Kindergarten is great so far

So it has been a long time since I updated. I’m not usually superstitious but every time I started to write this post I felt like I might jinx something…

But here we more than half way through the school year and Kindergarten is going very well. The class (self contained special day class) has nine students and five aides.

One of my biggest concerns was R.’s escaping behaviors. I was worried she was going to walk out the front door of the school and try to find her way home. She did escape starting on her first day of school. There are classrooms adjacent to the recess yard and she instantly realized there were toys in each classroom and she wanted to see them. The amazing thing was, the teacher and aides did not freak out about it , no meeting was called, no outside behaviorist was called in.  The kindergarteners have three recesses a day, and for the second recess the teacher brought some toys outside. Talk about brilliant. Over the next few weeks the aides worked on showing R. all the fun things she could do on the recess yard and now it is not much of a problem at recess. She still does try to go exploring from her classroom, but they seem to be able to handle this.

Her school day is so much more interesting than in preschool. They go to the library, have pull-outs like music and garden. Even the work they are doing in class from the worksheets to the art projects is more advanced than preschool. The SDC class is mixed grades, K-2, but the kindergarteners do the same things that the general ed kindergarteners do and it seems to stay the same as they advance in grades.

R. is going to one of the general ed kindergarten classes for free play each day. I was getting notes that she was “playing” with the other students.  I visited one day, hoping to just spy in the window so I would not distract her. I peered in and I did not see her at all–just groups of kids. So I went in the back door, and there was R–hanging out with the large group of kids. From what I saw she was hanging out more than playing anything. But the general ed teacher told me she puts hats on the other kids, takes turns with marble runs and other toys and that the kids really like her.

And that is one amazing thing about this school, it is not just the teachers who seem to like R., the kids do.  I never felt like other kids really noticed R, beyond her differences and she only had limited interest in them. So this is really an amazing surprise.

R. is obsessed with clapping and getting people to clap, and she has a tendency to grab people’s hands to get them to do what she wants. I was concerned about how this would be taken by the other kids, especially at recess and discussed it with the teacher.  After a few weeks the teacher said that the kids don’t mind at all when R. has them clap, and some girls were taking R. by the hand and running around and laughing.  She told me that there were hula hoops on the recess yard and R. put a hoop on the ground, stood in the middle of it and spun her body around. A bunch of other girls watched and then all did the same thing. So I can say that R. inspired her fellow students to spin!

R. can follow directions so much better. I’m able to have her help with cleaning up her toys and similar tasks.  I discussed this with the teacher and she set up a recycling job for R. where R. and a student from the general ed kindergarten class take a box of recycling to the recycling bin outside. The children have to carry the box together, and work together to lift it into the bin. Talk about the most amazing way to work on joint attention skills, social skills and probably more. R. is super motivated to do this, the aide said that she hardly had to help them at all, they worked it out between them.


My new moves

I mentioned that we were walking a lot in the community in my last post.  What I didn’t mention is that she does still have some behaviors, they are just a little different. She will tug on our hands to pull in the direction she wants to go. She will point sometimes and look at us with an expression that is demanding. I’ll prompt her to say go this way or something relevant.

She doesn’t like to wait, or stand for a long time while I look at something.  I do honor that for the most part, but if I really need to do something she has to wait.

When she gets upset she will throw herself onto the ground (usually to her knees at first) and cry. Sometimes I have no idea what sets her off, but usually it is some change to the way we are doing things or something she perceives as a change. Like parking in a different spot. At one Target entrance there is a separate entrance and exit. She thinks we should always walk out the same door we came in.

I always wished she could tell me what she wanted in the store, well there’s a case of be careful what you wish for. She can remember where the stuffed animals are in any store and find her way there. We were shocked to realize she could find her way to the Disney store (she led us) from any spot in the Serramonte mall. (a large mall shaped like a cross). She had only been there walking around one time before like a month ago.

