Our journey in the Autism Spectrum

Posts tagged ‘Kindergarten’

Zombies vs. Princesses

[Ed. Note: I feel I need to preface this post to say that we do, in fact, love our school, our teachers, and our new principal. They have been nothing but understanding and supportive of all of our kids! But occasionally, it does seem we catch them momentarily off-guard.]

Friday I got a call from our school’s principal. Our  Kindergartener had been sent to the office for the third time last week. During the course of our conversation about my daughter’s infractions, our concerns that the behavior problems seem to be escalating, and how we might handle this situation, the principal, Dr. P, wanted to share with me exactly how Lucy was spending the time in her office.

Dr. P: Lucy has to sit in my office while she completes her work. She did a good job focusing on her task and following directions so when she was done I let her take a break and color some pictures. First, she drew some pictures of zombies.

ME: (with a little laugh) Yeah, that sounds about right.

Dr. P: Well, I asked her if she saw zombies on TV and she told me no.

I could hear Dr. P give a tiny sigh of relief. Thank the gods Lucy answered “no” because Dr. P had sounded a bit taken back by these pictures.

Dr. P:  (in a brighter, more reassuring voice) …and then she started drawing more normal things like a princess in a tower. You know, more typical things for 5 year-old girls.

ME: Well, actually Dr. P, zombies are kind of normal for us.

Perhaps I should have kept that little skeleton  in our family closet? (no pun intended.) Hey, at least I made no mention of the pirates, monsters, genetically mutated animals, and robots that routinely show up around the house!

Dr. P:  Oh…I see. Well, then..

I spent the next few minutes doing my best to sound like a “normal” parent who is relatively sane and very concerned about my daughter’s behavior. I was hoping to convince her  so we would not get a call from DFS (Division of Family Services) over the weekend. But truth be told, I’d pick zombies over princesses any day. Well, unless is was a zombie princess. Or a really cool warrior princess that could defeat zombies…

A Very Special Kindergarten Story

[Ed. Note: for the record I am getting this out there before my son begins first grade. I’ve been trying to find a way to do this book, this teacher, and my son’s peers justice. It was an amazing year!]

My son entered Kindergarten this past fall. Mainstream Kindergarten. After a few bumps along the way, my son’s extraordinary teacher gave me a wonderful opportunity to talk to the class about autism and specifically, Henry. In my opinion it was a great success.

If you haven’t read about my experiences, I’ve posted links here (otherwise feel free to skip ahead to the link of my video at the end of this post):

Bullying and Peer Education

Teaching Moment #1: Friends and Brains

Teaching Moment #2: Toasters and Hairdryers

Teaching Moment #3: The Senses and What Autism Looks Like

After my last “class”, Mrs. Kindergarten Teacher and the whole class shared a very special gift with me that I will never forget. With some help from Mrs. KT, they wrote a story with illustrations about Henry and autism. The words and illustrations are theirs. Henry’s own words and descriptions about himself are his as well.

The photos added at the end are a few I had taken throughout the year. (please note that I do not own the rights to the music used).

Thank you, Mrs. KT and your Lions! ~from the very bottom of my heart!

And finally….

A Very Special Kindergarten Story

Photo Friday: Kindergarten Zoo Field Trip

What a great day!

Teaching Moment: #1 Friends and Brains

I’ve written both here and on my Facebook page about how Henry’s Kindergarten teacher asked me to come into the classroom to talk to the kids a little bit about autism. Yesterday afternoon I had my first visit.

All the children were on the rug and I explained to them that I was there to talk about autism. I asked if anyone had heard that word before and if they knew what it was. I got some “yes” and some “no”.  I asked if anyone had a question before I read a book to them about autism.

My son’s hand shot up.  In my head I’m thinking, “really, dude?

“Yes, Henry. What is your question?”

“I hate G*!”

