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Friday, October 11, 2013

Busy, Busy, Busy!

I clearly have not been on here in awhile.  But I want to share how our homeschooling journey is going.

We completed one semester of school from Jan.-Jun this year and it went well.  We started off with a very light load of just Language Arts and Math.  I did this for a couple reasons.  1) To help us develop some routines and not feel completely overwhelmed and 2) Didn't want to spend the excess money to buy History, Science, Health and Bible curriculum that we would only use for 1/2 the year.  Starting in mid-August we began our first full school year.  Shana is now in 8th grade and Hunter is in 5th grade.  Both kids are now completing Languagee Arts, Math (Shana is in Pre-Algebra and Hunter is completing 6th grade math), History, Science, and Bible.  Hunter will have Health in the second semester.

Shana is doing particularly well and has found she likes being able to work and not be interrupted by other students.  She prefers to just read the text and complete the assignments.  She does ask questions as needed and is doing very well.  Shana started 8th grade this fall and she is progressing nicely.  She really enjoys her History course and is making inferences of how past history relates to current events.  She is a very bright girl and I know has an amazing future ahead of her.

Hunter has been a bit more of an adjustment.  Actually, it has been many adjustments.  He has a hard time focusing on his work and we struggle through the entire day while he sits at the desk and doodles, rocks, hums, yells and kicks.  We had a major meltdown yesterday, which required restraining him.  I hate having to restrain him, it really doesn't help him to calm down and typically will escalate the meltdown, but I have to keep him, me and Shana safe.  We had a lot of catch up work to do today and it was going badly.  Until, I thought to try something.  We've been trying all week with having him complete a certain number of lessons and then taking a break.  The problem with this is that I would say to finish two math sheets and he could take a 10 minute break.  But the two math sheets that should take about 10-20 minutes total, end up taking 2 hours of goofing off and me getting frustrated and then him getting frustrated.

Today I decided to try something new.  I looked at the lessons and decided how long I think he needs to finish them.  There were 6 LA's lessons and I thought each should take about 5 minutes.  I set a timer for 30 minutes.  Normally, having a timer will cause stress and anxiety, but I had a plan.  I told him if the timer went off and he was very close to done (1-2 problems) then he would still get a 10 minute break, if he did the last two quickly.  But if he finished before the timer went off he would get the 10 minute break, plus the time remaining for the lesson.  He really liked this and did the first 6 lessons, that I had allotted 30 minutes for, in an amazing 8 minutes and 16 seconds.  So, he was able to take a break for 31 min. 44 seconds.  I simply restarted the timer (for the remaining 21m. 44s) and when it went off, I set it for another 10 minutes and told him he had ten more minutes of break time.  He actually decided to come back from the break 30 seconds early and started on the next 4 lessons.

This is what homeschooling is for us.  The ability to modify the way we do things to work best for the kids.  Shana prefers to work hard from the start of school until she is done (maybe taking a break for lunch if needed).  She would rather finish before or shortly after lunch and have the rest of the day to enjoy herself.  This doesn't work for Hunter.  I love having the ability to customize their routines for their individual needs.  This is how an IEP should work, but when you have a class of 20+ kids the schools can't customize this way.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Homeschool Day 1

Today was our first official day of homeschooling.  I was very worried at how today would go and it didn't start off great with our puppy being up all night and then waking up with a headache.  But things improved.  The kids woke up at 7am and started getting ready.  We decided that an 8:30am start time was best.  The school they went to previously was 8am and we were late everyday and rushing around the house.  Being able to sleep that extra half-hour allowed them to wake up at a more reasonable pace and they got ready much quicker than usual.

At 8:15am both kids were sitting at the table ready to go, reading books and playing on their iPods.  At 8:30am I asked them to put their things away and we got started.  We talked about rules and what they are looking forward to in homeschooling.  We also discussed how it will work with a 4th grader and a 7th grader and how that can help both of them.  I described this as a "new adventure" for our family and asked them if adventures always go the way we plan.  They both said no and we talked about how we will work together when there are bumps in the road.

When we got started on lessons they took to them very quickly and it was easier for me to manage the two different grades than I expected.  I got Shana started on a reading assignment while working on an oral assignment with Hunter.  I asked Shana if working with Hunter would distract her and she said "No, it's so much quieter even with you two talking than it was in school."

