Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Year 2011 in Review

At the beginning of 2011 I did a post detailing my goals for the year. I decided I should do a retrospective post here at the end of 2011, and maybe that will inform my goals for 2012...So here is each goal with my grade and comments for each.

Get organized - Well, no. I made a good effort at the beginning of the year, and depending on the day had some surfaces cleared and progress made on others, but if you looked at my desk right now, organized would not be the word that comes to mind. It is really hard to get organized when there are four other people in the house working in the opposite direction. To keep plugging away at this is basically to bang my head against a wall repeatedly. For 2012 I think I will focus on keeping the spaces that I use the most neat and tidy, and try to help at least three of the four people I live with learn to clean up after themselves occasionally. C for a good effort.

Get a shower. Though it didn't translate to earlier bedtimes or waking times as I wanted, I did grab a shower more frequently than previous years. I have proven to myself that it can happen when I really want it to, which is a step in the right direction. B needs improvement.

Improve my writing. So I never got around to the 31 day challenge I had intended to, but I did something else instead. In addition to my writing here I'm exploring options that might actually pay a little. That would be nice. Part of one of those options included taking two writing workshops, which was great fun. I even learned a little about SEO. In 2012 I just hope to find more time to write about the things I am passionate about, and in particular to return to posting here more frequently. A- get back to work!

Make my husband's lunches more interesting. Did you know that it takes just as long (or longer) to make a sandwich as it does to fill a thermos with yummy homemade soup? It's a lot of fun to mix different foods into the lunch time grind for my hubby. He seems to appreciate the extra effort. A+ Keep it up!

Get a clearer vision for who God wants me to be. So my ongoing study of Proverbs 31:10-31 (yes, I will get back to that series soon here) has helped, I think, to keep my attitudes in check and my priorities straight. There will always be a lot to do, but to do it well, in an attitude of service and humility is the goal. To hear the child already, in quiet and calm moments, tell me what a good mom I am, that is what I'm after. A- keep at it!

Clearly there is more to do. May God's grace cover the shortcomings of 2011 and His strength lead us into 2012. Happy New Year!

Did you reach your goals in 2011?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Ability Awareness - Part 2- Building Peer-Advocacy

We are continuing our series on Bullying. You can start from the beginning of the series here. This post also continues the story from Shelly, a friend of mine from our local Special Needs Parents group. When we left off, Shelly was just about to speak to her son’s 1st grade class to explain her son’s autism. To read part one, click here…then come back and continue reading…

...I had printed off four full color 8x10 photos of my son: swimming in the deep end of the pool with grandma, playing iPad games with a friend, at the arcade playing a driving game on his uncle’s lap, and standing around a fire ring roasting marshmallows with a group of friends. I held up the first photo and said, “How many of you have ever been in a swimming pool?” They all raised their hands. I explained how my son had learned to swim last year and was in the deep end in that photo. A few kids said, “Oooooooh, the deep end.” I then held up the next photo and asked, “Have any of you ever been to Lake Tahoe?” all hands went up again. I explained that this was a photo of my son and his friend playing a game on the iPad on our vacation to Tahoe. One of the kids whispered, “He has an iPad? Wow, that’s cool!” I did the same with the other photos. The affinity the kids had for my son was palpable. I said to them, “Well, many of you have done the same things that he has done and you are a lot like him in that way, but there is one way that he is different from you guys. He has something called ‘autism’.” Everyone’s faces scrunched up. I had them repeat the word. I told them that when you have autism sometimes you have a hard time making friends and you can’t always say what you want. You might do things like make loud noises or stand up in the middle of circle time and be silly when it’s really time to be quiet. I explained to them that my son was born this way and that the doctor’s have no idea why. That even though he looks just like the rest of the class his brain is a little bit different than theirs. I told them to remember that when he makes noises, or maybe if he hits himself, he isn’t doing those things to try to make others upset, but that sometimes he just can’t help it. I told them that they could help him by being patient with him and understanding. We talked about using only a few words when talking to my son, giving him a choice between two things when they’re out on the yard (want to go on the slide or the swings?). I asked them if they thought they could do that and I got a resounding “Yes!”

That night at our Parent Faculty Club meeting my son’s mainstream teacher came up to me and told me what happened after I left. She said that after our lesson that afternoon the class went up to the science lab. While the science teacher was talking to the class, my son became restless and stood up. She said that the boy next to him then stood up beside him and whispered in his ear, “Ok, it’s time to sit down now.” and then sat down with him. She said he sat there and patted my son’s arm until the lecture was over and that he remained calm the rest of the time.

Tears streamed down my face as she told me this. She said that she saw and felt an immediate difference in the children after we left the classroom that afternoon and she was so glad that I’d agreed to come. She went on to say that the kids feel a real sense of responsibility toward my son now, that he is “one of them” and to be looked out for. A week later I got an e-mail from a mom saying that my son had come up as the topic of conversation at their dinner table. Her son now knows how to interact with my son and he feels at ease about this. One little girl even approached me on recess duty saying that she’d introduced my son to two new friends on the yard. She was so proud of that fact and I thanked her profusely.

That lesson took a total of 16 minutes and yet it has had an immeasurable effect on those children and their families. I hope that anyone reading this who has special needs children of their own will be inspired to help raise awareness for their own kids in some way. I feel so blessed to have been given this opportunity and am grateful for the understanding staff at my son’s school. It’s one of the best things I could have done for my son.

