down into incoherent tears.

Birthday parties, amusement parks, playgrounds, noisy restaurants, music class, movie theaters, and other noisy places can all cause sensory overload and meltdowns. Vigorous physical play may be avoided because of concerns about falling, sensory overload, and the potential for explosive outbursts and aggressive behaviors due to fight-or-flight reactions. Perhaps most unfortunately, the kinds of things done by the teachers who work hardest to make their classrooms fun for most kids – busy, colorful places with lots of “activity stations,” fun music, dancing, games – may be precisely the things that aggravate kids with SPD. As a result, these teachers may find that the harder they work to make class enjoyable and to involve these kids, the more they shut down or overload. It’s hard to imagine a more potent recipe for frustration and misunderstanding on both sides.

Brock Eide, The Mislabeled Child


Second, you should know this about me.

One of the greatest struggles in my life – a struggle that I have heard countless times in the lives of my friends and family as well – is feeling that I don’t belong: that there is no group of people among whom I can be completely myself and at the same time completely loved. It is out of this struggle that my parenting philosophy was born. My goal as a mother is to give my children a relationship (and ideally a whole family community) in which they will be listened to, understood, and unconditionally loved. Whatever societal forces are pressuring them to fit into a certain mold or to act a certain way, I want our home to be the safe place in which those forces have no power.

Now, I also have hopes and expectations for my children. I want them to be thinkers and readers; I want them to be wise and compassionate; I want them to love deeply and speak kindly. But even the wisest person has moments of foolishness; even the kindest person has words they regret. In those moments, I want my children to know that my love will not cease or waver, that I will always love them for who they are even as I help them grow and mature. And I want them to know that the rate of their growth is never a cause for shame, regardless of how slowly they may be progressing. The direction and the effort are the things that matter.


With both of those things in mind, putting Rondel in a special preschool designed solely to help him acquire certain skills by a certain deadline seems antithetical to my whole concept of parenthood. He is not a flowering bush that I can freely manipulate by well-timed applications of different fertilizers or hormones; he is his own person, uniquely designed and gifted, with his own path and timeline to follow. It is helpful for me to know the ways in which he is different than “normal,” so that I can anticipate his struggles instead of setting him up for failure, learn how to help him through difficult situations instead of flailing about in the dark, and access the accommodations he needs to thrive – but it isn’t helpful to focus on those differences as things that are “wrong” with him and try to fix them or train them out of him.

And my fear is that he will think just that: that we believe his way of being is inadequate or wrong, that we don’t accept him as who he is, and that we are willing to put him in an environment that stresses his sensory and emotional systems to the point of overload in an attempt to change him into someone else. It’s hard to think of a better way to demolish a child’s confidence in himself or to damage his trust in his parents’s love and understanding. When the music plays that only Rondel can hear, I want him to dance to that beat with freedom and fullness, holding nothing back in his pursuit of the calling for which God has designed him, no matter how strange or awkward that dance may appear to those who are deaf to the song. Speech therapy we can get at a private clinic, without needing to compromise our ideals in the process; the other skills he needs for life will grow in time, as he learns their value, in the context of love and peace and belonging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in musings

when tools come with tainted memories

I grew up hearing horror stories about public schools.

Every time we drove past one, my dad would comment on the chainlink fences, the buzzing alarm bells, or the thick small-windowed walls. He would tell us about Mrs. Weinstein, his fourth-grade teacher, who was so nasty as to apparently have burnt a traumatic scar into his memory. He would regale us with the tale of how in elementary school he would ask for a bathroom pass and just scream in the bathroom at the top of his lungs because he was so bored/pent up/overwhelmed by the classroom environment. He would call them “jails for kids” (although my mom would always gently reply that it was hyperbolic to go that far).

My mom didn’t have nearly so many negative things to say, but I knew that she dropped out of high school and worked her way through community college and university to get a master’s in engineering, and considered self-directed, intrinsically-motivated learning to be far more valuable and efficient than teacher-dictated, extrinsically-demanded education.

After I met my husband, I learned how he had been bullied through elementary school, to the point of being anxious, angry, depressed, and aggressive as even a young child – his innate friendliness met with rejection, and his self-confidence and self-esteem dealt crushing blows that he still sometimes struggles to overcome.

And so when the supportive, understanding, encouraging women in the special needs ministry at my church encouraged me to seek an evaluation through the public school district, to see if Rondel qualified for any free services, I was apprehensive, wary, and unsure. Now that his evaluation is past and I know that he does qualify – now that the registration and enrollment paperwork sits in front of me on the table – I am still all of those things.

The woman who would be his teacher is, from what I can tell, an energetic, passionate, and intelligent person, who deeply cares about her students and all their unique ways of being (of which there are certainly many in a special ed preschool!). Her classroom and schedule are well-designed, full of all the things young children enjoy and all the activities that strengthen and challenge their developing skills. She even told me that based on my description of Rondel she would ask the OT to do a sensory consult for him in class and potentially give him access to occupational therapy for his sensory difficulties and their emotional sequelae. My concerns do not rest with her, but with the whole philosophy of standardized, forced education in general.

During our IEP meeting, the evaluators kept mentioning that this or that skill would be “necessary for kindergarten next year.” To succeed in kindergarten, Rondel would have to learn to sit and pay attention, to be quiet and listen for the majority of the time, to participate in group activities instead of sitting on the edges doing his own thing, to hold a pencil or crayon with enough finesse to write letters and numbers, to respond to directions, and to speak intelligibly. And critically, he would need to learn all of those things by August. To succeed in life, it will be useful and courteous to know how to sit quietly and pay attention to other people; it will be beneficial for forming friendships to be able to engage in group activities and respond appropriately to social cues; it will be helpful to be able to write and draw, but not necessary in an increasingly technical world; and it will be of great importance to speak so that others can understand, particularly for a child who loves to talk as much as he does! But there wouldn’t be any deadline on his acquisition of those skills. Without the impending shadow of kindergarten hanging over him, there would be no rush for him to develop those abilities in his own way and at his own pace – with the exception of his speech.

And it is because of the integrated speech therapy that I am considering preschool as a viable option for Rondel at this point, despite the negative backstory I have for public schools, and despite my plan to homeschool. No matter where the rest of his life takes him or what learning and education look like for him, he will be able to do better, with less frustration and fewer tears, if he can communicate his needs and ideas with the people around him. I want to give him this opportunity now to learn the skills he will need to do that, while he can still do “school” for only 7.5 hours a weeks instead of being expected to fit his life around an all-day, every-day schedule of external demands and schedules. If he grows in his other areas of weakness along the way (especially in social and sensory areas) – so much the better! One fewer hurdle to overcome later!

And if it triggers his sensory issues to the point where he has increased anxiety and meltdowns, we can pull him out. Trying the system out, in an attempt to help Rondel, does not mean we are tied to it forever – or for any arbitrary length of time, honestly. It is all about what works best for him, at this moment, in this context. If to him it feels like a “jail”, if all he wants to do is run away and scream, if it feels like his heart is being crushed – well, unlike my parents and my husband, he won’t have to stay in that environment for years while it molds his character and personality. For us, it can be just another tool in our toolbox.