CPS, Special Needs, and Educating others about our differences.

by Jennifer Dyer

A disturbing situation…

A while back one of my fellow “ausome” special-needs moms called me in tears. Her voice shook, and she could hardly get her words out. “Someone from school called CPS on us.”

It wasn’t until a dozen phone calls and several days later that my friend found out the why. Turns out, the misunderstanding was rooted in the child’s sensory and food aversion issues. The situation had been under the supervision of the pediatrician and was/is a part of the therapy this family pursues. What is more surprising, everyone who has contact with the child at school knew all of this information. It was well documented with doctor’s notes and mom’s constant concerns and conversations with the teachers.

What happened?

Maybe it was miscommunication. I’m sure the person who called thought they were doing a good deed. On the other side, that person had access to the paperwork and could have done some more research into the situation.

Why am I telling you this?

This is not intended as a rant, but I want to encourage special needs parents to educate others about their children. And I want to encourage people to listen. This situation has been a nightmare of mine with all the issues Rachel has. For years I carried her diagnosis papers with me in case she became overwhelmed and stripped naked in public and someone got the wrong idea.

And people do question me…

A few years ago, Rachel’s  teacher mentioned people at the school expressed concern regarding the tangles in Rachel’s hair. Their first assumption was that I was a negligent parent. Fortunately, the teacher had gotten to know us and assured the concerned persons that Rachel had nothing to fear.

(In case you were wondering, Rachel’s severe sensory issues make it difficult to brush her hair and the fact that she constantly rubs a few spots on her head makes for huge tangles. We have had to cut out tangles, buy numerous types of hairbrushes, and use all sorts of conditioners. Here’s the best hairbrush solution we found.)

As much as it hurt to know people were questioning my parenting, AT LEAST THEY ASKED. And since I had built a relationship with the teacher and made her aware of the situation, she was able to answer.

CPS aren’t the bad guys…

When I mentioned my friend’s situation to a counselor friend of mine, she was understanding, but challenged me to see the other side of the situation. “If you died and your kids had to be taken care of by someone else, wouldn’t you want people to look out for them, especially if that anyone thought your child was in danger?”

Hmm.

True.

The counselor went on to say CPS workers are required to investigate every report they receive, but they aren’t waiting to snatch your children away. They want to work with you and to help you. She said as difficult as it is to see, remember that the person most likely filed a report because they were concerned about your child. And even if their intent was otherwise, the caseworkers want to help your family stay whole.

Easier said than done, but my counselor friend is right. There are children out there who need an advocate and to be protected.

I have hardworking friends who take care of children in serious and dangerous situations both as social workers and as foster parents. I respect and admire what they do. They have hearts to support and help children and families. And there are children who need help and won’t get it any other way.

But…I am thankful that the people who have been concerned about Rachel over the years have researched our situation before jumping to conclusions. And as Rachel’s mother, even if questions embarrass or annoy me, I am willing to answer if it helps people understand her more.

Fortunately, my friend’s CPS case worker dismissed the case, but my friend was hurt in the process. I’m not sure what she could have done differently in her case, perhaps have been even more vocal about her child’s issues? But I’d encourage others to be open and honest with information to help others understand your child, especially when the child doesn’t have a voice of their own.

And the next time you come across a CPS caseworker, give her a hug.

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Operation Brown Bear–looking beneath the surface to understand Rachel’s thinking.

by Jennifer Dyer

The adventure begins…

Rachel’s been talking about teddy bears lately. She will point to her iPad and show us a picture, usually a screen shot, of a bear. Her favorite is Dora’s teddy bear.

So, for her birthday we thought it would be fun to take her to Build a Bear to make her own bear friend.

The trip to the mall went well. We ventured there on a Monday evening where it would not be crowded and left time for her usual elevator ride and carousel spin.

Eldest stayed a few feet ahead and pretended not to know us in true preteen fashion, and we had to make a few trips to the bathroom, but otherwise no fire alarms went off and no one stripped naked.

When we got to Build a Bear, Rachel was fascinated by the stuffing machine. She couldn’t focus on picking a single bear, or maybe she didn’t understand what we wanted her to do. But she was certain of one thing: she wanted to watch that stuffing.

Sadly, money doesn’t flow as easily as the stuffing in their machines, so we helped her choose one.