Hunter started to get frustrated and upset when he had some writing work to do.  But when I explained it was only four questions and that was all he had to do for Language Arts he was shocked and quickly completed the work.  He also breezed through his math in a matter of minutes.  I be shortening the amount of math work per lesson and start doing multiple lessons per day to get him to more challenging work.

Shana had a spelling pretest and I decided to have Hunter try out the words too.  Shana is very understanding that they are each unique and have strong and weak areas.  Well, Hunter is strong in spelling and got 19/20 correct.  Shana is not good in spelling and got 3/20 correct.  Shana was fine because we quickly saw the pattern in her mistakes (i.e. bookkeeping/bookeeping, glowworm/gloworm) and she will easily do well on her spelling test next week.  She was very proud of Hunter and made him feel really good doing so well on 7th grade spelling words.

Today we did start with a very basic schedule of just math and language arts, we will be adding science next week and we will add history later in the year.  But we started their lessons at 8:30am and we finished by about 10:30.  We actually spent less time completing their work for the day then we typically spent doing homework each night at their old school.

I'm sure there will be many ups and downs on this adventure, but I know now more than ever that we have made the right decision and are doing the very best for our kids.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Year of Changes!

It's been over a year since I was able to post to this blog.  I want to change that as the blog really helps me in figuring some things out while sharing with others the challenges and joys of raising twice exceptional kids.  I thought now was a good time to get recharged as we will be starting homeschooling with both of the kids starting this week.  This has been something we have thought about for a long time, but really never had the means to do and thought the kids needed to have peer interaction in a school environment.  I will cover this more later.  Today I want to talk about what has happened in the last year to bring us to this decision.

Pat retired from the military and got a new job in NM.  We had never planned to leave CO, I had lived there my entire life and had no desire to live anywhere else.  His job requires a good amount of travel and when he is home we wanted to be able to see him some.  He started looking at places and found a small town (population about 900) and a property with 44 acres off a river.  It is what we have always dreamed about since the day we met.  We put in an offer and I packed up and moved the kids and I while Pat was overseas.  

At first things were going okay, until the kids got into school.  Hunter did well with the smaller class sizes but Shana struggled with trying to fit into a school where everyone knows everyone and she was not doing well.  The schools were trying to do what is best for the kids but they have very limited resources and have not ever worked with kids like them before.  The schools are also very, very focused on sports and testing.  This was hard as neither play sports and Shana felt pressured to join (she finally said she didn't want to) and is constantly asked why she isn't on the team.  Shana was also devastated when they cut art and music for the middle school kids because the schools standardized test scores were so low that they are doing more "test prep" classes.  

This is when we realized that our kids need something different.  They are both bright, creative, inquisitive, and really excited to learn.  However, we have seen for the last few years that the schools are trying to squish our unique shaped polygons into a square hole.  They can't expand on topics or skip sections that they have already learned.  There was no support in helping Shana with executive functioning to be able to remember to turn in homework, or prioritize work.  Hunter struggled with being in the class when they were singing songs that he felt were for preschoolers.  We also had struggles with make-up work when we took our family vacation.  We take it during the time that Pat is home from trips and these don't always coincide with school breaks.  

It just wasn't working.  

In early October I decided that starting in January we would begin homeschooling the kids.  I have mixed feelings about this.  I am excited and looking forward to seeing the spark in their eyes as they begin to enjoy learning again for the love of learning, not the test.  I'm nervous that I don't know enough or won't be good enough to teach them well.  I am looking forward to the Biblical curriculum that spans all subjects (even the math word problems are a Christian perspective).  I'm dreading not ever having a break from them and worried that will cause too much stress.  I'm happy to get to spend such a wonderful time of their lives learning and growing with them.  

I don't know exactly where this path will lead us, but I know in my heart that we are making the best decision for our kids.  

Next post I will talk about how the school is working with us to provide wonderful resources for the kids and I while homeschooling.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Socially Acceptable?

Hunter started in a social skills group about three weeks ago.  I thought this would be a great opportunity for him to learn to participate in a group.  I thought they would be working on turn taking, having a conversation, working with others and other similar skills.  Hunter really needs something like this to help him as he is virtual schooled and does not have a lot of peers around.  He really doesn't even have a friend.