Of all the kids to be outspoken about not liking kids with differences, it’s MY kid, you know, the one WITH autism, that probably needs the most help in understanding the feelings of others. Which is exactly why we thought it important to have him there in class for my visits. Clearly, we’ve got a lot of work to do with my son. Henry’s teacher quickly diffused the situation by explaining that it is not okay to say things like that and that those words hurt. We then segued into explaining that the story I was going to share not only was about autism but about having a friend that was different.

With 17 pairs of 5 and 6 year-old eyes upon me I began by reading the book, My Friend Has Autism by Amanda Tourville.

Mrs. KT (Kindergarten Teacher) then did an exercise with them demonstrating how sometimes we liked the same things and sometimes we didn’t and that it is okay but we still need to treat each other nicely.

She began by asking a series of questions asking and motioning to the kids to either side of the rug depending on their answers. The questions got harder as she went on but here are just a sample:

“Who likes pizza best stand on this side of the rug and those who like hot dogs best stand on this other side.”

“Who likes to give and get big hugs stand here and those who don’t like to be touched stand over here.”

“Those who like to have a lot of friends come to this sides and those who prefer to have just a few friends go to this other side.”

“Those who think that we should   treat everyone nicely no matter our differences stand on this side of the rug. Those who think it’s okay not to be nice to someone because they are different stand on this other side.”

Importantly, on this last question all of the kids were standing on the “right” side! We talk about how it is important to be kind to one another even if we don’t agree with them or want to be their friend. We don’t have to be friends with everyone but we do need to be kind to everyone.

Next we moved on to talk about how different our brains are. How what we see in our brains can be very different from each other. Then the kids made “brain hats”. Each student was given a sheet of paper with an outline of a brain and they were asked to color in and draw on what they saw inside their brain. Then we attached their picture to a paper band that fit around their head to complete the “hat”.

With that it was time for me to go but Mrs. KT told the class that I would be coming back again to talk more about autism.

Some asked, “Tomorrow?”

Mrs. KT and I laughed and said, “No, not tomorrow but soon.”

[I haven’t yet had a chance to speak with Mrs. KT to get her feedback on the lesson and we haven’t set a date yet for me to come back.  Personally, I think I should have been able to do much better.  I just don’t feel I can relate to kids all that well, especially those that are not my own. They intimidate the heck out of me. But, since Mrs. KT did tell them I would be coming back I guess I did well enough. I’d give myself a C. Usually the more I DO something, the better I get. I’m hoping that is the case here because I’ve been given a WONDERFUL opportunity here and I sure do want to make the most of it!]

It’s A Kindergarten Halloween Party?

So, I am finally getting around to posting something about Henry’s Halloween party at his school. There were so many wonderful little surprises for me; from the quietness of the classroom to all of the amazingly well-behaved students! I haven’t known really where to start! My first thought was that these couldn’t be Kindergarteners. Except if that were the case, my son and I were in the wrong room! No, this was definitely his class. And they were all so adorable in their costumes! 

Side note: Of all the costume choices we have at home, it took Henry weeks to decide. Every day he would choose something else.  Henry finally decided on The Human Torch, part of the Fantastic 4 superheroes. (So many superheroes to choose from, so little time.) Anyway…

To begin the party, Mrs. Kindergarten Teacher called each table, one at a time, to a carpeted area in the class to take their pictures. She encouraged them to stand close to each other, and even to put their arms around each other or hold hands with their friends. I immediately expected Henry to stand way apart from his group, not wanting to be too close to anyone. Henry definitely likes his space and he is certainly not a fan of group pictures! I was so pleased to see Henry participating that I didn’t even notice, until that evening when I looked at the pictures, was that Henry actually reached for and held the hand of the little princess that was next to him! What? Wow. 

Next, I watched as the kids lined up to head to the gym for the traditional all-school Halloween parade. Henry in a gym packed with kids, teachers and parents and the thunderous droning of hundreds of voices and waiting…and waiting. This would be interesting to see… It was hot and crowded and I was feeling uncomfortable being in there myself. Finally, the parade began and the students made their way around the small gym lead by their teachers in a line of characters and crazy costumes too many to list!  I watched, amazed, as Henry participated in all of this!