She loved the machine’s whirr and grinned while the downy white stuffing circled inside the glass case. She laughed and hooted with joy.

We talked about names. She signed “brown” and “bear,” so we christened our new friend Brown Bear and pointed Rachel to the bear clothes. But she wasn’t interested. She wanted to do the stuffing process again.

Warning bells went off in my head. She really liked that stuffing…

Uh…oh…

That night Rachel hugged Brown Bear tight and kept him close, so I went downstairs with warm thoughts about her new best friend. It wasn’t until the next night that I realized…

Build a Bear, we have a problem…

I couldn’t find Brown Bear in Rachel’s room, so I went to the guest room where she likes to hide things. I would lock that room if I could, but unfortunately, one of her therapy swings is installed in that doorway, so open, the room is, Master Yoda.

And I found Brown Bear…all over the room.

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And that’s when I made a huge mistake…

I, shall we say, lost my own stuffing. “Rachel, what happened to Brown Bear?” I carried his empty shell to her room like a lawyer to a witness on the stand. “What did you do to him?”

Rachel isn’t able to express herself verbally and the nuances of expressing and reading emotions are still difficult for her, but I could tell I’d embarrassed her.

Rachel grabbed Brown Bear’s shell and shoved him under a blanket.
I, being on planet Not-Tuned-to-Rachel,pulled him out and showed him to her. “Rachel, why’d you do this?”Rachel sat on him. Get the hint, Mom, and drop it.I went downstairs, shoulders slumped. Not only had she destroyed the bear, there was another huge mess to clean. I had just spent an entire weekend cleaning that room with her. Now it looked like a Build a Bear blizzard had blown through. It wasn’t fair! Me, me, me…

The next day when I gathered Brown Bear’s scattered innards to re-stuff the poor guy, I stopped in the doorway. Half my hair went gray. Since Someone had made such a blooming deal out of the unstuffed bear, Rachel had decided she needed to cover up the mess. I had embarrassed her, so she was recovering the best way she knew how…with the contents of the linen closet and a giant mound of shredded tissue paper.

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The lesson?

I failed to take the extra moment to think through Rachel’s actions. Sometimes understanding Rachel is like mining for gold in the dark. It’s not easy, but always worthwhile. She’s complex with a vast intelligence kept under the surface by this blanket of autism.

So, why’d she do it? In this case, she loved the stuffing and wanted to experience that fun moment again. Instead of chastising and shaming her, I should have helped her re-stuff the guy without the verbal fussing.
Then I could have told her to leave the stuffing inside and sewn him up. I missed the opportunity to lead by example, instead choosing to yap my big mouth.

With autism it seems so much is about making every moment a teaching opportunity. Every action of mine models an action for Rachel. Each overreaction is a lost opportunity to connect with her. And, sadly, I often lose sight of the fact that it’s more of a marathon than a sprint with her. She needs repetition, consistency, and calm, assertive leadership.

The key? I think Dora says it best: “Stop and Think.”

P.S. I’m happy to report Brown Bear was admitted to the ICU at Grandma General and has almost completed his rehab. He should be back in action with reinforced seams this week.

Bear hugs, friends. May you keep your stuffing where it belongs.

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A decade with Rachel—big blessings come in tiny packages.

By Jennifer Dyer

 

A baby is born…

I can’t believe a decade has slipped by since Rachel made her first appearance on a sunny day in January. After a troubled pregnancy with multiple scares, a miraculous reattachment to the uterine wall, and months of bed rest, Rachel decided enough was enough. Although she was a month early, she was ready to make a grand entrance.

And it was grand. With 13 people in the operating room counting sponges repeatedly, Rachel readied to exit stage right. My heart lurched when both doctors leaned over my belly and gasped, saying, “Oh, my God,” in tandem.

They delivered her, placing her on my chest for about two seconds before whisking her to NICU. Fortunately, Rachel was released after only a few hours, and we thought all was well.

A baby with a destiny…

The next day, my doctor came into the room and cradled Rachel close to her chest. Her eyes glistened with tears, and she leveled me with a look. “I want you to understand how many times over this baby is a miracle. She should not have survived, but God intervened for her multiple times. This is a miracle baby. God has big plans for her.”

I tucked that into my heart and felt tension melt away. God had plans for her. Everything was going to be all right. I mean, big plans means big stuff, right? President? Campaign for international justice? Building water wells in Africa? Who knew how far she would go?

