Saturday, May 19, 2012


I teach in a Junior High School, so I deal with teenagers all the time, but when my own son hit puberty I had no idea of what to expect or how to manage him.  I didn't start teaching Junior High until he was 14, but that wasn't really the problem.  I felt as if it was really difficult to figure out what part of his behavior was Asperger's, what part was just being a normal teenager, and what part was the fact that he had no male influence in his life.  The advice I now give to parents in similar situations is to ignore what is caused by what and just deal with it!

I started homeschooling my son when he was 10 years old and I became a single mom when he was 12, so I felt pretty lost when the hormones kicked in.  We had always been really close.  I don't know why people ever thought that kids on the Autism Spectrum weren't able to develop strong attachments because this child was stuck to me like glue 24/7.   I didn't know that he had Aspergers until a year or two after I started homeschooling.  I had actually never heard of it before I started homeschooling.  So here I was, trying to learn about Autism/Aspergers, while trying to learn how to be a single mom, while returning to school for a Master's in Special Education, while attempting to earn a living, while continuing to homeschool, while moving the kids out of their childhood home, while dealing with my mother's breast cancer, while struggling to figure out how to navigate the legal system to get through a divorce, while living in an 8x8 basement room with 2 kids, while trying to understand why my soon to be ex-husband thought that it was acceptable to avoid paying child support, while trying to figure out the welfare system because I was falling apart and unable to make ends meet.  And along come the hormones.

The junior high school years were probably fairly normal with all of the somewhat typical boy stuff that he pulled.  The difference was always the "over the top" way in which he did things, not so much the fact that he did them.  He actually became mildly popular during these years.  He had spent most of his childhood without many friends, but because he could think about and actually pull off many wild shenanigans, the neighborhood kids now wanted to hang out with him. He always though of something cool to do.  Kids were rarely bored over at our house.  His sister's friends wanted to hang out with her brother when they came to visit because they thought he was cool.  Boy, did that piss her off!

My son would do minor experiments like putting Mentos into Diet Coke and making a coke fountain.  He created mini canons to shoot little pieces of paper into the neighbors yards, or to shoot mini-marshmallows at each other.   He hooked rubber bands to all of the doorknobs in the house so that opening one door would pull another door closed.  Most of it was pretty innocent and everyone had fun, but as I said, he always somehow managed to take it over the top.  One day he and a friend decided to make Pepper Spray.  His friend was involved in 4H and grew many varieties of peppers.  They took the hottest ones and cooked up a concoction while the rest of the family was out shopping.  When we returned, we were unable to enter the house.  We had to stay away until the next day when the fumes dissipated. I'm sure I will eventually manage to tell all of the crazy stories of his adolescence, but for now, the point is that life was pretty crazy for my family during this time frame.

When he did the typical teenage rebellion, we really struggled.  I look back at the person I was and I cringe.  How could I have been so out of control and crazy?  We would hurl curse words at each other like drunken sailors.  Occasional items would fly along with the words.  Many doors were slammed by both of us.  Many tearful phone calls were made to his father, begging him to "PLEASE, PLEASE. PLEASE take your son, I can't handle him anymore!!!!".   Of course he never would.  My ex-husband didn't want the responsibility of paying child support much less the responsibility of an actual child.  My poor son was so confused during this time frame.  He didn't know how to break away from my apron strings while learning how to become a man.  I begged his grandfather (dad's dad) to take an interest in him, take him fishing, out to dinner, invite him over to play poker, anything, just "PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, give him a male role model."  It didn't happen :(  

To this day, I don't know how we got through all of the craziness of adolescence and how he became the amazing young man that he is now.  I'm sure I have our family therapist to thank and I definitely need to thank my mother who survived cancer just to make sure that I didn't actually kill my son during these years.  She says that she knew she had to live because I needed her too desperately.

I think the recounting of these crazy adolescence years will take much more than one post to cover.  If I have to sum up my point for this particular post, I would say that it is to have hope that you can survive your childs' puberty and try not to take things too seriously.  Oh, and try to forgive yourself for going temporarily insane.  Sometimes you can't help it.  Sometimes kids still turn out okay even if you do go crazy for a while, so just chill and know that you will eventually get through it. They will eventually grow up and then you will miss the crazy days of adolescence.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


I should have known that all of my fire experience with my son would eventually come in handy.  My 125 gallon salt-water fish tank caught on fire Monday afternoon, well not the actual fish-tank, but the lights and hood above the tank.  I had metal halide lights that are needed to grow coral.  The fan that cools them stopped working and they overheated, blew up and caught on fire.  Then the wooden hood that they were housed in caught on fire and would have burned my house down if it weren't for my amazing son.  He knew exactly what to do.  He shut the power off at the main box and managed to get the fire out using the water from the fish tank.  For a 19 year old with Aspergers, I think that this is pretty impressive.  Of course this has taken some previous life experiences to make this possible.

The first time my son caught the house on fire he was about 7.  He decided to make macaroni and cheese for breakfast while I was in the shower upstairs.  He knocked a roll of paper towels into the flame of the stove.  He put it out with baking soda and then came upstairs to calmly tell me that he had caught the kitchen on fire.  I thought that he was exaggerating but I rushed downstairs anyway to check it out.  The wall behind the stove, the cabinets next to the stove and the counter next to the stove were black.  I had no idea of how he knew to grab that box of baking soda to put the fire out or what made him decide to cook mac and cheese for breakfast in the first place.  He had never tried that before.  He didn't try to cook again until he was a teenager, but he wasn't done with fire.  He drove me nuts for the next few years playing in the fire pit whenever we had a bonfire and he ALWAYS wanted to have a bonfire.  He would beg me almost every night to light a fire in the fire pit.  He was fascinated with the flames.  Now that I have a better understanding of Autism and sensory processing, I kind of get it, but back then, I was sure that I was raising a major pyromaniac.

As a teenager, he loved putting different things into the fire to see what color the flames would turn.  He got really into chemistry and would catch the driveway on fire just to see how different chemicals would burn.  We were very popular with the neighbors (NOT!).  We had to evacuate our house a number of times as it filled with smoke and smoke detectors went off in the middle of the night.  I finally convinced him that he couldn't burn anything in the house, my nerves couldn't take it.  Luckily he listened, or maybe not.... 

The worst fire incident was when he had another boy with Aspergers over at our house.  Our pontoon boat had been pulled out of the lake and was stored in the yard.  The gas tank was partly filled and he and his friend came up with a crazy idea.  They filled a Super Soaker water gun with the gasoline and lit the stream with the BBQ lighter.  He didn't expect it to work quite so well.  He aimed it towards the house and caught the side of the house on fire.  A gasoline fire doesn't go out very easily with a hose and it was too far up the side of the house to use a fire extinguisher.  Luckily, the gasoline burned itself off and vinyl siding doesn't burn well. 

He eventually moved out of this phase and I am happy to report that he no longer does crazy fire experiments.  I am so thankful that he was home when my fish tank caught on fire and I am even thankful for all of his learning experiences that allowed him to do exactly the right thing to save my house.  I have no doubt that the house would have been burned down if he hadn't been there.  Today he is my hero.