The first day of the group I was not feeling great.  I had an excruciating migraine and felt that this made me more irritable.  So I blew off my concerns.  During the group they were using "social stories" which I have seen used in many places including the NSC program he was in.  The problem I quickly saw with these social stories in the group was that they do not teach the child what to do when the other person doesn't "follow the story".  For example, the first lesson was on greetings.  The story said that when we see someone the first time in a day we say "hi, how are you?".  The story shows the other person saying "I'm fine, how are you?".  It then talks about when we don't respond to the person saying hi it confuses them, so we should always reply to be friendly.  The problem I see with this right off the bat, is if Hunter learns that he should say "Hi, how are you?" when he sees people, what happens when the other person walks by, or responds in a negative way.  Hunter is very rigid on rules and when others don't follow them it frustrates him.  The story doesn't cover what Hunter needs, he needs to know how to respond when the other person doesn't answer him.  Do you get mad?  Say "Hi" again? Keep walking?  This is where it breaks down for Hunter.

Hunter had a meltdown the first day and the therapist told him if he ever did that during group that he would have to go home.  How does this help him?  It's like telling him "If you ever sneeze in our group you are going to have to go home".  Hunter very much enjoyed being around the other kids and I'm not sure how he will ever learn to be around other kids if he always gets sent home.  This was often the schools band-aid too.  What has he learned from it?  Throw a big fit and I get out of the situation that is frustrating me.

Well, he did have another big fit in the 3rd group, and we ended up in the ER for a psychiatric evaluation.  We were sent home shortly after and told to try a different group.  Hunter initially got upset because he didn't get to read a rule.  He laid his head in his hands and cried.  Then another child said he was making a rule of "no crying" this further upset Hunter and he cried louder.  The therapist instead of comforting him or even praising him for not becoming violent told him "we don't do that in here you need to take a break in the hall".  This caused Hunter to run out the door and start running around the building, screaming, kicking, biting and in general being out of control.

I spoke with Hunter after he calmed down and he said he thought he did what he was suppose to and he just cried.  He asked me why was it not okay for him to cry?

I spoke with the therapist from the group and asked why Hunter wasn't praised when he cried initially instead of having a meltdown.  She said that crying is not considered a socially acceptable way to react and that Hunter needed to take a break in the hall.  This is when I realized that this group is about trying to teach an autistic child how to be socially acceptable ALL the time.  This is not possible.  I would like Hunter to learn how to talk to other kids, work with other kids and play with other kids.  However, there is a point that when he is overwhelmed, if the one thing he can do is cry for a minute, or curl in a ball under the table (he did this the 1st week and was also told, we don't do that) until he calms down, is there anything wrong with that?

We are leaving for Disneyland in 10 days, and I have to say that I really don't give a damn if it is socially acceptable to curl into a ball in the middle of Main Street U.S.A when he gets frustrated.  It will probably be more socially acceptable then having him running through the park hitting, kicking and biting people. I feel when he is frustrated he needs to find a way to calm down and if it isn't a "socially acceptable" way to do it, then that's just to bad!  I want him safe and I really don't care what society says.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Letting Go

I've started several posts and just haven't been able to get writing.  I've fallen into a slump with the kiddos since school started and I hate blogging about the negative.  But it is a fact of our lives and I really need to vent some of this out and start thinking it through.

School started for both kids toward the end of August.  It's been a bumpy (think large craters) for both kids.  Shana hasn't done too bad, although she was suspended by the second week of school.  I try to think back to my middle school years and honestly don't recall anyone ever being suspended in middle school (high school, yes, middle, no).  I'm happy that the school handled it well and even looked at the triggers and found that she was often flustered in first period and that set the tone for the day.  She now goes to the counseling office for first period and catches up on homework, reads or even eats breakfast.  This has helped although there are still minor bumps, but I think she is starting to get use to the schedule.

Hunter has been another story.  Virtual schooling has been tough this year.  He is not motivated to work and goofs around every chance he gets.  I'm getting frustrated having to sit with him every minute of the day.  I can't even go put on a load of laundry and trust that he will stay on task.  He has also been having more and more aggressive meltdowns.  A couple weeks ago we ended up back in Children's Hospital after a 45 minute meltdown during his therapy appointment.  He is starting to run away during meltdowns and I am getting worried for his safety.