In the Disney store she is after a plush Kermit. It is tempting to buy her everything she wants but if I do that I am setting up an expensive precedent. So I don’t buy her anything. I tell her we can say hi to Kermit (or whoever) talk to him for a minute and they we have to say good-bye. This works, but it takes a lot of urging.

She is incredibly strong. At this point she is more than half my height. If she pulls or pushes me and I am off balance she could theoretically knock me over. Sometimes I have felt afraid that I could not control her, that she would run into a dangerous situation or…

So I invented a procedure for myself to restrain her. Now that sounds terrible, but sometimes I do have to take control.  She’ll flop down in the middle of the street or a busy area where I can’t protect her until she is finished.

When we walk she usually stands on my left, with her right hand in my left hand. If she suddenly flops down to the ground, it is not easy to pull her up by my left hand, and I’m always afraid I’ll hurt her. So first I’ll say Up 1,2,3. Sometimes that works and we proceed.

If that doesn’t work, I will transfer her right hand to my right hand and slip my left arm around her back and put my hand under her arm pit. Then I have enough leverage to lift her up.  That often calms her and we can proceed. It is also easy to switch to that two armed position while we are walking if she needs extra direction.

If that doesn’t work, I can slip my left hand further around her so it is in front of her, like a bear hug from the back.  It’s tough to move in that position and it is easy for her to kick me, but it does work.

I took R. to the post office to mail a box. I probably should have gone at a time when I could go without her, but I had to pick up something anyway. So I got the stroller out, and put my box in the stroller. R. cried instantly, not sure about the box, the stroller (we haven’t been using it) or what we were doing.

I got her to help me push the stroller, and we made it up the hill to the Post Office with no problem. As I turned to enter the Post Office she started to cry and flopped on the ground. I pushed the stroller so it would not roll down the hill and did my “moves” on R.

A woman came along, and I’m sure to her it looked like I was totally out of control of the situation. She pushed my stroller out of arm’s reach (grrr!) and then got in R.’s face to try to help. Which of course made the situation worse.

I finally said, she has autism, she is upset because this is a new experience, I’ve got it under control, thank you. The woman moved away and I wrestled R. and the stroller into the Post Office.

As soon as we were inside the building, she stopped crying and said I want iphone.


Summer fun

Stroller-less at Stern Grove


Obviously I haven’t posted in a while. I’ll confess that I’ve been taking a break from autism. Not from R., and I’m not ignoring any challenges or anything. It’s just after a year of all the kindergarten research and visits, and all the meetings and so forth I just needed to think about something else for a while- having fun with my daughter.

Fun at the Arboretum.

Preschool came to an end. I’m not sure she understands that, it was bittersweet to say good-bye to the teacher she has loved for over two years.  She had an opportunity to visit her new kindergarten class. (I’ll call it a kindergarten class, but it is technically K-2). We went at the end of the day for their free play and circle time. She wasn’t too thrilled at first, she kept yelling home. I didn’t know she even knew that word. But once she got in the classroom she seemed to feel comfortable sitting in the circle time area – it was set up similarly to her classroom. She actually participated a bit.

She finally moved to a big bed. Yes she has been sleeping in a crib all this time. Every time I went to move it she would get upset. So I made the switch while she was at school and it has been fine. She loves her new bed. And I saved the crib mattress for jumping, so it is a win-win situation.

We have not used the stroller for months now. (Other than the long walk to the zoo). It used to be we could not go anywhere without it or letting her sit in a shopping cart. Now she just loves to walk around the grocery store and even noisy Costco. I swear she is the happiest person in the entire place. She grins from ear to ear, and practically prances through the store.  I remember in the baby books they would tell you to take your baby to the grocery store and label everything. Well, here we are at age five spending five minutes admiring and labeling corn.  I’m not complaining. I’m actually grateful to get to go through this period with her.

We got her hair cut very short- a pixie cut. She just loves her short hair. She even rubs her head on us now. She never did that before.

Sitting at McDonalds - I still can't believe she does this.