Friday, May 11, 2012

California State Testing Insanity!

Today I went to the high school to be a double rater for the state test.  It's called the CAPA (California Alternate Performance Assessment).  This is the test for students who are working on a more functional curriculum.   Most of my students don't take this test.   My students take the regular state tests (CST) or they take the CMA (California Modified Assessment).   The CMA tests the exact same curriculum but it basically gives the students the choice of 3 possible answers instead of 4 and they might put a picture or two on the test to make a question easier to understand.  I had one student in my class taking the CAPA this year.  This meant that the high school teacher had to come to my room at the Junior High School and I had to go to her school in order to assure that we are grading the students correctly.  This is called inter-rater reliability.  The state requires us to double rate 10% of our students.  Since I only had one student, he had to be double rated.  She had to have two of her student double rated since she has 16 students taking the CAPA. 

I'm not really writing to explain how testing in California works, but really to vent about how insane the two week window of State testing is for a teacher like me.  I administered the 7th grade CST, the 8th grade CST, the 7th grade CMA, the 8th grade CMA, the CAPA for my one student and the CAPA for the other teachers' two students.  Each test has at least two parts; English and Math.  The 8th graders have to take History and Science as well.  Each test has different directions, and the CAPA requires manipulatives and preparation such as pre-cutting the prompt pictures and gathering materials.

For some reason, it seems as if I am the only one who finds this to be a little insane. The general education teachers just blow me off as a complainer and ask me why I can't use one of my many aides to give the students their tests.  I tried to explain that it was against the law for me to do that, but their reply was, "Well you only have 10 students. How hard can it be?"  GRRRR!!!!!

To top it all off, I had to test two of those same students for their annual IEP's.  I also had to hold those IEP's with the parents and I had prospective incoming parents visiting my classroom.

I'm hoping that the new method of testing in California will bring some sanity, but unfortunately I don't have a lot of faith in it being any better for Special Education.  Even if teachers are lucky enough to have any input in the new tests, most of them obviously don't know what it is like to be in my shoes, and I don't really think that they care, because after all, I have all of those aides to do my work for me.  ;^)

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Homeless Situation

This is supposed to be about Autism, but an event in my life recently became so amazingly insane that I felt it deserved a place on my blog.  Have you ever walked by the crazy lady talking to herself at the bus stop or on the street somewhere?  You know the type, the ones pushing grocery carts with all of their belongings inside.  You move to the other side of the street and pray that they don’t approach you to ask for money.  As much as I’d like to say that I have been a compassionate person, those people scare me.  I have avoided them like the plague.  Until recently…
Years ago, as I was approaching my teenage years, I had a cousin move into my parents’ house.  She was 5 years older than me and she became a big sister figure in my life.  I loved hanging out with her.  She was fun and hyper and beautiful.  We traded clothes and makeup and fought to see who could be the skinniest and attract the most guys.  We were quite a pair.  As a teen, my parents let me go do many things with her that I wouldn’t have been allowed to do otherwise.  We backpacked up Devil’s Slide Trail in Idyllwild, and of course, met some guys who wanted to share their beer with us.  As they left to return to their own camp, they warned us to be careful since we were girls alone in the woods and other guys might not be as kind and generous as they were.  My cousin pulled out a pocket knife and said “Don’t worry, I have protection”.  One of the guys pulled out a much larger knife and said “That’s not a knife.  THIS is a knife!”  Being young girls out on our own, we panicked and took turns standing guard for the rest of the night.  The guys were gone the next morning, leaving us with an adventure we would never forget.  Throughout my teenage years we had many more fun adventures.
As the years passed, she moved in and out of my life.  She married and divorced several times, always landing back at our house to recover and search for the next boyfriend/husband.  She eventually married a doctor and had children.  I moved to Michigan and started my own family.  While I was pregnant with my first child, I received a phone call telling me that my cousins’ second child had been born with Down Syndrome.  I had just had my Alpha Fetal Protein blood test come back as abnormal and I was sure that I too was going to have a child with Down Syndrome.  After genetic testing, it was determined that it was a different chromosomal abnormality, which I am sure has something to do with having a son on the Autism Spectrum.  But, mine and my cousins’ paths were destined to cross again.
After my cousin gave birth to her second child she had her first psychotic break.  She believed that her doctor husband was in the mafia and that he had arranged a hit on her.  She also thought that he was poisoning her food.  She ran away to Michigan where she had lived with her parents at some point in her life.  Her sister tracked her down and had her committed to the hospital to undergo psychiatric care and get stabilized on medication.  She was diagnosed as bipolar with psychotic episodes.  I’m sure that there was much more to the story that I am not aware of, but my cousin eventually stopped taking her medication and began drinking heavily. 

She showed up at our house one Christmas very drunk and very delusional.  She had been arrested for drunk driving multiple times and ended up in the state prison. While she was in jail she claims to remember other prisoners being brought into and taken away from her cell.  I don’t remember her exact delusions during this time but they had something to do with her belief that the guards were body snatchers and were returning pod-people to her cell.  This is where she comes back into my life via my mother.
My mother had moved to Michigan after my children were born because she wanted to live nearby and get to know her grandchildren.  She was a special education teacher and she could work anywhere, so she bought a house around the corner from me.  What neither of us knew at the time of escrow was that we would all move into the house together.  My marriage had been rocky for quite some time, but a gas leak lead to the final break.  The gas company came, tested the air for carbon monoxide and shut down the gas to my house until we had it repaired.  We had no heat in the middle of winter.  I needed to get it fixed, but my ex-husband said that I was overreacting and he turned the gas back on himself.  He didn’t want to spend the money to get it fixed and I had no money of my own.  I refused to stay in a house filled with carbon monoxide, so I took my children and moved in with my mother until it got fixed.  I didn’t return to my house until that summer, after I had filed for a divorce.
In the meantime, my cousin’s sister, who had previously committed my cousin to a psychiatric hospital, called my mom and asked her for help in getting my cousin out of the state prison psychiatric ward.  My mother signed up to be her guardian and my cousin was released to her custody.  We all ended up in my mom’s house living together.  My cousin was stable on medications for the next few years  but she eventually started stealing my son’s Concerta, which he took for his extreme impulsivity.  She would stay up all night pacing and talking on the phone.  She stood for hours out in the cold smoking cigarette after cigarette.  We began locking up the Concerta and she eventually stabilized again. 

She decided to move back to her family in Kentucky where she was able to attend college.  She found a boyfriend and lived with him for a few years.  She decided that she had ADHD and didn’t need any medication except Concerta.  She went off of her Zyprexa and Depakote medication again and ended up sitting outside on her porch in a VERY bad neighborhood all night long, talking to herself.  Her boyfriend had her committed to the psychiatric hospital where she was again stabilized on her medication.   Only this time I don’t think it really worked. 

She began coming to California, where my mother and I had moved, and staying with us for one or two week visits.  During these visits, her sleeping habits were erratic.  She would fall asleep on the sofa at 7:00 PM and wake at 1:00 AM and smoke and pace for the rest of the night.  She re-established contact with her daughters who had been raised by their father and was looking to find an apartment where she could care for her adult daughter with Down Syndrome.  Her last visit was so stressful on my children that they asked me to tell her no the next time she asked to come to visit. 

