Thursday, September 29, 2011

Is It Okay to Laugh Now? No? How About Now?

Oh. My. Gosh. I just had the biggest and most totally inappropriate laugh. A copy of the "multidisciplinary team report" and notice of findings from evaluations done on Sky by specialists in the community school system arrived today in advance of our case conference meeting. You'll remember it took exactly three tries to convince them to evaluate him at all (I wrote about this here, here and here), so I have been super curious to see the results of their observations.

They essentially determined what we already knew which is that Sky is borderline Asperger's (supporting his PDD-NOS diagnosis). They also found that he is average to above average academically but that he requires support for social and behavioral issues stemming from his problems with pragmatic language and sensory integration (again, no surprise to us since that's what we've been trying to tell them). Anyway, the important part is that they agree that he requires special education support. It will be interesting to see what that means in practice. I've been told not to expect much.

But this post is not about that. It's about the good (and totally inappropriate) laugh I had when I read the report.

Part of the report gave detailed descriptions from classroom observations of Sky. The report is brilliantly descriptive and made my love of Sky's teacher increase exponentially. The observing psychologist wrote:

During classroom time, Sky was observed to be very fidgety, and had difficulty remaining in his chair, was loud at times, and was often off task...He tapped or swung his feet back and forth, rocked back and forth in his chair, and, at one point, jumped out of his chair and ran around it while the teacher was instructing the class. He blurted out questions and comments, interrupted others, and made various noises. He played with objects in his desk, sometimes engaging in fantasy play. His fantasy play included various actions and noises including hand movements and rather loud sounds of "explosions" with the "explosions" occurring while the teacher was instructing the class. While Sky was very fidgety, had difficulty remaining in his chair, was noisy at times, and engaged in some obviously inappropriate behaviors, he did participate in the lesson being presented by volunteering to answer questions, and did complete his work as assigned when given a worksheet to complete. His writing was neat and his teacher complimented him on his work.

I know. Right? I mean, who doesn't have the urge to get up and run around their chair from time to time? Seriously, though, his teacher rocks. She has not once expressed exasperation with him and what is clearly disruptive behavior from him. Instead, she constantly reminds and redirects him and keeps the school experience positive enough that he is able to enjoy school, do his school work, and do it well. Later in the report, the observer notes that Sky's fidgeting and noises don't seem to bother the other students. Also pretty amazing, right? Somehow, his teacher and his classmates have learned to accept him for who he is.

My favorite part of the report described how Sky misheard the name of the lead investigator (Mr. Elliott) and thought the teacher called him an idiot. According to the report, he exclaimed, "That's a bad word!" before his teacher explained that it was merely someone's name. I don't remember where Sky picked up the work "idiot" (though I guess it was probably from the summer in Japan when the only English channel we could get was Cartoon Network--Blast you, Cartoon Network!), but ever since he's known the word, he has mispronounced it. Elliott, idiot. Idiot, Elliott. Totally sounds the same to him.

And so, reading the report reminded me of all of the awesome and totally aggravating things about my son. And it reminded that a lot of that which is aggravating is also that which is awesome. Most importantly, though, the report assured me that, for now at least, he's in pretty good hands at school.

Related posts: Accidental Advocate Redux, The Best Offense is a Good Defense

Monday, September 26, 2011

Halloween is Coming, Panic!

"Pink P, what do you want to be for Halloween?"
"A pink princess ballerina."
"Are you sure you don't want to be a monkey or a dragon, or maybe a doctor or a professor?" I ask, hoping that a) she will agree to make use of one of the costumes we already have, and b) choose to be something a little more self-sufficient.
"Ballerina. Princess."

Sky was a frog, a samurai, a dragon, a doctor, a SWAT team member. In fact, we avoided being a superhero of any kind until last year when I found a Bumble Bee costume on sale. Last year, I have to admit, Pink P was a princess. That costume was on sale, too. Yes, all of my parenting ideals swiftly crumble at the sight of a sale. But that's beside the point. This year, my resolve is in tact, and I'm desperate to have Pink P dress like something a little more respectable than a pink princess ballerina. The problem is, I don't know how to pull it off.