A shift in thought…

So, why in the next several years did Rachel lag behind developmentally? For a while, we thought she was deaf. The doctors also said she was just catching up to her peers. One neurologist walked into the exam room, glanced at Rachel sitting in the corner and stated, “There is nothing wrong with that child.” He left the room about two minutes later.

Enter Autism…

But just before Christmas, a month before she turned three, Rachel was diagnosed with severe autism. After the initial shock wore off, in some ways I was relieved. I finally had a reason my life was so stressful. What took most moms ten minutes took us hours. Each day was full of screaming tantrums. My picture-perfect home and life were lost under a mound of laundry and messes. Sleep was a long-forgotten memory. I scrubbed poop off the walls, furniture, and carpet daily…for years. We couldn’t go in public without Rachel stripping naked and screaming, or worse, darting through crowds like a cat with ten hounds on her tail.

And don’t get me started on the sensory issuesfood issues or her obsession with dumping the contents of any container.

Tiny prayers mean big things…

The other day I paused to look back. I remembered a tiny prayer spoken years ago. “Lord, I don’t want to be stressed all the time. Help me to be more laid back.”

Not the most eloquent of prayers, but meant from the heart. I was tired of being Stressed-Out Jennifer. My perfectionism held me in a gripped fist. I was sick of worrying about the perfection of my house, my bank accounts, my body, my…everything.

Have you ever heard that saying, “Be careful what you pray for?”

Yeah, I’ve heard it too…

Rachel saying hi.

Rachel moving ahead.

Sadly, sometimes we have to take a ride through hell to gain a deeper understanding of God’s grace. Sometimes we need trials to shape our hearts into something beautiful. And sometimes we have to walk through the deepest of valleys before we learn to look up.

Do I wish things could be different for Rachel? Of course. When I look at her typical age peers, my heart squeezes so tight it shatters. But when I see Rachel’s beautiful smile or hear her say “Elmo,” my cracked heart becomes soft again. It is as if I see the sunrise for the first time whenever Rachel says “Mama”, eats a bite of an apple, writes her name, signs her sister’s name, and signs “Grandpa.”

Finding hope…

I’ve learned to find beauty in the tiniest of moments and to see rays of hope in the darkest hours. I’ve learned that messes don’t matter and that the external fades away (just ask any mom after years of sleep deprivation).

Rachel knows she is different—she’s very smart. But it doesn’t bother her. She is the picture of joy, especially when left to her favorite mediums of glue and paper or when jumping into a pool.

Lest I make this all about me…

I’ve seen a depth of character in Eldest that is born from a life of trials. She was right beside me through all the messes and tantrums. She had to ride in the van next to a naked, screaming child. And she was the one Rachel would crawl in bed with each night–although Rachel doesn’t know how to interact, she doesn’t want to be alone. And when Eldest is gone, she is the one Rachel asks for…repeatedly. (The girl doesn’t give up. Ha!)

Rachel has made a difference in too many lives to count. A hug from Rachel is enough to bring tears to people’s eyes. Hundreds of people who have met her have a changed view of the world. She gets into hearts and makes them grow several sizes. Our family will never be the same, and we are all better for it. She brings out the best in people, even when it’s people forgiving us for flooding their houses…twice.

And you know what? Who knows what Rachel will achieve in her future? Look at Temple Grandin. But even if the world were to end tomorrow, I’d venture to say Rachel has accomplished more in her first decade than many in their entire lives.

Happy birthday, my precious Rachel. It’s OK that you don’t always like the singing. I know you’ll watch it a thousand times on your iPad and love every minute of it.

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Taking Rachel to the mall.

by Jennifer Dyer

The other day, hubby and I decided to go to the maul mall. In a stunning move, Eldest opted out, but we knew Rachel would love it, especially the escalators and indoor fountains. (The trick would be keeping her from jumping into the water.)

Rachel didn’t always like going out. When she was three, an outing to any store would end in her screaming and stripping naked. And Mom would end up in tears. The sensory overload to her system must have been horrible, all the smells, sounds, people, noise…everything unpredictable and random from her point of view.

If she wasn’t screaming, she was darting away from me like in this story. I couldn’t go anywhere in shoes that did not get traction. Through years of therapy, we slowly worked on her staying beside us. (For more on how we decreased her darting behaviors, see here.)