My life was difficult already.  Raising two children on my own, having a son with Aspergers and severe impulsivity, a daughter with ADHD and dyslexia, teaching students with Autism and caring for my mother who was having health problems was overwhelming.  I had also recently helped my niece and 3 small children get settled after a rough marriage and divorce.  My niece had just moved out after staying with my family for about 7 months.  I was worn out.  When my cousin called to ask if she could stay with us for the summer, I told her no. 

She went on Craigslist and found an apartment with a roommate and moved from Kentucky to California.  She said that she had a scholarship to the University of California Irvine and from all accounts it seems as if that was true.  She never started college.  Her roommate quickly found out that she was mentally ill when my cousin wrote her a rent check for a million dollars.  The roommate contacted us before evicting her, in the hopes that we could convince my cousin to get help.  My cousin became belligerent and accused me of turning my mother against her.  She refused to leave the premises and was locked out of the apartment when she went to do her laundry.  The police came and escorted her from the premises.  They asked her if she was a danger to herself or others.  She said no, so they let her go.  How crazy is it to ask a crazy person if they are crazy and if they say no, then they get sent on their way?  This was the first of many run-ins my cousin would have with California police.  Every time she was picked up, she was released without getting any help.
She went missing after she left the apartment and it would be months before we heard from her again.  She eventually ran out of money and called my mom.  She refused to get help and told us that she just needed money to pay for the hotel room until the end of month when she would get her social security check.  My mom gave her the money and she disappeared again.
Months later we were contacted by a social worker, tipping us off that my cousin was staying in a woman’s shelter in Santa Ana.  We went and tried to talk her into getting help.  She did not use her normal voice when talking to us.  She had a slight English accent and told us that she was fine and there was nothing wrong with her.  She told us that she had a ship waiting off the coast to take her away.  She said that she didn't need any help.  When we asked her if she realized that it had been over a year since she had seen or talked to her children, she claimed that she talked to them every day and that she had just seen her older daughter for lunch and described what she thought that she was wearing that day.  The older daughter is going to school in San Francisco and had not been home for months.  There was no way that she could have seen her.
We talked to the social workers at the shelter for a while and they told us that they believed that she had Schizophrenia.  They said that they had had quite a bit of contact with her and she was always talking to herself.  She would become belligerent and accuse people of stealing her things.  She believed that people were out to get her.  She told an old friend that she was the secret wife of Osama Bin Laudin.  She claimed to be communicating through e-mail with a terrorist organization.  She was arrested in Laguna Beach for accusing the owner of an art studio of selling her paintings without permission.  She was arrested for making terrorists threats to the owner of the studio.

A week ago, we got a call from my cousin.  It’s been over a year since our last contact.  She said that she wanted to take us up on our offer of shelter until she could get her Social Security check issued to her again so she could have some money to get a place of her own.  She said that she had been sleeping on the ground, across from the Santa Ana Police Station.   She is now staying with us temporarily.  My mother can’t work because we don’t feel safe leaving her in our house alone.  We all lock our bedroom doors as we come and go.  We all carry pepper spray in case she isn't safe.  We don’t really know her anymore.  She speaks in at least 4 different accents.  One is her normal voice and she seems to try to use that voice when communicating with us, but she isn't always successful.  She has a female persona who speaks with an English accent and is a little bit gruff and another who is a giggling little girl.  The last and most scary one is a male voice.  It truly sounds as if there is a male in our house of all females.  The dogs do not like this persona.  He/she scares them.  They bark when he is present. 
Since living with us, she spends a lot of time in her room, smoking cigarettes.  She knows that we do not smoke and that we do not want it in our house, but we don’t complain because we don’t want her to disappear again.  She also goes outside and sits in the dark at night to smoke her cigarettes, so it isn’t that she isn’t willing to go outside.  I think that the “guy” just doesn’t care, while the other personas do care and try to be polite.  She has conversations with herself using all of these different voices.  She says that she just likes to talk to herself and this doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with her. 
 How come she can’t see that going from being the wife of a doctor to being the bag lady on the street isn't normal?  How can she justify moving to California to attend school and spend time with her children and then disappearing for two years?  How can she think that she is okay when everyone around her keeps telling her otherwise?
The final questions I have are “How can the State of California prevent family members from getting help for an obviously mentally ill person?   Why do they think that it is okay for an obviously mentally ill person to make the decision to not seek treatment and end up living on the street?  If a mentally ill person was making good decisions they wouldn’t need help.  Isn’t that the point of having a state mental health system?  If the only people who can get help are those that realize they are crazy then we are abandoning those who most need our help.  It’s those who think that they are fine even when all of the evidence suggests otherwise, that need us to make decisions for them because they are not capable of making them for themselves.
I now need to give my cousin an ultimatum.  Either she goes to see a doctor and start on medication or my mom will need to drop her back off in Santa Ana to return to homelessness. 

Postscript:  She agreed to see a doctor and then changed her mind.  She is afraid that they will put her in the hospital and lock her away.  She chooses to return to the street rather than go see a doctor.  There is nothing I can do to help her.  I can’t live with a mentally ill person indefinitely.  My mother must return to work and there is no-one available to watch her.  My cousin asked my mom to stop at the humane society to get her a dog before driving her back to Santa Ana and dropping her on the street.  

I am heartbroken…     

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Mix

After teaching in an Autism Focus Class for 3 years, homeschooling various Spectrum kids, raising my own Spectrum child, and earning a Masters in Special Ed.- Autism, I thought that I was about as expert as you could get in the field of Autism.  When my opinion about a particular student not being on the Spectrum was ignored one summer, I was truly offended.

Since not all Special Ed. teachers choose to work summer school, I would occasionally get kids who were scheduled to go to other programs in the district.  The summer of my 3rd year was insane.  Not only did I have my own students who were entering 7th and 8th grade, the district had decided to leave my exiting 9th graders in my room for the summer as well.  They had scheduled to have a non-autism, special ed. teacher teach the class for the students with Autism who lived on the other side of the district since the regular autism teacher was taking the summer off and my class was full.  They had a student who was scheduled to go to that other class in the fall who had some severe behaviors  Since the other teacher did not have experience with Autism, they decided to put this student with me for the summer.  I had never seen a child quite like this one.

The student was so bright and academically capable.  He was as verbal as any other incoming 7th grader.  He could explain to you why he was upset and he apologized profusely if he did anything wrong.  He recognized when he was out of line and made excuses for his behavior.  He was very, very hyperactive and impulsive.  I have only seen one other child as hyperactive and impulsive and this child and I later found out that the two boys were cousins.  He didn't have any obvious stimming behavior.  He was socially outgoing and wanted to be everyone's friend. He wanted to please adults and could be very sweet.  The issue was that he heard things that weren't obvious to others.  My first thought was that perhaps he might have an acute sense of hearing.  My own son could hear a whispered conversation downstairs, while he was upstairs with a T.V  blaring in the background, so anything was possible. 