Her self portraits for Autism Acceptance Day

R. loves to take pictures with the iPad, and she is one of her own favorite subjects. I wanted to share these for Autism Acceptance Day.

Here are some pictures where she is using the special effects.



Why are there no donuts?

R. is going through her first noisy phase that doesn’t involve crying.  Her mouth is forming words just about from the minute she gets up until she falls asleep.  I don’t understand a lot of what she is saying, especially when she is playing on her own.  But it has the quality of sentences and there are words there.

When she asks for something she will repeat it over and over again. I imagine this might get annoying eventually, but I have to say I enjoy every word. She has been singing for longer than she has been talking, but now she can sing an entire song, both on her own and along with the CD or television.

The same child who was hitting us when we said no just a few months ago is talking back.  That’s right, when we say no bubbles she’ll say yes bubbles.

She strung together her first sentence (rather than using a complete phrase she has been taught).  She said And now chocolate and pointed to the cookies.

Before Christmas R. caught me with a stuffed Big Bird on my computer screen and ever since she demands to see it again. You know how Amazon makes suggestions based on what you are viewing? Well she figured that out and after she asks to see Big Bird she’ll ask for all the other characters.

She used to do this by just saying the name of the character and pointing if I didn’t do it fast enough.  She started saying Look at this Elmo, or Look at this Zoe followed by pointing.

She is saying yuck and ewwww to foods she doesn’t like. She says cold when she is cold and she says smell when she smells something unusual.

I feel like we are seeing the beginning of her asking questions.  She takes my finger and points to things that she wants to know what they are. It is usually Sesame Street characters, but it has been other objects too. I think I’m going to have to name the guys in Hoot’s band, she’s not happy I don’t know the real name for each of them.

She’s actually asked why a few times.  I’m never sure if that is really what I’m hearing, but it sure seems like it.  The last time she was asking for a donut and I told her we did not have any and she said why?  I didn’t respond and she tugged on me to make sure I was paying attention to her and she said it again.


We won the school lottery

We got the kindergarten placement letter over the weekend and we got our number one choice.  I’m so relieved.

Now it is time to get back to preparing for the transition IEP meeting. I think it will be next month. I’m going to try to meet with the new teacher before this meeting.  That way I can get many of my questions answered, and she doesn’t have to spend a lot of time explaining how things work in her class during the actual meeting.

There also seems to be a precedence for the current teacher to communicate with the new teacher. Being over eager, I gave each of them the other’s contact info.

Hope everyone got what they wanted!


February already?

It seemed like holidays, a stomach bug and a cold just wiped out January.  So here we are in February.

R.’s hitting has disappeared.  She is actually voicing her displeasure.  Her most common response is to say thank you and push away with one hand.  I’m sure she means no thank you, because occasionally I’ll hear a no.  She is also saying wait, stop, all done and now.  There is often still crying and screaming involved, but the words are her first response.

She also got an opportunity to spend time in the kindergarten class she has been escaping the cafeteria to get into.  Her PreK teacher made arrangements with the kindergarten teacher (all special ed) to have her students go into the kindergarten classroom for 40 minutes once a month so she can meet with the aides.  I guess this is common in the elementary grades.

R. just loved the classroom and had a good time.  Since her visit, she has not been trying to escape the cafeteria to run there.   They are going to do this once a month.  And if R. is placed in that kindergarten she will have the opportunity to go into the class regularly.


The application is in

We turned in the application for kindergarten.  After months of obsessing, we decided to take a gamble and only put two schools on the list.

These two schools are really the only places where we saw classes that we thought would be a good fit for R.

I tried hard to be objective.   I understand that there is no such thing as a perfect classroom.  I don’t want to be like one of those people on that show House Hunters refusing to buy a house because of brass fixtures.

I knew that considering R. is in the middle of the spectrum and we chose a SI (Severely Impacted) delivery model that our choices would be limited.   The reason we chose SI is because the MM (Mild Moderate) classes seemed too advanced, and we wanted a class that would give her more support.