We also learned to plan shorter outings, and did all kinds of sensory therapies to help her nervous system calm.

So, off we went to the maul (I keep doing that) mall, armed with her iPad, a packed lunch, and a bag of activities.

Our first destination was Fuddruckers. (It’s by the mall and has GF buns for their burgers. Yum-o. Plus, it’s kid friendly.) This, however, presented our first challenge. Rachel has very narrow food preferences, so what to do?

First, we examined our goals.

We wanted Rachel to sit in the restaurant and behave appropriately. So, the food was secondary. I brought her packed lunch, but ordered food I could share with her.

While ordering, though, Rachel wasn’t focused on the food. She made the sign for potty and yelled “Pah!” so many times it was amazing I didn’t order my cheeseburger with a side of toilet.

Hubby went off to find us a table, and I took Rachel to the restroom.

Which lead to our next challenge.

My anxiety level amped at the thought of traipsing through a public restroom, even though we do it all the time. As I mentioned in my last blog Walking with Rachel, I did the deep breath routine. Keep calm. It’s about the time with Rachel, not getting something huge done.

Rachel and I entered the stall together. When she FINALLY finished, I had to remind myself again that I had a goal in sight. This was about helping her grow more appropriate and independent, not rushing. So, I watched to see how she would do with the slide lock on the stall door. I had to watch her fail (agonizing) a few times and then walk through it step-by-step, but she learns best through visual and tactile methods.

We were ten minutes into our outing and hadn’t left the bathroom.

After we escaped, Rachel wanted to see the arcade games. I froze. I can’t recall how many times I’ve told her no in public and been rewarded with a huge tantrum. Sometimes I feel like the rat in the maze that’s been zapped so many times its fearful of making any sudden moves.

I had to remember the purpose: Appropriate behavior in a restaurant.

If this went south, we could get our food to go. I took a deep breath. “Later.” I grabbed our drinks and showed her to the super high tech drink machines. Whew. Redirection successful. Crisis averted.

We only spilled our drink once, so another success. I pointed to Hubby and asked her to walk with me to the table. I was afraid she would dart, but she stayed beside me. Yay.

We sat in the booth for an entire ten seconds before she started asking about the games again, but in the midst of her barrage, she passed me napkins and pressed her hands together to pray. I brought in her iPad to keep her entertained, if need be, but she actually ate some of her lunch with a fork.

Did the people in the restaurant stare at us? Yes. But did Rachel have a meltdown and strip naked? Nope. Woohoo. I’ll call it a success.

We managed the rest of the ten minute meal without major issues, and Rach was rewarded with some time in the arcade area where she played with the steering wheel on a game that wasn’t plugged in. Even better.

The mall was next.

Again, we kept clear goals in mind.

Yes, we were there to buy Rach some dresses, but I could always order them online. The goal was to have Rachel stay by us and not throw a fit when told no or waiting for short amounts of time.

Here is how we managed:

We alternated fun activities for her with each short shopping goal.

I grabbed some dresses for her and pointed out the escalator. As soon as I purchased our item, we rode the escalator.

We walked around the upstairs and took an escalator down. We looked in one store and went to the play ground. We stopped at a fountain before glancing around another store.

There were a few moments she had to wait, and without two of us it might not have been nearly as easy, but I kept everything to a minimum. If I didn’t find something within five minutes, we moved on. I tried on one pair of shoes off a sale rack, but nothing else. We kept moving as much as possible.

The trip was more about success for Rachel than getting stuff.

And we only stayed about an hour. That way none of us got too tired and lost our patience.

Mission accomplished.

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Walking together and autism. How we got one piece of our life back.

by Jennifer Dyer

Rachel was a darter. If we went out, I had to keep a grip on her hand or hold her. In fact, I carried her and an arsenal of blankets around until she was seven.

It was good for my biceps, but not helping us move toward a safe and independent future.

So, with the help of our Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) therapist, we went to work.

The goals:

Rachel would stay with us in public, not darting away from us.

Rachel would respond to nonverbal cues to remain with us.

Where we began:

We started as a family moving together. Hubby and I flanked Rachel, holding her hands. We would take between one to five steps at a time and stop, sort of like red light green light. The number of steps needed to be random–if we established routine, we would have more problems. The goal was for her to watch us, not count steps.