As the kids filed back in to the classroom, we parents had each of their places set with their Halloween party treats, Krispy Kreme donuts, rainbow Goldfish, and the cutest juice boxes decorated like mummies. Henry was the first one back in the room as apparently he was line leader that day. He surprised me by telling me he had to go wash his hands before having snack. When each student had finished washing they took their places in their seats. The kids were talking and laughing with each other at the tables but no one was eating. These are Kindergarteners?  Did I mention there was a donut on each plate in front of them? I was almost feeling awkward about it until as the last couple of kids headed to their respective seats, Mrs. Kindergarten Teacher said, ” Class, if your hands are washed and your snacks are ready, you may go ahead and eat .”  And then they did. What? Wow. (again)

When Henry had a hard time opening the straw to his juice box he turned to me and asked me for help. Knowing that Mrs. Kindergarten Teacher really encourages her kids to think of ways they can do it themselves I encouraged him to keep trying and think of another way he could get it open. One kid from another table offered a suggestion of getting a scissors to open it. Henry thought for a moment, turned to the princess next to him and asked, “Can you help me open this.” Okay, Tom Sawyer, I’m pretty sure that’s not what your teacher had in mind, but, well, I couldn’t say I blamed him. When the princess had a hard time as well, the Transformer stepped in to help!

At some point in the party, Henry turned to the that pretty princess sitting next to him and was talking to her about something. The little girl was just smiling at him and giggling. Henry slung his arm over the back of the chair to turn and look at me with a grin and said in the most matter-of-fact voice, “She never knows what I’m talking about, Mom. She doesn’t understand me.”

 I was cracking up and I tried to explain to him that maybe it was because he often spoke so fast and that sometimes even I had a hard time understanding what he was talking about. We were laughing together and he said to me, “Mom, you know I have a super-speedy brain! I can’t help it!” Can’t argue that fact, dude!

Throughout the party, all of these Kindergarteners remained so well-behaved. Even though they were laughing and talking with each other, they did not ever get too loud and they all continued to participate in the little craft a dad had volunteered to do with them and continued when we moved them to the different game stations we had set up. These kids genuinely seemed to have a good time! It was one of the most enjoyable class party I have ever attended!

I think it would probably be difficult for many of the parents of Henry’s classmates to understand just how HARD it is for Henry to hold it together as he navigates his way every day through these types of situations. The seemingly simplest thing as standing in line or right next to a classmate and then even thought of that someone  possibly touching him, well, this is probably one of Henry’s most difficult obstacles.  Yet he is able to tolerate it more and more every day. I credit his teacher for providing him (and all of her students) with such an amazing environment that is calm, quiet, orderly and CONSISTENT so Henry isn’t always so distracted with sensory issues.  Then he can focus more on LEARNING and GROWING along with his peers!

I have always given credit to his wonderful team at the pre-school level for doing just this same thing and I was sure it was why he has come such a long way since he first entered school. Now I am convinced that it is just this type of environment that Henry can learn to thrive in and I feel so fortunate that Henry has another AMAZING teacher for his first mainstream school experience!

Mrs. Kindergarten Teacher may have been dressed as Sam-I-Am for Halloween but I know she that in real life, she is even more special and magical, creative and kind, caring and compassionate, so very, very wise. She truly gets it!

Score One for Typical!

Grant and I had a brief, friendly meeting yesterday with Henry’s Kindergarten teacher. I wanted to touch base with her face-to-face and chat about how Henry is transitioning from a part-day SSD preschool class to a full day mainstream Kindergarten class.

She begins by asking us if we have any specific questions or concerns. My deepest most pressing concerns at this point are things that I can’t seem to say out loud to her.

Do you really see my son? Deep down inside? Will you see how intelligent he really is?

Will you truly take the time to learn about him and guide him to be the best Henry he can be?

Will you understand his differences and accept him for who he is?

Will you understand that as his parents we want him to become a productive, independent citizen in his Kindergarten class and beyond?