As with most students the first few days of summer school were the honeymoon period.  He was great.  He had a behavior aide assigned to him who worked well with him. She took him for frequent walks out out to play basketball to calm down and release some of his excess energy.  He had figet toys to keep his hands busy.  I had a "sensory room" divided off by a large refrigerator box, set up in our borrowed classroom, that he used often. (All special ed was on a high school campus for the summer, not in our own rooms on our own campuses.)  There had been a few meltdowns and so we knew what could happen, but all things considered, we were managing.  The problems began when the district realized that they had overstaffed the aides for summer school.  They were required to eliminate the aides by seniority.  They chose to eliminate this child's aide and give him an aide who usually worked with visually impaired students.  I went to the director and begged her not to take his aide away.  We were already struggling with this student's behavior and changing aides would be a huge mistake.  They did it anyway.  So, of course, things got much worse.

From then on, I evacuated my class on a daily basis.  Actually, I evacuated my class many times each day.  I would call down to the office for help as the student destroyed the classroom.  Help would take forever, if it arrived at all.  The "sensory room" was quickly destroyed, the items broken or removed due to them being used as weapons.  I did everything I could to keep my other students safe, but I was devastated that they were losing their opportunity to maintain their learning.  I started packing a bag for the classroom aide to grab on her way out with the other students.  It had worksheets and pencils, so they could work outside.

The problem that we were having was that we couldn't successfully predict his behavioral outburst.  His hearing issues became more clear.  He was hearing voices.  He would hear someone say something mean to him and he would attack whoever was closest, thinking that they had said it.  It could be a non-verbal student, or a student who wouldn't ever think to say something mean because they were not tuned in to others around them.  My smaller, meek and mild students, became the most frequent targets.  For some reason, this student realized that my bigger, higher functioning students couldn't be the ones who were saying mean things.  Maybe it was because they would fight back.  I found myself putting my body between him and the other students to protect them as the aide attempted to evacuate them.  Thankfully, even though I'm not a huge person, I'm pretty tough.  And he was pretty small. 

As the summer drew to a close, I raised the question of his diagnosis.  I really wasn't seeing Spectrum in this child.  I had never received his file, even after repeatedly asking for it, but I wondered how the elementary school had come up with their placement decision.  I asked the Program Specialist to find and review the file before sending him off to the Autism program on the other side of the district.  I had no personal stake in the placement of this child.  I just wanted to make sure that he was where he needed to be in order to get the help he needed.  I also didn't want to see another group of students get abused by him.  The Program Specialist told me that it was just a part of the Spectrum that I hadn't seen before.  I'm not sure if I had ever been so offended in my life.  I actually had more education and experience with kids on the Spectrum than she had!  I'm not sure I said a few choice words or perhaps it was just the look in my eyes, but she knew that I was questioning her authority and expertise.  The next thing I knew, she had placed this student in my class for the upcoming school year.  Lesson learned:  Do not piss off the person who decides placement!  (Gosh, I hope my district never reads this or knows that it is me....)

As time has passed with this student, I truly don't know what his diagnosis should be.  I see some issues with understanding social cues, but I see more Emotional Disturbance issues than I do Autism issues.  I'm beginning to think that he has a mix.  His mother has admitted to hearing voices too.  She says that they both speak to the dead.  Maybe that Program Specialist was right.  Perhaps this is part Spectrum and part something else and therefore, in her words, "A part of the Spectrum I haven't seen".  I have now seen a few more students like this one, to some degree or another.  I'm calling them "The Mix".  These are kids who have both Spectrum and something else.

I'm still not sure how best to serve these kids in the public school setting.  I don't believe it is the right choice to put The Mix students in with our most vulnerable population, but then, where do they go?  As this student prepares to leave my program for high school, I am seriously concerned for his future.  I don't believe that he was best served in my program because other adults on the campus excused his behavior because he was Autistic and in Special Ed.  He is too academically capable to be in Special Ed., but too Emotionally Disturbed to be in regular classes.  He is too much work for an RSP teacher who has a much larger caseload than I do, and he is too Spectrum to go into a regular E.D. Program.  Where does he fit? 

As annoyed and frustrated as I was about the placement of this student in my Autism class, I feel sorry for the new Program Specialist who has to make the decision of placement for next year.  His file is full of conflicting opinions on his diagnosis.  Autism experts have been swearing that he doesn't have Autism since the beginning of his entry into Special Education, but the School Psychologists have continually reclassified him as having Autistic-like behaviors, so he continues in the Autism programs offered in the various schools that he has attended.  Like I said, I think that both sides might be right and that there is no ideal placement for this child.  I fear for the future of these Mixed kids.  My own nephew is one of them and he attends the elementary school that feeds into my junior high.  I will most likely eventually get him in my class and then it will be personal.  I will have a personal stake in this.  What will I do when that happens?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Zombie Apocalypse

I often joke about how if there is ever a natural disaster, I'm sticking with my son.  He has all of the survival gear already packed up and ready to go.  The part I don't usually mention is that the reason he is ready for the end of the world is because he lives with an incredible amount of anxiety on a daily basis.  His world is so unpredictable to him that he feels the need to be ready for anything.

I can remember when I first realized that he was seriously preparing for a major catastrophic event.  I was sitting at the end of his bed talking to him when he was about 13 years old.  It was winter and my feet were cold.  I stuck my feet under his mattress and I felt something hard and cold.  Not knowing what to expect, I gently lifted the mattress with my feet so that I could just peek a little and see if I could figure it out.  What I saw surprised me.  He had knives and shanks under his mattress.  He had taken screwdrivers and other metal objects and filed them into points to use as weapons.  When I asked him why, he said that it made him feel safe.  I, of course, immediately checked him for signs of cutting and promptly reported the discovery to his psychologist.  I truly felt a great deal of fear with this discovery.  Was I raising a mass murderer?  Was he planning to kill me in my sleep?  Why would he feel the need to arm himself?  Had something horrible happened to him?

After many counseling sessions, it came out that he didn't feel safe in his own home.  We didn't live in a bad neighborhood, quite the opposite.  Why wouldn't he feel safe?  Over the years I have come to understand the anxiety behind his actions.  He doesn't feel safe anywhere because he can't predict what others will do.  He has limited theory of mind.  He can't put himself in someone else's shoes and make a logical assumption of what they might be planning. 

He now has a Zombie survival plan.  He has a backpack full of rations for his loved ones' to survive for 30 days post apocalypse.  He has a solar powered battery source that can be used for running a cell phone or a laptop computer.  He has maps of the drainage system for a fast escape route.  He knows where the local underground bunkers are located.  He even has toilet paper.  He makes sure his survival pack is located next to an exterior wall so that he can dig it out if necessary. 

I know to most people this will sound crazy, but I can assure you that he is not a danger to anyone.  This is what he needs to do because the symptoms of his Autism make life so unpredictable and his anxiety is so strong that he needs to do this in order to feel in control and safe.

Knowing that my 19 year old son has packed a bag and plans to take me with him and keep me safe during a Zombie apocalypse is strangely comforting.  How many moms of teenagers can say that?