At first, we didn’t talk, either. She needed to learn to read visual and physical cues.

How it played out in real life:

Everywhere we went, we played this “game” of start and stop. The best places were those with tiles or segmented sidewalks because it gave her a sense of boundaries. But we had to do it everywhere in order to avoid establishing a rigid routine of only stopping on a sidewalk.

Walking into school or therapy or in the house, we would take a few steps and stop. Red light. Green light. Head shake or standing still meant “stop.” Head nod or moving forward meant “go.”

We generalized the start and stop to other activities:

We played with cars. Go. Stop.

We did it with balls. We would take turns throwing balls down the stairs, nodding at her when she could go.

On the swings. Wait for it… Go. Stop.

The whole routine reminded me of training our late Labrador to walk on a leash. With Missy, we learned that she was supposed to watch us for visual cues. If she looked to us as her leaders, she would be successful and not dart in front of cars. She was supposed to sit when I stopped and move when my left foot moved to walk forward. It took hours and months of training and practice, but Missy actually became a good leash walker.

Missy

I had to make the same commitment with Rachel.

Changing my mental state:

In addition to teaching Rachel in small steps to stay with us, we also had to learn a new way of being in public. Before, with her in danger of darting away, I tensed my muscles, clenched my jaw, my thoughts scrambled, and my heart pounded. “Just get in and get out,” was my M.O. Fear owned me.

In order to keep Rachel calm, though, I had to learn to be calm too. If I wanted her to take visual cues from me, I had to cue her to be focused and at ease. If I wanted to reach Rachel, I had to release fear’s grip on me.

Anxiety, in my opinion, is one of the compounding factors in autism. Rachel seemed anxious about everything. She feared the next bark of a dog, the next screech of tires, the next movement of someone nearby… At the same time, Mom feared the next bark of a dog because it would set Rachel off. Mom feared the next movement of a person because it might set Rachel off.

My focus was fear. Her focus was fear. But maybe she was getting some of her fear cues from Mom…

So, how could I expect her to watch me for cues when she was watching everything else? How could I expect her to be calm if I wasn’t modeling it myself?

I learned to take deep breaths and focus on enjoying the moment being with Rachel, not on getting some big task done. That meant a grocery store trip had to be about time with Rachel, not groceries.

I learned to focus on building my relationship with Rachel and to keep the goal in sight.

Since I mentioned Missy and dog training…

I also learned to watch the Dog Whisperer. I say this with a grin, but I have a deeper understanding of the importance of my own mental state after watching Ceasar’s patient, calm, assertive demeanor. Those same techniques he used to rehabilitate fearful or aggressive dogs–and the fearful, unbalanced humans in their lives–helped me to see the things I needed to change in myself in order to help Rachel.

For more interactive, therapeutic activities, see here for a preposition lesson and here for our lesson in bus etiquette.

Coming up next: Taking Rachel to the mall.

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Why Veteran’s Day is important to those with special needs.

by Jennifer Dyer

This morning I attended a Veteran’s Day program at Rachel’s school. I expected Rachel to last maybe five minutes before she became disruptive or upset about the change in her routine.

She sat through the entire program. She stayed mostly quiet. She remained in her assigned spot. She even waved her streamer at approximately the correct moment. Two girls from the mainstream classes sat on either side of her and helped her stay quiet or showed her when to move.

My throat got tight and my eyes filled with tears.

How blessed we are to live in a country where we have such freedoms! Throughout history, those with special needs were considered a burden, a blight, something to be put away.

But not here in the United States of America.

We live in a compassionate society that goes beyond caring for the marginalized. We have an education system to help those who don’t fit into the typical mold. We have people willing to give their time to make life better and even amazing for those who cannot help themselves. Our children are willing to offer a helping hand to those in need.

If it weren’t for the soldiers and families who gave their lives to fight for this freedom and to continue to protect it, Rachel would not be where she is today.

Rachel is blessed. We are blessed.

Thank you for your service. I can never express how much it means to us.

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As the clock turns. Time-change woes and autism.

By Jennifer Dyer

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Rachel has an amazing internal clock. She can’t tell time. But she knows what time it is.

So, that’s why every time the time changes, the rest of us look as though we’ve been run over by a herd of buffalo.