Special thanks to Shelly for sharing her story, and being my first guest post here at The Simple Life. Feel free to ask questions or leave comments below.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ability Awareness - Part 1 - Building Peer-Advocacy

As we continue our series on Bullying, I wanted to share this success story with you. This story is a great example of how to foster peer-advocacy for children with special needs. The author of this piece is Shelly, a friend of mine from our local Special Needs Parents group. Shelly is a former teacher (Kindergarten, 4th and 5th grades) and has her Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education. She is the mother of a 6.5 year old autistic first grader. Shelly devotes her time to her son and advocating for our local Special Needs community, and also enjoys sewing and quilting. I’ll be posting her story in two parts…

My son is six and a half. He is autistic, with a severe speech delay and just started first grade this fall. He is in a Special Day Class and gets mainstreamed into a general education class for a few hours of the day with a full time aide. He is not yet aware of his special needs, but his 1st grade peers are more socially savvy, so I was relieved when the phone rang during the second week of school with a surprising invitation.
Our school psychologist was calling to say that my son’s mainstream teacher had requested that he do an “ability awareness” lesson with her class regarding my son’s autism. He asked if I would like to be involved. I went silent for a second - in total disbelief - at that instant my heart was so full. I was touched that he was calling to ask me this! He explained that as a school psychologist he has been asked many times to do this and knows that some parents prefer anonymity and others like to be involved and wanted to check in with me about my comfort level. The plan was to read a story to the class to set them up for understanding about special needs: how we are all the same but that we are also different at the same time. After that I would have time to discuss my son’s specific needs. The lesson was set for September 7th. We hung up and I immediately began to think of what I’d say and do.
It was a nerve-wracking week for me. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to explain autism to 6-7 year-olds. How could I make it real to them? I would have only about ten minutes to speak and wanted to say it all without putting them to sleep. I called on the help of an autism interventionist friend of mine and my son’s former preschool teacher. They helped me work out the content and flow of what I should say.
The night before, I couldn’t sleep. It felt like the first day of school and I was a nervous wreck. I went into the classroom that afternoon with the school psychologist and an Instructional Support teacher. The teacher began her story. It was a 1992 Sesame Street book called, “We’re Different, We’re the Same” originally intended to illustrate racial harmony. It was a cute story, however, and set things up nicely for me. The psychologist segued further by talking to the students about how they are all a team in their classroom and how even though my son isn’t always in their classroom, he’s still a part of their team. He said I was there to tell the kids a bit more about my son and then turned it over to me….

Sorry to leave it here, but this is the best place (really) to break the story. Come back in a few days to read Part 2.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Bullying Digest - special edition

This is the third post in my special series on bullying. The series starts here. I wanted to share some links with you to resources that I have found helpful on the topic.

1) An IRL friend of mine who also has a blog has been learning about bullying for some time now, both from books and, unfortunately, IRL. I am posting two links from her blog that were really insightful for me to read. The first post helps explore the reasons that a bullied child is bullied. Turns out it's not necessarily because the bullied child is shy or withdrawn...those may be the effect rather than the cause.

2) The second link from Adventures of the Maffeoberries talks about the role of the bystander, and why I feel peer advocacy is such an essential piece to support our kids.

3) I wanted to let you know about a great organization I learned about through the twins' preschool. It is called KidPower. They are worldwide. Look here to see if there is an "office" near you. While their focus is not solely focused on bullying, they do work with children of all abilities to help them learn to be safe. They teach them what THEY can do when they find themselves in a sticky situation - from getting separated from mom while shopping to dealing with the playground bully...self-advocacy at its best. I attended a brief workshop about a month ago and it made a big impression on me. I'll be exploring some of their resources more soon.

4) The IAN project is conducting a survey about autism and bullying. I first learned about the survey through the Autism Speaks Blog. You can  learn more here. In order to participate in the survey you need to register with IAN.

That's it for this time. As I gather more resources I will be sure to pass them along. If you visit any of these sites, thanks for mentioning that you found them through The Simple Life.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


This is the second in a series of posts related to bullying. The series begins here...

There are a lot of ways to head off and respond to bullying. I will highlight some Defensive tactics here and Dig into these in more Detail at a later Date:

Self-Advocacy - This is the foundational attitude you ideally want your child to have. It says, "I am valuable and worthy of respect. There is no reason anyone should treat me badly." This attitude may prevent bullying simply because bullies may pick out targets who seem vulnerable. This can lead to a negative cycle. If your child is still targeted, self-advocacy will at least impel your child to seek help from others. Self-advocacy skills, like many social skills may not come naturally to children with special needs. There are resources to learn these skills, however. I'll be sharing some what I've run across in the following posts.

Peer-Advocacy - The next best defense is a group of peers that will not stand by and allow bullying to occur. Bullying persists in part because bystanders allow it to continue. There are several theories about why that happens which I'll try to follow up on in future posts. Helping your child establish a circle of friends who will stick up for them is vitally important. We'll talk about how to make that happen, too.

Supervision - This may be one of the weakest links in our culture. There simply aren't enough adult eyes per child. I have seen in our own school that even when there are several adults on the playground (at drop-off and pick-up in particular) they are distracted and not observing what the children are doing. You can't catch everything, but the more you can be present and engaged the more you will know what your child is facing and how they are reacting to it. You'll see for yourself what skills they need to learn. I have to be clear here that I'm not talking about helicopter parenting here. I think it is important to provide "just-right" support for your child. For my daughter I can now watch her with peers from a distance - reading her body language and eavesdropping, if possible, to know when I need to step in and give her some support. This is how I know that some children already regard her as "odd" and will use any opening they find to verbally outwit her and highlight her differences.

Policy - By itself, policy is ineffective, but it is still essential. Make sure you know your school's rules and what procedures they follow if bullying occurs. What definitions do they use? How are the rules enforced? What is the communication chain? What documentation do you need?

These concepts are just an outline of the various defensive strategies you need to consider if you're concerned about bullying or know that it is occurring.

Which method has been most essential for you and/or your child?

This post is linked to Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday blogfest. You can see the other creative responses to the letter D here.

Jenny Matlock


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