Saturday, March 17, 2012


The other night I watched a new show called "Touch".  I wanted to love it, really I did.  I loved the premise of a dad trying to connect with his Autistic son through a world of numbers.  But, honestly, I felt as if it would do more harm than good to those raising kids on the Spectrum.  I remember the early days of raising my son and how smart he was, and still is.  Before I knew that he had Aspergers and what it all meant, and even in those early days of knowing, I believed that he would somehow save the world.  Maybe he would find the cure for cancer or invent a time machine.  Perhaps he would create the the newest technology and become a billionaire or find a worm hole that would allow us to populate a new planet before we thoroughly destroyed the resources on earth.  I suppose that all parents want to believe that their children are special and capable of great things.  But I didn't think of these things with my NT daughter.  For her, it has always been that she would sing.  I didn't have grandiose ideas that she would be a super star or that she would even make a living with her singing.  Don't get me wrong, she has a beautiful voice.  She is good enough to get solo's in her advanced high school choir and good enough to get picked to be one in forty students performing in the advanced show choir out of a school of about 3,000 students.  So, yes she is good.  But it's not the same as how I felt about my son.  His mind was so interesting.  The way he saw the world was so different, that I honestly believed that he was destined for great things.

By the age of 3, I knew that he was really smart.  He had figured out how to open any child safety gate before he was a year old.  He didn't take his first steps until his first birthday, but he could pull himself up and unlatch the gate to get to something he wanted.  He had such a good ear for music.  He could mimic almost any song and he played tunes on his little piano that really sounded like the nursery songs that we played each night.  He taught himself to read when he was three years old.  What parent wouldn't believe that they were raising the next Einstein?  (It's interesting that I saw Einstein in him, knowing what I know now.) 

By the time he was 4, I was at my wits end.  I couldn't figure out how to manage his behavior.  He was always at least two steps ahead of me.  He did the most unexpected things. When he was frustrated, he would bang his head against the floor or wall and leave huge bumps all over his head.  He would get into the cupboards or the refrigerator and dump all of the food out on the ground.  He would scream bloody murder when I took him to the grocery store and I couldn't stop him from climbing out of the cart and dashing for the door.  I left many a full cart of groceries in the isle of a grocery store as I chased him out the door and, failing to soothe him, drove home. I tried all the tricks.  I watch the Nanny show on T.V now and I laugh at her thinking that she has all of the answers.  I taught pre-school for years before I had my own children.  I thought I had all the answers too.

He was diagnosed at the age of 4 as having ADHD and possible Oppositional Defiant Disorder.  I know that I questioned that diagnosis because I didn't feel as if his behavior was deliberate, but the psychologist was the professional, so I went with it and did as I was told.  It didn't work.  But after a while I just thought that I must not have been doing it right. I must be an incompetent mom, because nothing I tried worked.  He was officially diagnosed with Aspergers at about the age of 13.  Over the next few years I slowly grew to accept what that diagnosis really meant.  It didn't mean that he wasn't smart, he was.  But, in his case, it did mean that he would probably always struggle with anxiety.  I learned that my dreams for him might not be ones that he could achieve.  It was more important that he do a job that he enjoyed, in an environment that was comfortable for him.  It has been difficult to let go of my vision for him and to allow him to make a new vision for himself.  I know that "all parents go through this", but I want to say "It's not the same!"  I have another child and this is NOT the same.

I am incredibly proud of my 19 year old son.  He found a job that allows him to work form home 3 days a week.  He goes to the office twice a week.  He loves what he does and he has friends at work.  He has a girlfriend, who is Spectrumy herself, but it works for them.  He did all of this on his own, without very little input from me.  This is a success story.  By lowering my expectations, I was able to celebrate the victories.  If I had continued to believe that he was going to save the world, I would have always wanted him to be someone that he wasn't destined to be.  I would have always felt as if I wasn't doing a good enough job of being a mom.  I worry that a new generation of Spectrum parents are going to feel as if they are not doing a good enough job because they can't figure out their child's "special" talent and develop it for the good of society.  I see this new show "Touch" as another "Rainman", attempting to put our kids into a box and make meaning where there is none.  I know that is probably not what they meant to do, but I can't help but resent it at least a little bit.  I already have co-workers asking me if I've seen the show and wanting to know what I think about it.  I'm not sure if I can explain my feelings to someone who hasn't been through what I have.

I have a poster from my best friend who has walked in my shoes that says :
 "Tied together by stuff too difficult to explain to someone new."

She get's it.  

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Straw Hat Incident

The infamous straw hat.
Like most parents, I decorated my kid's rooms super cute when they were little.  I painted a scene from the book "Where the Wild Things Are", (minus the scary beast), on my son's wall.  I can't even imagine how I managed to find the time to do this since my son never slept and would make major messes if I wasn't paying 100% attention, 100% of the time.  Maybe I had plopped him down in front of a Barney marathon...  Still...  ???

                    (Sorry for the spray painted face.  It was someone else's child in the pictures.                             Oh and there is a Charizard poster on the wall for all of the Pokemon fans :))

Anyway, I decorated my daughter's room with pink, lacy, satin, striped wallpaper and put a very girlie, ballerina bear border across the middle of the wall.  Her room was the perfect princess room for a little girl.  We lived in Michigan without air conditioning, so all of the rooms had ceiling fans.  My son's room had come with a dimmer switch to lower the lights while he slept.  He was very afraid of the dark, so this worked out well.

One spring day my daughter, who wasn't afraid of the dark, told her brother that it wasn't fair that he had a dimmer switch and she she didn't.  My son, ever the clever child, decided to help her out.

I had decided to paint my bedroom a nice tan color and, since I had two young children, this took me a few days.  I had left a paint can in my room, waiting for the next chunk of time to become available so that I could finish painting.  BIG MISTAKE!

My son decided that this paint would be a perfect way to dim the globe light on my daughter's ceiling fan.  Most children would have looked for a paint brush and proceeded to paint the globe, if they would have even thought to do this in the first place.  Not my son.  He found a straw hat in my daughter's closet, which had come with one of her Easter dresses.  He filled the hat with paint and carried it into her room, not noticing, or maybe not caring, that it was dripping out of the hat as he walked across the hall. He held the hat up to the globe light to cover the light in paint and at that point, he noticed that the paint was leaking out of the hat and he must have panicked

Our house was built in 1902.  It had many additions added on over the years.  One of those additions was a one story kitchen with a sloped ceiling.  The roof for this sloped ceiling just happened to be right outside of my daughter's 2nd story bedroom window.  The kitchen had been very dark and slightly claustrophobic when we bought the house, so we had recently had skylights installed and had the roof re-shingled with black shingles.

For whatever reason a 6 year old with Aspergers can think of, he decided that this leaky straw hat filled with paint, should be thrown out of the window and onto that newly shingled roof and beautiful glass skylights.  It wasn't like it was the easy solution.  He had to remove the screen from the window in order to do this.  As he struggled to remove the screen, he spilled paint all over the lacy pink bedspread, giant stuffed bear, satin, lacy wallpaper, carpet and a million other things that would be impossible to clean.