Eldest fell asleep at the dinner table. Hubby looked as though he had two black eyes from the lack of sleep. I feel as calm as a cat in a den of Dobermans.

And Rachel? It’s almost midnight on day three and she’s still screaming. At some point she will fall over from exhaustion, and we’ll get two or three quiet hours. But for now she is screaming, stomping, spraying water on the bathroom walls, and wanting to go downstairs to do who-knows-what.

Hubby is trying to sleep in her doorway. I’m camped out at the top of the stairs to keep her out of trouble. The dog is keeping our bed warm.

I don’t write this to whine. I write this for others who have kids on the autism spectrum … or off the spectrum, but are thrown into a circadian rhythm blender of fun each time the routine changes.

Sometimes it’s like fighting a hydra. Each time we attack and conquer a challenge, two more take their place.

There are times when I read my Bible in desperate hope for some big answer. It should be in there, shouldn’t it? Some formula to make Rachel better. Some prayer to snap her out of it.

But the reality is that some challenges have no easy solutions. Sometimes it is in the midst of those challenges that our best traits are refined and forged. Sometimes life is hard.

I want the situation to change so it’s not so hard.

What ends up changing in times like these is me. For the better.

I am blessed.

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Our too-crazy, over-the-top, not-so-good night.

by Jennifer Dyer

Rachel is on sleep strike again. She sleeps, but only for 3 or 4 hours a night. The rest of the time is fun party time… At least in her mind.

For the many-ith time in a row, Rachel wandered into our room about 3 a.m, her iPad light leading the way.

I tried my sweetest voice–if we upset her, we’re in for screaming, which does not bode well for anyone returning to sleep. “Rach-Rach, it’s not time to get up yet. Go nite-nite.”

She actually listened and returned to her room. Triumph!

For 5 minutes. In the mean time, the dog, afraid of Rachel, jumped into our bed and crawled between us. Did I mention he is a Greyhound-Lab mix. Thin, but like a slinky, the dog can expand to fill lots of space. And we don’t have a huge bed. Hubby groaned because the dog’s paws were in his eyes. I wasn’t so lucky. One good canine stretch tossed me to the floor.

Sleeping beauty.

Rachel returned. And she’s learned a new skill! Yes, she’s discovered the amazing array of sounds available to her in the iPad settings–you know the ones that have all the alarm sounds? All the alarm sounds I’ve used over the last few years to wake myself up?

Yes. Those are the ones. Fascinating.

Right.

“Rach, please be quiet.”

Rach had other things in mind. Although she’s not always intelligible when she speaks, she makes up for that in volume.

I grabbed my pillow our from under the dog and headed for the couch. Rachel didn’t like that idea, either. Since this was several days into the sleep strike, I reacted like a good zombie obeying my queen and turned back to the bed…where I had to settle in at the foot of my side, since you-know-who-four-paws was getting his beauty sleep in my warm spot. Nice.

But being a mom has taught me many things, including how to sleep in difficult circumstances, so I drifted off to a peaceful slumber where I dreamed I was in the middle of a gymnasium–complete with an Olympic-sized pool–trying to manage a gaggle of mutinous toddlers all needing time-out simultaneously.

Hubby said he dreamed he was trapped in a fraternity house.

Fun times.

All I can say is one of us was chipper this morning and ready to get on the school bus. So, thank the Lord for the school bus and why am I typing this instead of napping?

 

 

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Small things, Big difference.

by Jennifer Dyer

Today I saw a blog post about doing service projects as a family. My first thought was something grandiose–serving Thanksgiving dinner at a shelter or putting together a giant toy drive.

The edges of my heart crumbled. I want my children to understand how to give to others and to serve others, but with Rachel and Autism … sometimes we are the service project.

As for doing a big-scale community project? Sounds as easy as walking blindfolded through a barnyard.

Do you ever feel that way? You hear about the great things others do, but you feel as if one more grain of sand at the top of your pile could topple everything.

So … I stepped back before I got my little chicken feathers in a knot.

First, I was comparing myself to others. Big no-no.

Second, I was thinking on the wrong scale. Why do I start with something huge and defeat myself? Shouldn’t I start small and work my way up?

I thought (and thought) about our family. Have we ever done a service project, all four of us together?

