Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Balance

Any time someone new finds out that my husband and I choose to keep our kids out of school, I am bombarded with questions. It's hard for some people to comprehend why we would break away from our societal norm and keep our kids home. There are a lot of reasons, honestly. Class sizes, learning differences, curriculum, etc all come into play. However, it's deeper than that.

Here's the thing. What it comes down to is this: our values and the school system's don't line up. It's not because they aren't teaching out of the Bible, (we can do that at home) it's because there is an imbalance in the educational system that I can't stomach. So much of what goes on in schools has to be tied to testing these days.  The major areas tested in lower grades are reading and math. Reading and math are, in fact, skills that I value. Don't get me wrong. Functioning members of our society will need  these skills. But there's so much more to learning. There's so much more to life. People who make an impact on our society so often are stepping far outside of the boxes in which the schools are forced to put them. Because you can't test art. There's no scantron test for musical ability. You can't quantify an understanding of your place in the world. 

Our world needs innovators, artists, entrepreneurs, scientists. Did you know in Texas, legally as a homeschooler I am required to to teach formal grammar and spelling lessons, but not science or history? Really? Spelling has been deemed more important by this state than science. I am not saying that kids shouldn't know how to spell, but that's just ridiculous. 

I've heard over an over again about the hierarchy of importance of subjects taught in public schools. Music, art, history, often times science are not valued as they should be. What's the first thing to go when funding is cut? 

this:
(a math worksheet)

is not more important than this:
(climbing a tree in a redwood forest) 

This:
(spelling and handwriting practice)

is not more important than this:
(Mentos and cola science project)

Or this:
(trip to the aquarium)

Or any of these:

(Intimating the art of Jackson Pollock with a homeschool group) 

(Checking out the Wharf in Santa Barbara, CA)

(discovering that the Golden Gate bridge is not, in fact, golden) 

(dancing her heart out)

(taking in the beauty of art)

(hunting for fossils)

(exploring a historic village)

(learning about electricity with Snap Circuits) 

(Visiting a lake in a Oklahoma)

(Making a mess. Also, creating a work of art) 

(standing at the top of the world)

(building a robot)

(growing crystals on a microscope slide)

(Standing above the Pacific Ocean in Oregon)

(picking up trash in our neighborhood because they want to save the earth)

These are all learning experiences my kids have had over the past six months. Yes, they've read many books. In fact, both of my older kids have reading levels above grade level. Yes, they've learned math. My oldest, who is not quite seven, finds Dragonbox (an algebra app) to be an amazing source of entertainment. 

All of these learning experiences have value to us as a family. We see the need to show the kids the world outside of books and  tests. We see the need to fill their lives with art and music. We see the need to get their little brains working on science projects. We see the benefit of following their lead. So many wonderful learning opportunities have happened because one of the kids had an interest in something new, asked a question or explored something on their own. 

My kids would not have had so many great experiences if they were in school. We wouldn't have had  the time. There'd be worksheets and homework and attendance requirements to get in the way. 

I am glad they've had the chance to do all of this. I want to embrace their interests, talents and skills, and I want to give them the chance to freely explore so that those interests, talents and skills can be found. 

I would not value my son more than my daughter if he grew up to be a mathematician and she grew up to be a dancer. I don't look down upon my creative friends and up to those who have jobs in technology. I don't think that small business owners are less important than English professors. So I am not going to buy into the idea that math lessons are more important than art lessons. I am not going to forgo teaching my kids about history and science just because the state of Texas says I can. I am not going to spend a week every year forcing my kids to take standardized tests and months before that prepping them. 

And they'll be okay. They're better than okay, they're thriving.We're going to live our lives with passion, wonder and and a desire to learn. I have no doubt that they'll be better off because of it. 



 (Standard disclaimer - do what is right for your family. I am by no means saying every family should homeschool, or that schools are evil terrible places or that teachers are bad people trying to brainwash children. All of the teachers I know personally are wonderful. We're doing what's right for our family, you do what's right for yours.) 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Stay

I've not blogged in a long time.
To be very, very brief, life has been eventful as of late. We've had two cross country moves in a four month window only to land right back where we started. On top of that we've had the medical struggles that are never far from our thoughts and daily lives pop up in a big way lately.