It is so very hard and I beat myself up everyday trying to figure out what I am doing wrong.  All the doctors and therapists say we need a schedule and I am doing my best, but sometimes life just can't be scheduled.  We have things pop up; oversleep, sick, phone calls, visitors etc.  How can I possibly schedule every minute of our life?  If I try will it help?  Right now with the plans to move out of state and everything we need to get done our lives are in utter chaos and I can't even figure out what I need to do, let alone schedule every minute of my day.  I am sure this is adding to the stress and anxiety levels of both the kids, even though they are excited about the move.

I'm also feeling a little distant from God right now.  I trust God and I want to follow His plan, but I honestly have no idea what I'm suppose to be doing right now.  I'm torn between two things and I can't figure out what is right and what is wrong.  I'm really blind in the direction I'm going and just pray that He is leading the way.  I think I'm fighting for safety, security and comfort and have to let go and risk a little.  This is hard with these kids, because I already feel like we've made many errors and missed many opportunities and I don't want to make another big mistake.  Of course, if I keep following the safe path, maybe that would be the big mistake.  I'm going to have to let go and just trust that this is our path, I think it's where I'm being led, but just am not quite ready for.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

It's a Blessing and a Curse (but really just a blessing)

I figured it has been a bit since I posted.  The last few days Hunter was in treatment I was very sick.  I couldn't even get off the couch for two days and the following week was limited.  This wasn't the greatest way to end his treatment and reenter back to normal life, but we had to make do.

The last two weeks have been tough being fairly sick during most of it.  But we have started making good progress on Hunter's schedules.  We are using picture schedules, I really didn't think with his age and intelligence that he would still need these.  When he was 2-3 we used these and they helped him some but as he got older we eliminated the pictures.  I found out that when he is frustrated or even sometimes not the pictures help him to focus and see what is coming easier.  I have been creating little one-inch cards with pictures of everything from waking up, brushing teeth, Wii, dinner etc.  It is very complicated as I seem to miss things, like tonight we realized we don't have a "go to bed".  Wow, that's an important one to miss.

I've talked with Shana and she thinks that she would also like to use this system.  Although she is a little nervous about what other kids her age will think if they see it.  We are planning to put it in a notebook so she can peek at it when she needs it.  I feel this will help in middle school and ease the anxiety of remembering where she is suppose to be next.  I will have to call the middle school to see if I can get pictures of things like her classrooms, teachers, locker, etc to make cards that are very accurate to her surroundings.

Middle school should be a fresh start for Shana and I hope it is a good start for her.  She will be leaving the friends she had at her elementary school as they will all be going to a different school.  But she will have some Girl Scout friends that she has known since kindergarten and gets along with pretty well.  I hope that it will be positive for her and that she is able to put the past behind her, it's a lot to get past.  We talked tonight about not dwelling on things because then it gives the people that have teased or bullied her power, even now when they are no longer around.  I hope these things help her in the coming year.  We will continue talking and trying to find ways to make middle school a success for her.

I had a couple really bad days the last couple weeks where I yelled pretty good and lectured way too much with the kids.  I feel like I am patient and calm for awhile and then it builds, I don't think being sick helped this at all.  I am working at relieving this but it is a little harder with Pat in NM.  I don't get a chance to just relax on my own or go do something for me.  I am in the process of finding respite care so that I am able to have a little time to relax, go see a movie or something else I enjoy.

I am looking forward to beginning summer finally.  We only have about 5 weeks left before both kids head back to school.  I only have about 3 weeks that I can do fun things before we have to start preparing for the new school year.  I will be virtual schooling Hunter again and I have a ton of new ideas for helping ease some of the struggles we had last year, although I am not looking forward at all to writing.  That is the one area Hunter really struggles, although when he writes the work is amazing.