Either the deafening silence finally registered, or maybe I heard the thunk of the hat hitting the roof as I cooked dinner in the kitchen below, but whatever the reason, I decided to go up and check on the kids.  Imagine the shock I experienced when I came upon that scene.  I'd like to say that I handled it gracefully or that the punishment fit the crime, but honestly I think I suffered from temporary insanity.  I picked up the phone, called my husband, who, than God, was almost home, and told him that I was done.  I had to leave the house or risk throwing his son out of the 2nd story bedroom window.  I told him that he had better haul his butt home as quickly as possible to take care of the kids!  I grabbed my car keys and drove away. 

My daughter, now 16, still has that pretty, paint stained bedspread.  She doesn't use it as a bedspread anymore, but she occasionally curls up with it when she is sick.  She still remembers that day and the ruined giant teddy bear.  She had to live with paint covered wall paper and a light dimmed by tan paint from mom's bedroom.  (The paint did eventually get scrapped off.)  We moved from that house a few years later and she got to choose how her new room was painted.  And yes, we had dimmer switches installed in every room!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Centrifugal Force

 Don't let the angelic picture fool you!  Look closer at his expression!

I often hear stories about children coloring on the walls of their bedroom or finger-painting the dining room table, but in my crazy life, these things always go to the extreme.  Any parent of a child on the Autism Spectrum probably understands how 'off the wall' some behaviors can be.  This is a quick story of an 'off the wall' day in my crazy life.

My son was about 6 years old and my daughter was about 3.  I had just returned to my marriage after a brief sabbatical (yes, that's what I'll call it, a sabbatical!).  I had purchased bunk beds for the kids while we lived with my mother for about 9 months.  When I returned from my sabbatical, I put the bunk beds up in the playroom.  I figured that this could be a good room for sleepovers.  I'm not really sure why I thought that my son would have actual friends sleep over, but I guess I was a very optimistic parent.  Believe it or not, it did eventually happen, but that's a story for another day.

So, while I cooked dinner, my sweet young children watched T.V. in the playroom.  It was very calm and quiet.  I've since learned that this silence is the scary noise that is always heard just before all hell brakes loose.  I  set dinner on the table and went to get my sweet young children.  As I approached the playroom, I noticed that the door was closed.  Hmm, I thought.  This is odd.  I opened the door to find the fan on full blast and strange colorful lines all over the playroom walls.  It looked like Spin-Art!  I looked up and noticed colored markers rubber-banded to the blades of the ceiling fan.

To this day, I still don't know how my 6 year old son ever thought to do this.  Who thinks of things like that?!  Did he really know what he was doing?  Did he intend to decorate the room with Spin-Art?  Did he know that the centrifugal force of the fan on high would send the ink shooting out?  He is now 19 years old and a total computer geek.  Science was always his strength, so I'm thinking that he probably knew exactly what he was doing.  But he probably didn't expect it to work quite so well.

I wish I could say that he learned a good lesson and had to clean the whole mess up by himself, but again, any parent of a child on the Spectrum knows that life seldom works that way.  It was too overwhelming  for a 6 year old with Aspergers.  Heck, I think it was too overwhelming of a task for a 30 something year old mom.  I actually went for a long walk that evening and let the dinner get cold.  I couldn't manage to face the mess until the following day.   I took the bunk bed apart, so that he would no longer be able to mess with the ceiling fan, I repainted the room, bought new curtains, put a rug over the damaged carpet and made sure to listen for the silence the next time I cooked dinner.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A trip down memory lane

The main reason I started this blog was to get the craziness down in writing before I got too old and forgetful.  It's amazing how many things I have already forgotten.  Occasionally, my NT daughter will remind me of how nuts I was while raising my Autism Spectrum son.  Occasionally, I get a flash back of my own and I can't believe that the crazy woman in my vision is actually me. 

The most recent memory came about because my daughter was talking to her friends about how she rarely gets grounded compared to their almost constant groundings.  They, of course, said that it was because my daughter had a "cool" mom.  (I was right there, what else could they say).  My daughter disagreed and told them this story to prove to them how "uncool" I really was. 

Halloween 2008.  We had just moved to California from a small town in the mid-west.  For me, it was coming home after a very screwed up marriage and divorce.  For them it was a whole new world.  Amazingly, my son embraced the move.  He felt as if he didn't stand out as weird or different.  Everyone in California was crazy.  He got to start over and be whoever he decided to be.  Who that ended up being was a mildly scary goth dude.  He dyed his blond hair black, bought a black leather trench coat from the swap-meet, a spiked dog-collar, black jeans, black t-shirt, black shoes, black socks, and black underwear. 

I can't even remember if he dressed up that Halloween or if he went as his new self.  Since my kids had spent their youth as geeked out homeschoolers, I talked them into going to the local library's Halloween Dance Party.  My son was 14 and my daughter was 11.  They had one cell phone between them.  They were required to share it. I got a phone call at about 8:00 PM asking if they could go trick-or-treating with a new friend that they had met at the library.  I said yes with some reservation.  I figured that this new friend couldn't be too bad if they met him at a library party, right? At about 9:30, I called and asked them where they were at, so that I could go pick them up.  They said that there were still a bunch of kids out trick-or-treating and they wanted a few more minutes.  They would call me when they got to the next street sign.  They didn't call.  I called them back at 10:00 and insisted that they tell me where they were so that I could come and get them.  By this time I'm freaking out, thinking that this library friend is a gang-banger or a 40 year old pedophile or is leading them to a drug filled party or any other crazy thing a parent starts to think about when they don't really know who their children are with or where their children are at.  So, my son answers my 10:00 phone call and tells me that they are not done trick-or-treating.  I said "Yes, you are!  I'm coming to get you right now!"  He says "Not if you don't know where we are!"  and he hangs up the phone and turns it off!!!!

I know most parents would be seeing red and would be ready to kill their 14 year old.  Guess who I got mad at.....?   My 11 year old daughter!  This is the grounding story she tells her friends.  How her older brother does all of this and SHE gets in trouble.  For what it is worth, I did ground my son too.  My daughter felt that I was being so unfair to hold her responsible, when she didn't even have the phone.  So why did I ground her?  Because she was the one who should have known better.  She should have asked the friend for his cell phone or knocked on a door and asked to use their cell phone to call home.  Or just refused to go any further until her brother called me.  She was neuro-typical and she should have made the logical decision.  She should have known how worried I would be.  She was capable of understanding how this situation would make me feel.  She knew better. 