The member of our family who has been most affected by it all is Keagan.
He's regressed socially and emotionally. He's gone through crazy sleep patterns, even for him. He's melted down, cried, refused to do as he is told. He's struggling and it's not in a small way.

Though I hate to admit it, raising Keagan has never been easy. But lately, it's been downright hard. This sweet boy who is full of so much light and life, who is so very smart, who surprises me every day with his creative though processes and catches me off guard with his insights into humanity, this little boy who I have been fighting for every single day since his birth nearly seven years ago, this little boy who is quickly becoming a big boy has brought me such immense joy, but with it, immense struggles.

Tonight, as I tucked him to bed, he said one word to me.
"Stay," he pleaded in a sweet small voice.

It was a long day. A very long day. I wanted nothing more than to leave that room and get some much needed "me time." But I looked at him, my not-so-little-boy, his long limbs seeming like they belonged on another body, his feet, those toes that were once so tiny now so big, his hands, wrapping around mine in his plea for me to stay, no longer tiny compared to my own. I took it all in and realized that I don't have a lot of time. He won't ask me to stay and cuddle him one day, and that day is probably not too far around the bend.

So I stayed. He curled up on my lap and I stroked his cheek the way I did the day he made me a mother. I breathed in his little boy smell. I watched as his special smile spread across his face. My smile that he smiles just for me. I took it all in and I told him that I loved him. That he's an amazing boy and my life is immeasurably better because of him. Because it is. So much better. He told me he loved me and kept smiling.

How far we've come together, my sweet little guy and myself. Literally and figuratively. We've been through it all together. And I am so happy that I get to share my journey here on Earth with such an amazing little guy.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Action, Acceptance, Awareness

Today is World Autism Awareness Day.

There's been a push for it to be Autism Action Day - awareness, some say is already there. Action needs to be taken.

Some are saying that it should be Autism Acceptance Day. That we need to embrace those with ASD and accept them as they are.

Can I just say yes?

YES- We need Action!  We need to figure out what is going on to make these numbers so high and we need to find the best possible support and resources for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders so that they can be happy and be able to work within society to the best of their comfort and ability.

YES- We need Acceptance! The world can gain a lot from individuals with autism. Think what Temple Gandin, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates and countless other people with Autism/Asperger's/ suspected ASD's have done. When we listen to these wonderful people and accept them, the whole world benefits.

YES- We need Awareness! I wish we didn't, but we do. Desperately.
While preparing to write this post, this popped up in my google search bar:
"People with autism are dangerous."
"People with autism behaving badly."
"People with autism are stupid."
"People with autism are annoying."

I felt sick to my stomach when I saw this. I feel like I might cry. Is this what the world thinks of my sweet son? Of the many kids and adults on the spectrum I have the pleasure of knowing?  This is absolutely unacceptable. Obviously there are some huge misconceptions out there about the Autism Spectrum and it has got to change.

So if Autism Speaks makes you mad - don't support them.
But please, try to do your part to make others aware.
One in fifty children have a disorder that our society is tragically misinformed about.
That has got to change. For those with ASD's. For those who love them. For all of society.
Because the future of a society so ignorant about 2% of its own population is grim.

Spread Autism awareness. People may know that Autism is out there, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Undesirable Behavior and the Autism Spectrum

"Nooooooooo!" Keagan clawed at me from the grocery cart. 
He covered his ears and rocked back and forth. "No! Nooo! Nooooooo!"
He turned to Eden and smacked her. A young couple walked by, pointed and laughed. 
On the next row, a woman stopped, turned her cart around to watch the spectacle that was my son.
As I was trying to get him out of the door, someone commented about me "giving him too much sugar." 

All of the people watching us thought that Keagan was being bad.
And don't get me wrong, the behaviors are not fun to deal with.
I spent a record breaking hot summer in Texas wearing long sleeves to cover bite marks.
It wasn't fun. In fact, it was miserable, but he wasn't trying to be bad.

From sensory meltdowns, to communication struggles to misunderstandings due to poor "theory of mind," these situations usually have a root. Even when they make no sense, that's because this world does not make a lot of sense to him.