Do you understand that we worry about his differences setting him apart (negatively) from his peers?

Do you know how much we want his first school experience to go well and hopefully set the tone for the rest of his school years ahead?

When I am unable to verbalize what exactly we are looking for from her and this meeting she takes the lead.

She tells us that Henry is doing as well as his peers. She feels she “gets” Henry. She can see where he is coming from and that their personalities seem to be meshing quite well. BINGO!  Tears begin to well up in my eyes. 

She talks of the positive things about Henry, things she likes about him. She tells us a little bit about his day and a few things she has been able to see from him in his short 10 days he has been in her class. She shares with us how she interacts with him specifically and how she runs her classroom.  She continues on  to say that she is not seeing any “weird” behaviors that make Henry stand out from any of his typical classmates at this point. She shares how he is interacting (or sometimes not) with his new classmates. He is transitioning well. She not aware of any issues with his other teachers (P.E., music, art). She assures us that if there are ever concerns that arise, she will not hesitate to let us know.

My son is adjusting and navigating “the typical”!  His teacher sees him. She is taking the time to learn about him, letting him be the individual that  he is yet guiding him in “the typical”. I am able to swallow that lump that has been sitting in my throat. I am able to breathe a bit easier.

Score: Typical 1, Autism 0, Kindergarten Teacher 100!

Today Is the Day

Today is the day we  I have been dreading worrying about anticipating for so long. We’ve been preparing for this day for over a year; occupational therapy/sensory integration therapy, speech/language therapy and pragmatics,  ABA, fine motor skills, self-calming techniques and coping skills, social skills, countless social stories and most recently several trips to his new school along with a practice bus ride. So many brilliant, wonderful teachers and therapists have played such an important role in our lives!!! We could not have done it without them!  All for Henry’s first day of mainstream (full day!) Kindergarten … and beyond.

It’s been a few hours since he climbed right up on that bus. No fuss, no muss. Surprisingly, I haven’t yet shed a tear. A wonderful friend stopped by with some beautiful flowers. We chatted about our boys’ new experiences over coffee. I am feeling slightly less anxious. I will be busy today which I hope will be helpful .

I am remembering the conversation I had last night with my little dude at bedtime. We talked a bit about what his day will be like.  He was anxious I could tell.

“Are you nervous about tomorrow, Hen? It’s okay to be nervous.”

“I’m a little scared about it, Mom.”

“Can you tell me what you are scared about?”

“I don’t like people looking at me. I don’t like them to know my name.”

We talked about things he could do to be a little less scared. We talked about his classroom and his new teacher. I reminded him that sharing his name with others helps to make friends and that the more he does it the easier it will be and the less scared he will be. He seemed doubtful so I asked, “Well, what do you think would make it less scary for you?”

“Well, I could change my name.” He tells me, laughing!

“Change your name? What would you change it too?

“I don’t know…how about Komondo?” he says with a new burst of giggles.

This prompts his sister to chime in from across the room,”How do you spell that, Henry?”

The next few minutes are spent sounding out the new name and picking letters that work to spell it out. He’s done with our “serious” conversation.

It’s time for them to settle down and get some sleep so I try one last ditch effort to assure myself him that everything will be okay.

“Hey, Henry, it’s time for sleep. Big day tomorrow and it’s really going to be awesome, you know!”

He got serious and looked right at me with his eyebrows raised, “Mom, it is not going to be awesome.” I couldn’t really argue with that…

“But you know what?” I prompted. “It may not be exactly awesome, Henry, but it will be OKAY. And each day will get easier. And soon it will be awesome.”

For some reason he did seem to really take this in and accept it. At least in that moment.

“Okay, Mom.” We said our good-nights and both my littlest ones settled in for sleep.

Everyone slept through the night! We kept this morning as routine as possible and just added in waiting-for-the-bus and getting-on-the -bus as if it were nothing too out of the ordinary.