I feel blessed that God felt that I deserved these children.  I often watch Monk and if you haven't seen it he is a highly obsessive compulsive man, but because of that is incredibly detailed and is able to see things others don't and solve crimes.  There's a line he says that it's "a blessing and a curse".  I've often thought this with what the kids have to deal with.  It's easy to see the curse part of it and even this week Shana told me she didn't want to have these disabilities and she just wanted to be "normal".  I can't tell you how heartbreaking it was (I have often prayed that if it's God's will He would heal them both).  I told her that God doesn't make mistakes and she is the perfect little girl that God made her to be.  I also said that God must think she is pretty special and strong to make her so unique and that when she trusts in God and understands this isn't a curse but a blessing in disguise she will be able to do anything she sets her mind to.

There are times I sadly only see the curse side myself and that I don't understand, but then I turn back to God and pray for His understanding and I am able to thank Him for those difficult days because without them I would never truly see the blessings we have been given in these children.  Each of them is so uniquely blessed and I see many things daily that show me exactly how special they really are!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

28 Days!

28 Days!

That's the number of days that Hunter spent in the Neuropsychiatric Special Care Unit as either an inpatient or day treatment patient.  In the last 28 days I have gone through a total transformation in my thinking, reacting and responding to Hunter.  Funny thing is everything I learned, I really already knew, but for whatever reason kept trying to act as though I had neurotypical children.  Faulty thinking results in faulty handling of the situation.  

Tonight at church Hunter had a rough night in the children's group.  I ended up bringing him into the main service with me.  This was the most rewarding moment I've experienced in the last several months.  During the service a video of a song was played (dang I can't remember which one) and he reached over and grabbed my hand and gently swung our hands throughout the song.  During the final worship song he was standing on the chair next to me and I began praying for Jesus to continue to give me strength during the difficult days and to help me find a way to help the world better understand these children.  

In the last 28 days I have realized, or realized again as I seemed to have fallen into the faulty thinking that Hunter was a typical child and should be able to handle all situations the same as his age or emotional peers.  I realize now that he will always and forever have autism.  He may learn coping strategies and be able to handle more and more situations as he gets older but there are some things he may never learn how to handle.  For those things we will just have to alter the thinking and change the plan.  As he learns I will praise God for each little milestone.  This may be going in a corner and screaming instead of hitting, biting or kicking.  It may be handling getting blood drawn and only screaming for 2 minutes instead of 2 hours.  Each of these little milestones means we are on the right track and making progress.

To finish this off today I'm going to list 28 things I want to Praise God for in the last 28 days.
1) The wonderful caring staff at the NSC, they truly understand and love these wonderful children!
2) My wonderful hubby that is working hard far away from home but by doing so has made the last 28 days possible.
3) My son holding my hand during the song at church!
4) Picture Schedules
5) Iceberg Analogy
6) The parents of the other children in the program, we've laughed, cried and celebrated with each other and we understand each other.
7) The other children in the program, these children are all unique wonderful gifts from God.
8) Less-Preferred Activities (Brushing Teeth) followed by Preferred (Wii)!
9) That my son was not born 30 years ago when no one knew what to do with these kids, not even the doctors.
10) Family that understands and loves my kids.
11) Good hospital food that is actually a preferred activity after a blood draw.
12) Two blood draws with little or no problem (thanks to #11)
13) Puppy stickers at the front desk of the hospital (Hunter has 28 of them)
14) Carlos - the young man that checks you in at the front desk and happily gave Hunter 28 puppy stickers (even extra when he lost some)
15) Social Stories
16) Eye drops going from major tantrum to him being so proud of how well he does when he gets them.
17) Mom Time
18) Finally learning to tie shoes, oh we are not even close, but he tries now without a meltdown (little milestones)
19) Going to the salon with Shana
20) My Pastor taking Hunter for a soda
21) Being an advocate for my kids
22) K-Love for all the right songs at the right times and rockin' out on the way to the hospital with no kids in the car (they don't like the music loud)
23) Everyone at church and everywhere else that prayed for us - I can't even put to words how much this did for me.
24) Being able to finally start summer!
25) Fidget toys
26) Quiet space (for Hunter and Mama)
27) This blog for helping me finally be able to tell everyone what life is really like with twice exceptional kids.
28) All of you that read the blog and encourage me on a regular basis!

I know I am missing so many things, as there were a lot more blessings than 28, but these are what came to mind tonight.  Tomorrow is a new day and I know it is going to be full of many more!  Praise God!