Kids on the spectrum can act out a lot. To an outsider this can look like permissive parenting, bratty kids etc.  But it is a lot deeper than that. When everything is louder, no one understands what you are trying to say to them and you just plain do not understand how you affect other people, it is hard not to "act out" by society's standards. But really, it's not that. They're just trying to be heard. To make others understand. Sometimes, they are just trying to find their voice and unfortunately, they find it in a scream.

One in fifty kids has an ASD. That means there are a lot of struggling families out there. If you are reading this and you are not affected by autism personally, please remember that things are not always as they seem.

(and yes, there are times when Keagan and other kids on the spectrum truly are just being a bit naughty. But the same can be said for all kids. Usually a breakdown in communication is the reasoning behind most "bad behavior" I see from him. Not simple disobedience.) 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Becoming a Warrior




When a child is born, so is a mother.

When that child has special needs, a warrior is born.

She may not accept her warrior role immediately at first she may be lost, scared and in denial. A fog may overtake her, heavy, thick and all consuming. But slowly, but surely she will break free. She will claw her way out of the fog because she has to go on. She is a mother. She has no choice. And as she is thrown into all that special needs parenting entails, she'll shed her previous skin and become a warrior. 

That might sound dramatic, but from the moment it becomes evident that a child has special needs like autism, the mother (and father, I do not mean in any way to downplay the role of the father here, but to avoid the pronoun game, I will just stick with "she") has to fight. She has to fight with a pediatrician who tells her she is overreacting. She has to fight to get evaluations, to find a way around seemingly endless waiting lists. When the evaluation comes back, she has to figure out how to move forward. 

Often she'll be given a list of doctors and therapies her child would benefit from. She then has to battle to get her child seen by these therapists. Be it driving long distances, fighting with insurance (always, always fighting with insurance. I think I can recite the Texas Autism legislation by now) and then there are more waiting lists and then there is finding the right fit. The doctor who sees the changes in her son. The occupational therapist who understands her daughter's struggles almost as well as she does. The speech therapist who can handle her son's meltdowns. She has to build a team and she will become the captain of  that team. She must be the strong one. It is imperative that she takes the lead. She can not take crap from anyone. She has to be the warrior.

Sometimes, she will hit walls. Her child needs help and no one is willing or able to provide it. Then she has to step up her game. She has to fight twice as hard. And she will. She will fight day in and out. She will do what she has to do. Because she sees not only the struggles, but the potential. She will not give up. 

She has to be a warrior at the park, ready to intervene if the bullying goes too far (and there will be bullying.)
 
She has to be a warrior at the grocery store , ready to deflect rude glances and handle snarky comments firmly,  but with grace.

She has to be a warrior for her child's education, battling the school district or taking it into her own hands and homeschooling. 

She has to grow an iron backbone because she WILL be judged. There will be 100 choices before her as to how to treat her child's needs. To medicate or not to medicate? Gluten free or traditional diets? Is ABA life saving or is it torment? Should she use biomedical treatments? She will hear many, many opinions and she will have to decide what she thinks is right. She will have to look at her child and fight for him or her. 

The day that she realizes she is  a special needs parent will break her a bit. Her heart and soul will ache for her baby. But she will heal. And when she does, she will be something stronger than ever before.

She will be a warrior. 



*This post is a part of my autism awareness series. See my previous posts here and here.

Happy Birthday, Eden

Four years ago today, I woke up early in the morning to use the bathroom. Being nine months pregnant at the time, this was far from unusual. I was experiencing some indigestion. Or what I thought was indigestion  When the discomfort moved to my back, I thought maybe I was having contractions. A few minutes later, I had a very strong, obvious contraction. About two hours later, I was holding my sweet girl in my arms, crying in my bathroom and kissing my new baby and my husband in amazement and wonder. Eden came into this world with a strong force that is befitting of her to this day.

 Welcoming Eden MaryAnn to the world. 

Her first year was a chaotic one for us - we moved several times, we were under a lot of financial stress, we were starting to realize that her brother was struggling in ways other kids were not. But all the way through, we found her sweet smiles to remind us of just how good we had it. 