Now I guess I will go on about my day. I have much work to do and still one more chameleon to get to school this afternoon. Then I am off to do a short talk at TouchPoint Autism Services.  It will go by fast. The morning has already flown by! (Thank you Tracy!!!) 

And soon enough Komondo will be home again! His first day of Kindergarten completed!

More Kindergarten Frustration and Anxiety (for me!)

[Please note: Portions of this post have also been published on my Facebook page as well.]

Our school district has had a wonderful practice of informing elementary and middle school students of their teachers well in advance before the next school year begins. Historically, our elementary school has a “fly-up” day so the kids know where they’ll be going before they are even out for the summer. In this all important year for our son, who is on the Autism Spectrum and heading to kindergarten this fall, I have been very anxiously awaiting news of who his teacher will be in the hopes of communicating with her some over the summer. I was hoping as well to be able to take Henry on a quiet tour of the building weeks beforehand in anticipation of his anxiety of new places and people.  Our letter came today and I share exerpts below:

“Dear _________ School Families:

Understandably, children and parents are eagerly waiting to know the name of their teacher for the upcoming school year. It was originally announced that the [year-end] report card would include that information. However, due to an unusually high number of enrollees across the district….” blah, blah, blah… “still evaluating enrollment…”  yadda, yadda… “Class placement letters for elementary students will be sent out district-wide during the first week of August. We apologize for the delay….”  whatever! 

Gee, kindergarten orientation is August 12th and first day for school is August 16th! I will have approximately 1 week to prepare my son for a new school, new teacher, and new everything. Great. Oh, did I mention that a lot of our triggers for anxiety and meltdown are new people and environments? Swell. And to add to this, the school is undergoing a lot of construction and remodel this summer so I will be lucky to get him inside prior just to see the classrooms and familiarize himself just a bit with the school!

I realize that this change for our district is much-needed and in the long-run has potential to work better for us but right now, for us, the timing STINKS!

Processing the Twilight Zone (or Kindergarten IEP- Part II)

[Editor’s Note: An alternative, more appropriate title for this post really should be: An Annoying Mother Who Worries Too Much! ~Trust me, I know. I annoy myself!]

School is now officially out for the summer. It’s probably time I just push through this post and get it out there…before summer is over and we enter into a whole other mess of worries and anxieties and issues! This particular blog post has been sitting in my drafts for days and days now. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to fully think through and process the whole thing. I can’t seem to grasp (or don’t want to grasp) the thoughts swirling and spiraling in my head. I am not completely sure why but  my guess is because just thinking about it raises my anxiety. If I think about it too much doubt, worries, fears about whether or not we made the right decisions creep in.  Worrying and second-guessing come naturally to me so I like to avoid and “stuff” all things which I don’t want to deal with…like then maybe it won’t happen. Denial…I could not possibly be sending my son to all-day, mainstream Kindergarten in August where he will ride the bus, eat lunch and be in a class of TWENTY other children with ONE teacher! All. by. himself!

So if you remember, a few weeks back we had Henry’s big Kindergarten Transition IEP. In case you missed it you can read the prequel here. Since that time I have been slowly trying process what transpired. 14 or so individuals (not counting Grant and myself) sitting around two big library tables pulled together was a little intimidating. And when it came to discussions about data and percentages of pull-out versus push-in and weekly minutes in the triple digits….well, my brain shut that part out for fear of vertigo and vomiting. (Some day I hope to write more about my newly self-diagnosed dyscalculia~it has a name!) Anyway, if you asked me now, I would not be able to tell you exactly what even came out of that IEP…that’s how badly I block data and numbers. (Scarier still is that I do the banking and bill paying for our family!)

Anyway, what I do know is that he is roughly getting only about 20% special education help; mostly in language and social/emotional areas. This is good. Right? I think?  Occupational therapy is basically being reduced to only a consultative basis, which is reasonable at this point.

Overall I came away from that (2-hour!) meeting feeling pretty good. Still nervous and anxious about Henry starting mainstream Kindergarten but it wasn’t so horrible. I still  had an appetite afterwards. Not feeling nauseous after an IEP is a good sign for me so the fact that my husband and I enjoyed a very nice lunch afterward was a positive.