These two classes have:

  • Teachers with a background in ABA, who use ABA style teaching in the classroom
  • TEACCH stations
  • I got a real sense that the work given to the students was individualized.
  • Mainstreaming and pull-outs were part of the daily schedule, and both teachers clearly knew how to implement this.
  • Teacher and staff dealt with problem behaviors (meltdowns, escaping) in a respectful and calm way.  Both classrooms were set up so that a child who needed extra space could have it without being removed from the classroom, and so that their behavior had less impact on the other students

When we first started touring classes, I thought that we would choose at least three, and possibly five schools.   But now that I have seen what the choices are, I just don’t want to put down a school that doesn’t have a class with the qualities that I want.

It is a gamble, and I’m not sure what the odds are.  I think we have a good chance, because both schools are near our home and one of the schools is where she is going to now.  That is not supposed to matter, but I suspect it is humans not computers doing the special ed placement assignments, so maybe it will.

The placement letters are mailed in the middle of March.   Of course I can’t wait to get the letter and know what the next steps are going to be.  But it is also kind of nice to have a few weeks of limbo.   There’s nothing I can do about kindergarten at this point.


Back to the New Year

Christmas vacation felt long, but not as bad as anticipated.   R. seemed ready for a break.  She enjoyed lounging in the morning and asking for ice cream after breakfast.  Of course I give it to her.

I think we went to the zoo six times over the break.  She has a really short attention span for the playground lately.  She runs around, plays on the equipment that she is interested in and then is ready to leave.   We have been to several different playgrounds so it is not that she is tired of the same one.

We were at a playground and a little boy hit his sister and his mother was just screaming at him.  Of course we were walking by them the moment the mother yelled We have to leave this playground right now.   R. grabbed my hand and headed for the exit.

Inspired by Jim at Blogging Lily I blew up the air mattress and she just loved it.  Every afternoon she wanted to play on it, and she would prefer to have all of her clothes removed.

She is very into playing a hello-good-bye game.   I think I have said Hello and OK bye 12,000 times over the past two weeks.  I’ll gladly say it a million more.

I was worried about getting her up this morning for school, she has been so lazy in the mornings.  But as soon as I told her that she had to get up and get ready for the bus to go to school she sat up and said take the bus.   She even ate breakfast with no encouragement.

I’m kind of avoiding the idea of New Years, because every time I see 2012 I think the year she goes to kindergarten. I’m pretty confident that more is going to happen this year than that, but it is hard to get past it.

I do hope everyone has a marvelous year!


Making the holidays our own

R. has been really into Christmas, she has watched Elmo’s Christmas Countdown every day since August.  But I don’t think she understands what Christmas is, beyond being able to recognize the common symbols.

My ancestors were Jewish, and my parents were very casual about the whole thing.   The used to give me the choice of opening all my presents on Christmas, or opening one a day until Christmas (Hanukkah style, minus the candles).  I always chose one at a time.

E’s family opened gifts on Christmas Eve.  I went along with that until last year, when it did not seem like a good idea to get R. worked up over new toys just before bedtime, so we tried doing it on Christmas morning.

This year, E agreed to do it Hanukkah style, and I think it worked out a lot better.  She actually paid attention to all her toys.  And since she ended up with more gifts than I thought, (Thanks Mom and Dad!) she still has more to see this week.

Drawing on her new whiteboard

I’ve never lived with a Christmas tree.   E. has wanted one for the past few years, but I was afraid of what R. would do.   This year I consented, if we found a small tree and used non breakable ornaments.   We never did find one we liked.

We went to a Christmas lunch at E.’s family and they had a large Christmas tree.  R. was just mesmerized.   She kept saying look at this, Christmas.   Luckily none of the ornaments were breakable.  They did not mind when R. took off the ornaments to look at, and I was shocked when she put each one back.  She just placed them on a branch, but still.

I guess we will be setting up a tree next year.

R. was actually pretty good for the family lunch.   She lasted two hours and even sat at the table for a while.

Lalaloopsy meets the ipad