It has never been easy to costume Pink P. Her first Halloween, we were in Tokyo. Even by American standards, Pink P was big for her age, so she was downright monstrous in Japan. I looked everywhere for a cute costume for her. Baby costumes are adorable, after all, so I looked for something, anything like what you see in the Pottery Barn Kids catalog. Maybe she could go as a lady bug, or a bumble bee, or a banana, or peas in a pod. Or maybe she could be a baby lion or a puppy dog. I looked, and looked, and looked. In the end, I swear, all I could find that fit was a Mike Wazowski costume in Japanese 3T size.


That year, the only trick-or-treating opportunities were in the ex-pat communities of Minato-ku. So, we dressed the kids up and took the train across town. Baby Mike Wazowski, Dr. Sky, Ren and I boarded the train in Ikebukuro and settled in for our 20 minute ride. Because Pink P traveled by stroller, the full effect of her costume was lost on the casual observer. But people stared at Sky. Not just the occasional second glance or lone starer to which we'd become accustomed after several months in Japan, but a train-full of downright staring. "Wow," I thought, "they must really dig the kids' costumes. I did a great job." (I'm never one to miss a chance at self-congratulations, particularly when the task required even the slightest bit of creativity.)

As we got closer to Minato-ku, the staring got less and less. I didn't piece things together until the ride back, though. This time the phenomenon occurred in reverse. When we got on the train, no one gave us the time of day, but by the time we were two or three stops from our destination, everyone was looking at Sky. Finally, an older woman leaned over to me and said, "Did you know your son looks an awful lot like a doctor?"

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What Worrying Gets You

Three weeks ago, we had no inkling that we would be moving. Today, we are living in a new house and entirely unpacked. I was proud of the fact we unpacked so quickly (in less than 3 days) until I realized we'd done it by working for more than 40 hours straight. It's hard to be proud of such unhealthy working conditions, especially when they are self imposed.

You remember my post 2 1/2 months ago about my lead paint fears. Every window in the house had serious issues with chipping lead paint. And while Sky and Pink P's lead tests showed they had normal levels, I couldn't imagine having Stow learn to crawl and walk in a house with known lead issues. So, I requested that the windows be repainted.

The thing is that all that landlords of older houses are required to do is provide a pamphlet that acknowledges that houses built before 1978 could have lead paint issues. If there is no "known" issue with lead paint, they don't have to do anything about it. So when I got the pamphlet upon move in, I swear the only thing I consciously took away from it was that I shouldn't let my kids chew on the window sills. You know, just in case. But as the chipping got worse, I was reminded of the pamphlet and dug it out of the bottom of some drawer. This time, I took a bit more away from my reading of it. Namely, my kids were at high risk for lead poisoning due to the poor conditions of the windows.

So I made a repair request, and we waited. And waited. And waited. Soon it became clear that the problem wasn't going to be fixed any time soon. Classes started, and still no hint as to when or how the windows would be fixed. In the meantime, I ran into a colleague who said he'd be willing to rent his recently vacated house. I told our landlord that we could move if they paid for it, and before I knew it, we were out of one lease and into another.

We didn't pack our first box until Thursday evening, and by Saturday, all of our stuff was in the new digs. By Tuesday morning, it was all unpacked. It must be a record of some kind, but I wasn't really going for that. I just didn't see any other way to manage a major life change in the middle of the semester. Sky does not handle transitions or chaos well. So, it has been a rough week, but not nearly as bad as it could have been if we'd taken any longer to move.

Late at night, somewhere the middle of our 40-hour unpacking marathon, a sleep-deprived, sore-backed Ren snapped, "I wasn't the one who wanted to move!" implying that somehow I did. That I had gotten us into this mess. Of course, I didn't want to move any more than he did (though he does end up doing more of the work when we move), but his statement forced me to wonder, yet again, whether I had let my uncanny ability to obsessively worry about certain things make life more difficult than it needed to be. Maybe it did. Then again, maybe my anxieties were right on in this case. I'll never know, but I guess I'd rather risk being wrong.


