Sunday, July 31, 2011

Is Mom Independent Enough for Camp?

William’s at camp.  “Sleep away” camp.  Overnight camp. Camp.

A normal activity for a normal kid.  Thanks to the Autism Society of Minnesota’s “Camp Hand in Hand” and Camp Knutson in Crosslake, children on the autism spectrum get to experience this normal activity.  Granted, their normal involves a 1:1 staff to camper ratio, picture schedules, and big lycra body socks for sensory input, but hey, it’s autism!

I know he will have a fabulous time.  This is what he loves - being outside, in the water, meeting new people, in the water. (Did I mention there’s a lake?) Doing all those camp activities, like fishing, archery, etc.  Thanks to a big-hearted and anonymous donor they will even go off camp for horseback riding.  And, they get to go tubing, the lifeblood of William’s summer.

I am so proud of him for wanting to go.  For being so excited to go - since January.  For saying “I’m nervous” as we pulled up the long wooded driveway at our assigned arrival time.  How wonderfully typical, to be nervous as you arrive to summer camp!

The staff was great, and helped him get settled easily.  Kurt and I dropped off his medications, checked the contact information and we were good to go.  

After our goodbye came the walk to the car. Now, I have lots of practice in walking away with a straight spine and without a backward glance.  He is my third child, after all.  And I know he’s safe and will have a great time.  Then why, 10 hours later, do I have a headache, knot in my stomach and the beginning of a huge stress pimple?

This is a big step towards the almighty concept of INDEPENDENCE.  (Granted, there’s a 1:1 ratio but still, it’s camp. Away. From parents. For five days.) Independence is the goal, the desire, the object of prayer and  sleepless obsession.  It’s what we want.  What we dream of for our kids with autism and other disabilities.  

But it seems the independence thing goes two ways.  Though William and I have had lots of time apart between school, nannies, etc., he has always been a phone call away. A quick text from Kurt or the sitter.  An email update from school.  Now, for five days, I have the challenge of being independent from William.

I just wish I had a Camp Hand in Hand counselor to help me!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Summer: High School Edition (by Janet Ha)

This blog post was written by my friend Janet Ha.  Janet and I met the first day of ECFE when our respective sons were turning 2.  At the time I was just realizing something was different about William's development.  While my career in ECFE was short-lived (turning into one in ECSE), luckily our friendship was not.  In addition to our friendship, Janet has been a part of William's life professionally, as his para in Kindergarten Kids Club. She is now making a career out of working with kids on the spectrum, specifically those in transition from high school to adult life.  Here is her post, for which I thank her immensely...

I have worked with the Edina summer program for high school students on the autism spectrum for 5 years.  This is our chance to be out in the “real world”. We work on transition skills, visit post-secondary schools and observe people doing all kinds of jobs. We talk about adaptations we might need to have a job some day.  We volunteer, explore the community and do recreational activities together. Most of all we try to foster peer relationships among the students.

Some parents shy away from sending their child to the summer program.  For many reasons, one being they worry their child will feel more disabled since everyone there also has a disability.  Or it is better to make arrangements with non-disabled peers. Which is fine, if those arrangements happen, but in high school anyway, often they don't.

Here is a story of one day in our program: We went to Savers, a big thrift store in Bloomington.  There had been a lot of discussion about how it might look and smell. A lot of "Mom says it will smell bad."  I told them we were not leaving until each person had chosen at least one article of clothing, and preferably two.  This took an hour and a half.

We all spent a lot of time in the book/toy/puzzle area.  One student convinced me to buy a special edition Monopoly game for the resource room for $3.99. (It is pretty nice, and has an improved bankers box and a carousel for the properties.) We got back on the bus and headed over to the laundromat at 50th and Xerxes.

Three students placed their single items in their own machines, but the others threw all their items in together.  Lots of excitement around the change machine.  A couple kids discovered sensory input by leaning against the powerful washers. Four students played Monopoly, hashing out the rules together (since each had a different idea about such things as Free Parking and whether or not property should be auctioned if the person who lands on it doesn't want it.)

Anyway, I love the program.  It be a real source of peer support and yes, education minus the anxiety. Plus, at only three days a week, everyone still has four days to play video games in the basement.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summer in Full Swing

Thanks to Heidi Chen for this photo.
Many parents love the unstructured nature of summer, but I doubt they have kids on the autism spectrum.  Without a framework, three months of warm weather can feel longer than the coldest winter.  But put in too much structure, and it doesn’t “feel” like summer.  As always, the challenge is trying to find a balance.
     Right now we seem to have hit the sweet spot of summer - the weather is cooperating, and our routine has been reestablished. With long weekends spent at the cabin, the weekdays in between give William a solid framework to his summer, thanks to our nanny, Colleen.  
     Colleen was William’s para in first grade, and helps us after school and in the summer.  They have their own daily schedule consisting of schoolwork in the morning and then a fun activity.  She uses Saxon math and our own reading materials, and figures out just how to incorporate his interests (tall buildings! dog birthdays!) into their lessons.  One summer they did story problems based on video game characters outdoors with sidewalk chalk.  She’s also up for anything William might suggest - Edina pool, playdate, movie, Twins game, bowling, State Fair, Mall of America, and often texts cute photos to keep me posted on their fun.
     She’s great at helping William with coping skills without pushing him to the point of distress.  Since he learned about constants and variables last year in school, she's found a new framework for flexibility.  For example, a “constant” at the baseball game is getting ice cream, while a “variable” is which kind to get.  (Because you can’t ask a kid to NOT have ice cream!)
     Colleen has also taught things to our whole family, including the irrefutable fact that quesadillas made on the stove are far superior than in the microwave. And, in all seriousness, I realize how very blessed we are to be able to have help with William.  I wish every family with a child with ASD could have someone like her.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Back to School – but which one?

The school supply section appearing at Target right after July 4th has always bothered me, but this year more than ever.  Part of this, of course, is because summer just arrived here weather-wise, but there is a bigger reason.  William just finished elementary school in June, so middle school looms.  Last spring I made what I thought was a decision to have him go to The Whole Learning School, a wonderful and very small private school for kids with disabilities.  Since that time, I’ve had many second, and even third, thoughts about it.  William desperately wants to go to his assigned middle school, with his sixth grade peers.  What he thinks that will be like and why he wants it so badly, I don’t really know.  (I do know it speaks volumes about the community he felt in his elementary school.)  My struggle is that I have doubts that the public system can provide the individualized academic support he needs, but that the private school option has very limited social opportunities for him, which he craves.  So, what is middle school about?  Is it for social or academic enhancement? Will he even have any friends at the public middle school?  Are “neuro-typical” peers overrated when they’re adolescents? How much does the child’s own desire play into the decision?  There are no answers now, only more questions, and the hunt for the solution that feels like the best fit.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Jumping In

For some time I've thought about getting the families touched by autism and living in and around Edina connected with each other.  And, today seemed to be the day to take the plunge!  So, starting with this blog here, and a Tumblr account (are they called accounts?), here I go.  Likely a Facebook group will follow, maybe a Google group.  The landscape of social networking is vast and multi-faceted so it may take a little while to sort out the best avenue. We will find out what is the most effective and efficient, hopefully including some face to face!
More about me to come, but for right now, I live in Edina and I am a parent to an 11-year-old boy with autism. I am interested in connecting families together and with services and ideas to better help us all put this "puzzle" together!  Please get in touch with me through a comment here, or email me with feedback, questions, or submissions.  Thanks for joining me on this journey.