Looking back at it now, I wonder if I should I have done anything different?  Was it really fair to expect her to act like the responsible sibling?  She reminded me that she was scared of her brother.  He had once knocked her front teeth loose when he was angry with her.  Should we hold our neuro-typical children to a higher standard?  I think so.  We should not let them off the hook just because they have a sibling with Autism.  Would I have held her responsible if she had been with friends in this situation?  Of course.  Did it make a difference that she was with her "older" sibling?  No, she knew his issues and she knew that he did not make logical decisions.  She is now 16 and is an amazingly responsible person.  I trust her.  That is why she never gets grounded.  Not because I'm the "cool" mom, but because she is a "cool" kid.  I'm hoping that I had something to do with that :)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


    It's difficult to remember that not everyone gets me.  Not everyone has had the same experiences, learned the same lessons, or immersed themselves as thoroughly in the world of Autism as I have.  I'm not saying this as a brag.  I didn't ask for this.  I didn't plan it.  When Autism knocked on my door, I tried to slam it shut.  For the longest time, before the diagnosis of my son, I thought that I was an awful parent.  I had so many people blaming my son's bad behavior on me, that I started to believe that it really was all my fault.  I just wasn't consistent enough.  I ignored behaviors that I should have punished.  I let my son get away with murder because it was easier than dealing with his behavior.  I heard it all.  The loudest critics were family members, so it must have been true, right?  By the time the diagnosis of Asperger's was given, everyone assumed that I had managed to find a convenient excuse for my poor parenting skills.  My glimmer of Autistic wisdom has not been easily earned.

    Today I was reminded of how words and actions can be perceived differently by different people.  I've been struggling with a parent of one of my students.  It's the first time that I have not been able to repair a relationship that's gotten off to a rough start.  Well, at least the first time that I've had to continue having a relationship with that person.  Between my family members on the Autism Spectrum and my career as a teacher in an Autism classroom, I've spent many years repairing conversations and helping people to express themselves.  I'm used to having some of the parents that I work with show some characteristics of Autism in themselves.  There seems to be a genetic component.  The signs of Autism can usually be found in an odd uncle, a reclusive grandparent, an eccentric great aunt and sometimes even in the parents that I see and talk to every day.  I'm usually fairly blunt with people.  I wasn't always.  I still TRY to follow the rule that I shouldn't say anything if I can't say something nice, but I have learned to be direct and to say what I mean.  That's why I've been so confused when attempting to communicate with this particular parent.   It seems as if, no matter what I do or say, she complains about me to the "higher ups".   I don't see Autism in this parent and I don't understand her motives or what she is seeking to achieve.  Maybe this has nothing to do with me or maybe it has everything to do with me.  Perhaps my bluntness has caused me to somehow put my foot in my mouth and I'm too far gone to even recognize that I've done it.  All I know is that I'm frustrated and I don't know how to fix it.  We are more than halfway through the school year and I can't figure it out.

    When I bring my frustration up to my friends, they tell me that the mom wants the impossible.  She wants her child to be cured and since I can't do that for her, she will never like me.  They've suggested that I limit my contact and communication with this parent, but that's impossible and frankly, it's not right.  They say that I shouldn't care, that the child will move on in another year and this parent will be someone else's problem.  But I'm the type of teacher that loses sleep over things like this.  I don't want to blame the parent.  There has been enough blame thrown around when it comes to Autism.  I'm a fixer and I want to fix this.  So I live to fight another day and to spend another sleepless night in my quest to solve this communication problem.  I really want to believe that I'm one of the good guys.  I'm not okay with being put in the role of villain.   I'm getting tired of having to explain my words and actions to people from the district office.  There has to be a way to make this relationship work.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Public School

    Every once in a while I long for the days of being a stay at home mom.  I always knew that I wanted to stay home with my young children.  As a pre-school teacher, I had watched parents drop their kids off at 7:00 AM and pick them up at 6:30 PM.  They would have just enough time to run home, fix dinner, feed and bathe their child and then put them to bed.  I always thought that I got the best of their children.  I (being young and foolish) often wondered why they even bothered to have children if they didn't want to spend time with them.  I now know how difficult the decision to return to work can be, and how important it is to stay relevant in the work force.  You never know what can happen and how difficult it can be to return to work after a long absence.

    I had planned to return to the classroom as a teacher as soon as my children were old enough to go to school.  I even tried to put my son in pre-school for a few hours a week so that I could spend some alone time with his newborn sister.  It didn't work.  His behavior was out of control.  He tantrumed for the entire two hours he was there. I was told that they couldn't manage him, and that I would need to find other arrangements.  I tried another placement with the same result.  They said that they had never seen a child behave in this way.  They were worried about their ability to keep him and the other children safe while he was with them.  I should have been on high alert, but I figured that he just needed a little more time to mature.

    It's not like I didn't notice something odd about my 3 year old son.  He spoke like a miniature adult.  He skipped the baby-talk stage altogether.  It seemed as if one day he was silent and the next, he spoke in complete sentences.  People would honestly stop me in the grocery store and marvel at his use of language.  Listening to my son talk was probably as creepy as watching the talking baby on the show "Family Guy".  He also had the same humongous head as that creepy baby.  I used to joke that my sons' head was so huge because it was so full of brains.  For me, the size of his head explained his amazing use of language. After all, intelligence is genetic, right?  I wrote off his upside-down chromosome as the "genius gene" that he had inherited from his father.

    The odd behaviors and tantrums continued, and the much awaited first day of  public Pre-K was a nightmare.  I should have seen it coming.  I should have known that he would have difficulty, but I didn't.  I put him on the bus, did a little dance, cheered a little cheer and happily went off to visit with a friend.  I didn't have a cell phone in 1996, so I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.  I went to pick my son up at noon only to find a principal, at his wits end, trying to keep my son from running out the front door of the school.  My son was hysterical and I felt awful.  After about a week of his tantrums, the school asked me to wait a year before attempting to bring him back.  They felt that he needed a little more time to mature.

    It took him many, many years to reach that needed maturity.  Instead of returning to work, I worked for free at his school.  I pretty much spent every day at his school helping the teachers to manage his behaviors.  I really tried to make public schools work for him.  The school did what they could, but I watched the light in my sons' eyes grow dimmer and dimmer.  His love of learning was being extinguished.  His self confidence was eroding.  Here was my "genius" son believing that he was stupid because he couldn't memorize his multiplication facts.  It was difficult to watch.  One day, another student asked me if my son had cheated on his book chart.  The students were recording how many books they read each week and my son was far ahead of the other students. I told the boy that my son had truly read all of the books listed on his chart.  I saw the look of surprise on the boy's face before he blurted out that my son wasn't smart enough to have read that many books.  Eventually I gave up on public school and began homeschooling him.  That is the part of being a stay at home mom that I look back at with longing.  As crazy as it was, I wouldn't trade those homeschooling years for anything.  Neither would my children.  We all remember that time as being the best years of our lives.  If you knew what life threw at us during those years, this would really surprise you. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

What Do Parents Expect?


    The road less traveled has led me in many directions that I never could have imagined.  The most recent one being my role as a Special Education teacher.  I'm in my fifth year of teaching and I tend to identify more with the parents than with the district.  Having been a parent of a child on the Autism Spectrum, I believed that I would always side with the parents over the district.  After all, the public school system hadn't worked well for my own child.  I had resorted to homeschooling to preserve my sons' self-esteem and love of learning.  So why am I struggling so much with a parent this year?  Why can't I figure her out?  What does she really expect from me?

    The way the system works in my district is that students from the elementary district are observed, their files are reviewed and the Program Specialists determine the best placement for the child as they move from the Elementary School District to the High School District.  Our district goes from 7th to 12th grade.  I teach an Autism Focus Special Day Class at the Junior High School level.  It's not my job to determine placement.  It's my job to do the best I can with what I am given.