Of course, the worst thing about moving is dealing with Comcast (After our initial move here two years ago, it took nearly 20 hours of phone time to get them to give us the correct services at the agreed-upon rates. Twenty hours!) This time around, 10 hours on the phone and 8 days later, and our phone, TV, and internet are still not up and running correctly. Speaking of which...I'd better go call Comcast. Sigh.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Moving, In Haiku

In "celebration" of yet another move, a few haiku:

Every single dish
Packed away except for two
Broken by movers

Looking at boxes
Maybe we don't need this crap
Then no unpacking

The fourth or fifth move
Each one we swore was the last
So sick of moving

Okay, so these aren't great but all our junk is in boxes, the kids are insane, and the movers seem incompetent. Plus, t-minus six hours before our Internet is disconnected (and who knows when it'll be up again). Not bad given the duress. Actually, I'm pretty proud I'm still coherent at all. See you all on the flip side!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Absolutely Awesome Red Letter Day

Today was what Ren and I like to call a "super saiko" day. The "super" is English for, well, "super," and the "saiko" is the Japanese for "awesome" or some such sentiment. Super saiko days are usually anything but. Hence, we have a special name for them.

Actually, most of today went well. Snag-free, in fact, all the way until bath time. At bath time, things started to fall apart. That's when Sky discovered the first candy wrapper. See, Sky likes to save his candy. In fact, we have candy from last Halloween, last Christmas and last Easter, not to mention from just about every birthday party he went to for the past year. Sky's stash migrates. And it is broken into separate groups for quick relocation. If it couldn't be relocated quickly and often, it would be long gone since ninja-like stealth-girl Pink P can find anything anywhere. Remember my post about gum or the one about her early morning hijinks? The girl can pull of the crime of the century before your eyes, and you would never notice because of her disarming smile and angelic giggle.

Today, at bath time, it gradually became clear that Pink P had located and consumed the stash. Sky uncovered the evidence as he was getting his change of clothes ready. First it was a Tootsie Pop wrapper and some shredded Starburst paper. I confronted Pink P who was in the tub, and she admitted to eating the candy I asked about. It didn't take long, though, for Sky to realize that all of his candy was gone.

Once busted, Pink P, who continued to play innocently in the bath, confessed to hiding the rest of the candy under her pillow. Sure enough, there we found three half-eaten suckers and a ring pop. This meant some unpleasant "consequences" for Pink P who was soon crying uncontrollably. Excessive crying on top of excessive candy consumption led to the inevitable vomiting. Pink P was nice enough to do this when I left the room briefly to tend to Sky who was in full meltdown mode triggered by the discovery of his half-eaten ring pop. (In case you're wondering, Ren was making dinner and taking care of the baby while all this was going on--who ever said caring for three kids was like zone defense obviously doesn't live at my house). "I threw up, Mommy," she said calmly when I walked back into the room. Drat. There's nothing quite like trying to fish vomit chunks out of bath water so they don't clog the drain. Nothing.

Once she was out of the bath and Sky'd been pacified by the promise of a trip out for ice cream later, I broke the news to Pink P that she would be going to bed without dinner since she'd eaten quite a bit already and clearly her stomach was out of sorts. Plus, I was hoping the old-fashioned being-sent-to-bed-without-dinner trick might finally break her of her ninja-like habits. Unfortunately, this news was met with another crying fit. Which led to an asthma attack.


So I had to let her out of her room for a breathing treatment.

I refused to lose my ground entirely, though. I made sure Pink P knew that Sky's special ice cream trip was to make up for his lost candy. Finally seeming to grasp the gravity of her situation, Pink P faced her punishment with dignity and even saw us off when we left for our ice cream outing.

In the car, enjoying the first peace and quiet for hours, my zen-like moment was interrupted with a question from Sky: "Mom," he said, "when your tummy is feeling better from your baby surgery, do you think you could exercise a bit? I don't mean a lot. Just enough so you can be a little skinny."

Sigh. So much for enjoying my ice cream...

Top 10 Signs You'll Never Be a Japanese Housewife

10. You can't sew. Therefore, you can't make all of the fancy-schmancy things for school like the lunch box bag, the tea cup bag, the shoe bag, the book bag, the PE uniform bag, the luncheon mat, the sweet little book marks, and the notebook covers. You also can't turn your son's smock into a work of art inspired by Monet. Why? Because you can't sew.

9. You think your kids will probably survive just fine, even if you don't make them gargle with iodine every single day.

8. You don't feel compelled to make cute animals out of the various foods you put in your son's lunch. Rabbit apple slices. Lion mini sausages. Hello Kitty carrots. You can live without creating these things.

7. You think your kids will do okay in kindergarten despite the fact you don't take them to after-school lessons in math, calligraphy, and English (ha! at least you've got them all beat on the English thing!)