What my brain keeps circling back too, and I have said as much to his beloved SSD teacher, is that my little dude looks pretty darn good on paper. Everything we talked about and decided on in the IEP makes sense and seemed reasonable at the time.

But now…the more think about it, what my son is on paper is not what he always is in the classroom and out in real life. And what triggers his autistic traits to come out are generally what are found in the mainstream school setting; the hum of voices in a confined area, many things going on at one time in this setting, many people/classmates moving around him…that buzz or hum causes him to shut down, act out, become noncompliant, meltdown. We have yet to see any real success in this area without one-on-one help. Now I am wondering if I stressed this very real trigger enough to our new team. There was no talk of a para for him. I do remember questioning this at one point where I was “assured” that they would have resources to pull in someone for him if needed.

I have enrolled Henry in a mainstream summer camp starting next week where he will go two half-days a week with his younger sister, in hopes of introducing him to a more mainstream setting. He will also still get two half-days of SSD summer school.

I know I have to let go. I have to raise the bar for my little dude, nudge him. But his anxieties and meltdowns are so painful to watch. I feel them along with him. He generally doesn’t even want to talk about Kindergarten! I anticipate a shaky start, some bumps in the road but I have to believe we will get through it and he will succeed; surpassing my expectations as he is known to do.

For now, I am going to try to take one small step at a time. Henry and I will take these steps together…anxiety and all! We will see how the mainstream camp goes. We will talk about Kindergarten; like it or not. I don’t let him see my anxiety. I don’t let most people see it. Ever. But it is there still just the same as it is in my little dude.

Now I await the letter that will come in the next few weeks telling us who his new Kindergarten teacher will be. And then I will probably worry some more! I haven’t even begun to address my little dude’s social/emotional issues! In between all this worrying I hope to actually enjoy some of this summer…Get ready for us Mrs. Kindergarten Teacher!

IEP’s and Rod Serling


Kindergarten Transition IEP. These three words  have been ominously rattling, clanking, whispering and shouting in my brain for weeks like some surreal dream sequence from an old Twilight Zone episode. Curse you Rod Serling!

So much information, data and lingo is tossed around. So many people at this one….the outgoing team who we LOVE and our soon-to-be new team who we have never met! Teachers, coordinators, therapists, administrators! That in itself is enough to stir up nightmares!  An IEP meeting is truly a strange world in a Twilight Zone of its own.

The date has been looming and the waiting has been full of anxiety! I like a plan. I am not crazy about change and I don’t like surprises. (unless it’s a box with something expensive and sparkly inside or a winning lottery ticket!)  I just want this to be done and over. Yet…

Now that finally the day is almost here, 44 hours and 30 minutes to be exact as I type this line. I’m getting even more panicky. I am anxious about things going smoothly, of getting the services and support my son needs for the big jump into mainstream kindergarten. I want to start off at this new school with this new team on the right foot. That can make all of the difference!

Am I prepared? I should be but I certainly don’t feel like it. I am finding it so hard to prepare for the unknown! Thoughts and worries are swirling vortexes in my head. I have no idea how this new team executes an IEP meeting. I really don’t have any idea what to expect! What am I forgetting? Have I left something important out of my notes? Am I missing key issues that need to be addressed? Where are my notes? I still have to finish the collage of my son I am putting together for the new team. I feel such pressure to find just the right photos so they can really SEE my little dude. So they can see how smart and funny and GOOD he is. It is so important that they can see his potential so as to help him to realize it.

I have less than 2 days to get focused, get over my anxiety and get on with it. It will be what it will be. For now, my eye is on the short-term prize of just making it through the meeting and then off lunch at a nice restaurant for my favorite lobster ravioli and a glass of wine (or two!) with my husband! By this point I have to think that all will have gone well and we will have navigated through the Twilight Zone. And we are not inviting Mr. Serling to lunch with us!

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