    My students have a wide range of abilities.  I teach a different subject for each class period.  Some of my students are with me for most of the day, while others only see me for one class period.  I teach Reading, English, Math, Science, Study Skills, and Life Skills.  All of the students go out for P.E. and an elective. I took my whole class out to 7th grade Science last year, but I needed to teach 8th grade Science in my room this year in order to figure out how to modify it for my students in the future.  Beginning next year, I will be in a collaboration general education class for science and will no longer teach Science in my classroom. 

    At the Junior High level, math becomes more abstract.  Many of my students have managed to memorize their basic math facts and have a relative strength in mathematics.  This is usually the first place I look to foster inclusion.  Unfortunately, memorization of facts is not enough to be successful in Algebra.  The only courses offered in Junior High are Pre-Algebra and Algebra.  I usually work very hard to round out the math concepts and fill in any gaps in a students' knowledge so that I can send them out to Pre-Algebra in 8th grade. 

    Since Reading and English require a level of language that most of my students haven't mastered, I rarely get to send students out for those classes.  I currently have three students out in RSP Reading and one in what would basically be considered a low level general education English class.  The point is, that I'm trying very hard to be flexible and create a mixed program that works for everyone.  It isn't easy.

    I wish that parents would/could sit in on some of the general education classes at the Junior High School level.  The language demands are astronomical.   I truly believe that, despite the current climate of education bashing, we are teaching our students at a much higher level than ever before.  The topics covered in Junior High are things that I learned in High School and College.  The students are expected to balance chemical equations in 8th grade!

    So how do I foster inclusion in classes that have such high expectations?  What do I do when parents insist that their child be fully included and the district insists on placing the child in my room?  How do I modify classes that I can never attend because I am teaching my own classes at the same time?  Is sitting in the back of a Pre-Algebra class with an aide, doing a totally different curriculum, really inclusion?  What happens when I agree with the district placement but the parent wants full inclusion? What happens when inclusion actually becomes exclusion due to the wide gap between skills and expectations?  Is it enough for a student to just sit in a general education class?  How can I do a better job at making inclusion work when the gap is so wide?  What do parents really expect of me?

Sunday, February 19, 2012


    If my many years of marriage to an undiagnosed Aspergerian* had me taking a few tentative steps on the less traveled road, the birth of my son sent me sprinting down that road blindfolded.  After stumbling down a rocky marriage path, and traveling to a much less hospitable climate, I found myself awaiting the birth of my first child.  Michigan wasn't all bad, there were many things there to love, and as a transplanted Beach Bunny, I was actually looking forward to the first snow of my second winter there.  We were looking to buy our first house and I had settled into my new life.  I was taken by surprise when I received a call from the doctor telling me that he had noticed an abnormality in a routine blood test. 
    I had majored in Human Development in college.  I had worked as a pre-school teacher, an aide in a Special Day class and as a 5th grade teacher.  I knew what an abnormality in the Alpha Fetal Protein test meant - Down Syndrome.  At least that was my first thought.  My cousin had just given birth to her daughter who had been diagnosed with Down Syndrome, so I figured that had to be the issue.  After amniocentesis and genetic testing on both my husband and myself, it was determined that my son had an upside-down long arm on one of his chromosomes.  So did my husband.  It was 1992 and genetic research wasn't as advanced as it is now.  All the doctor could tell us was that my son should be as normal or abnormal as my husband was, based on their shared genetic abnormality.
    The birth was uneventful, as was my sons' infancy.  I didn't notice anything unusual about my child.  Occasionally a stranger would stop me and comment on how alert he seemed to be.  In my mind, babies didn't sleep much, that was what new parents always complained about, so my own lack of sleep was normal and to be expected.  I was able to stay home and care for my son, so there was no input from other caregivers reminding me that there was a reason for the often quoted term, "sleeping like a baby".  Babies are supposed to sleep but my infant son rarely slept for more than a few hours at a time and he would only sleep if he were tightly bundled and in my arms.  Every time I attempted to put him down he awoke screaming. As he grew older, there were other oddities that I didn't necessarily pick up on.  It's only in looking back that I can see the signs, that today, would lead to an early diagnosis of Autism.
     How could a teacher miss the signs of Autism in her own child?  Wasn't I supposed to be the expert?  Well, back when I earned my teaching credential, we were required to take one course on special needs.  That course probably mentioned Autism as a disability that we were unlikely to see as general education teachers.  These were students with cognitive impairments, no speech, and outrageous behaviors.  This was during the "Rainman" era.  Students with this degree of impairment were institutionalized or put in a basement classroom in the public schools.  Sure we had passed laws that forced public schools to educate students with disabilities, but I don't ever remember seeing any students with disabilities at the schools I attended when I was growing up.  I had never met or interacted with anyone who had been diagnosed as Autistic.  The diagnostic manual for psychologist (DSMV) didn't even add the Asperger diagnosis until 1992, the year that my son was born.  Not only had I never met anyone with Autism, I had never heard of Asperger's Syndrome and it would be many years before I would hear of this as a possible diagnosis for my son.

Aspergerian - High Functioning Autism or one with Aspergers Syndrome.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


    Do you ever step back, look at your life, and wonder "How did I get here"?  I remember the first time I read the poem "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost.  I was in my teens and I wanted to be different and special.  I craved adventure and the poem struck a chord in my soul.  But time moved on, as it always does and the passion of youth fades.  I met someone, married and began having children.  Of course it wasn't as smooth as it sounds.  It rarely is.
    I was raised as a Beach Bunny in Southern California in the 70's and 80's.  I came from a typical middle class family with a teacher mom and an engineer dad.  I was the youngest of three children.  My brother was two years older than me and my sister was four years older.  I spent much more time playing with my brother than with my sister.
    I remember my brother as a gentle, shy child who didn't have many friends.  As he grew older he was a little quirky, but not too far from what is considered to be normal.  He was never good at sports.  He would daydream and pick dandelions out in right field during Little League games.  He was an extremely picky eater and would rather starve to the point of passing out than have an objectionable food item pass his lips.  He rarely talked.  He hated change and stayed at a job that treated him poorly until he was in his late 20's, even though he was smart enough and talented enough to run his own business.  He didn't have many girlfriends in his teens, 20's, and 30's but when he found the right one, she was his everything.  He married around the age of 40 and now has two young children who are the center of his universe.  Somewhere along the way he learned how to hold conversations, even if they tended to be a tad bit centered around his limited topics of interests.  He is someone I admire and respect, but I suspect that he lies on the higher end of the Autism Spectrum.
    Is it any wonder that the man I chose to marry had some Spectrum traits as well?  At the time, I had never heard of Autism or Aspergers.  All I knew was that my brother was struggling with growing up and I felt like his older sister instead of his younger sister.  As for my love life, I believed that I had met the most intelligent man on the face of the earth.  He could spout off facts on almost any topic.  He was always right and I could never win an argument.  Having spent my childhood in "gifted" programs, I loved the challenge!  He looked at life in such an uncommon way, that it fulfilled some of my need to live a unique and interesting life.  I took the road less traveled and so began my adventures in Autism.