6. During the long weeks of the rainy season, you've been known to take your laundry to the laundry mat to dry it.

5. You're pretty sure your husband can get his own beer/tea/coffee, and you're not afraid to make him try.

4. You don't think of an apron as an everyday article of clothing. In fact, you don't feel at all self-conscious doing all sorts of work inside and outside the home without one on.

3. You microwave at least some part of some meal once a day.

2. You don't think the occasional carbonated drink will melt your kids' bones and put them on the path to delinquency.

1. You're not Japanese.

(I should add here my usual disclaimer about how all people are different and how stereotypes sometimes--and in this case, definitely--make for better blog entries.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

How to Create a Visual Schedule, Sky-style

Another way we are encouraged to help Sky is to create visual cues to keep him organized during transitional moments. Since, like a lot of kids on the spectrum, he has language processing issues, it makes sense that he favors visual guides over verbal ones. And he stinks at transitioning between activities (which means he's particularly bad first thing in the morning and when he comes home from school).

Fortunately, there's an app for this. This app lets us use pictures we have taken of Sky doing the behaviors we want him to do. We can put the pictures in order and add captions.

So for our "After School" schedule, we have a picture of Sky taking off his shoes, putting his dirty clothes in the washing machine, washing his hands, taking things out of his backpack, doing his homework, eating a snack, and watching TV. He loved taking the pics and making the schedule, and since he's visually oriented, he immediately memorized and internalized the schedule.

Before the app, we were left to our own devices. Not only can I not create a social story, I also can't draw a picture. Nor am I inclined to collect pictures from magazines or the internet. So it took us awhile to get going on the visual scheduling. When it finally occurred to me to take advantage of Sky's talents, we started to make progress. I had him draw pictures for his morning schedule. He did all the work. All I had to do was laminate the cards, punch holes, and connect them with a metal ring. See? I'm not totally useless. (This is Sky's rendition of "Wake Up.")

When you find out your kid has special needs, it doesn't take long to figure out that you're going to have to be resourceful to help your kid through the challenges those needs present. I get that. I'm even okay with it. I just wish it didn't mean I had to be creative!

Friday, September 9, 2011

How to Write a Social Story

Kids who are on the spectrum can often have trouble managing social situations. One way to help them with this is to write a social story that teaches them what the appropriate behavior would be in a given situation. iPad even has an app for making social stories. It's super cool. You can add pictures or video or even audio of yourself reading the social story to your pre-reader. A successful social story should look something like this:

Dick and Jane like to play games.
They decide to play a game together.
"I'll go first," says Dick, grabbing the dice.
Jane is sad.
She wanted to go first.
Dick and Jane decide to take turns going first.
Now they are both happy.
Playing games together is fun.

Okay, so in the interest of full disclosure, that was basically plagiarized from my new iPad app. It is a slight alteration of the social story that came with the app I spent $13.99 for--I paid the $13.99 because I hoped the app would provide me with a few more stories, so I wouldn't have to write my own. It didn't.

You see, I can't write a social story to save my life. I'd like to blame this handicap on the fact that I am currently writing a dissertation and teaching university literature courses. In other words, I'd like to blame it on the fact that I have highly developed skills of analysis which require me to create a complex yet crisp narrative that has well-developed characters, an inspiring plot line, and some greater sense of beauty that make it impossible to write a simple story. But I've had this problem for awhile.

When I was in high school, my English teacher gave me an extra credit assignment to write skits reflecting everyday scenarios in the US so a new Japanese classmate could memorize them and work on her English. Since I was practically getting paid for the task, I took it seriously. Everyday, while the kids around me slogged through grammar assignments, I tried to create these skits. I managed to write exactly zero skits. What did people really talk about? It's such an existential question. How could I possibly capture this in a skit?

If I wrote a social story for Sky, it would look something like this:

Dick and Jane like to play games.
They want to play together, but they're kids, so they stink at sharing.
It's hard to know what game they like to play since they are imaginary children.
But for the sake of argument, let's say they played Hungry Hippos.
Oh wait a minute, Hungry Hippos doesn't require them to take turns.
It's a freaking free-for-all that makes an ungodly amount of noise when they play, and it has about a thousand tiny marbles that get lost everywhere.
Wait. What? What was I trying to do?
Oh... forget it!

Come to think of it, there is probably a good explanation here for why I'm not done with my dissertation. I don't know what it is, but I have a feeling it's here somewhere. In the meantime, I will keep trying to pinch social stories from other people!