And then I realized… Actually, yes. For the last two years we’ve managed to fill and pack two Operation Christmas Child boxes. Doesn’t sound impressive, but getting Rachel to the store, picking out the items on the list, and keeping her from opening every package and hiding the contents in her ball pit is a victory. At least in my not-so-normal world.

True, Rachel got concerned when we left the boxes at church and tried to grab them several times, but in the end we did it.

I thought about other things that were do-able. Volunteering to teach a simple Sunday school class. Picking up a stranger’s trash can out of the street. Holding a door open. Making a meal for a church member who is ill. How about smiling at a person who is obviously different from you? It doesn’t have to be a red-carpet parade to be worthwhile.

Small things make a big difference.

How about you? What little things have people done for you or have you done for others that warmed your heart?

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Preposition lessons with Rachel.

by Jennifer Dyer

One of the many goals Rachel is working toward in speech therapy is understanding prepositions. For years, I’ve yearned to assist her with language, to use my career experience as a speech-language pathologist to help her, but I usually feel as useful as an empty tube of lipstick.

Today, though, I was able to do something that felt like speech therapy (to me) with her! Or at least I thought I was helping.

As always, things don’t turn out quite “normal” around here.

Since Rachel is highly visual, I thought I would pair the preposition word concepts with a picture card and model the correct usage for her using toys. I was trying to hit all the learning styles I could in one go: visual, tactile, auditory, verbal, and a 3-D representation (that last one is a term I’ve heard used by Kay Giesecke M.S. CCC-SLP).

Sounds like a great idea, yes?

In theory and when done correctly, yes.

But…

I used 1″ square cards from the Boardmaker program that featured a written word along with a simple picture representing each preposition. (See them in the pictures below.) Using some doll house furniture and a Mickey Mouse toy, we labeled one preposition at a time.

On was the easiest for her, so we started there. (See picture below.) I first modeled on by placing the card on the couch and Mickey on the “on” card. “On. Mickey is on the couch.”

I handed Mickey to Rachel. “Put Mickey on.” If she didn’t place Mickey in the right spot, I modeled it again and handed her Mickey to try again.

Rachel wasn’t happy, but she smacked Mickey onto the couch, so I thought … since, the on part went all right, I should keep going!

Yeah, y’all can probably hear the horror film music in the background and at least one of you might be screaming, “Don’t go there!”

But I did.

I threw all the prepositions I had in my arsenal at her. In, on, under, between, in front of, behind…

Rachel grabbed the couch and sat on it.

Then she sat on Mickey too.

And the word cards.

That should have clued me into her emotional state. She was telling me, “Too much, woman!”

But I didn’t listen. I grabbed the couch out from under her and trumped that by adding the doll house bunk beds. She sat on those too. And then hid in the closet, only peeking out so that she could make sure I would notice when she slammed the door shut again.

Yay … score one for mom.

My problem is I sometimes try to accomplish so much at once that I forget to notice the little things. I should have jumped for joy when Rachel got the concept of on. And I should have stopped there, at least for the moment. Perhaps I could have added one more concept, but sometimes it’s best to end earlier than planned with a positive result than to end up with her screaming in the closet.

Just in case you were wondering:

A few days later, we tried again with this set of tiny bears I bought at a dollar store 15 years ago and have used in therapy dozens of times.

But, I’d learned my lesson. I quit trying to be the fabled hare who wins the race with speed. Instead, I followed the path of the tortoise and used only the three prepositions assigned to me by Rachel’s behavioral therapist.

We worked for just 10 minutes. I incorporated only the toys pictured above plus a few more bears. I used the same methods, but much slower, on a small scale, and with much more success. Rachel did hide in the ball pit afterwards, but it she wasn’t upset, just tired.

I started with in only. I put the bear into the house. “The bear is in.” Then I handed her a bear of her own. “Put the bear in the house.” I pointed to cue her for the first few times. After she put the bear in twice, I stopped pointing.

I added on after a few more trials, using the same method. I worked with her using on by itself then added in. Then I randomly asked her to: “Put the bear on.” “Put the bear in.”

I added under, working on it by itself at first. Then I mixed in the other two. Since she had already worked on the concepts with her therapist, I was able to move quickly. If she hadn’t worked on the words, I would have drilled the concepts one at a time in different ways, perhaps using different props, but keeping with only one preposition in a mini session.

If you need picture cards like the ones I made above, I used PicMonkey.

 

 

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