By her first birthday, we'd moved thousands of miles from our lifelong home state of Washington and found ourselves living in the Dallas, TX area. 

Eden, as she's always done, grew and developed at her own pace. Her sensory issues kept her from actually swallowing solid food until about 22 months old. She walked late, at about 16 months. Then she took off. The same with the food, when she was ready, she was ready to eat anything and everything. 



As she got older, something became very evident:

This little girl has a style all her own. 






She has spent her four years walking a strange line between the cautious late-walker of her second year and the energetic sprite who surprised us with a quick labor. Eden does things her way and there is no way of knowing what that may look like until she lets you know. 




Happy 4th Birthday!


It has been an honor and a blessing to watch her grow and change. I can not believe that I am so lucky as to be the one she calls Mama. I don't know what it is that the future holds for this sweet and spicy little one, but wherever she goes, whatever she does, I know she will do it with her own, very special burst of life and energy, as she has since the day she was born. 

I love you, sweet Eden. Happy birthday. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sensory Processing and Autism Spectrum Disorders

 I am keeping my promise to blog about the autism spectrum as we approach Autism Awareness Day. While most people know autism exists, many do not understand it very well.

Something that often is greatly misunderstood about kids on the spectrum is sensory processing.

People on the autism spectrum interpret sensory input differently than most people (as do those with Sensory Processing Disorder, which you can have without having autism, though they seem to be closely related.)

A garbage truck truck driving by, the neighbor's obnoxious barking dog, an infant crying at the mall or a Justin Timberlake song played through the loudspeaker at the grocery store all can feel like an audio assault.

For a long time, the sound of clapping sent Keagan into a downward spiral that took him a very long time to bounce back from. We avoided anywhere clapping might happen for years to avoid a meltdown.

Often kids with ASD or Sensory Processing Disorder will go out in public with sound reducing earmuffs. They were lifesaving for us when we had to be loud places (like the airport, where no one wants to be near a hysterical child.)

Individuals on the spectrum are often bothered by certain kinds of clothing. That kid who never wears socks and is usually in sweatpants whose mother you silently (or not so silently) judge at the park? Maybe mama isn't lazy. Maybe the child has autism or SPD. Keagan spent the first 4 1/2 years of his life refusing to wear shoes other than rain boots or crocks. I know people, even some of his therapists judged my choice not to fight him on this, but he said that other shoes hurt him. I chose to believe him. I also saved my battles for issues more pressing than wardrobe.

Rain boots and shorts?! Not fashionable, but this
was a staple in our home for years.

People on the autism spectrum are often bothered by lights as well. I know Keagan used to scream at the sun when we got out of the car. He felt like it was trying to hurt him. Of course, sunglasses sound like a good solution  but he could not stand the way they felt on his face for long, so as practical as that sounds, it never worked out for us.

To complicate things further, a lot of people with autism also SEEK sensory input. Their system is a mess. Keagan's proprioseptive and vestibular systems are out of whack (did you know we actually have seven sensory systems? I didn't until I had Keagan!) This means he will seek out movement. He spins in circles, jumps up and down, rocks back and forth, kicks, stomps and is generally a whirlwind of movement. He also seeks sensory input through his mouth, chewing toys the way you'd expect and infant to do.

 The opposite can be true- Eden (who has Sensory Processing Disorder and possibly Asperger's) AVOIDS these movements because of a dysfunction of the same systems! Swinging, climbing and jumping all scare her.

Which leads me to something else - people on the spectrum can seem very, very different from each other. Because they are. There is a saying "If you've met one person with autism, then you've met one person with autism." There is a wide range in symptoms and abilities so please do not expect every individual you meet to be "Rain Man" or the Max from "Parenthood."

It is not just that these kids are sensitive or hyper - their brains literally take in information differently from the average person. The world is actually brighter, louder and scarier to them. They are not being bad when they meltdown. The world is just too much for them. So next time you see a child out in public "over reacting," please try to have more patience for them. If you see someone rocking back and forth or spinning in circles, try to understand that he or she is not trying to be disruptive. If you see a child dressed strangely  understand that their mother is probably trying really, really hard. The sensory aspect of the autism spectrum is really overwhelming and frustrating and it goes so much deeper than a child being "naughty."


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